Queen Mary I – Bloody Mary
Queen Mary I was one of five children born to Henry VIII and her mother Catherine of Aragon, but she was the only one to survive childhood. Mary was born on the 8th December 1542 at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich. Contrary to the commonly held belief, Henry was very pleased with her birth and presented her proudly to visiting noblemen and ambassadors. It was only as years passed when Mary was still his only legitimate heir that his desire increased to desperation to have a male heir to throne.
Queen Mary I – The early years. When Mary was three days old she was baptised into the Catholic faith at the Church of the Observant Friars in Greenwich and was immediately confirmed with Margaret Pole, eighth Countess of Salisbury as her sponsor, who was later to become her governess in 1520.
As a child, Queen Mary I led a happy, sheltered life and was unusually advanced for her age. She was barely four and a half years old when she gave a performance on the Virginals (a type of harpsichord) to entertain a a visiting French delegation. Her Mother Catherine was responsible for her much of her early education. By the age of nine, Mary was well educated, displaying great linguistic skills in French, Spanish and Latin, she was also well versed in music and dance, with a fine contralto singing voice.
Queen Mary I was recognised from birth as one of the most important European princesses and Henry used her as every King used his daughter – as a pawn in political negotiations. She was initially promised to the Dauphin, the infant son of Francis I of France when she was only two, but the contract was repudiated three years later. At the age of six in 1522, Henry arranged for her to marry her first cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. However the engagement only lasted a few years before it was broken off by Charles with Henry’s agreement. Negotiations were resumed with the French, with Henry suggesting that Mary should this time marry the Dauphin’s father, Francis I himself, who was eager for an alliance with England. Yet another marriage treaty was signed which provided that Queen Mary I should marry either Francis I or his second son Henry, Duke of Orleans, but Cardinal Thomas Wolsey who was Henry’s advisor, secured an alliance with France without the marriage.
Queen Mary I – Alienation and illegitimacy. By 1525, Henry realised that Catherine would never present him with a male heir and sent Mary to the Welsh border for a period of three years to preside, in name only, over the Council of Wales and the Marches. Henry gave Mary her own court which was based at Ludlow Castle in addition to many of the royal privileges which were normally reserved for the Prince of Wales. She was formally created Princess of Wales, although she was never officially invested with the title since that would appear to absolutely declare her heir to the throne. The title remained until she was declared illegitimate after her parent’s divorce in May 1533.
Catherine was deeply devoted to Mary, this was probably reinforced by the unfortunate loss of her other children, so when in 1527 Henry proposed the idea of an annulment, she opposed it vehemently to protect her daughter’s future. By 1531, Mary was often sick and suffered bouts of depression, no doubt partially brought on by her parents’s break-up and with irregular menstruation, though it is not clear if her problems were caused by stress, puberty or something more deep-rooted. Henry had sent Catherine to live away from court and refused to allow Mary to see her mother with whom she was very close and as a consequence, Mary became alienated from her father.
In 1533, Henry asked the Pope to annul the marriage, but when he refused, Henry’s bishops dissolved the marriage thus allowing Henry to marry Anne Boleyn, and in May, Thomas Cranmer the Archbishop of Canterbury, formally declared the marriage with Catherine void, and the marriage to Anne valid, who in the September gave birth to Mary’s half sister Elizabeth. Catherine having been forced aside by a former lady-in-waiting and the sudden rise of Anne Boleyn, reversed Mary’s status, and with the annulment, Henry had declared Mary illegitimate – a bastard.
Mary was thus deprived of her status as an heir to the throne, at least for the immediate future and was re titled Lady Mary. She believed that if Henry had obeyed the Roman Catholic Church, she would not have been labelled as illegitimate, her right to the throne would not have then been questioned. This is the foundation upon which her loyalty to Rome and the Catholic church was laid. Despite the fact that England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and her father had became Supreme Head of the Church of England. Mary never acknowledged the Church or the Supreme Head having remained a devout Catholic.
Mary developed a lasting hatred of Anne Boleyn and her daughter, who would later become Queen Elizabeth I. She believed that Anne, and not her father was to blame for what she considered was unlawful and this hatred had an unfortunate impact upon Elizabeth’s life.
After Catherine’s death, Anne Boleyn lost favour with Henry and in 1536, was found guilty on trumped-up charges of adultery and conspiracy and beheaded. Within two weeks Henry wed his next wife, Jane Seymour. She gave him his long desired heir, Edward, and now both Mary and Elizabeth were classed as illegitimate. Jane however, urged Henry to make peace with Mary.
Queen Mary I – Reconciliation. Henry considered Jane’s request and stipulated to Mary that she would have to recognise him as head of the Church of England. Repudiate Papal authority, acknowledge that her parent’s marriage was unlawful and consequently accept her own illegitimacy. She offered a compromise but was bullied into signing a document agreeing to all of Henry’s demands. Mary, now reconciled with her father, resumed her place at court and regained certain privileges. The following year in 1537, Jane died after giving birth to her half brother who was to become King Edward I. Mary was made godmother to Edward and acted as chief mourner at the Jane’s funeral.
In January 1540, Henry married his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Despite the fact that she was a Lutheran, Mary and Ann became firm friends and would do so until Anne’s death in 1557. Unfortunately Anne’s marriage to Henry was short lived and the marriage was annulled in July of the same year.
In 1541, Henry had the Countess of Salisbury who was Mary’s old governess and godmother, executed on the pretext of a Catholic plot, in which her son (Reginald Pole) was implicated.
Shortly after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves, Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, cousin to the infamous Anne Boleyn. Catherine was only about eighteen years of age, six years younger than her step daughter Mary. Mary was apparently appalled at her father’s action but said nothing to him directly. Catherine’s position as Queen turned out to be all too short and in 1542 she was arrested, tried and executed for adultery. Following her execution, the unmarried Henry invited Mary to attend the royal Christmas festivities and she subsequently acted as hostess for Henry at functions until he remarried.
In 1543, Henry’s married his sixth and last Queen, Catherine Parr, twice-widowed and chosen for her excellent character and nursing abilities. She was about four years older than Mary and survived Henry at his death in 1547. Catherine was determined to reunite the family and all three of Henry’s children attended the wedding at Hampton Court. To that end, she provided the only maternal guidance and a home that Mary and her siblings would ever know. Mary and Catherine held opposing religious beliefs but she was still able to befriend Mary, Mary in turn respected Catherine’s intellectual accomplishments.
Henry’s health was declining and having realised the fragility of succession, determined the line of succession to the throne with King Edward VI or his heirs first, followed by Queen Mary I and then Queen Elizabeth I. This was despite the fact that he had illegitimised his daughters, Henry obtained the extraordinary power from parliament to dispose of the crown by will to enable their place in the succession in July 1543, through the Third Act of Succession.
Henry eventually died on the 28th January 1547 at Whitehall Palace aged fifty five, leaving Edward to inherit the throne and for the future Queen Mary I, another chapter in her life fraught with termoil.
Queen Mary I -Her life under the reign of Edward VI. When Edward succeeded his father, Mary inherited estates in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and was granted Hunsdon and Beaulieu as her own and for most of Edward’s reign, Mary remained on her own estates, and rarely attended court.
Because of his young age, Edward was placed under the protectorate of John Dudley the Duke of Northumberland, rule having passed to a regency council that was dominated by Protestants, who attempted to establish their faith throughout the country. So when Edward’s parliament passed an Act of Uniformity enjoining services in English and communion in both kinds, Mary believed the law appeared totally void of authority and remaining faithful to Catholicism, insisted on celebrating the traditional Mass in her own private chapel. Mary appealed to her cousin Charles V for protection and to apply diplomatic pressure on Edward demanding that her religious freedom was not infringed.
Edward was not personally unkind to Mary but their religious differences continued to cause a rift between them so much so that when Edward invited Mary and Elizabeth to a reunion in Christmas 1550, Edward publicly reproved her in front of the court for ignoring his laws regarding worship, reducing them both to tears and embarrassing Mary, neither of them willing to compromise.
In early 1553, Edward became unwell and over the following months his health steadily declined. As Edward had no heirs, Mary would succeed him, however the Duke of Northumberland was paramount in the privy council. Determined that his religious reforms would not be undone, he easily obtained the sanction of Edward to those schemes for altering the succession which led immediately after his death to the usurpation of Lady Jane Grey. Mary and Elizabeth were again declared illegitimate which meant “the throne passed to Northumberland’s daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, a distant relative of Henry VIII. When Edward died, Jane took the throne and Mary felt it necessary to flee from Hunsdon into Norfolk. But with overwhelming popular support, after only nine days on the throne, Jane was deposed and she and the Duke Northumberland were imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Queen Mary I – Her accession to the throne. On the 3rd of August 1553, with a wave of popular support, Queen Mary I rode triumphantly into London accompanied by her half-sister Elizabeth, and a procession of over 800 nobles and gentlemen. Dudley was subsequently beheaded on the 22nd August, shortly after renouncing Protestantism. Queen Mary I then ordered the release of the Roman Catholic Duke of Norfolk and Stephen Gardiner from imprisonment in the Tower of London, along with her kinsman Edward Courtenay.
On the morning of the 1st of October 1553, Queen Mary I made the short walk from Westminster Palace to Westminster Abbey for her coronation. The ceremony went on until nearly five o’clock and then Mary and her court made it’s way back to Westminster Palace for the celebratory banquet in the Great Hall.
Her parliament met four days later for the first time on the 5th of October 1553. In the second session on the 8th of October 1553, the now Queen Mary I began introducing legislations to support her position. One of the first was to revoke the Act of Parliament which had made her a bastard, wiping out the stigma of illegitimacy upon her birth and proclaiming Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon valid and legal but this act cast a slur on that of her sister Elizabeth, cutting her off from succession. This act passed with little resistance however, the other main act she introduced was to repeal all the religious laws passed in the reign of Edward VI, but this didn’t pass as easily.
For Queen Mary I her new position was unfortunately one of particular difficulty. She was inexperienced in the art of governing and Stephen Gardiner was the only councillor of hers that she could trust. But though she valued Gardiner’s advice it was her cousin Charles V that she turned to and relied on.
Queen Mary I realised that she needed to marry and began searching for a suitable husband. One candidate was Edward Courtenay, who had spent most of his life in the Tower. He was younger than Mary and one of the last decendants of the House of York and an Englishman,which would be favourable with the populace. However, following guidance from the Emperor suggesting his son Prince Philip of Spain, she determined to make him her husband, despite the fact that she was eleven years his senior. She was also strongly desirous of restoring the old Catholic religion and, so that she might not seem to reign by virtue of a mere parliamentary settlement. When Philip proposed, Queen Mary I accepted and negotiations of the contract began, but public sentiment was not in favour of the match.
The clemency that Queen Mary I had shown towards her opponents had been altogether remarkable. Lady Jane’s father, Suffolk had been pardoned and released from prison and she even had difficulty in signing the warrant for the execution of Northumberland. Queen Mary I had realised that Lady Jane was just a pawn in John Dudley’s plans and she fully meant to spare Jane and her husband, but after her involvement in Wyatt’s rebellion, she was executed on the 12th of February 1554 as was over one hundred rebels, although four hundred others were pardoned. Her sister Elizabeth did not escape suspicion and was summoned to London for questioning before she was eventually imprisoned in the Tower and then later sent to Woodstock. Having quelled rebellion she was able to pursue her own course unchecked. She restored the old religion, the medieval heresy laws were restored by Parliament and Cardinal Pole came to England to absolve the kingdom from its past disobedience.
Queen Mary I acted in a proxy betrothal in March 1554, with Lamoral, Count of Egmont , who stood in for Prince Philip. He eventually arrived in England and met Mary at Winchester on the 23rd July 1554. Two days later their wedding took place on 25th July 1554.
Her decisions were not popular, the restoration of the old religion meant that the lands that belonged to the abbeys could be reclaimed from the new owners and this was only accomplished with an express reservation of their interests. But the marriage was the most unpopular and threatened to throw England into the arms of Spain placing the resources of the kingdom at Philip’s. The Commons sent her a deputation entreating her not to marry a foreigner, but her resolution instigated insurrections that broke out in different parts of the country. The country was split by factions and hatred against the Spaniards was inflamed by seditious pamphlets of Protestant origin.
Queen Mary I – Her reign as “Bloody Mary”. Mary was not a healthy woman and was subject to frequent illnesses, which included her phantom pregnancies. In September 1554, it was announced by Mary’s physicians that she was pregnant. She exhibited many of the tell-tale signs – her periods stopped, she felt nauseous and her tummy began to enlarge.
As the “pregnancy” progressed, Philip made plans for the succession if the Queen were to die in childbirth which was common in that era. Elizabeth would have been excluded from the throne but as the next in line would be Mary Queen of Scots, who was about to marry the son of the King of France, but this arrangement was unacceptable for Spanish interests and Philip suggested marrying Elizabeth to Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy a Catholic.
Mary had entered seclusion to await the birth of her child, as was the custom at the time. She waited for the labour pains to begin, but her due date came and went without the birth of a child. It is possible that Mary may have miscarried, without realising, but it was obvious by this time that she was and may never have been pregnant. Queen Mary I began to receive again after signs of her pregnancy had disappeared but the subject of her pregnancy was never brought up in her presence.
From the time that Queen Mary I had married Philip she had refused to allow her sister to meet Philip, but when the Court moved to Hampton Court Palace in April 1555, Elizabeth was brought there from Woodstock. Elizabeth was still in disgrace and had very few visitors and had not been granted an audience with Queen Mary I. However, Mary sent Elizabeth a rich dress commanding her to wear it that evening. She met with Philip and was then brought into see the Queen. John Foxe records that Philip hid behind a tapestry during her audience with Mary at it’s conclusion, the Queen agreed to welcome Elizabeth at court.
Contrary to common belief, it was not inhumanity on the part of Queen Mary I that initiated the cruel persecution of the Protestants, and thus casting infamy on her reign and ignominious title of “Bloody Mary“. It was the heresy laws which had been reinstated to protect the old religion from fanatical outrages and insult. From the beginning there was doubt about the consequences, but once passed despite the large numbers of victims, it could not be relaxed as this would have been seen as counterproductive to the irreverence and ill will to the old religion that the law was meant to keep in check.
In January 1555, by command of Queen Mary I, the first of the arrests began. John Hooper, the former Bishop of Gloucester, John Cardmaster and John Rogers were arrested and put on trial after after they refused to cease their heretical activities. The trio were condemned to death by burning at the stake, with Rogers the first to die.
John Rogers, the first of the Protestant martyrs, was burnt to death on the 4th of February 1555. John Hooper, had been condemned six days before, and suffered the same fate on 9th. Persecutions went on uninterrupted for nearly four years, and other prominent victims included Nicholas Ridley the former Bishop of London, Hugh Latimer, the former Bishop of Worcester whom were burnt at the stake in October 1555 and Thomas Cranmer, the former Archbishop of Canterbury who followed in March 1556 and was remembered for thrusting his right hand into the fire first because it had signed his earlier recantation of the Protestant faith. In total two hundred and seventy five people died and later they were included in John Foxe’s “Acts and Monuments of the English Martyrs”, their fate, instead of deterring the Protestants, created a revulsion against Rome and Queen Mary I that nothing else was likely to have effected.
In August 1555, Philip left for Brussels to receive from his father the government of the Low Countries and afterwards the kingdom of Spain. Queen Mary I was distressed by his departure and wrote to him daily. But his absence was prolonged for a over a year and a half, and when Philip eventually returned to England in March 1557, it was only to commit England completely to war with France which by this time was inevitable. France had encouraged disaffection among Mary’s subjects, even during the brief truce of Vaucelles, conspiracies had been hatched by English refugees in Paris particularly Thomas Stafford who had attempted to seize Scarborough. But in a twist of fate, the steps that Mary took to bring England back to the Holy Roman Church ended with her being the wife of the Pope’s enemy as the Pope sided with France against Spain. Moreover, hostilities with France eventually led to the loss of Calais which had been in English hands since 1347. By July 1557, Philip returned to Brussels and from then on, never returned to England.
This loss was countered by the good news that Queen Mary I was sure that she was pregnant again. She entered seclusion in late February 1558, thinking her confinement for labour would come in March. There were doubts however from those who were close to her about the validity of this pregnancy after the earlier incident. On the 30th March 1558, Queen Mary I drafted her will and it was worded in such a way that gave credence to the fact that Mary thought she was indeed with child. Unfortunately by April when the symptoms began to fade, Mary realised that she was once again mistaken. By this time she was struggling with her health and from then on, she became progressively worse. On the 28th of October 1558, she added a codicil to her will but did not expressly name Elizabeth as her heir in it.
Queen Mary I died possibly from Ovarian cancer at St James Palace aged forty two on the 17th November 1558. Queen Mary I was subsequently interred in Westminster Abbey on 14th December in a tomb that she would eventually share with her half sister Elizabeth. As heir to the throne she was to become the next Queen beginning the era of what became known as the “Golden Age”, but also the end of the Tudor Royal Family Tree.
If you have enjoyed reading this article on Queen Mary I, please share your appreciation by clicking on one or more of the social buttons above – thank you.