Portrait of Princess Mary Tudor, future Mary I of England. Master John, 1544.

Bloody Mary: Tumultuous Beginnings for a Future Queen of England

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Mary Tudor, 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 dramatic: a life full of torment, richness, sadness, passion, and sickness. Here we will delve a little deeper into the story behind Bloody Mary, the “blood-thirsty” Queen, examining her early life as an heiress to the throne.

Childhood and Youth

Mary I of England was born in the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London on February 18, 1516. Her maternal grandparents were famous Spanish Catholic Monarchs: Isabella and Ferdinand , as Mary was the daughter of the famous  Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon . Mary was the only one of their children who lived through childhood: Catherine suffered from several miscarriages, another baby was born dead and three more died shortly after being born.

When Mary was born, her parents lived in perfect harmony, and she was baptized as “Mary” in honor of Henry VIII’s younger sister. Mary was a sickly child, suffering from perpetual vision problems and terrible headaches. But despite her poor health, she was a precocious child.

Mary was the only child (that lived to adulthood) of Henry VIII

Mary was the only child (that lived to adulthood) of Henry VIII ( Wikimedia Commons ) and Catherine of Aragon ( Wikimedia Commons .)

It was Catherine who ensured that Mary – a pale girl with blue eyes, reddish-gold hair and ruddy cheeks like her father, received the best Catholic education. To do so she hired the great scholar  Juan Luis Vives . With him, Mary studied Greek, science and music. At the age of five she was already entertaining visitors with her ability to play the  Muselar virginal.

The king loved her and bragged before his friends of her good behavior, despite the disappointment he felt for not having a son. When Mary was nine, Henry VIII provided her with her own court at Ludlow Castle along with several royal privileges. A year later she was sent to Wales to preside over the Council of Wales. During the childhood of his daughter, Henry VIII negotiated several possible marriages for her, but all were thwarted.

Ludlow Castle, a gift from Henry VIII to his daughter Mary for her ninth birthday.

Ludlow Castle, a gift from Henry VIII to his daughter Mary for her ninth birthday. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Distraught by having no male heir, Henry VIII began to distance himself from his wife, and after various affairs and the birth of an illegitimate child, had with his mistress  Elizabeth Blount , Henry fell in love with  Anne Boleyn . The year was 1526 and it was the beginning of difficult times for Catherine and her daughter Mary, the then Princess of Wales.

The Beginning of Difficult Times

Henry VIII began a smear campaign against his wife trying to find a compelling reason to justify the annulment to marry Anne and try to get his coveted male heir. But neither Catherine nor the Roman priest (who was close to the powerful  Holy Roman Emperor Charles V , Catherine's nephew) made things easy for Henry. Thus, Henry VIII tried to annul the marriage claiming consanguinity, as he married Catherine who was the widow of  his deceased brother Arthur , but it did not work - Pope Clement VII  still refused his request.

Portrait of Pope Clement, who refused to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, which was the final blow that led the English king to separate England from the Catholic Church and to declare himself head of the Anglican Church.

Portrait of Pope Clement, who refused to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, which was the final blow that led the English king to separate England from the Catholic Church and to declare himself head of the Anglican Church. Oil on canvas by Sebastiano del Piombo. National Museum of Capodimonte. ( Wikimedia Commons )

In 1533, the happy childhood and adolescence that Mary had enjoyed ended abruptly. Her life took a terrible turn when Henry VIII secretly married Anne Boleyn - although this union was later invalidated by the Pope. In response to this annulment, the king broke with the Catholic Church and declared himself head of the  Anglican Church (aka. The Church of England) . As a result, Catherine of Aragon lost her title as queen, but maintained that of  Princess Dowager of Wales , (awarded by her first marriage to the late Arthur Tudor, Henry VIII's elder brother.)

The young Mary was subsequently declared an illegitimate daughter, and her title changed to  Lady Mary  as she was removed from the line of succession to the throne. Her place was taken by her sister Elizabeth - the daughter of her father and Anne Boleyn. Mary was then expelled from the court along with her servants. She was forbidden to return to see her mother ever again. The king even disallowed her attendance at her mother’s funeral in 1536.


ancient-origins's picture

Yes, thank you Harry, that’s right. There was an error in the translation from the original Spanish version of this article. We have now corrected the mistake. Apologies.


Lady Jane Gray was Dudley's Daughter-in-law, not his daughter. It does get confusing sometime.

It's probably me being a little thick, but this passage left me mightily confused:

"Dudley also got Edward to place his daughter, daughter, Lady Jane Grey, (Edward’s cousin) as heir to the king. Dudley’s motives were obvious as Jane Grey was married to his son Guilford, whom the Duke imagined would soon be the new king of England."

This implies that Lady Jane Grey was Dudley's daughter, or was she Edward's daughter (but he was only 15)? But wait, she was married to Dudley's son Guilford. So you have perhaps unearthed a scandalous incestuous relationship where Dudley's daughter was married to her own brother, Dudley's son.

Great article! Would her entrance into London really resemble the painting? That must have been extraordinary.

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