Mary I (1516–1558)

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Mary I (1516–1558)

Queen of England, 1553–1558, who restored Roman Catholicism as the established religion of England and was popularly known as Bloody Mary . Namevariations: Bloody Mary; Mary Tudor; Mary the Catholic. Born Mary Tudor at Greenwich Palace, near London, England, on February 18, 1516; died at St. James's Palace in London, on November 17, 1558; buried in Westminster Abbey, London; daughter of Henry VIII, king of England (r. 1509–1547), and the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536, youngest child of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella I [1451–1504]); ascended throne, July 1553; married Philip II, king of Spain (r. 1556–1598), and king of Portugal as Philip I (r. 1580–1598), on July 25, 1554; no children.

The birth of a healthy girl to King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon on February 18, 1516, was greeted in England with more than usual joy. Since 1510, the queen had tried and repeatedly failed to produce a viable child, yet it now seemed that the Tudor dynasty might after all be able to secure domestic peace and its own future by producing a direct heir to the throne. Mary's sex prompted some worry because there existed no historical precedent for a queen regnant and, more generally, the prospect of female rulership conflicted with established ideas about male precedence. But Henry interpreted his daughter's birth as a harbinger of more fruitful times, hoping that "by God's grace the sons will follow." They did not. As a result, Mary passed from childhood into adolescence under a darkening cloud as her father became increasingly desperate to beget a legitimate male heir to the throne. The disfavor, isolation, and even danger into which Mary was plunged during these formative years left indelible scars on her physical and mental constitution from which she never recovered and which limited her effectiveness once she succeeded to the throne as a prematurely middle-aged woman of 37.

In contrast to her later adversities, Mary's early years appear to have been happy ones. More than most royal children, she enjoyed a great deal of contact with her parents, who indulged her by arranging special Christmas entertainments for their daughter, much to her delight. As the heir apparent, Mary was proudly shown off at court to wide acclaim. A foreign delegation to England in 1520 remarked favorably upon Mary's "most goodly countenance" and "her skill in playing on the virginals, her tender age considered." In addition to music, the young princess studied, under her mother's careful direction, the fashionable new humanistic curriculum. Catherine of Aragon was herself a highly educated woman who greatly admired Erasmus and patronized a number of scholars, among them the famous Juan Luis Vives who in 1523 wrote a treatise on the education of women, De institutione Christianae feminae, specifically for Mary. It was also Catherine who selected Mary's first tutor, Thomas Linacre, who wrote a Latin grammar for Mary's use in which, perhaps wistfully, he praised her love of learning. The truth is that Mary, though exposed to a fine education including the classics as well as modern authors like Erasmus and Thomas More, proved to be an indifferent pupil. She learned Latin and French but failed to acquire more than a smattering of Greek and Italian, and strangely never learned to speak or write Spanish, her mother's native tongue. She seems not to have had much taste for theology either, preferring to direct her religious energies into an emotionally fervent but unintellectualized piety. She reportedly studied astronomy, geography, and mathematics, but tellingly spent most of her time in needlework. Even as an adult, her privy purse expenses reveal much alms-giving but no patronage of scholarship or the arts save music.

Mary's marriage became the subject of diplomatic negotiation while she was still an infant since, as the heir apparent, her hand was a diplomatic prize that betokened political alliance and ultimately promised dynastic union. In 1518, she was betrothed to the dauphin, but when relations with France soured the following year Henry began to broker a marriage with Catherine's nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was 16 years Mary's senior. Terms for the marriage were settled in 1522, but Mary's tender age precluded their enactment for another eight years, a length of time that rendered the agreement nugatory. Upon Charles' marriage to Isabella of Portugal (1503–1539) in 1526, Henry VIII explored the possibility of marrying his daughter to the dissipated king of France, Francis I, a man older than himself. There were also rumors of a Scottish match, but like all of these marital prospects nothing resulted.

In any case, by the mid-1520s, Henry's increasing anxiety about the lack of a male heir had begun to affect Mary's political position and her marriageability. In 1525, she moved to Ludlow Castle and began nominally to exercise her rights and powers as princess of Wales, although she was not formally invested with that title. Such a move was entirely in keeping with the training of a royal heir, but Mary's absence from court also enabled Henry to showcase his bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, two years younger than Mary, whom Henry created duke of Richmond and even considered making heir to the throne. Catherine bitterly resented these indignities, but the fact that she was now 40 and past her childbearing years seriously reduced her political clout. Although Mary's separation from her beloved mother was difficult, she at least was spared the pain of watching her mother's estrangement from Henry as he evolved a plan to annul his marriage to Catherine so that he could remarry. By the summer of 1528, Mary must have become aware of her mother's disgrace, which Catherine bore with an uncompromising stoicism that Mary would later emulate during her own times of trial. Henry sought to diffuse the unpopularity of his plans for divorce, which were widely seen as unfairly injuring his daughter's interests, by securing a papal dispensation for Mary to wed her half-brother, Henry Fitzroy. But the pope agreed to do so only if Henry ceased with his efforts to divorce Catherine, and the matter was dropped.

While Henry's game of brinkmanship with the pope proceeded, Mary remained fiercely loyal to Catherine, whose cause was also championed by Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, upon whom both she and Mary increasingly relied for support and advice. Mary and her mother remained in political limbo until 1531 when Henry finally ordered Catherine to retire from court and forbade Mary access to her. Then in 1533, with Anne Boleyn pregnant, Henry took matters into his own hands, abjured the pope's authority, and obtained an annulment from his own archbishop. The legal consequences of Henry's schism with Rome now struck Mary with full force. The succession was reordered and, although she refused to acknowledge it, she was now designated illegitimate and styled "the Lady Mary, the king's daughter." Mary's household was broken up, the number of her servants reduced, and in December she was ordered to enter the household of Anne Boleyn's infant daughter, Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I ), at Hatfield, an establishment headed by Anne Boleyn's aunt, Lady Shelton , who was instructed to beat Mary if she disregarded her father's commands. Nevertheless, in defiance of the law, Mary continued to profess her fidelity to Rome, the validity of her mother's marriage, and to assert her title as heir apparent. But her father's threats, her virtual imprisonment by Anne Boleyn, her worst enemy, and her constant fear of assassination took their toll on her nerves. Under all this stress, Mary developed nervous illnesses and a susceptibility to hysteria from which she would never fully recover.

Mary's fortunes improved somewhat in 1536 after Anne Boleyn's execution and, ironically enough, her own mother's death. With her enmity with Anne Boleyn at an end and the issue

of Henry's divorce mooted, Mary finally reconciled with her father by publicly submitting to his supremacy over the English Church despite her private reservations. She maintained good relations with the new queen, Jane Seymour , and, with the birth of Edward (future king Edward VI) in October 1537, she was relieved of having to assert her position as heir apparent. Although Mary maintained a combative relationship with Catherine Howard , her father's fifth wife, the arrival in 1543 of Henry's sixth queen, the learned and accommodating Catherine Parr , ushered in a period of comparative stability for her. Despite their confessional disagreements and slight difference in ages, Catherine Parr supplied the maternal figure Mary craved. In 1544, Mary was restored officially to the royal succession directly behind Edward, but the other great matter of her life—her marriage—remained unsettled, the sterile outcome of Henry's constantly shifting diplomatic alliances. As Mary herself lamented, "while my father lives I shall be only the Lady Mary, the most unhappy lady in Christendom."

Upon Henry VIII's death in January 1547, Mary, now 31 years old, acquired a greater measure of freedom. By her father's will, she inherited a number of estates which gave her an independent income and the practical ability to call upon men-at-arms from among her tenants. She was thus a magnate in her own right and once again the heir apparent, this time not of a domineering father but of a boy-king 20 years her junior. So when, under the direction of the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, Edward's regime embarked upon a course of radical religious reform, Mary frankly registered her disapproval and defiantly held public masses in contravention of the first Act of Uniformity (1549). Given the widening confessional divide separating the ultra-Catholic Mary from the advanced Protestant regime taking shape under Edward, it is no surprise that further plans for Mary's marriage came to nought. The Privy Council sought to temper her Catholicism by marrying her to a Protestant prince, while Mary determined not to marry anyone without the Emperor Charles V's approval. Relations between Mary and the Council became still worse once Somerset was overthrown by John Dudley (later duke of Northumberland) who pursued a still more radical policy of religious reform. In March 1551, Mary provided a visible focus for conservative religious dissent by ostentatiously riding to court with a retinue of 130 gentlemen and women, each holding a rosary. A scolding before the Council by the king himself, who insisted that she cease her evil ways and conform to established religious practice, only made Mary more unyielding and even roused the imperial ambassador to threaten war if Mary continued to be harassed. In the end, Mary continued to hear mass but was forced to do so privately, though she derived satisfaction from the fact that her private worship was public knowledge. For the insecure Edwardian regime, Mary was a nettle too irritating to ignore but too dangerous to grasp.

In 1553, Edward's always frail health further deteriorated and on July 6 he died of tuberculosis, aged 17. Before his death, Northumberland had made a last-minute attempt to forestall Mary's accession by proclaiming his own daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey , as queen. He had hoped to seize Mary by luring her to London, ostensibly to visit her ailing brother, but Mary learned that her brother in fact lay dying and instead rode to her Manor of Kenninghall in Norfolk, a fortress situated in the midst of sympathetic Catholic gentry. In one of her greatest acts of courage, Mary proclaimed her own accession and commanded the obedience of the Privy Council and of the towns and counties of the realm. The tide of public opinion responded to her call and support for Northumberland's regime rapidly melted away. When London proclaimed for Mary on the 19th, Northumberland was forced to surrender himself, and Mary marched triumphantly to the capital. Mary had Northumberland executed but otherwise displayed exemplary mercy to his co-conspirators.

When she ascended the throne, Mary was 37 years old. She was a slight woman with auburn hair, plain but pleasant features, a deep voice, and a myopic squint. She loved expensive jewelry and extravagant dress, though she lacked the theatrical demeanor that her father and younger sister used to such effect. She also possessed an iron resolve, forged in the adversity of her youth, that referred to the principle of a matter rather than to its pragmatic effects. This unshakable resolve and her essential impracticality hampered the effectiveness of Mary's three great aims: the restoration of England to the Roman Catholic fold, the accomplishment of her long-delayed marriage, and the production of an heir who could ensure the continuation of England's Catholic regime.

Immediately after her accession, Mary announced her intention to marry and began to choose her own husband—an extremely rare freedom for any female of royal birth. Although some of her councilors advocated English candidates, Mary sought the advice, as she had so often done before, of Charles V, who suggested his son, Prince Philip (II) of Spain. Despite the fact that Philip personally lacked much ardor, several factors made him the ideal choice for Mary: he was of royal birth, an experienced diplomat, Catholic, and Spanish. In October 1553, she agreed to the proposal of marriage scarcely having consulted her own Privy Councilors. The final agreement worked out in December conferred upon Philip the title of king but severely limited his political powers in England. Any child would be bound to rule by England's laws and, if the marriage proved fruitless, Philip and his heirs would have no further claim to the throne. Despite these advantageous terms, the Spanish match hit a xenophobic nerve in the public, raising fears that Protestantism would be endangered and English interests subordinated to the Spanish Habsburgs. In January 1554, hostility to the marriage erupted into open rebellion in Kent under the leadership of Sir Thomas Wyatt—a challenge which, after some hesitation and blundering on the part of the government, Mary bravely faced down.

Philip finally arrived in early July, and the two were married on the 23rd at Winchester. If Mary expected conjugal affection from Philip, she was to be sorely disappointed. Despite his initial efforts to charm his new queen and her court, his personal lack of interest in Mary, the chilliness of his reception by the English, and his limited access to political power soon led him to lose interest in England and to plan for his departure. He remained in England through May 1555, long enough to observe the grim progress of his wife's hysterical pregnancy, which embarrassingly dissolved as the spring advanced. With Philip gone, Mary's hopes for progeny were put on hold as she redoubled her efforts to stamp out the Protestant heresy.

The first steps on the way to the Catholic restoration were taken shortly after Mary's accession, but it was not at first clear in what manner she intended to accomplish this task or how far she intended to go. Assuming that the committed Protestants comprised a small but vocal minority, Mary initially attempted to remove the most prominent of them, including Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer, who were imprisoned. Protestant printers were shut down and Protestant refugees from the Continent expelled. Married clergy were deprived of their livings, although many were reinstated once they relinquished their wives. Mary's first Parliament repealed all ecclesiastical legislation passed during Edward VI's reign and implicitly affirmed the traditional Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. With the arrival of Reginald Pole, the papal legate, on November 24, 1554, the stage was set to overturn the Henrician reformation as well, except for the sensitive issue of the return of former Church lands. Parliament repealed all ecclesiastical legislation passed after 1529, in return for which Pole granted absolution to the kingdom and welcomed "the return of the lost sheep" back to Rome. With the schism legally healed, Pole started to clean up the administrative and financial disorder of the English Church, as well as to suppress obstinate Protestants, thus ushering in the most notorious chapter of Mary's reign. Mary has earned the epithet "Bloody" for the nearly 300 Protestant martyrs who were convicted of heresy and burned between February 1555 and November 1557. Although by European standards of the time the toll was not great, the burnings gave the Marian regime a reputation for cruelty and ultimately proved counterproductive since the persecution only stiffened Protestant opposition.

After an absence of nearly two years, Philip returned to England in March 1557, seeking English financial and naval support for a war with France. Despite their misgivings, Mary and

her Privy Councilors were finally forced to yield and join in Spain's war effort. In July, Mary saw Philip for the last time as he left England for battle in the Low Countries. Although some of the operations the English forces undertook against the French and Scottish could be deemed successes, the Anglo-French war of 1557–59 is known chiefly for the devastating loss, in January 1558, of Calais—the last proud remnant of England's medieval European empire.

The hopelessness of Mary's vision of a world sans heresy, sans doubt, and sans discord was evidenced by the sterility of her means: her fruitless marriage to Philip of Spain, the use of fire to purge her church of error, and her dependence on ecclesiastics who were even more out of touch with reality than she was.

—Lacey Baldwin Smith

The spring of 1559 found Mary temporarily in better physical health but once again under the delusion that she was pregnant, a conclusion made more understandable given the periodic amenorrhoea from which she suffered. But, in the succeeding months, she suffered from a succession of fevers and continually moved from residence to residence in search of better air. By autumn, her condition worsened, and, in November, Mary took to her deathbed at St. James's Palace. In her last days, she is said to have lamented, "when I am dead and opened you shall find Calais lying upon my heart." She died on the morning of November 17, fittingly while bowing before the Host during mass.


Loades, D.M. Mary Tudor: A Life. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

——. The Reign of Mary Tudor. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1979.

Tittler, Robert. The Reign of Mary I. London and NY: Longman, 1991.

suggested reading:

Erickson, Carolly. Bloody Mary. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978.

Prescott, H.F.M. A Spanish Tudor. NY: AM Press, 1970.

Ridley, Jasper. Mary Tudor. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973.

Geoffrey Clark , Assistant Professor of History, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

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Mary I (1516–1558)

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