21 Interesting Facts about Mary I

Mary I was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and she was Queen of England from July 1553 to November 1558, but how much do you know about her?

In this latest edition of my “facts about…” series, I share 21 interesting facts about Mary I.

Find out even more about Mary I in my Mary I playlist:

Related Post

3 thoughts on “21 Interesting Facts about Mary I”
  1. I’m looking for some historical books about the time between the reign of Elisabeth the 1 and king James Stewart

  2. Like Edward vi Mary is the overlooked Monarch and has been defined by a convenient and much exaggerated legend. There are few, if any documentaries on Mary and her tomb has been hijacked by her sister. To be fair, that actually wasn’t the intention of Elizabeth, it was the work of her successor and distant cousin, King James Vi and I. James had a grand celebratory tomb chest raised over Mary and Elizabeth, who lay side by side in Westminster Abbey, in the Lady Chapel of King Henry Vii, topped with the effigy of Queen Elizabeth I we see today. The only reason we know that it was the tomb of Queen Mary as well is because someone put a memorial at the side telling us that here lay two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, waiting together for eternity. James then added insult to injury by making an even more beautiful tomb for his mother, Mary, who had been executed by Elizabeth in 1587 and buried in Peterborough Cathedral. She was now moved to Westminster and laid in the same Chapel but in a more beautiful tomb. Mary I was almost forgotten as being there but curators have kept her memory alive.

    Mary unfortunately was recalled for the fact that quite a number of men and women and indeed a few young people, around the age of 15, not many but a few, sadly refused to give up their faith of the various reformed teachings and as a result were burned as heretics. Although several stories have been greatly exaggerated by John Fox, who immortalised their suffering in his woodcuts and Book of Martyrs, there are records of some 280 people who died in a short few years. Nobody can but be horrified at this, but we must also remember that Elizabeth and Henry Viii sent just as many, if not more Catholics to their deaths by hanging, drawing and quartering, an equally horrible death. Mary wasn’t known as Bloody Mary by her contemporaries or most of those who came afterwards. It was the woodcuts which gave Mary her unfortunate and undeserved reputation. However, Mary was only thus named much later in the 17th century as part of the Anti Catholic polemic designed to exclude the children and grandchildren of King James ii from the throne. Mary, the merciful Queen, the social reformer and Renaissance Princess has been mainly forgotten.

    So lets revisit Mary. Everyone knows the Princess who was set aside by her father and spent years in exile, who refused to accept Anne Boleyn as Queen and who was forced to renounce her birth right in order to survive. Yes, but that is only one side of young Mary. On the flip side was the most educated Princess in Europe. The little girl who was the apple of Henry’s eyes was graceful, cultured, fun loving, happy and pretty. She was as much an expert in languages as Elizabeth or Jane Grey, if not better, she was a musical genius, she was a beautiful dancer, she was bright and she was complimented by all who met her. Mary was Henry’s pearl and as far as her mother was concerned, her father’s true heir. Mary was prepared as if she was meant to rule but Mary was a girl. That simply would not do. Henry wanted a divorce from her mother and he pursued his goal for seven years and banished his wife and daughter. However, contrary to some unsubstantiated claims by one or two historians Mary wasn’t bitter and nor was her later outlook shaped by her experience as a teenager. Evidence shows that to the contrary Mary remained forgiving and caring and tolerant against those who tried to keep her from her rightful crown. Mary was excluded again by her half brother Edward and her cousin Lady Jane Grey was put on the throne in her place. Mary rallied popular support, she won people over and she won the day without bloodshed. Mary pardoned those who had been behind this conspiracy, she received the prisoners in the Tower with warmth and gracious charismatic love and open arms. She forgave the parents of Jane and most of her family. Jane and her husband, Guildford were imprisoned and tried but she didn’t execute them. It was only after Henry Grey supported another rebellion that Mary, with heavy heart agreed to sign the death warrants. Mary even pardoned hundreds of rebels in person and she upheld many ceremonial events which brought people together. She inspected the Gentlemen Pensioners and held tournaments between Spanish and English knights in order to help keep the peace within her xenophobic capital city. Mary showed bravery in staying in London when Thomas Wyatt attacked and rallied her people yet again. Mary also showed wisdom in what she did when people moaned about her marriage to Prince Philip of Spain. Her marriage contract and treaty laid out in great detail terms which curtailed his power in England and limited any inheritance rights. England wasn’t to be a Spanish territory if Mary died first. Mary’s achievements included the restoration of the Catholic Church, the beautifully restored buildings themselves, an English ritual based on the Latin Mass of 1529, she also incorporated several reforms and she oversaw a lively and charismatic Church, with a surprising emphasis on preaching, teaching and evangelism. She compromised in restoring the religious orders and didn’t exchange the already lost lands as this was not practical. Mary raised the status of the crown again and raised the status of independent female Kingship. Elizabeth could not have succeeded otherwise. Mary reformed the naval funding and organisations and introduced several reforms to help the poor and the elderly and sick. She was an incredibly generous and personally caring woman as well as a sensitive one. Sadly, Mary’s marriage was without issue and Mary thought herself pregnant twice. She was in fact very ill. Mary was devastated not to have a child and she was even more devastated to say farewell to Philip. Mary was obviously fond of her husband and there are all kinds of stories about their marriage, most of which are nonsense. Philip did not object to the marriage with Mary, nor did he find her unattractive. They had a fulfilling sexual life and they shared most of their decisions together. It was a joint reign in many ways, a symbolic reign and one Philip did not want to give up. Mary even fell out with the Pope because of her support for him and we know he more cautious over religious persecution. Mary oversaw a great victory on French soil, only to lose Calais at the end of her reign. She had successfully restored the reputation of the crown imperial and female rule to the extent that it was an easy succession for Elizabeth, who was agreed to as Mary’s heir, just days before her death. Nor did Mary fail in her efforts to establish Catholic authority. Her kingdom was already mainly Catholic in any case but there are signs that all of the measures, teaching, preaching and the strict dealings with heresy were having a lasting and triumphant effect. This was only reversed because Mary died without an heir. Elizabeth was a Protestant and she would turn England into her version of the Reformation. James and the Stuarts and then Georgians would complete the job. Mary’s reign was short, but she wasn’t a failure. Mary was 37 when she came to the throne and only had less than six years to fulfil her dreams, whereas Elizabeth was only 25 and ruled for 44 years. It might be argued that had Mary succeeded in 1547 as her father’s only heir and reigned for a similar length of time that she would have been remembered in quite a different light.

  3. Some of the ceremonial things described show that Mary was far from the miserable person she is displayed in Protestant propaganda driven media and drama. The description of the parade of the Gentlemen Pensioners before the Queen is from 1557, a year before Mary’s death when she is missing Prince Philip and has recently recovered from a second pregnancy which was actually stomach cancer. She is meant to be insane at this time and yet here she is enjoying the equivalent of the modern Trooping of the Colour. She was viewing her honour guard, her personal body guard who paraded before her in formal dress and beautiful array. Mary must have really enjoyed herself. She was a woman with a great sense of humour. She loved to gamble, especially with cards and was practically unbeatable. This was a favourite pastime of her father, so one might wonder where she inherited this from. Mary, unlike, Henry very rarely lost and she laughed a lot during these games. She was very fond of music and dance and just as Elizabeth did later, she knew how to dress and use fashionable clothes as personal authority and propaganda. This was something Elizabeth learned from observing her sister, but by magnifying this over the long reign she enjoyed. Elizabeth would take symbolic dressing and magnificent impractical but propagated portraits and fashion to new heights. Her mother was after all a leader in new fashion. Anne Boleyn was shocking. She wore the latest fashionable clothes from France and she showed bits of flesh considered unworthy for a lady and especially a married woman. Shockingly, Anne showed her hair. Showing a bit of breast was perfectly acceptable, it was feminine, it was attractive, it was the symbol of a woman’s ability to bear and care for children and of her motherhood. It was fashionable but showing hair was very much debated because a woman’s hair was her crowning glory and that detracted from the glory of God. All women covered their hair, to some extent, under a cap and headdress if rich. A young single woman could have her hair undressed, uncovered but not at all times. A young woman would decorate her hair to indicate she was looking for a husband. A younger woman in her twenties wore partly a decorative hat or hair coverage but her hair was shown. Noble women were encouraged to cover their heads. Married women of all classes and ages had to cover their heads. However, none of this took account of fashion. Anne showed her hair under her fancy French hood, while English gentle women covered their hair as Queen Katharine did. Anne’s much brighter colours would also have been frowned upon and the fact she wore purple for Royalty before she was married was absolutely horrifying. Elizabeth was just as sophisticated and you can see an evolution in her dress from Princess to Queen and as the decades passed. Elizabeth had symbolic things put into her dress that revealed a Court on edge. The eyes and ears of the Rainbow dress in that are in the portrait of the same name say the Queen and her Government are watching you, know everything you say. Basically the state was paranoid and so was Elizabeth. Mary may have been too towards the end, she faced another failed conspiracy in 1557. She was distressed as the so called Dudley plot had some members of her Council in it that she had pardoned four years earlier. We don’t see this so much in her dress, but a report says Mary and Elizabeth slept in breast plates. This has never been confirmed, but you never know. Then we have fabulous material which is believed to have been part of Elizabeth I dress which shows how colourful they were. In some portraits Mary wore similar beautiful golden coloured clothing and beautiful furs, purples and so on. One set of furry sleeves hang all the way to the floor and the Queen is regale as she sits on a magnificent chair of state. Mary, here was making some kind of exaggerated statement of power and this is not an item to walk around in. The Queen looks bigger than she was as Mary was described as slightly built. These huge sleeves make her look as if she fills the room, clearly meant to be a power statement.

    In another very powerful and deeply personal statement of defiance and devotion to her faith and God we see Mary riding in this magnificent procession through London, in full view, her ladies and gentlemen also dressed thus and riding before and after her. Nothing unusual about a Princess riding through her capital city, you may think, except these many richly attired people carried rosaries, which were outlawed and had been to Mass, also outlawed. King Edward had already warned his sister and they had quarreled over Mass being sung in her private household Chapel. Mary now went to Mass in public and rode through the streets of London, Westminster and Southwark to the shock of her brother. She must have smiled as she was cheered by the crowds who always gathered to see her. Mary was pretty sure of herself now, although there were two occasions that she tried to leave England, so much did she fear for her life and freedom.

    It doesn’t matter, as Claire said in the video, if you are a fan or not, there are times when Mary stands out as an extremely brave individual. She was a good example to learn from. Mary rallied support when under siege at least twice and chose to remain and fight. Her speech at the Guildhall in London in 1554, the passionate plea that she loved her people, that she wore her coronation ring as a wedding ring, that her people were her children, comparing herself to a mother, is one of the great royal speeches of history. Elizabeth was obviously listening or someone told her because she used the same speech to say that she was married to England. In a rare penny pinching move Elizabeth also used the same coronation dress that Mary wore. We might think that was good economy but in this age of showing off, of being super magnificent, this was not the done thing. Mary’s robes were particularly splendid so perhaps Elizabeth just liked them and the altered gown did suite her.

    I see here a woman who was in touch with what was expected and naturally royal. She knew how to enjoy life, appeal to and connect with her people and who enjoyed fun and the finer things in life. Mary was devoted to her faith in a very emotional and living way and her sense of what gave a good impression and communicated authority and presence and the true power of a gender free crown. This was a far cry from the tyrant of legend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *