Born on 18 Feb 1516, crowned on 1 Oct 1553, married on 25 July 1554, dying 17 Nov 1558, she was the first female monarch who ruled over all of England. She acquired the epithet “Bloody Mary.” The number of her executions she ordered in her brief reign is included here.
A genealogical table, to get the big picture about dynasty and succession:
The dynastic storyline is not complicated. None of Henry VIII’s children produced an heir or heiress.
BASIC FACTS AND STORIES
- Mary’s father Henry VIII was born on 28 June 1491 at Greenwich Palace.
- Mary’s mother Catherine was born at Alcala de Henares, east of Madrid, on 15 or 16 Dec 1485 in a palace belonging to the archbishop of Toledo.
- Catherine was the fourth and youngest daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon (V of Castile) and Isabelle I of Castile. They would be granted the title Catholic Monarchs in 1496. Ferdinand and Isabelle were of the House of Trastamara.
- Henry’s older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales, married Catherine of Aragon on 14 Nov 1501, but he died on 2 Apr 1502 at Ludlow Castle near the Anglo-Welsh border.
- King Henry VII of England, father of Arthur and Prince Henry, wanted a match with the Spanish princess and his surviving son. But Catherine’s parents could not settle on a suitable dowry. Henry VII wondered whether Catherine was the best match.
- However, a year later on 23 June 1503 Prince Henry was betrothed to Catherine in the palace of the Bishop of Salisbury on Fleet St. He was only twelve years old, so he had to wait until his fourteenth birthday to legally consent.
- However, was Henry VIII the best candidate for Princess Catherine? Was he rich and powerful enough? Ferdinand negotiated with other kings and princes of Europe.
- Then Henry VII died on 21 Apr 1509.
- Now young Henry was powerful and rich enough to marry. Henry liked the Spanish princess and said his father wanted him to marry her, changing his mind just before he died.
- Henry needed papal dispensation (written permission) from Pope Julius II to marry his brother’s wife.
- In a brief papal letter to Catherine’s parents, the pope said Arthur’s and Catherine’s marriage had been consummated.
- Mary’s parents were married quietly at the Church of the Observant Friars at Greenwich, on 11 June 1509. They would celebrate during the coronation of Henry and Catherine on 23 June 1509 (one historian says 24 June). It was a co-coronation, king and queen together.
- Everything was done according to the court manual, the Royal Book.
- In 1513 the young king wanted to be a war leader, like Henry V, so he led a military expedition and captured the French towns of Tournai and Thérouanne.
- At the same time Catherine worked in London to organize another army under the earl of Surry to counter a Scottish incursion into England.
- The English defeated and killed James IV of Scotland at Flodden on 9 Sep. 1513.
- So Mary’s mother was active and well-beloved in England.
- Catherine lost a daughter on 31 Jan 1510. Their son Henry was born on 1 Jan. 1511 and baptized on 1 Feb 1511, but he died seven weeks later on 22 Feb. Now the Tudors (and Trastamarans) were nervous about inheritance and succession. In January 1515 the queen produced another son, a stillborn.
- Relief about succession: Mary was born on 18 Feb 1516. But she was still a daughter. The relief was only partial.
- Around this time Martin Luther in Germany was raising questions over church policies, particularly the fund raising for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He nailed the ninety-five theses on the door of the Castle church of Wittenberg, on 31 Oct 1517.
- Mary received the best education available. Her mother oversaw it and hired the very best tutors, including Christian humanist Juan Luis Vives. She learned the Bible, especially the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. (Many humanists skipped over the Revelation, since it had violent imagery.) She learned selected portion of the Old Testament (not the warfare portions).
- She studied the works of the Church Fathers, like Cyprian and Jerome.
- Vives wrote a very influential book titled On the Formation of a Christian Woman, dedicated to Princess Mary and translated into French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and English (originally written in Latin).
- Mary became a pawn in the marriage chess game. First, her betrothal was planned to be with the dauphin (heir) of France. Even Francis I, King of France, was considered. But politics intervened.
- That is, a provisional arrangement was made with Emperor Charles V, who visited England in 1520, as Henry VIII’s anti-French ally. In June 1522 she was betrothed to Charles, but this never came off, because the Emperor defeated King Francis I at the Battle of Pavia, Italy, in February 1525.
- Charles was riding high, and England was a minor player on the Western stage at this time. He abandoned his betrothal to Mary. (Instead he married Princess Isabel of Portugal in 1526.)
- Catherine continued to miscarry. To find comfort, Henry had affairs, one with Elizabeth Blount. An illegitimate son was born to her, named Henry Fitzroy (son of king), on 15 June 1519. After he grew up, King Henry made him Duke of Richmond and sent him on a few diplomatic missions. He even thought about legitimizing him.
- Another mistress caught his eye, Anne Boleyn, second and youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn. They married on 25 Jan 1533. Their daughter Elizabeth—named after Henry’s mother—was born on 7 Sep 1533 (not prematurely). A girl. Disappointment.
- Mary was demoted from Princess to Lady Mary and declared illegitimate.
- Meanwhile Catherine was sent to the isolated Kimbolton House, where she died in the early hours of 7 Jan 1536. Mary was never allowed to visit her or attend the funeral.
- Mary was really humble when she wrote her father (1 June 1536): “I beseech your Grace of your daily blessing, which is my chief desire in the world. And in the same humble ways acknowledging all the offenses that I have done …. I pray your Grace, in the honour of God, and for your fatherly pity, to forgive me them for which I am very sorry as nay creature living and near unto God, I do and will submit me in all things to your goodness and pleasure to do with me whatsoever shall please your Grace” (qtd in Edwards, 2016, 15). It was signed “you Grace’s most humble and obedient daughter and handmaid, Mary.” The king rejected it.
- She wrote this letter to her father through Thomas Cromwell: “Wherefore [for this reason] I desire you for the Passion which Christ suffered for you and me and as my very trust is in you that you will find such means through your great wisdom that I be not moved to agree to any further entry in this matter than I have done. But if I be put to any more, I am plain with you as with my great friends, my said conscience will in no ways suffer [allow] me to consent therein” (qtd in idem 16).
- The word conscience was much too bold a defense of her mother and Thomas More (“great friends”), who had been executed for treason the previous year. Henry and Mary were never fully reconciled, though through his third wife Jane Seymour and his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, the ice thawed. And he did make Mary Edward’s godmother Jane friendship quieted Mary officious conscience and persuade her to accept her new situation with good grace. “In September 1536 both the king and Cromwell sent her small gifts and in October it was noted that Madame Marie [Mary] was second at court after the queen (Loades 43).
- Henry had Anne Boleyn executed on 19 May 1536, Henry married four more times, and Mary had to deal with her stepmothers.
- Her half-brother Edward was born on 12 Oct 1537, to Henry and Jane Seymour. Now she would not be monarch, and Elizabeth was demoted. Both Mary and Elizabeth were in legal limbo.
- However, her father wrote up his will with the approval of parliament, which said Edward is to succeed. If he died without heirs, then it was Mary; if she died without heirs, then the monarch should be Elizabeth. If she died without heirs, then the descendant of Henry’s sister Mary should be monarch, in this case Lady Jane Grey.
- Henry VIII died on 28 Jan 1547, and Edward was now king. Henry made generous provisions for his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. Lots of money meant more power and influence. They could maneuver now.
- However, as her brother grew, he favored church reform, so he was suspicious of Mary, a devout Catholic. She opposed his reforms.
- He was guided by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, whose final version of Edward’s Prayer Book was very Protestant. It removed all prayers for the dead, praise for Mary and the saints, and embraced a Reformed view of the Eucharist.
- After a few years, everyone knew Edward was sickly and dying. Under the influence of dubious counselors, like John Dudley, a Protestant magnate (large landowner) who was made Duke of Northumberland, Edward used a legal “Device” to skip over Mary and Elizabeth in the succession and go right to Lady Jane Grey.
- Why? Edward was manipulated by Northumberland, who arranged to get his son Lord Guildford Dudley married to Lady Jane. Or maybe Edward was prejudiced against his two sisters who had been declared bastards and legitimate in turns. Elizabeth appeared uncommitted on religion at this early stage. Better a firmly Protestant cousin Jane than Catholic half-sister Mary. And the Dudleys would see advancement too. All of the above.
- Edward died on 6 July 1553 of tuberculosis (one historian says pneumonia, and other specialists propose other causes).
- Jane was acclaimed queen on 10 July 1553, but Londoners and many others did not like the arrangement. They knew about King Henry’s will, which said Mary was next in line.
- Meanwhile, Northumberland issued an order to Mary to come to London at once. She ignored it, for she would probably have been executed. She instead went to East Anglia, her power base, including Kenninghall in north Norfolk and then to the better fortified Framlingham Castle on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk.
- Her father had confiscated property from the Howard family there and the dukes of Norfolk, so the landowners and the church were her allies in that area. Allied noblemen went there with their military retinues.
- In reply, Mary sent a letter to the council, saying she was the rightful queen, and so she was declared queen in her absence by the London crowds on 19 July 1553, while Jane was arrested.
- On 3 Aug 1553 the new Queen Mary rode into London with thousands of retainers, including ladies. Elizabeth had done the same thing a day earlier. She too was popular. Elizabeth and Mary met the next day.
- So far so good, but they would never get along perfectly well, though they had their moments of peace and friendship.
- Mary went to the Tower of London and released Bishops Edmund Bonner of London and Stephen Gardiner of Winchester, who had been imprisoned because they had objected to Edward’s reform of the Church of England and Edward’s Books of Common Prayer.
- She released young Edward Courtenay, a descendant of the Plantagenets. His parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Exeter, were imprisoned twenty years earlier for possibly being involved in Catholic conspiracies against Henry VIII in Europe.
- Could young Courtenay be a marriage match for Mary? She made him earl of Devon.
- Mary thought about releasing Jane since she was young and had been manipulated. But she was lumped in with the later Wyatt rebellion (see below).
- Jane was led to the Tower Green. The old abbot of Westminster tried to persuade her to go back to the Roman communion, but she resisted. She told the audience that she had broken the law by seizing the crown, but her intentions innocent. She recited the Miserere psalm (Have mercy on me, O God). She put up her hair to uncover her neck. “I pray you, dispatch me quickly.” She was blindfolded. As she knelt, she asked the executioner, “Will you take it off before I lay me down? “No, madam.” She could not find the chopping block. “Where is it? What shall I do?” One of the bystanders guided her. She laid down her head.
- Her husband and uncles were beheaded. Jane’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, was pardoned, though one historian said he too was beheaded.
- She was the Queen of Nine Days.
- Would Mary have to receive permission from the parliament before she was crowned? Some in the Commons and House of Lords and many Londoners favored the new religion, Protestantism.
- By negotiations, her Privy Council bypassed parliament. Did not her father’s will designate her as next in line? She was insulted that there was any doubt. She was the daughter of the king and queen of Spain!
- In response to anti-Catholic disturbances, Mary issued a proclamation on 18 Aug 1553 from Richmond Palace, which offered some measure of tolerance. Catholics were not to be referred to as “papists,” while Protestants were not to be called “heretics.” Was this merely a temporary show of tolerance?
- Mary was crowned on 1 Oct 1553, at Westminster Abbey, and parliament was set to meet a month later. Stephen Gardiner held Catholic Mass during the coronation ceremony. The holy oil was from Catholic-dominated Netherlands. Again the ceremony followed the Royal Book.
- By the end of 1553, only Latin Mass and offices were legal.
- When Gardiner was released from prison, a Protestant saw him and proclaimed he (the man) was not heretic. “So worship we the living God!” Bishop Gardiner replied: “God’s passion! Did I not tell you, my lord deputy, how you should know a heretic? He is up with the ‘living God,’ as though there were a dead God. They have nothing in their mouths, these heretics, but ‘the Lord liveth, the living God ruleth, the Lord Lord’ and nothing but the ‘Lord.’ Away with him! It is the stubbornest knave that ever I talked with” (qtd. in Ackroyd 247).
- In fear or protest to Mary’s crowning and policies, 800 reformist bishops and other church leaders fled to the Continent, to centers of Protestantism, such as Geneva, Zürich, Basel, Strasbourg, Emden, and Frankfurt.
- Until then, Catholic Masses, celebrated in various regions in England, were illegal because of Edward’s reforms. Ironically, until parliament favorable to Mary met, she was still called Supreme Head of the Church of England. She despised that title.
- Mary’s government transitioned to the one who shared her Catholic values, and on that score the transition was smooth.
- But Protestants believed she was temporarily hiding her true and full plans of restoring the Church of England to Rome. Soon those plans would be unleashed. Many households placed images of the Virgin Mary in their windows. A reformer in Exeter Cathedral was preaching, but word reached the people that Mary was on the throne, and they walked out. All over the land Mass was heard, gladly.
- As to a woman ruling England, Mary had precedence to draw from. Matilda in the twelfth century claimed the title domina or Lady of the English, not queen, but only over regions of England. Mary’s grandmother had ruled as queen of Castile. Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, could tell stories about her own mother. Mary’s great-grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, had been the real power behind the throne of her son, Henry VII. But apart from the hapless Jane Grey, Mary was the first to be proclaimed queen over all of England, as sole monarch.
- Mary hired a female jester, Jane Cooper, known as Jane Fool, who had been the jester of Katherine Parr, her stepmother and last wife of her father. She might be shown in a painting of Henry VIII and his family done in 1545. She is seen on the left side under a arched doorway, opposite Henry’s fool Will Somer on the right.
- The queen was served by female attendants “… most of whom are so far from beautiful as to be downright ugly,” complained a courtier (qtd. in Borman 248). He added that there are plenty of beautiful women outside the court. Why not employ them?
- Each year Mary spent 300,000 ducats on providing food for her courtiers and councilors.
- Mary was very devout. She heard masses four times a year. She began each day with this prayer: “O Lord, maker and redeemer, I thank thy goodness most humbly that thou has preserved me all this night” (qtd. in Borman 251).
- At the end of October 1553, Mary decided to marry Philip II, son of Emperor Charles V. (Philip would become King of Spain, Philip II, in 1556).
- If she had decided to marry an English nobleman, maybe another War of Roses would erupt. If she married a foreigner, especially from Spain, a significant percentage of the population would object.
- Her Catholic advisers said to avoid Philip. Mary had no easy choice.
- Nonetheless, Philip it was. She even swore on the Catholic Host that she would marry him. Now for the negotiations. Would he be consort or king?
- When Emperor Charles’s negotiators, aristocrats from Spanish-dominated Netherlands, reached London in January 1554, apprentices (specialized laborers) threw snowballs at them.
- Son of Sir Thomas Wyatt, poet and diplomat, also named Thomas Wyatt, rebelled. But it was crushed by Apr 1554, when Wyatt was executed on 11 of that month, but not before his army burned Stephen Gardiner’s London residence.
- It was now safe for Philip to set sail for England. Philip landed on the Isle of Wight 17-18 July of that year. He arrived at Winchester in the pouring rain on 24 July. Philip was accompanied by 7000 Spanish troops, whom he sent on to the Netherlands.
- Philip and Mary were married on 25 July 1554 at Winchester Cathedral, on the feast of St. James, patron saint of Spain. Bishop Gardiner officiated.
- But she was frumpy and dumpy and older than he. She fell for him, while he was merely doing his religious and dynastic duty to produce a Catholic heir.
- The wedding night: the bed was blessed by Stephen Gardiner. No one knows what happened that night, but it lived down to his expectations. He commented to his servant that the queen is no good from the point of view of fleshly sensuality” (qtd. in Borman 258).
- Philip’s father named him the King of Naples as a wedding present. He was equally ranked with Mary now. Dual monarchy, however, with the English woman at the lead, and her foreign husband a step behind, was now embarked in England. She did not allow him his own coronation, using the excuse that parliament would object.
- Cardinal Reginald Pole returned to England in 1554 and led the charge to restore Catholicism to England. He was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1555.
- However, Giovanni Pietro Carafa, elected pope (Paul IV) in May 1555, believed Pole was a crypto-Lutheran and hounded him, so Pole could not do his job.
- As for Elizabeth, she refused to admit she was part of Wyatt’s rebellion. Queen Mary was insulted because her half-sister’s refusal implied that she was unjustly imprisoned.
- Eventually, the Council and prosecutors could not yet find any evidence, so Elizabeth was placed under house arrest in Woodstock. On the way there people greeted her. She was very popular. This might have hurt her cause, since she did not want to outshine Mary.
- During Elizabeth’s imprisonment, she asked for a Bible in English, though she went through the outward trappings of Catholic worship without fuss.
- One time Elizabeth heard that her half-baked devotion to the Latin Mass was interpreted as insurrection. She knelt before her sister and begged her to teach her the Catholic faith.
- Could it be that Mary was pregnant? If so, then she believed she was the future, not Elizabeth, for Elizabeth was a bastard. So Elizabeth was not worth the time or trouble. It was dismissive pity from Mary. God was on the queen’s side.
- The news of the pregnancy meant that Elizabeth was treated kindly and was taken to Hampton court, where Mary and Philip celebrated Easter. Philip was in England.
- Rumor spread that Mary was delivered of a boy. Church bells from southern England to Scotland rang out. Even the continentals were happy. England would at last return permanently to the “true faith.”
- The bells had to stop ringing soon, because it was a phantom pregnancy. Humiliating for Mary.
- As noted, Mary was much older and dumpy, had a deep voice almost like a man’s, while Elizabeth was young and beautiful. This led Philip to gradually favor Elizabeth, especially when Mary’s pregnancy was a phantom. He could see the future was with Elizabeth. He even gave her a diamond worth 4,000 ducats—huge amount!
- Elizabeth was allowed to return to her own considerable estates on 18 Oct 1555. Freedom.
- Mary tried to return England and the old church property back to Rome, property that her father had taken. She miscalculated, for many lay-people by now were enriched by this land. Parliament and the landed gentry revolted, in 1555.
- This time the evidence was a little stronger that Elizabeth was involved, but from a distance, for the leaders of the revolt spoke more freely of Elizabeth.
- However, the revolt was crushed, for Mary was also popular among Catholics of the land. Elizabeth was again arrested.
- Meanwhile Philip had left the country. He said he needed to take care of matters on the continent; plus, he was not really in love with Mary.
- Mary was said to have found a private place and burst out in tears. She wrote long letters to him, while he replied with short notes.
- So what should be done with Elizabeth? Mary decided to ask her husband and wrote him.
- Philip thought about it. He rightly perceived Mary was declining. If Elizabeth was eliminated, the throne would go to Mary, Queen of Scots and future dauphiness of France. France was the Habsburg’s greatest enemy. If Elizabeth were allowed to live, she might hinder England’s return to Rome. Philip chose the Habsburgs. He wrote, telling Mary to let Elizabeth live.
- Mary obeyed, even though the evidence was against her half-sister.
- However, Philip brought Spanish influence and a Spanish-style inquisition of the remaining Protestants, like Thomas Cranmer. People witnessed atrocities.
- Mary changed the laws in England that favored Protestantism to ones that supported Catholicism, but could she change some of the English hearts? She had a Catholic majority at the beginning of her reign.
- She especially targeted Cranmer. Under torture he recanted his earlier Reformist beliefs. Normally, this would bring a stay of execution, but he had approved her father marriage to Anne Boleyn and signed the document that made Mary illegitimate and her mother’s marriage null and void. He was to be executed anyway. Revenge.
- On 23 Mar 1556, Cranmer was led to a platform opposite St. Mary’s pulpit in Oxford, where he was expected to repeat his earlier recantations of Reformist beliefs, but with tears streaming down his face he instead recanted his recantations, returning to Protestantism.
- He was pulled off the platform and dragged to the ditch where his friends Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley had burned a year before, while Bishop John Hooper had burned in Gloucester. Word spread of Cranmer’s historic death.
- Latimer is alleged to have said to Ridley: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Those words were recorded in John Foxe’s second edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Did Latimer really say them? Undetermined.
- People grew to reject Mary’s restorations to Catholicism, since it had a backward, medieval whiff to it.
- For much of Mary’s reign the weather was awful and affected the harvests. People were hungry.
- Mary and Pole caught the influenza virus, which affected the country several times.
- In 1558, France wanted Calais back, and Philip prodded England to join his cause. At first the council remained neutral, but then an old English defector, Sir Thomas Stafford, taking refuge on the continent, helped the French take Scarborough. Though the conquest did not last long, the English were still humiliated and joined Philip’s cause.
- Philip’s strategy was deficient, and Calais was lost. Mary’s is supposed to have said that when she dies and they cut open her chest, Calais would be written on it.
- During Philip’s next visit to England, Mary convinced herself that she was pregnant. God was on her side and would carry on the Catholic dynasty for England. However, it was again an illusion.
- At the same time Elizabeth had to strengthen her position. She communicated with her allies. Support was strong for her. Even Catholics in Mary’s inner circle could see that Mary’s star was declining, while Elizabeth’s was rising.
- Mary had lost Calais, and burned heretics—over 300, even commoners.
- Maybe Catholics could bring Elizabeth back to the “true faith” (as they defined it). She seemed to be a Catholic outwardly, at least.
- Mary thought of many ways to exclude her sister from the succession, but each idea collapsed. On her death bed, on 28 Oct, she wrote a codicil to her will. She finally indicated that her sister should indeed become the next queen. Big hearted? Or was Elizabeth clever enough to to appear to follow Catholicism in its outer trappings?
- Mary died in the early hours of 17 Nov 1558 at St. James’s Palace, London. She was buried at Westminster Abbey. (Cardinal Pole died on the same day.)
- Cause of death: Prolactinoma, a non-cancerous tumor of the pituitary gland causing pseudo-pregnancies, migraines, depression and onset blindness (Guy, 2016, 10).
- Only her inner circle mourned her.
- “Among the personal effects that Mary left was a book of prayers with a page devoted to intercession for expectant mothers. It was stained with tears” (Borman 270).
Mary: 300 in five years, while she had the support of neighboring nation-states;
Henry 308 people were killed in 14 years, after the Treason Act (Ackroyd 397).
Elizabeth: 200 in forty-five years and only four for heresy (Anabaptists). The other executions were done for challenging her right to rule in a heated context of assassination attempts and plots and international opposition to the point of five Spanish Armadas.
Perspective: These nation-states opposed Elizabeth’s reforms, but supported Mary’s effort to return England to Rome: Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, France, and the Spanish Netherlands.
So many believe, not without reason, that she deserved the epithet “Bloody Mary.”
(Jane Grey, Queen of Nine Days: she was not a Tudor)
Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen
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—, Chronicle of the Tudor Queens (Sutton 2002).
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