Queen Mary I, who ruled from 1553 to 1558, has gone down in history as Bloody Mary due to the heresy burnings of her reign, but there’s far more to her than that, and she really is a fascinating Tudor personality.
In the video and transcript below, I share 16 things you might not know about Queen Mary I.
You can find out more about my online event “Discovering Mary I”, and register for it, at https://claireridgway.com/events/mary-2023/
Mary I was the daughter of King Henry VIII by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, she was England’s first official queen regnant, and she ruled from July 1553 to her death in November 1558. She’s gone down in history as Bloody Mary due to the heresy burnings of her reign, but there’s far more to her than that, and today I thought I’d share with you a few things you might not know about Queen Mary I.
- Mary was the result of her mother Catherine of Aragon’s fifth pregnancy, and she was born on 18th February 1516 at Greenwich Palace.
- When she was just two years old, Mary was betrothed to Francis, the Dauphin of France, then, when she was 6, she was betrothed to her cousin, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. She didn’t marry either of them, and, of course, when her father Henry VIII cast aside her mother, and Mary sided with her mother, Mary was made illegitimate and her father didn’t care about marrying her off. She didn’t get married until 25th July 1554, when she was 38. She married Philip of Spain, son of her ex-fiancé Charles V.
- Spanish scholar and humanist Juan Luis Vives was consulted by Catherine of Aragon regarding Mary’s education. She commissioned him to write the treatise Education of a Christian Woman and he created the Escort of the Soul, a study plan for Mary.
- King Henry VIII doted on Mary when she was little, calling her his “pearl of the world”.
- Mary loved music and dancing, and Dr Linda Porter notes that she could play the virginals by the age of 4. She also enjoyed drama and literature, and was good at languages.
- Mary was sent to Ludlow in the Welsh Marches in 1525, where she was given her own court. It was traditional for the Prince of Wales to do this and although Mary was never officially made Princess of Wales, people referred to her with that title and according to the Privy Purse Expenses, she was presented with a leek by yeoman of the guard on the Feast of St David, patron Saint of Wales, in 1537, 1538 and 1544.
- Mary was pretty. In 1527, Gasparo Spinelli, the Venetian ambassador, wrote: “Her beauty in this array produced such an effect on everybody that all other marvellous sights… were forgotten and they gave themselves up solely to contemplation of so fair an angel.” And in 1531, Mario Savagnano wrote of how she had “a pretty face” was “well-proportioned” and had “a very beautiful complexion.”
- She suffered with bouts of ill-health throughout her life, well before her false pregnancies. For example, in 1531 she suffered with sickness and stomach pains, perhaps to do with menstruation; in 1535, she had awful headaches and stomach ache, in the summer of 1537 she was said to be ill, then in April 1542, Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, reported that she had “been seriously ill, and in danger of her life” and Marillac, the French ambassador, wrote that she’d been “dangerously ill of a strange fever since Easter, and takes such weakness at times that she remains as though dead.”
- Mary was threatened by members of her father’s royal council. She had refused to accept her father as Supreme Head of the Church in England, and acknowledge that she was not the legitimate heir to the throne, and on 15th June 1536, received a visit from members of Henry VIII’s council, a visit ordered by the king to “induce her to obey his commands and accede to his wishes”. Chapuys recorded the visit, reporting that one of the councillors had said that “Were she his or any other man’s daughter, he would beat her to death, or strike her head against the wall until he made it as soft as a boiled apple; in short that she was a traitress, and would be punished as such”. Chapuys feared for Mary’s life and persuaded her to submit to her father. He noted that she signed the paper without reading it and that afterwards she “fell suddenly into a state of despondency and sorrow”. She must have felt that she was betraying her late mother and going against everything she believed in.
- Despite Mary’s bad relationship with Anne Boleyn, she appears to have had a good relationship with Anne’s sister-in-law, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. At New Year 1537, Jane gave Mary a clock as a gift and in February 1537 Mary bought 12 yards of black satin for Jane. She also gave gifts to members of Jane’s household. Mary was certainly friends with Jane’s father, Lord Morley, and stood as godmother to Jane’s niece.
- Mary did not get on with Catherine Howard, her father’s fifth wife, but made the best of the situation. In December 1540, Chapuys reported: “The Princess, hearing from Chapuys that the late attempt to take away two of her maid servants proceeded from the new Queen (who was offended because the Princess did not treat her with the same respect as her two predecessors) has found means to conciliate her, and thinks her maids will remain.”
- Mary defied her brother King Edward VI’s religious legislation, continuing to celebrate mass. In March 1551, she even rode through London with knights, gentlemen and ladies all carrying rosaries, which had been banned by her brother’s government. When Edward called her to him and pointed out she was defying him over the mass, “She answered, that her soul was God’s, and her faith she would not change, nor dissemble her opinion with contrary doing.” She was putting God before her half-brother and king.
- Mary thought about fleeing England twice, once during her father’s marriage to Anne Boleyn after his brutal treatment of the Carthusian monks, Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More, and then during her half-brother’s reign in 1550, when imperial warships did arrive off the coast of Essex to take her. She decided to stay in England.
- She was willing to fight for the throne. When she heard that her half-brother was dying in July 1553, and that there was a plot against her, she fled from London and made her way to East Anglia, where she knew she had support. There, she rallied that support, proclaimed herself queen and wrote to the privy council stating that she was queen and they should recognise her. Men flocked to her cause. She inspired loyalty and she was prepared to take what she viewed as her rightful place as queen by force. She didn’t have to. Within days, Queen Jane’s council abandoned Jane and proclaimed Mary queen.
- Like her half-sister Elizabeth, Mary had a way with words. For example, on 1st February 1554, she was able to rally the citizens of London against Wyatt’s Rebellion by giving a rousing speech at Guildhall. In her speech, she spoke of how she was “maried to this common weale” and that there was nothing more acceptable to her heart, nor more answerable to her will, than her people’s advancement in wealth and welfare. She went on to say: “I cannot tell how naturally the mother loveth the child, for I was never the mother of any; but certainly, if a Prince and Governor may as naturally and earnestly love her subjects as the mother doth love the child, then assure yourselves that I, being your lady and mistress, do as earnestly and tenderly love and favour you. And I, thus loving you, cannot but think that ye as heartily and faithfully love me; and then I doubt not but we shall give these rebels a short and speedy overthrow.”
Mary’s speech was very effective. When Wyatt marched on London he found the city guarded and barricaded.
- Although Mary has gone down in history as Bloody Mary and her reign is often seen as a failure, she actually did achieve much during her five years as queen. She opened up new trade routes, she began planning currency reform, although died before her plans could be put into action, and historian David Loades listed her other achievements as being: She strengthened the position of Parliament by using it for her religious settlement, she restored and strengthened the administrative structure of the Church, and she maintained the navy and reformed the militia. He concluded that “Parliament, the revenues, the navy, even the church benefited from her policies. But the big beneficiary was also the least grateful – Elizabeth. Without her sister’s enlightened legislation and sound administration she would have had a much harder time.”
Linda Porter notes that Mary’s “bravery put her on the throne and kept her there, so that when she died she was able to bequeath to Elizabeth a precious legacy that is often overlooked: she had demonstrated that a woman could rule in her own right.”
Love her or hate her, Mary I is a fascinating historical personality, once you peel back the layers of myth and inaccuracies. I’m so glad that series like “The Tudors” and “Becoming Elizabeth” have made people aware of what she went through and a completely different side to this 16th century queen, and that historians and bloggers are working so hard to rehabilitate her, to bring out the real woman behind the Bloody Mary label.
If “The Tudors”, “Becoming Elizabeth” or your reading has piqued your interest in Queen Mary I, then I’d love you to be involved in my online event “Discovering Mary I” which officially starts in January 2023, although we’re enjoying zoom call discussions before then.
8 historians over 12 days will delve into Mary’s life and reign. Topics will include Mary’s background, her relationship with her father Henry VIII, the 1553 succession crisis, Mary and Spain, Mary and Elizabeth, her religious policy and the burnings of her reign, Mary’s imagery, the view of Mary as Bloody Mary and why it should be challenged, Mary’s relationship with the imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, and Mary’s ill health and death. Mary may have been queen for only 5 years, but there’s a wealth of information to explore. I can’t wait to explore it with you and to talk Tudor about a queen who really does divide opinions. It’ll be so good. Please do consider registering.
Our next zoom call is this Saturday and we’ll be discussing Mary and Elizabeth. You can find out more about my online event “Discovering Mary I”, and register for it, at https://claireridgway.com/events/mary-2023/