Queen Mary I

Born: February 18, 1516

Greenwich, London, England

Reign: July 19, 1553 - November 17, 1558 (5 years)

Died: November 17, 1558

Westminster, London, England (Age 42)


Mary Tudor was born the only surviving child of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, on February 18, 1516. Though Mary was the first healthy child that Henry and Catherine had produced, which was definitely an encouraging sign considering the number of stillbirths and miscarriages Catherine had already suffered, there undoubtedly must have been disappointment on the king’s part that he still did not possess the son that he needed to carry on the Tudor dynasty. Nevertheless, the princess was treated warmly and with great admiration by both of her parents and given a solid upbringing and education. The king did not hesitate to use his daughter as a pawn in the turbulent game of continental dynastic politics. According to the Treaty of London (1518), Mary was, as a stipulation, betrothed to the French dauphin. This, however, did not last and, by 1521, the English had signed the Treaty of Bruges with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Mary’s first cousin) in which the princess was betrothed to the emperor himself, a man sixteen years her senior. The betrothal to Charles would last for five years before the emperor decided against the marriage in favor of a union to Isabella of Portugal.

At this point, since relations between England and France were now more cordial, it was suggested, on separate occasions, that Mary marry both the French king, Francis I (a man twenty-one years her senior), and his younger son, the future Henry II. None of these matches, however, came to fruition and, by 1527, a new problem with England had come out into the open, involving the succession. Henry VIII still did not have a legitimate son and the prospect of a foreigner, whoever Mary’s future husband might be, gaining control of England, frightened him. For these reasons, the king brought his “Great Matter” into the public eye as he attempted to receive an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could wed his new love interest, Anne Boleyn, and finally produce a son.

Mary did not play a significant role in the drawn-out and dramatic events that occurred in the years following 1527 (which cannot, and will not, be discussed in any detail here, being that they are more appropriately contained in the biography for Henry VIII), but that is not to say that they did not have any effect at all on her. Through the first several years of the annulment debacle, Mary was still treated kindly by her father, who continued to provide her with a household fit for a princess. Over time though, Mary gradually distanced herself from the court and undoubtedly was unhappy with the way her mother was being shunned by Anne, a woman that the princess greatly despised and considered to be no more than her father’s mistress. Events rapidly deteriorated for both Catherine and Mary in the spring of 1531, as the king, infuriated with the fact that the annulment proceedings were moving so sluggishly (and that the queen was responsible for much of the delays), promptly dismissed Catherine from court. For the time being, she continued to live with all the luxuries that a queen would normally benefit from (albeit without her husband’s presence) but was absolutely forbidden from seeing Mary.

The princess, like her mother, also continued to live comfortably, that is until the beginning of 1533. It was at this point that Henry, now fully set on separating England from the papacy, secretly married Anne, who was now pregnant. Several months later, Thomas Cranmer, the new Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, declared that the marriage to Catherine of Aragon had never been valid and that Anne Boleyn was the new Queen of England. Catherine was now reduced to being the dowager Princess of Wales (since she had been previously married to Henry’s deceased elder brother Arthur, Prince of Wales). Princess Mary, now considered to be illegitimate, was reduced to the mere title of “Lady Mary.” Both women refused to accept their new positions and must have been overflowing with joy when Anne gave birth to a healthy baby girl, the Princess Elizabeth, in September 1533. Though Henry was by no means happy with the fact that he still did possess a male heir, he nevertheless put the First Succession Act into effect, which stated that Elizabeth and any other children he had by Anne would have precedence over Mary. When the king prompted his eldest daughter to accept the Succession Act, he was met with intransigence and outright refusal. At first, Henry merely reduced Mary’s household. When she continued her impudent behavior, he dissolved it completely and, to pour more salt on the wound, put Mary in the household of her new baby half-sister in late 1533.

Mary would remain in her sister’s household for the next two and a half years and, though she was treated fairly enough, she most certainly quarreled with a number of ladies within the house on several occasions and seemed more than a little disgruntled at times. In January 1536, Mary’s beloved mother, Catherine, passed away. This was a devastating blow to the princess, who had not seen her mother in nearly five years, but her prospects brightened significantly when Anne Boleyn was executed for treason in the spring of that year. Within two weeks of Anne’s death, the king had married his third wife, Jane Seymour. Soon after, the Second Succession Act was put into effect, in which Princess Elizabeth was also made illegitimate. The new queen was, like Mary, a follower of the Orthodox faith and urged the king to make amends with both of his daughters.

Mary, of course, saw this as an opportunity to get back into her father’s good graces and possibly even be restored to the succession. After repeated entreaties to both Thomas Cromwell (the king’s leading minister) and Henry himself, it was agreed that Mary would be taken back into favor. However, she would be forced to sign an article of submission in which she would acknowledge two conditions: Firstly, that England was now completely separate from the papacy and that Henry was supreme head of the English church; and, secondly, that she herself was illegitimate and, at this point, still excluded from the royal succession in favor of whatever heirs Henry might conceive with Queen Jane. It had been made a treasonous offense to refuse to submit to the Act of Supremacy and a number of men had already been executed for doing so. With this in mind, Mary was convinced by Eustace Chapuys, the ambassador to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and a man who had served as a mentor of sorts to the princess for some years now, to sign the act. She did so, despite the fact that it went against everything she believed in, and was returned to royal favor.

For the remainder of her father’s reign, Mary was a regular figure at court and was much loved by the king and throughout the realm. Mary’s relationships with her father’s various wives seem to have differed depending on the particular wife, but were cordial for the most part. She was certainly close with Jane Seymour and was undoubtedly upset when she died of cradle fever, shortly after giving birth to Prince Edward, the new heir to the throne. Mary seems to have been fairly indifferent to the king’s short-lived fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, and the downfall of Thomas Cromwell that accompanied it, though the two would become somewhat close later on as Anne embraced the Catholic faith. The princess did not, however, care for her father’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, a rash and promiscuous girl that was actually younger than her new stepdaughter. It is highly doubtful that Mary shed any tears when Catherine was executed for adultery in February 1542. Henry’s final wife, Catherine Parr, enjoyed a very pleasant relationship with Mary, despite the fact that the new queen was of the reformed faith. Mary, at this point, does not seem to have been the die-hard defender of the old faith that she would become during her own reign (or even that of her brother) and played little or no role in the volatile struggle between the Conservative and Reformist factions that dominated the 1540s. In 1544, the king decided to restore both Mary and Elizabeth to the royal succession, to succeed their half-brother Edward should he die without issue. Mary or Elizabeth’s accession to the throne therefore still seemed doubtful at the time, but there was certainly a ray of hope. Several other marriage proposals were suggested for Mary, but never came to anything and, by the end of her father’s reign she was thirty-years-old and still unmarried.

Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547 at the age of fifty-five and was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, Edward VI. Mary was certainly well-provided for in her father’s will and was awarded a number of lands in East Anglia, mainly from the disgraced Howard family, where she built up a large and loyal conservative base, which would come in handy further down the line. In the closing years of the reign of Henry VIII, the Reformist faction had gained the upper hand over their Conservative foes and the new minority council was therefore dominated by Protestants. The leading figures in the council were men who staunchly supported completing the Reformation in England such as John Dudley, Earl of Warwick; Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury; and, most importantly (at least for the time being), Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, a maternal uncle of Edward VI and the man who was given the position of protector of the realm. Even the young king himself, who had been raised by men who favored the reformed faith, was a supporter of the Protestant cause.

None of this boded well for Mary, who was as staunchly Catholic as her mother had been. As time went by, the realm inevitably drifted further into Protestantism, much to Mary’s chagrin. The Act of Six Articles (which defended a number of Orthodox Catholic beliefs), was repealed and Archbishop Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer became the new standard for religious worship within England, though not without protest. Most of the information contained in the Prayer Book was fairly straight forward and merely confirmed statements that had already been put into practice years ago, but one of the more significant elements within the book was the elimination of the traditional Catholic mass. This was something that Mary refused to conform to and it is no surprise that suspicion fell on her when the Western Rising (or “Prayer Book Rebellion”) broke out in the summer of 1549. Though Mary was never implicated in the rising, and most likely had nothing to do with it, it showed that she was beginning to become a beacon of hope for the Conservative cause and that people were willing to support her and even push for her to become the new protector of the realm. An opportunity to make the latter plan a reality came when Somerset fell from power later that year, but Mary showed little interest and power was ultimately seized by the Earl of Warwick, who became the new de facto protector.

As the Protestants pushed for the Prayer Book to become the standard book of religion in the realm, Mary came under fire for continuing to practice the traditional Catholic mass. Some sources say she would hear as many as four masses a day! Though, this surely must be an exaggeration. Mary was permitted to hear the old mass only on her lands and in the company of a few of her own servants. When the council discovered that Mary was inviting others into her private masses, they were infuriated and made sure to keep eyes on her activities at all times. Mary was undoubtedly reminded of her restricted movements during the time of her parents’ bitter annulment proceedings and it therefore came as no shock that Mary attempted to turn to her cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, for support. Charles V urged the king and council to treat his cousin kindly and fairly, but Warwick and the other Protestants would have nothing of it. In the summer of 1550, a plot was laid by the Imperial ambassador to secretly take Mary away by boat to live in the Low Countries, within the domains of Charles V, and possibly even seize the English throne. All preparations were made but, when the Imperial agent who was to rescue Mary arrived, he found her in a panic and completely unprepared. In the end, Mary could not bring herself to go through with the plot, much to the frustration of those who had planned to aid her.

It does not appear as if this plot ever came out into the open and the council did not take any action against the princess. They were, however, becoming increasingly angry with the fact that Mary refused to obey the new religious standards of the realm and continued to openly hold Catholic masses. Several of her clerics and officers were arrested and Mary herself was summoned before the king, who was extremely unhappy that his sister was blatantly disobeying his laws. Edward VI stripped his sister of her immunity to hear mass even in the privacy of her own lands, as was the case before, but Mary continued to resist. Tensions ran high for some time, but in the end, the king and council realized that it was better to keep Mary quiet than risk further rebellions in her name and allowed her to continue to hear mass privately. From this point, until the end of the reign, relations between brother and sister seem to have been fairly cordial, though Mary was undoubtedly still alarmed that Protestantism was still thriving.

King Edward began to show signs of the illness that would ultimately kill him in late 1552. As 1553 progressed, Edward’s sickness lingered, but he went through several periods of remission, giving hope to his Protestant councilors that everything would be alright. Unfortunately, by the middle of the year, it became clear that Edward was dying. Though it was by no means known as to what the king was suffering from at the time, most modern historians and physicians will conclude that it was some sort of pulmonary disease. According to the Act of Succession of 1544, Mary was the rightful heir should Edward die childless. However, the king and his advisers, nearly all of them Protestants, did not want to see the progress they had made in the Reformation be completely undone by the accession of the Orthodox Catholic Mary. Therefore, Edward drew up a will that excluded both Mary and Elizabeth from the royal succession (though the latter was herself  a Protestant). The king was to be succeeded by Lady Jane Grey, the eldest daughter of Frances Grey, and a Protestant. Frances was a daughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary and therefore had a legitimate claim to the throne. Warwick, who by this point was Duke of Northumberland, also saw that the end was near for Edward and prepared himself for the situation by marrying his son Guildford to Jane Grey, virtually assuring himself a place of power should Jane ascend the throne. All who favored the Protestant cause were praying that this shaky and questionable plan for the succession would work out to their benefit. They were to be disappointed.

Edward VI gave up the ghost on July 6, 1553 at the young age of fifteen. Judging by the severity and crippling nature of his illness, the end must have been a blessing. The king’s death meant that England would now be ruled by a female for the first time since the disputed (and brief) reign of Matilda, the daughter of King Henry I, in the mid-twelfth century. It was only a matter of which female, Jane or Mary, that would determine which direction the country would be headed in. Several days later, the royal council proclaimed Jane Queen of England. As soon as Mary heard of her brother’s death, she had herself proclaimed queen from her powerbase in Norfolk, where she had gathered a relatively small but fiercely loyal group of adherents to her cause. Mary, however, seemed to act with more swiftness and decisiveness than Northumberland and the Protestants and, soon enough, her faction gained the upper hand. The people of England, both nobles and commons, defected in droves to Mary’s cause and Northumberland, who was surprisingly ill-prepared to say the least, was forced to capitulate and acknowledge Mary as his rightful sovereign. Within less than a month, the cause of Jane Grey had been crushed with practically no bloodshed.

Mary treated the rebels with surprising leniency. Although Northumberland and a few of his followers were executed the following month, none of the duke’s sons were harmed, nor was Jane Grey or her father, the Duke of Suffolk (though Jane and her husband Guildford were kept under close watch in the tower). Mary then entered London in triumph to be crowned Queen of England. One of her first priorities was to release a number of Catholics who had been imprisoned at various points over the previous years. These men included the Duke of Norfolk, now a man of eighty; Edward Courtenay, who had been in the tower since 1538; and Stephen Gardiner, Cuthbert Tunstall and Edmund Bonner, the deposed Bishops of Winchester, Durham and London respectively. Most of these men and other Catholics were appointed to the new royal council. Several members of the council from the previous reign were retained, but only those who had not shown themselves to be staunch promoters of the Protestant cause. Mary was already beginning to make it clear that she not only wanted to bring England back to how it was during her father’s reign (where at least the Orthodox mass was still permitted), but had other intentions of renewing the bond between England and the papacy.

After taking several precautionary steps to sure up her position as queen, including legitimizing the marriage between her parents so that she herself was no longer considered to be a bastard, the topic of a royal marriage became the subject most in the limelight. A number of Mary’s councilors insisted that she should marry one of her own subjects and the best candidate was believed to be the recently released Edward Courtenay, now Earl of Devon. Mary, however, showed very little interest in this proposed union and had previously promised that she would not marry without the approval of Charles V. Charles, in turn, nominated his own son, Philip of Spain, to marry the queen. Mary quickly, and with great joy, accepted the emperor’s proposal, much to the chagrin of her own subjects, who were none too happy to have a foreign prince, eleven years Mary’s junior and who spoke very little English, as their new king. The queen, however, did not care what they thought and consulted neither her council or parliament before she made her choice (which, granted, belonged entirely to her).

Mary’s impending marriage to Philip of Spain seems to have been the most significant factor involved when rebellion broke out in early 1554. Though a number of contemporaries and historians will claim that the risings of 1554 were based on religion, and indeed a number of the leaders were Protestants, it does not appear as if the plan was to put Jane Grey on the throne, but to prevent Mary from marrying a foreigner who knew nothing of their way of life. The plot seems to have been for several rebel forces from various parts of England to come together in London to put pressure on the queen and prevent her from marrying Philip. In Leicestershire, the Duke of Suffolk, Lady Jane Grey’s father, and his two brothers were the leading rebels. Suffolk’s defection was especially surprising because Mary had shown him an incredible amount of mercy by pardoning him for his actions in favor of his daughter the previous summer. All in all though, Suffolk was unable to garner any support whatsoever and was promptly arrested and imprisoned in the tower.

The portion of the rebellion based in Kent, led by Sir Thomas Wyatt, posed a much greater threat. Wyatt was the son of the late, well-known courtier-poet (and former suitor to Anne Boleyn) of the same name and certainly possessed Protestant leanings. Mary sent the elderly Duke of Norfolk with a force of Londoners to Rochester to quell the rebellion, but the duke soon found himself deserted when his army defected to the rebel cause. Wyatt could have taken advantage of this situation and marched swiftly on London, but he dithered. Mary, meanwhile, delivered a thunderous speech at Guildhall to rally her people and, when Wyatt finally decided to march on London, he was met with great resistance and was ultimately forced to surrender. In the aftermath of Wyatt’s Rebellion, Mary was in no mood for mercy as she was after she had successfully taken the throne. Roughly 150 rebels were executed, including Wyatt, Suffolk, Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley (Jane’s husband). In addition, both Edward Courtenay and even Mary’s sister Elizabeth were suspected of having some sort of involvement in the rebellion and were interrogated. But, no solid evidence could be found against either and the council was forced to release them. This brutal display in punishing the rebels showed that Mary would not tolerate rebellion in her realm and undoubtedly acts as a sort of prequel to the gruesome actions that she would later be responsible for.

With the rebellions put down and Mary’s throne now more secure, she was free to concentrate on other matters. She and Philip were married, by proxy, in March 1554 and steps were taken in parliament to ensure that, if Mary died first, Philip would hold no claim to the English throne. It was also established that, while in England, Philip would pay for his own household expenses. A number of religious subjects were also either debated or put into law, under the guidance of Bishop Gardiner, who was also Mary’s chancellor. The heresy laws were reverted to their pre-Edwardian form and all Protestant bishops were stripped of their offices. A bill that would have reconciled England to the papacy was brought before parliament but failed, at least for the time being, much to Mary’s chagrin. The issue that consumed the most amount of attention within the realm was, by far, the impending arrival of Philip of Spain. Mary became quite anxious as the months went by and her new husband failed to show up. It was not until July that Philip finally arrived and the two did not meet until the day before their wedding ceremony, which occurred, lavishly, on July 25. Though Philip was undoubtedly flattered by the grand welcome he had been given, he was made uneasy by the fact that he was surrounded by people who he considered to be heretics, excepting the queen, and by the fact that his new household would consist of primarily Englishmen, whom he could not communicate with directly due to the obvious language barrier. In addition, Philip is rumored to have been unsatisfied by the queen’s complete lack of sexual experience and could hardly have been happy with the fact that his new wife was a virgin nearing forty while he was still considered a vibrant and youthful man even by sixteenth century standards. Mary, however, displayed genuine affection for Philip and was overjoyed by the fact that, after thirty-eight years of loneliness, she now had a husband to call her own.

Despite a distinct feeling of Hispanophobia amongst the native Englishmen, relations between Mary and Philip remained on good terms and rumors even floated about that the queen was now with child. The royal couple now turned their attentions back to the reconciliation of England with Rome and the decision was made to recall Cardinal Reginald Pole from exile, who would then serve as papal legate in England. Cardinal Pole had been living on the continent since 1532 and had been one of the most vocal critics of the annulment between Mary’s parents and the separation of England and the papacy. Henry VIII, who at first showed favor to Pole, grew to hate him passionately and his hatred only grew when the cardinal was implicated as a supporter of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. Pole was attainted in parliament and, not being able to get his hands on the cardinal himself, Henry had his brother and elderly mother (the latter of whom was Mary’s long-time governess) executed. It was obvious that Pole had a score to settle with the Protestants and everything they stood for.

Pole was welcomed back into England in November 1554 (the attainder against him had been reversed) and played a major role in the ensuing parliament in which England and Rome were reconciled. The main obstacle of the proceedings was Pole’s desire to see all the monastic lands seized by the crown during the reign of Henry VIII restored to the church. Mary and many of the other staunch Catholics at court agreed with the cardinal, but King Philip knew that it would be completely nonsensical to take the former monastic lands from their new owners, most of whom were powerful members of the English aristocracy. Philip used his charismatic sway on his wife to convince her of this fact and a bill was drawn up that kept the lands in the hands of their current owners, much to the disappointment of Cardinal Pole. But, more importantly, the royal supremacy, which had made Henry VIII and his successors “supreme heads of the English church,” was done away with and England was officially reconciled with the Pope. The old heresy laws were put back into effect and it once again became a capital offense, punishable by death, to deny allegiance to the Catholic church. Soon after parliament was dissolved, Bishop Gardiner and Cardinal Pole began going after Protestants and, the following month, several men who refused to acknowledge Roman supremacy were burned at the stake as heretics, beginning one of the darkest chapters in England’s history. Reactions to the burnings were mixed. Many contemporaries were, of course, horrified and even Gardiner expressed a certain amount of hesitance on carrying out the death sentences. But, Cardinal Pole and the queen herself were set in their ways and insisted that this was the only way to truly cleanse England of the reformed faith.

By May of 1555, Mary was preparing to give birth to the child that she thought she had been carrying, but her expectations were futile. After waiting at least two additional months for the birth, it was revealed that Mary had been the victim of a phantom pregnancy. It is anyone’s guess as to how this could have happened, but it has been concluded by a number of historians that the phantom pregnancy was a combination of the onset of the disease that would ultimately kill her (most likely uterine cancer) and Mary’s own imagination, based on her extreme desire to produce an heir. If this experience was not devastating enough for the queen, she soon discovered that her beloved husband would be departing England to attend to urgent affairs on the continent, due to his father’s declining health. This was indubitably a great relief for Philip, who had felt increasingly alienated in his adopted land and realized that any power he possessed there was purely symbolic. The idea of his father abdicating the Spanish throne to him (which is what would soon happen) suited the king much more than living an uneventful life in a foreign country with a barren and emotionally broken wife over ten years his senior.

While Philip was on the continent, he was given more responsibilities by his increasingly unwell father, which only plunged Mary further into depression. In October 1555, he replaced his aunt, Mary of Hungary, as regent of the Low Countries and was proclaimed King of Spain when Charles V abdicated the throne in January 1556. Meanwhile, more Protestants were burned in England. The well-known  preachers Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley met their ends in October 1555, but the most high-profile Protestant to be burnt under Mary’s orders was, by far, Archbishop Cranmer, in March 1556. Cranmer had actually repented and renounced his reformed beliefs, but Mary insisted that he meet his end. The queen undoubtedly garnered an extreme hatred for Cranmer and would have taken great joy in seeing him burn for his sins. After all, it was Cranmer who was heavily responsible for her mother’s misfortunes and it was he who was entirely guilty of producing the Book of Common Prayer, a Catholic’s worst nightmare. Cranmer’s burning, however, did little more for Mary than to turn him into a martyr and help cement her image as a tyrant. After the archbishop had renounced all he believed in, he, an old man well into his sixties, posed little threat to Mary’s security. Killing him only added more unnecessary fuel to the fire (so to say). Replacing Cranmer as archbishop was none other than Cardinal Pole, the queen’s loyal henchman.

It must be wondered if the burning of the Protestants is related, at least somewhat, to Mary’s increasingly anxious behavior over her absentee husband. Was Mary nothing more than a severely depressed woman who was looking to take out her own misfortunes on those who she already had a hatred for? As Mary begged and pleaded for Philip to return to her over the following months, one must seriously consider this question. Around this time, Mary also faced a conspiracy against her regime led by one Henry Dudley (a distant cousin of the late Duke of Northumberland), which never quite came to fruition, much to the queen’s relief. The plot seems to have been to depose Mary, with French assistance, in favor of Elizabeth. On the continent, Philip had his hands full with the increasingly hostile situation with France and the papacy and the Treaty of Vaucelles, which had been signed between Philip and Henry II of France earlier in the year, was collapsing. Many members of the English royal council felt that it was inevitable that Philip would come to England for assistance in the war against France, a prospect that was frightful, considering the cost of such an endeavor. In January 1557, the French officially broke the peace treaty by attacking the town of Douai. At this point, Philip decided to travel back to England to ensure that his wife would provide him with support if it was needed (and it would be).

Philip arrived back in England in March 1557 to a grand reception and was received joyfully by his wife, but his proposal to bring England back to war with France was met with mixed reactions in the royal council, with some councilors being against the war and others supporting it. This was all changed when one Thomas Stafford, an Englishman supposedly acting with French assistance, seized the remote castle of Scarborough in northern England. Stafford was a political exile who had fled to France after his implication in Wyatt’s rebellion in 1554 and possessed a remote claim to the English throne several times over. In fact, he was actually a nephew of Cardinal Pole, being the son of his sister Ursula, and a paternal grandson of the Duke of Buckingham who had been executed for treason against Henry VIII in 1521. It is not known for sure whether Stafford acted on his own far-fetched ambitions of winning the throne or if he was merely a lackey of Henry II of France, but Mary and her councilors felt they had the ammunition they needed to join Philip in the war against France. Stafford’s rebellion did not last long and he was ultimately captured and executed. It was agreed that Philip would be provided with an English army and navy, but only if he paid a majority of the costs himself, a suggestion that he had no choice but to agree to.

Philip left England for the second and final time in July of that year and would never see his wife again. It was rumored that Mary was “pregnant” again by the time of her husband’s departure, but the visit was clearly all business for Philip, and he was leaving with exactly what he had come for: a substantial English army, under the Earl of Pembroke. The French campaign actually went surprisingly well for the allied forces and a Spanish army decisively defeated a French force at the Battle of St. Quentin before they went on to take the town itself. With the French seemingly in shambles and the campaigning season nearing its end, Philip and his allies felt they had done what they needed to for the time being and withdrew from France. The English felt so sure about the helplessness of the French that the decision was made to greatly reduce the number of troops at Calais and its surrounding areas (frequently known as the “pale” of Calais), the lone remaining English-controlled territory on the continent, in an effort to cut costs. This would turn out to be a very grievous mistake. When Henry II discovered that Calais’ defenses were substantially diminished, he decided to take advantage and exact revenge on some of those who had just made him look so foolish at St. Quentin. A force under the Duke of Guise was sent to the coastal town in early January 1558 with the intentions of seizing it. When the English governor of the town realized what was going on, he sent for aid from both England and from Philip, but the French were easily able to capture the castle before any assistance arrived. As the month wore on, all of the other towns within the pale fell to the French, culminating in the conquering of Guisnes and Hammes.

The loss of Calais, which had been in English hands since it was conquered by Edward III in 1347, was deeply embarrassing for Mary’s regime and the queen felt a great deal of guilt over it. Though it did deprive the English of a safe place to land on the continent, the loss of the old coastal town was mainly symbolic. The cost to garrison and defend it was high, and would only increase over time. Therefore, if anything else, the loss of Calais can be chalked up to a sort of financial victory on the part of the English. Within England though, esteem was at an all-time low and the anti-Hispanic sentiment within the realm was reaching its boiling point, with most Englishmen placing the blame entirely on Philip for Calais’ loss. On top of this, the economy was in shambles, the Pope was now on bad terms with Mary and Cardinal Pole for their support against the French and, worst of all, the Protestant burnings continued.

By the spring of 1558 it became blatantly evident that Mary had suffered yet another phantom pregnancy, this time of a purely psychological nature, as she showed no physical evidence of being with child as she did in her earlier “pregnancy.” The question of the succession now became a dire issue. According to the Succession Act of 1544, Mary was to be succeeded by her sister Elizabeth if she were to die childless. But, to the Orthodox Catholics within England, of which Mary was certainly one, Elizabeth was both a heretic and a bastard. Unfortunately, there were few viable alternatives and, with some cajoling from Philip, the queen decided to officially name Elizabeth as her heir, despite the fact that she was well aware of her sister’s religious beliefs. Philip’s reason for defending Elizabeth seems to have been clear: he did not want to burn any bridges or lose a valuable ally against the French. The war on the continent continued to linger on, but English participation seems to have died down significantly and, by the late summer of 1558, Mary had become sick with her final illness. With the queen fading fast, many of her supporters urged Philip to come and visit his wife before she passed away. Unfortunately, Philip was prevented from doing so by the death of his own father, Charles V, in September. Mary held on for two more months, anxiously awaiting for the only man she had ever really loved to be by her side, but all in vain. Queen Mary died on November 17, 1558 at the age of forty-two. She was succeeded on the throne by her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth.

Assessment and Analysis

When rating English monarchs, Queen Mary I is constantly placed in the category of tyrant, surpassed in her despotism perhaps only by Richard III, a man who is most well-known for murdering his own nephews to seize the throne. Though an unpopular Spanish marriage, an economy in recession and the loss of Calais did nothing to help Mary’s popularity, it was, by far, the burnings of unrepentant Protestants during her reign that sealed her reputation as a ruthless bigot. By the end of her short reign, Mary had ordered the burnings of 283 Protestants, a staggering number to say the very least, forever gaining her the sobriquet of “Bloody Mary,” a name that is still a household term to this very day. It was these cruel acts of Mary and her ministers that allowed Queen Elizabeth, Mary’s sister and successor, to win back most Englishmen to the Protestant cause.

There are few historians that will go out on a limb to vigorously defend Mary’s actions but, it must be remembered that the queen led a fairly sad life at times. During her father’s reign, though she was most certainly loved, Mary was treated as nothing more than a dynastic pawn in her father’s game of continental politics and was greatly shunned when Anne Boleyn and her faction came to power and was forbidden to see her own mother. To make matters worse, she was even forced to provide service for her new sister and to sign a humiliating submission oath. When her brother Edward came to the throne, Mary was a religious outcast in a regime that clearly was attempting to destroy everything that an Orthodox Catholic truly believed in. It was truly an inspiring triumph when Mary rode the wave of popularity and ascended the throne in 1553.

At the time, there was widespread support for Mary’s regime and for a rebirth of the Catholic faith. Mary herself achieved a huge boost to her self-esteem when she married Philip. The marriage to Philip, however, would be the apex of the queen’s happiness and when her husband proved to not be as enthusiastic as she was about their union, Mary sunk deep into depression, a depression that would only be exacerbated by a phantom pregnancy and Philip’s departure from England. It was around this point that the burnings started to occur in earnest. Mary undoubtedly will receive a fair amount of sympathy from anyone who studies her (or knew her in her time), but can her own depression be given as a legitimate excuse for the death of so many people? Were these burnings the actions of a zealous defender of the Catholic faith or simply the rash acts of a delicate, emotionally shattered flower who was attempting to subdue her own psychological anguish by inflicting physical pain on a group of people that she did not care for?

The burning of Thomas Cranmer seems to give those who follow Mary’s life a bit of insight into her mindset. Cranmer had already renounced the reformed faith and had been reduced to nothing more than a hypocritical, tired old man. Yet, Mary still insisted on killing him. One must conclude that Cranmer’s death was based on Mary’s own personal vendetta against the archbishop. He had caused her a great deal of pain by annulling the marriage of her parents and by producing the Book of Common Prayer and Mary felt he had to die. This provides evidence that these burnings were not merely religious and that Mary received almost a sort of sadistic pleasure from them. It is true that Mary’s father executed many men, and women for that matter, for fairly minor offenses, but whereas Henry VIII is widely looked at as a symbol of progress and reform (which tends to overshadow his tyrannous behavior), Mary herself will always be most known for the Protestant burnings, leaving a stain on her name that will never, ever be removed.

References and Further Reading

David Loades, Mary Tudor: The Tragical History of the First Queen of England

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