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.)
Portrait of Mary I of England and her husband Philip II of Spain. The couple lived alone for about 15 months. Hans Eworth. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Kingdom of Ireland, and a War with France
The creation of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1542 was not recognized by the rest of Catholic Europe, but in 1555 Mary obtained a papal bull by which her and her husband were confirmed as the monarchs of Ireland. Thus the Church accepted the link between the kingdoms of England and Ireland.
However, in August of that same year Philip left the country in the direction of Flanders to attend the abdication of his father Emperor Charles V. After a reasonable waiting time, Mary urged her husband to return as soon as possible, but as he was occupied with his new role as the King of Spain, Philip refused to return until March 1557.
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Philip II returned basically to try to convince Mary to support Spain in its war against France, which was allied with the new Pope Paul IV against the Habsburgs. Queen Mary relented and gave her husband a considerable financial backing and the promise of military aid if the French attacked the Netherlands.
In June 1557 Mary declared war on France and in July Philip left England for good: Mary and would never see him again. The English army landed in Calais, a strategic point overlooking the English Channel. But in January 1558, the French captured the city in a surprise attack.
Then the Protestant faction, given that she had violated the marriage contract (for the declaration of war on France at the request of Philip II), launched a campaign opposing the Queen - filling the streets with pamphlets that ignited anger against the Spaniards. The loss of Calais, famine caused by a series of poor harvests, and a new flu epidemic ravaging the country did not bode well for Mary.
The French take Calais in 1558. Oil painting by François-Édouard Picot, 1838 (Public Domain)
Tragic Last Years of Queen Mary’s Life
Although she was married to King Philip II of Spain, England did not benefit from lucrative trade with the New World: Spanish jealously guarded their income, and because of her marriage to Philip, Mary could not approve piracy against the Spanish vessels. In addition, persistent rains and floods caused a famine that devastated the country.
Financially, Mary I’s regime tried to create a modern form of government, with a corresponding increase in spending, along with a medieval system of taxes. That is, the absence of duties on imports neglected a key source of income. To solve this problem, Mary drew up plans to carry out a monetary reform, but it was not put into practice until after her death.
Her health gradually worsened and it became necessary to think about succession. Ruling that her husband would never have agreed to take the reins of England, preferences were then given to her sister Elizabeth to succeed her. Despite the notorious Protestantism of her sister and her popularity that threatened Mary, she respected Elizabeth’s life enough to confine her to a palace instead of taking more drastic action at the time.
In early November 1558, Queen Mary I of England made a will. In it she appointed her sister Elizabeth as her successor, with the fervent hope that she would abandon Protestantism. Also in her will she expressed her desire to be buried next to her mother, Catherine of Aragon.
Princess Elizabeth Tudor, the future Elizabeth I, by William Scrots (1546). Mary, despite considerable ideological differences with her sister, respected her and named her as successor to the throne. (Public Domain)
Queen Mary I died on November 17, 1558, in the Palace of Saint James, at the age of 42. Despite the specific request in her will, she was buried in Westminster Abbey, far from the grave of her mother (located in the Peterborough Cathedral.)
Years later, her sister Elizabeth who restored Protestantism in England upon taking the throne, would rest beside her.
Some have argued that the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I only became queen due to her older sister, the Catholic Mary, who despite remarkable ideological differences eventually protected the inheritance rights of her sister to the throne of England.
Portrait of Mary I of England, oil on oak panel painted in 1554 by Hans Eworth (Public Domain)
Featured image: Detail of Portrait of Mary Tudor. Oil on panel by Antonio Moro. Prado Museum. Madrid Spain. (Wikimedia Commons)
This article was first published in Spanish at https://www.ancient-origins.es/ and has been translated with permission.
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