Bloody Mary: The Marriage, Reign, and Death of a Queen of England
Mary Tudor, Mary I, nicknamed by her enemies as Bloody Mary, was the third woman to hold the throne of England. She is often remembered for trying to counter the religious reforms introduced by her father, the famous King Henry VIII and subjecting England once again to the pope's authority. Queen Mary I had a life that certainly was exciting: a life full of torment, richness, sadness, passion, and sickness. Here we will delve a little deeper into the story behind Bloody Mary, the “bloodthirsty” Queen, examining her life from her coronation until her death.
A Rapid Loss of Popularity Due to Religious Reform
Crowned Queen of England on October 1, 1553, one of the first measures taken by Mary was re-instating the legal marriage between her parents: Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon . Initially she was as popular as her mother, who was much loved by the people (even after being divorced from Henry VIII). However, the popularity of Mary quickly faded as she soon as she revoked all laws favorable to Protestantism.
Soon after she took the throne, Queen Mary turned her focus to finding a husband. Her haste was due, amongst other reasons, to an obsessive desire to give the coveted crown to a Catholic heir and avoid access to the throne for her sister, the Protestant Elizabeth.
Her religious fervor was also swiftly made apparent, as on November 30, 1554 supported by the Cardinal Reginald Pole, Queen Mary I reinstated the ecclesiastical dominion of Rome over England. Religious persecution lasted nearly four years, in which scores of Protestant leaders were executed. Others were forced into exile, while about 800 remained in the country.
Some of those who were executed include: the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer ; Nicholas Ridley , the Bishop of London; and the reformist Hugh Latimer . Although there is debate about the number of deaths, John Fox calculated in his Book of Martyrs that 284 people were executed for “questions of faith.” These 284 executions were enough for the Protestant historian to name from that moment on, Queen Mary I as “Bloodthirsty Mary” or the more popular “Bloody Mary.”
Detail of an illustration from the "Book of Martyrs" by John Fox, depicting the preparations prior to the burning at the stake of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. ( Public Domain )
Marriage to Philip II of Spain
The story goes that Mary refused the proposal of Edward Courtenay, the Earl of Devon as she apparently fell madly in love while looking at a portrait of the then Prince Philip II of Spain , son of her first cousin the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V .
Witnessing her enthrallment with Philip, the Lord Chancellor Gardiner and the House of Commons begged her to reconsider and to choose an Englishman, fearing that England would be forced to depend on Spain in the future. But Mary stood firm and on July 25, 1554, just two days after they met, Mary and Philip were wed. The ceremony was held at Winchester Cathedral. At the time Phillip was 26 and Mary 37 years old. For him it was a mere marriage of state, but she really loved him.
Portrait of Mary I of England and Ireland by Hans Eworth. On her chest you can see the famous pearl "La Peregrina" on the necklace that Philip II gave her in 1554 on the occasion of their marriage. ( Public Domain )
In the marriage contract it was clearly specified that Philip’s Spanish advisors could not interfere in English affairs, nor would England be obliged to fight the enemies of Spain. In addition, Philip would be called "King of England" and all official documents, including Parliamentary minutes, would be signed by both the King and Queen. The parliament could only be convened under their joint authority as well. Coins with the effigy of both were also made. But her marriage to Philip would not improve the Mary’s popularity, as the British did not trust their new foreign king.
Portrait of a young Philip II by Tiziano (1554) ( Public Domain )
Three months after their wedding, Mary began to suspect she was pregnant and her belly began to grow. However, doctors attributed this to an inflammation due to the retention of liquids. Subsequently she suffered yet another false pregnancy, which was speculated to be due to the pressure to produce an heir, even though her symptoms - which included the secretion of breast milk and vision-loss, seem to suggest some kind of hormonal disorder, (motivated possibly by a tumor of the pituitary gland.)