Mary I

Mary Tudor

Mary I was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon his first of six wives. Mary reigned as queen of England from 1553 to 1558 when she died. Mary came to the throne following the death of her younger brother Edward VI. It was not an easy accession to the throne as Edward had decreed that neither of his sisters should inherit the throne but that his half cousin Lady Jane Grey should. Mary and her armies fought off opposition and Lady Jane Grey was subsequently beheaded while Mary became queen.

Mary is perhaps remembered best as the monarch that brought the catholic faith back to England albeit for a short time. Mary had many of her enemies whom she referred to as religious dissenters executed in order to keep the catholic faith alive in England. Mary was a well educated girl reading and writing Latin fluently as was her mother’s wish. The catholic faith was an integral part of Mary’s bringing up.

Catherine of Aragon Mother of Mary Tudor

Henry was indeed a doting father but although this was certainly the case he could not hide his terrible disappointment in the fact that he had no male heir. What was to happen was to influence Mary’s future enormously. Henry wanted to annul his marriage to Mary’s mother Catherine of Aragon (as it was obvious that she would no longer be able to bare children), using the reason that he had married his own dead brother’s wife. The Pope at the time refused his request and so England’s move away from the influence of Rome was put in motion.

Eventually Catherine was banished from court leaving Mary without her mother. In fact Mary was no longer allowed to see her mother something that caused her deep distress. Henry then married Anne Boleyn who was at the time pregnant with Henry’s baby. Catherine’s position was demoted to that of Dowager Princess of Wales while Mary was declared illegitimate. Mary was then sent to live in the household of her new sister Elizabeth but flatly refused to accept Anne Boleyn as queen or Elizabeth as her sister, something that made her relationship with her father very strained resulting in them not speaking to each other for three years.

Mary suffered greatly at this time especially as her mother was extremely ill and subsequently died without Mary being allowed to see her. Mary was totally devastated as we can imagine and spent her time grieving alone at Hunsdon in Hertfordshire. When Henry married for a third time (following the execution of Anne Boleyn) to Jane Seymour he invited Mary back to court at Jane’s behest. Mary with much persuasion had to sign an agreement saying that she acknowledged her father as the head of the church, which she eventually did.

Mary spent the next few months enjoying her newly won status while she was given back her household along with being lavished with many material gifts. Her followers wanted Mary to have her position secured by her birth rite regarding legitimacy being reinstated. This was refused and the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion was quashed. Henry was always suspicious when it came to his daughter’s faith and the determination of her catholic followers. In fact Mary’s own governess The Countess of Salisbury was executed at his behest when charged with a catholic plot against Henry. She suffered a terrible fate with her inexperienced executioner taking dozens of blows to sever her head!

Eventually Catherine Parr who was Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife succeeded in reconciling the family and Mary was back in favour with her father. She was made a successor to his throne after his son Edward as was Elizabeth his younger daughter although for some strange reason they were still regarded as illegitimate. Following Henry’s death Mary was granted properties and she was able to become once again a practising catholic in her own privacy. Edward VI frequently demanded she abandon her faith but Mary stoically stuck to her guns resulting in a strained relationship with her brother who was a devout protestant.

Edward worried that if Mary became queen she would restore links with Rome and return Catholicism to England. He drew up a document banishing both Mary and Elizabeth her sister from becoming monarchs of the future. Upon Edwards death Mary fled to her estate in Norfolk where she declared that she should be made monarch and that Lady Jane Grey whom Edward had decreed should be queen be arrested. Mary had many followers and accrued a huge army which in the end did succeed in bringing her to the throne while Lady Jane Grey was eventually executed.

Mary released many of her followers from imprisonment in The Tower of London when she became queen on October 1st 1553. Mary turned her thoughts then to marriage and children. She eventually married Prince Phillip of Spain at Winchester Cathedral on July 25th 1554. It wasn’t a marriage made in heaven but more of a political alliance; indeed the two did not even speak the same language. Phillip also had to agree to declarations that he reigned as husband to Mary but that if Mary died the throne reverted to England or to their children should they be blessed.

Phillip II of Spain

Mary who was desperate by this time for children suffered a phantom pregnancy. It was presumed as she put on weight, felt sick and was bloated that she was with child. Elizabeth came back to court to witness the birth but it was not meant to be and Mary was devastated. Phillip left for war soon after the phantom pregnancy leaving Mary depressed and alone. A second pregnancy was suspected following Phillips brief return to see his wife but once again it was a false alarm meaning Elizabeth after all would be queen should Mary die.

Mary became ill in 1558. It was thought that she may have had ovarian cancer while she also had contracted influenza and she subsequently died on 17th November 1558 at St James’s Palace. The proof that her husband was never in love with her was apparent in his comment on her passing. He said “I felt a reasonable regret on her death” not the words of a loving husband who has just lost his wife.

Mary had always wished to be buried with her loving mother Catherine of Aragon but even in death she did not get her wish regarding her mother. Mary was buried instead eventually with her sister Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey. It is very sad that even unto the end she would be separated from her mother. Mary will be remembered as being the first woman to successfully win the English throne but she bears the somewhat uncomplimentary title “bloody Mary” due to the vendetta she campaigned against Protestants and their subsequent executions.

More information on “Bloody Mary” can be found at the Tudors.org

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