Mary I

Mary I (1516-1558) was queen of England from 1553 to 1558. Her reign marked a reversal of Edward VI's Protestant policies and a return to Catholicism.

Born on Feb. 18, 1516, at Greenwich Palace, Mary was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. The birth of the little Spanish Tudor bitterly disappointed Henry VIII, who hoped for a son and heir. Nonetheless, he took courage and expressed the forlorn hope at her christening that "If it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God the sons will follow." Mary became a good student and an accomplished linguist. She learned Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and Greek. She studied astronomy, natural science, and mathematics and became familiar with the works of Erasmus, More, and Vives. Like all Tudors, she was musically inclined; she played the lute, virginal, regal, and spinet. She also danced and embroidered.

In 1528 Henry VIII requested Pope Clement VII's dispensation for the marriage of Mary to her half brother, the illegitimate Henry (1519-1536), Duke of Richmond and Somerset, the natural child of Henry and his mistress Elizabeth Blount. When the Pope agreed on condition that Henry give up his plan for nullifying his marriage to Catherine, Henry balked and the project was dropped.

Mary did not like her father's new wife, Anne Boleyn, who reciprocated in kind. Mary was forced to leave her own household and become a member of that of her half sister Elizabeth. She lost her title of princess and was declared illegitimate via the Act of Succession (1534). During Catherine's last days Henry refused to let mother and daughter see one another. With the appearance of Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, Mary's life altered. She took the oath of supremacy, revisited the palace, and entered into amicable relations with Henry. She was god-mother to Edward, Jane's son, and chief mourner at Jane's funeral.

Mary got along well with Henry's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves (1540) but not with his fifth, Catherine Howard. She attended Henry's marriage to Catherine Parr (July 1543). By the parliamentary Act of Succession of 1544 she was restored to the royal succession. During the reign of her half brother Edward VI she refused to subscribe to the new Protestant service; resolutely she declared in council that "her soul was God's and her faith she would not change." On Edward's death on July 6, 1553, she became queen but not without disposing of the Duke of Northumberland's plot to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

Mary was 37 on her accession. She was an attractive woman, delicately featured, thin, short, well-complexioned, nearsighted, and deep-voiced with a grave demeanor. Her pro-Catholic and pro-Spanish policies immediately became apparent. She restored the Catholic Church but did not restore the monasteries to it and married Philip (later King Philip II of Spain) on July 25, 1554. Announcement of her marriage precipitated three insurrections, including Wyatt's Rebellion, which was not extinguished until the rebels were at the gates of London (February 1554).

Statutes against heretics were reinstituted. Prominent Protestants such as Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer, as well as lesser folk, suffered the heretics' death: burning at the stake. About 300 died. Many Protestants fled to such places as Geneva, John Calvin's home. Calvin's protégéJohn Knox, the Scottish reformer, called Mary "that wicked Jezebel of England." Later writers called her "Bloody Mary."

Philip left England in 1555 after a 10-month stay; he did not return until March 1557 for a sojourn of 3 1/2 months. He convinced Mary to join Spain's war against France. The war went badly for the English. Early in 1558 the French took Calais, the last English possession on the Continent. Mary, disappointed at her husband's absence, her failure to produce an heir, and the loss of Calais, died on Nov. 25, 1558. Stubborn, temperamental, and soured in spirit by the opposition of her people and bodily ills, she was nonetheless true to her faith and to those faithful to her. Her uncompromising attitude toward Protestantism, and Elizabeth's triumphs have ensured that she be remembered as the least successful Tudor sovereign.

Further Reading on Mary I

The best biography of Mary is H.F.M. Prescott, A Spanish Tudor: The Life of "Bloody Mary" (1940; rev. ed. titled Mary Tudor, 1953), which is a soundly researched, fascinating work. See also the older, Catholic study of J. M. Stone, The History of Mary I, Queen of England (1901), and Beatrice White, Mary Tudor (1935).

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