Mary I: Bloody Mary or a sad and tragic queen?

Thank you to everyone who left comments on my “What do you think about Queen Mary I?” video.

Today, I’m sharing the results, the words you used to describe Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.

The results were very interesting and I was pleasantly surprised…

If you’d like to join my online event “Discovering Mary I”, then you can find out more and register at Gift certificates are also available at It’s going to be a wonderful 12 days of Tudor talk and what’s great is that everything is recorded and transcribed so you can catch up when you want.


Thank you to everyone who left comments on my “What do you think about Queen Mary I?” video and on social media. If you missed my video, I asked viewers to share what sprang to their mind when I said Mary I.

It was an interesting experiment, and I’m going to share the results with you now, and Tim has created a word cloud of all the words used to describe Mary.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

Three words came out top with 15 mentions each, and while “Bloody”, as in Bloody Mary, was one of them, the other two were more sympathetic: “sad” and “tragic”.

Then, we had “abused” with 14 mentions, “Catholic” and “mistreated” with 12 each, “neglected” with 11, “misunderstood” with 10, cruel, fanatic and zealous with 9 each, strong and victim with 8 each, brave and damaged with 7 each, bitter, complex, lonely and survivor with 5 each, loyal, pitied, traumatised, unhappy and unloved with 4 each, and angry, broken, determined, devout, rejected, religious, stubborn and tyrant with 3 each.

A mixed bag, but on the whole sympathetic, I think.

“Why?” was the question that immediately sprang to mind when I read these words, and it was something I discussed in a zoom discussion with those who have signed up for my Discovering Mary I course, which starts properly in January. It was interesting to hear from participants whose history lessons at school had either glossed over Mary or focused on her burnings, whose lessons at school had been rather anti-Catholic, and so Mary was seen solely as a baddie and Elizabeth I as a Protestant saviour. Mary had been presented as Bloody Mary, a zealot and persecutor, while Henry VIII was Bluff King Hal, instead of Horrible Henry even though he had two of his wives executed and the dissolution of the monasteries saw awful executions and was a social disaster, and Elizabeth I was Good Queen Bess, instead of Evil Elizabeth who executed Mary, Queen of Scots and persecuted priests and those who helped them.

But it seems that there is more sympathy for Mary, so what has changed?

We came to the conclusion that it was a combination of factors – Mary’s rehabilitation by historians and biographies of her being more mainstream reading, TV series fleshing her out more, changes in education and views towards denominations, and more accessible resources on her – blog posts, videos, talks etc.

The Tudors series very much brought the younger Mary to life. We saw what she went through when her father set her mother aside. We saw how she was bullied by the king’s councillors, how she suffered mentally and physically from her ill-treatment and turned to people like Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, who became like a father figure to her. Then, in the recent Starz series, “Becoming Elizabeth”, we saw another sympathetic portrayal of her. She stole the show, in my opinion. She was a tough cookie, but a woman put under so much pressure and who even feared for her life and considered fleeing England. Viewers could see that there was far more to Mary than the burnings of Protestants in her reign.

And non-fiction books by historians like Linda Porter, Anna Whitelock, Melita Thomas and David Loades have presented the real Mary. They’ve looked at her as a pampered princess, a neglected and rejected daughter, a young woman under immense pressure, a woman fearing for her life, a woman prepared to fight for her throne and who could rouse others to her cause, a queen who achieved much during her short reign but who also had to cope with religious divisions and threats, a husband more interested in his territories on the Continent, and her ill-health.

Blog posts, talks and videos flesh out the woman behind the Bloody Mary stereotype, and it’s so good to see.

I’m in no way condoning the truly awful burnings of her reign, her treatment of her Protestant subjects, but I like the way that she is now being presented as a three-dimensional historical person, and there is more balance in how she is presented today. By the way, I feel that Edward VI and Lady Jane Grey, or Queen Jane, would have been just as brutal and zealous given the chance.

I find Mary I fascinating, and I’m so glad that more and more people are becoming interested in her and want to get behind the old labels and stereotypes.

If you’re one of those people, I would love you to join me in my 12-day Discovering Mary I online event. It starts on 16th January and is completely online. It features talks and Q&A sessions with experts Dr Linda Porter, Dr Lauren Mackay, Dr Alexander Samson, Peter Stiffell, Melita Thomas, Johanna Strong, Gareth Russell, and little old me. It will be a mix of pre-recorded video talks, live streams, chatroom Q&A sessions, and zoom calls, and everything will be recorded and transcribed. We’re so looking forward to bringing the real Mary I to life for you and being able to talk Tudor in real time. Tudor fun is really the best kind of fun. I hope you can join me.
Find out more and register at

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