Bloody Mary: Tumultuous Beginnings for a Future Queen of England
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 ( 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. ( 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. 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.
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The Death of Henry VIII and Edward VI
Lady Mary , as she was then called in court, became one of the ladies-in-waiting to little Elizabeth. But the glory days of Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth were brief because Anne also failed to provide Henry with a male heir. On May 19, 1536 Anne Boleyn was beheaded on charges of adultery. Elizabeth followed the same path that was forced upon Mary years before and she too was stripped of all her property rights and received the lower title of Lady.
Henry VIII was not done on his pursuit for a male child, and remarried yet again. This time he was wed to Jane Seymour , who died after the childbirth of the male heir Henry VIII always wanted, on October 12, 1537. Mary was named the godmother of her new brother Edward and also arranged Jane’s funeral. In consideration of this gesture of kindness, her father allowed her to reside in the Palais de Beaulieu.
Beaulieu Palace, as it was at the time in which Mary lived in it. ( Wikimedia Commons )
Over the years, and many more women, Henry VIII married for the last time in 1543 to Catherine Parr , making her his sixth wife and the one to unite the whole family. So much so that a year after their marriage, the king signed the Act of Succession to the effect that both Mary and Elizabeth returned to be included in the line of succession to the throne, following Edward in that order.
Henry VIII died in 1547 and was succeeded by his son Edward VI . Unfortunately, the new king was only 10 years old at the time, and the regency council became dominated by Protestants who were eager to implement their rules in England. The new "boy-king" also soon began to show very poor health.
The Short Reign of the Boy King
As he did not want Mary to inherit the crown, fearing her reinstatement of Catholicism, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland , persuaded the very young Edward to exclude Mary and Elizabeth from the line of succession. Dudley also got Edward to place his daughter-in-law, 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.
Edward VI died on July 6, 1553, apparently from tuberculosis when he was only 15 years old, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His death was kept secret for a few days to prepare the coronation of the future queen, chosen by a group of conspirators and regents, Jane Gray.
Edward VI of England, the long-awaited male heir of Henry VII, died when he was only 15 years old. William Scrots. ( Wikimedia Commons )
Mary I, Queen of England
On July 10, 1553, Jane Grey was crowned Queen of England, swearing loyalty to the authorities of the kingdom. But what her father John Dudley failed to perceive in his plans was the popularity at the time of Princess Mary, who was made a legitimate heir under the Act of Succession of 1544 –that had been written and signed by Henry VIII.
The people were not very pleased with their new queen and on July 19, Mary I of England rode triumphantly into London. Jane was forced to give up the crown, which she considered to only be hers through coercion anyways.
Mary ordered the release of Catholics Thomas Howard, Third Duke of Norfolk and Stephen Gardner , whom she appointed as Lord Chancellor and Bishop of Winchester, respectively. She believed she could trust only in them, since the rest of the privy councilors were involved in the plot to crown Lady Jane. Then she began what would be the first of many imprisonments for traitors in the Tower of London. Lady Jane and John Dudley were among those who were imprisoned and quickly executed. Gardner formally proclaimed Mary as Queen on October 1, 1553.
Mary I of England makes her entrance in London to take over the throne in 1553, accompanied by her sister Elizabeth, dressed in red behind her. Oil on canvas by Byram Shaw, Palace of Westminster. ( Wikimedia Commons )
Read Part 2: Bloody Mary: The Marriage, Reign, and Death of a Queen of England
Featured image: Portrait of Princess Mary Tudor, future Mary I of England. Master John, 1544. ( Wikimedia Commons )
This article was first published in Spanish at https://www.ancient-origins.es/ and has been translated with permission.
By: Mariló TA
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I thought Lady Jane Grey was married to Henry VIII (the nine days queen) and killed by Bloody Mary
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.