Mary I – An Underappreciated Queen

Feb 18, 2017 #Mary I #Mary Tudor

Thank you to historian and author Conor Byrne for writing this article to commemorate the anniversary of Mary I’s birth on this day in 1516.

Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, was born at Greenwich Palace on 18 February 1516. Last year marked the five hundredth anniversary of her birth, and a collection of essays was published by Palgrave Macmillan, entitled “The Birth of a Queen”. This collection is the latest in a series of works reappraising England’s first queen regnant. Judith Richards, Anna Whitelock and Linda Porter have produced sympathetic and sound biographies of Mary, while an impressive range of sources, both textual and material, have been drawn on in academic studies to improve and develop our understanding of this much-maligned figure. In 1516, although it would have been anticipated that the baby Mary would one day be a queen, perhaps as the wife of a French or Spanish king, it would not have been expected that she would actually rule in her own right as queen regnant. Yet that is exactly what she did, following in the footsteps of her celebrated maternal grandmother, Isabella of Castile.

It is often assumed that Henry VIII was profoundly disappointed by the birth of a daughter, and perhaps he was, because his wife was now thirty years of age and had endured a series of unsettling miscarriages and stillbirths dating back to 1510. After the birth of Mary, the queen conceived only once more, and a daughter was born dead in the winter of 1518. However, there is a great deal of evidence that complicates our traditional understanding of how Henry viewed his young daughter and her place in the Tudor dynasty. Early on, the princess was betrothed to François, Dauphin of France. Her mother ensured that Mary was provided with an excellent education, as befitted the daughter of humanist rulers, and consulted the renowned humanist Juan Luis Vives for advice. As later became apparent during the annulment crisis, Katherine firmly believed that her daughter could rule in her own right, but at this stage, she appears to have been concerned that Mary should be educated for her future role as queen consort, whether of France or elsewhere.

By 1525, when she was nine years old, Mary was honoured as de facto Princess of Wales and departed for Ludlow, to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches. The princess was appointed a royal household during the period of time that she spent there, and was honoured with many of the royal prerogatives usually reserved for a prince of Wales. Unlike her younger half-sister Elizabeth, who never presided over such a household, Mary was effectively being educated to rule. This development is explicable in view of her betrothal to Charles, son of Philip of Castile. Henry seems to have accepted that he would never have sons by Katherine, but he continued to honour Mary as his heir, at least until 1527.

The annulment crisis, however, complicated Mary’s life. It is worth emphasising that, just as her father’s subjects continued to regard Katherine as the rightful Queen of England – even after the Boleyn marriage had taken place – Mary continued to be viewed, both at home and abroad, as a princess of England and as her father’s rightful heir. This conviction is demonstrated most clearly, perhaps, in the outbreak of religious and social revolt in the autumn of 1536, usually known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, which demanded that Henry restore his eldest daughter to the succession. In diplomatic letters, Mary was usually referred to as ‘the Princess’, whereas her younger half-sister was ‘Anne Boleyn’s daughter’ or ‘the bastard’. This tradition of belief in Mary’s legitimacy was not short-lived. Even during the last years of the sixteenth-century, and early years of the seventeenth, when Mary was long dead, disaffected Catholics continued to honour her as the true queen, and disparaged Elizabeth as an unlawful usurper, the offspring of a convicted traitor.

Modern historiography has gradually moved away from a simplistic and flawed understanding of Mary as an unintelligent, bigoted and cruel queen, the ‘Spanish Tudor’, to an awareness that she was highly cultured, courageous, resilient, and determined to rule as her father’s rightful heir. During her childhood, she was educated to rule in her own right, and the English population at large supported her claim to rule following the death of her brother Edward VI. In 1553, Mary was widely supported in her bid to depose Lady Jane Grey, and her success is often unacknowledged: hers was the only successful rebellion directed against the government in Tudor England. Mary’s accession was greeted with bonfires, parties and celebrations of joy, a measure of her popularity and esteem. She later further demonstrated her courage and resilience during Wyatt’s rebellion the following year, when she rallied her subjects to her cause, which confirmed her capability as a political leader.

Paradoxically, according to the traditional narrative, it was shortly after her coronation that everything began to go wrong for Mary, at least in part due to her own mistakes. By reinstating the medieval heresy laws, and in seeking to restore papal authority in England, Mary crucially underestimated and ignored the popularity of religious reform in England in the wake of the Reformation. Her decision to burn heretics was both cruel and unprecedented; indeed, as John Foxe memorably captured in his Acts and Monuments, the bonfires were not ‘English’, but were symptomatic of Spanish cruelty and bloodshed. Mary’s decision to marry Philip of Spain, moreover, directly ignored the widespread antipathy in the kingdom to a marital alliance with Spain, and the resulting involvement in Philip’s costly wars led to the loss of Calais, a final humiliation of the queen and a confirmation that she was not simply not up to the task of ruling.

Of course, the traditional narrative is questionable, and modern historians have gradually taken it apart by considering a wide range of contemporary evidence. Firstly, despite the break with Rome and the Edwardian Reformation, Catholicism remained the majority religion in England, and the queen’s decision to restore the medieval heresy laws was widely supported, although the restoration of papal authority may have been less popular, especially among the nobility and gentry, who had benefited financially as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries and religious houses. Historians such as Eamon Duffy have provided detailed evidence of the popularity of Catholicism even during the reign of the fiercely anti-papal Edward VI. Moreover, overreliance on John Foxe’s powerful narrative has, perhaps, meant that hostility to the burnings has been exaggerated. Contrary to the traditional narrative, heretics had been burned in England since the fifteenth-century, so Mary’s decision to have those who committed heresy incinerated was neither unprecedented nor ‘un-English’. Her exact involvement, and the nature of her involvement, remains open to question.

The Spanish marriage, moreover, was not as widely unpopular as has been traditionally suggested. In particular, the work of Alexander Samson and Corinna Streckfuss has demonstrated that the marriage was widely celebrated both at home and abroad, and Philip was appreciated as an intelligent, charismatic and moderate ruler. Many English soldiers fought in his wars and continued to receive pensions from him well into the reign of Elizabeth I. Moreover, many of Mary’s subjects hoped that she would provide the realm with an heir, and who she might have married, with the exception of Philip, is a difficult question. Anglo-Spanish marital alliances had occurred regularly among the two royal houses; indeed, the marriage between Arthur Tudor and Katherine of Aragon was met with acclaim. The key issue appears to have been that of Mary’s status as queen regnant. Contemporaries believed that the wife should submit unconditionally and unquestioningly to her husband, who was her superior. Just as the (male) monarch governed the kingdom, so the husband governed the household. As the first queen regnant of England, Mary faced the question of what it meant for a woman to hold a traditionally male position, and later, how to reconcile her role as a wife with that of monarch.

Evidence indicates that, by and large, Mary succeeded in answering this question. She enjoyed precedence before Philip, and the marriage treaties undoubtedly circumscribed his authority as king consort of England. Mary was represented both as a queen and as a king, or as a prince, as her half-sister was also later represented. As one of her contemporaries noted, Mary was ‘a queen, and by the same title, a king also’. Moreover, Mary’s military successes have often been forgotten or downplayed, as Anna Whitelock notes. The loss of Calais in early 1558 has probably been exaggerated, for it was expensive to maintain; meanwhile, the queen enjoyed successes including that of the battle of St. Quentin. Unlike her half-sister, who was often reluctant to engage in war, Mary showed a distinct enthusiasm for it. She was, as Whitelock explains, a military queen, and again perhaps sought to emulate her grandmother, the warrior queen Isabella of Castile.

Mary has also been credited with other successes, including her reforms to the coinage and her extension of royal authority into the localities. She also successfully managed her parliaments and made important reforms to the navy. It was not Mary’s fault, moreover, that she failed to provide her husband with an heir; she had married at thirty-seven years of age, a late age to marry for the first time in sixteenth-century England, and her reign lasted only five years. In different circumstances, perhaps Mary’s reign might have ended differently.

As it was, her death in 1558 was swiftly followed by the eradication of all traces of her. Moreover, as historians have noted, Elizabeth learned many lessons from Mary and drew on the iconography associated with her half-sister, whether religious or gendered. She was likened to Judith, Deborah and Old Testament kings; it is often forgotten, or downplayed, that Mary had also been compared to these figures, including at her coronation in 1553. Elizabeth’s unquestioned succession to the throne was made possible by Mary’s demonstration that a woman could successfully rule in her own right. Mary made the idea of female monarchy familiar, rather than being a strange or dangerous concept.

Unlike her half-sister, Mary had been educated to rule and, as a young girl, had been appointed as the de facto princess of Wales. Her father betrothed her to a French dauphin and a Habsburg prince and, at least until 1527, Mary was honoured by her father as his heir. Even after the annulment and the break with Rome, in the eyes of many, Mary was the true princess, the rightful heir. This recognition was demonstrated in the Pilgrimage of Grace and during the 1553 crisis, when Mary successfully drove Lady Jane Grey and her supporters from the centre of power. Although she only ruled for five years, Mary demonstrated that a woman could successfully rule England in her own right. Her marriage to Philip was not the unmitigated disaster that it has traditionally been presented as, and nor was her decision to restore the medieval heresy laws and papal authority a testament to her failure to grasp the changed religious climate of the 1550s. In her speeches, in her foreign policy, in her parliaments, in her marital negotiations, in her legislation and in her ceremonies, Elizabeth drew on the precedents established by Mary and on the language employed by her half-sister. As the first queen regnant of England, Mary is perhaps one of Britain’s most important monarchs and is certainly one of its most underappreciated.

Conor Byrne studied History at the University of Exeter. He is the author of Katherine Howard: A New History and Queenship in England, both published by MadeGlobal. Since 2012 he has run a historical blog and was formerly editor of “Tudor Life” Magazine. His research to date specialises in late medieval and early modern European history, with a focus on gender, sexuality and the monarchy.

Go to to find out more about his latest book Queenship in England 1308-1485.

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21 thoughts on “Mary I – An Underappreciated Queen”
  1. YESSSS!!!!!!! . I have always appreciated Mary as a Queen and a wronged woman. Mary showed far more restraint when it came to punishment of traitors and rebels who could have killed her than her father and half sister. Although the burning of 280 heretics is problematic and uncomfortable for many people, it’s unlikely that Mary intended that many to suffer. A lot of the cases were very suspect, being prosecuted by local magistrates and bishops but denounced by nosey neighbours with a grudge. What was horrible was the number of large scale burnings because people were moved to central locations and executed together. Duffy points out that these tappered off and even the remaining burnings tappered off. It was not unusual punishment, but the numbers in England were probably intensified at this time. A number of high profile executions have also stuck in the imagination, made more so by the propaganda retelling in woodcuts by Fox in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. Mary’s name was immediately linked to these terrible executions and in the 17th century, in an atmosphere of rebellion to put the Stuarts back on the throne the name Bloody Mary first appeared in print. There are plenty of worse monarchs in history, plus Elizabeth and Henry could both claim a similar title. Even under Edward the largely forgotten Prayer Book rebellions were crushed with a fair amount of needless bloodshed. However, because Edward was twelve and fourteen at the time he is held blameless. However, a quick look at his diary shows a potential to be ruthless had he lived. He was so forward in his reforms that he is called the Young Josiah. Mary deserves better and thanks to the authors above, she has now had much of her reputation restored.

    Mary had one of the best educations available to either a Prince or a Princess, thanks to her mother and her father, both of whom were very well educated. As you say Conor, the fact that she was sent as Princess of Wales to de facto to rule in Ludlow means that she was recognised as Henry’s heir. Ludlow, the heart of York and Mortimer power, was how the Tudors and Plantagenets controlled the Welsh borders and Edward iv first sent his eldest son there to rule. Mary, as with Edward and Prince Arthur before her, was too young to rule herself, so a council ruled in her name. Her royal coat of arms, apartments, although ruined, can still be seen. The walk at the base of the castle is called Princess Mary walk and her private entrance was identified along here a few years ago. She had a large household and her power was acknowledged. As you say, Conor, everyone more or less saw Mary as righful heir and later as true Queen. Her popularity was certainly guaranteed here in the North and Catholic Europe always saw Elizabeth as illegitimate, even if she was popular in the South of England. Her reign was a success, but she also had her failings and Ireland was a disaster for Elizabeth.

    Mary had everything she needed to rule, but probably would have done better had she succeeded in 1547, without all the political and religious upheaval her father had caused. At 26, not quite 27, Mary would have been able still to have healthy children, have been very attractive, intelligent, wise and possibly in normal circumstances, already married. If not, it is certain her choices would not have been limited. Cranmer’s reformation would not yet have taken root and the council would have accepted her. With no Protestant champion to put on the throne in her stead her succession would have been smooth. It was because of what did happen to her; the usurping by Jane Grey via John Dudley, that Mary wisely, if reluctantly appointed Elizabeth as her heir. Mary enabled her sister to succeed smoothly and with acceptance as well as the rejoicing that followed.

    Excellent article, Conor about a Queen whose reign has attracted more myth than fact. Her reign may have been short but it was far from a disaster. Mary did not run from the fray or rallying her people to her. Mary was the first one to say she was married to her country, showing her coronation ring and calling them her children. Elizabeth used this when she wanted to show she was already married…to England. Portraits of Mary show her as a She King, in both regalia, not subordinate to her husband and she negotiated a treaty which kept Philip out of English affairs. Mary was also just as fond of rich clothes as Elizabeth and there are some wonderful art pieces that survive from her religious restoration. Some of our travels abroad began under Mary, with an embassy and exploration to Russia. She reformed the economy and navy and administration and as you say, left female Kingship respected and normal. Thanks for this wonderful and very well researched tribute to Mary I on her birthday.

    Happy Birthday Queen Mary Tudor.

  2. Interesting article, thank you. I do question, however, how far Henry VIII ever came to terms with the thought of being succeeded by a woman. In 1525, for example, while Mary was being sent to Ludlow, the King’s son with Elizabeth Blount, Henry Fitzroy, was being made Duke of Richmond, Lord Admiral of England and Knight of the Garter before being made head of the Council of the North and sent to Sheriff Hutton with a princely household. I think that the King was hedging his bets at this point. Certainly there is lots of evidence of Catherine of Aragon being both frightened and angry at the honours being given to Fitzroy.

  3. Thank you for the post, very illuminating. Mary has gotten a worse reputation than she deserves but I’ve never gotten the impression that she was really a natural politician, and that hurt her along with other people What do you think of her execution of Cranmer? That seems to have been a serious mistake both in regard to law and propaganda, if that makes any sense. And I’ve never quite gotten why her father kept her unmarried for so long; it did keep her from forming inconvenient alliances, but at the same time keeping her as a discontented free agent under his and later her brother’s thumb wasn’t exactly a brilliant plan long-term. Probably he simply expected Edward to outlive her.

    1. ” And I’ve never quite gotten why her father kept her unmarried for so long”

      Just a thought, If I’m not mistaken when Princess’s marry, they are sent away to the home of the Prince. Maybe if the Prince were to come to the home of the princess and live there, Under Henry’s thumb, then maybe he would have been willing. I think he saw it as giving power & control away to someone else.
      Hence as you say kept her under his and later her brother’s thumb.

  4. BanditQueen, thanks very much for your kind comment. I have to admit though that I was disappointed to see the hashtag #BloodyMary being used yesterday, even by respected institutions such as Historic Royal Palaces. When will this negative label be discarded?

    Sonetka, my impression is that Henry VIII didn’t give much thought to either of his daughters. I do also think though that he was well aware of how popular Mary was, especially among the conservatives, and he was surely aware that she was regarded in Catholic Europe as his true heir, his legitimate daughter. Perhaps, then, he feared that if Mary were married to a European prince she might become the focus for discontent? It is impossible to say whether Henry genuinely regarded his eldest daughter as a potential political and dynastic threat. On the other hand, Mary’s illegitimacy prevented her from making a noble alliance.

    Tragically for Mary, all these troubles began as a result of her mother’s childbearing experiences. If Prince Henry, born in 1511, had survived – or one of the other princes – and had succeeded his father in 1547, then surely his sister Mary would have been married to a foreign prince and perhaps would have been queen consort of a country such as France, Spain or Scotland. Tragically, this was not to be. Mary was 31 when her father died and 37 when she came to the throne: an advanced age, at the time, to marry and bear children.

    It is all very poignant, especially when one considers how attractive Mary was as a potential bride – even when Anne Boleyn was queen, the French sought Mary’s hand in marriage for one of their princes, not Elizabeth’s. If Henry had arranged his daughter’s marriage, who knows how differently it could all have turned out?

  5. One writer wrote that her story is the saddest in English history and I truly believe that, for most of her life she was an unhappy person, torn between her parents being set aside for her baby sister, then legitimised then at the mercy of her brothers Protestant doctrine and not being allowed to worship mass, having her hopes raised time and again over marriage proposals and then having to fight for her throne, being married to her true love and being left alone for long periods, being deceived into thinking she was pregnant and having her hopes cruelly dashed, this unhappy woman deserved a much better lot.

  6. I didn’t mention it in this article but this point has occurred to me before: I find Henry VII and Mary quite similar, in some respects: both were hardworking and innovative monarchs who have been overshadowed by the more glamorous Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

    1. I agree, Conor and thanks for your comments. In this day and age you would think names like Bloody Mary would have gone long ago, but well we can only hope time will change that. Henry does seem to have forgotten Mary when she was in Ludlow, yes he wrote, but then when she met Anne Boleyn for the first time he just expected her to accept the new queen without a word. Henry may have loved Mary and held her in high esteem, but he did not know her. Mary cherished her mother above everything and held her as the true Queen…there was nothing that could change that. Henry just expected her to obey, regardless of her feelings or faith. Mary had two loving parents when she went to Ludlow, she was called back to a different world…of course she was going to meekly accept everything…yea, right. Henry may have accepted Mary was his heir until he had another option. Once he looked at his marriage in a new light, once he questioned the legitimacy of his first marriage, he saw Mary differently. She went from the centre of Henry’s universe to second best to an unborn child. Henry’ s relationship was badly strained because Mary was loyal to her mother, and even though she eventually gave in, after bullying and threats, I don’t think it was ever really healed. Henry lost interest in Elizabeth after Anne ‘s death, for obvious reasons…but I do believe he tried to do his best later on. He ensured her education was the best at least, but their relationship was probably up and down.

      I have to admit that I have always thought Henry Vii probably wasn’t too bad as a King. He gets a bad name for being a miser and holding a list of debts and fines over his unruly nobles, but he did have good reason to keep them in check…most of them were ex Yorkists. He had also survived one attempt at swift Yorkist restoration in 1487, then three attempts by Perkin Warbeck to invade and convince everyone he was Richard of York. His heldest son died in 1502 and his wife died a year later. His Dynasty was new and no father had passed the crown peacefully to his son since 1422. It’s understandable that he may not have trusted his nobles. However, he could be patient and merciful and showed wise judgement in numerous things. He also sent a successful expedition to France and formed through victory a lasting treaty of Etaples. He formed successful alliances with the new kingdom of Spain and with Scotland. He reformed taxation and his Star Chamber was formed to prosecute corruption. Anyone could bring a case. It was criticised by corrupt nobles. As for being careful with money, yes he was but he also spent quite a bit. He extended and improved the royal apartments in Ludlow, his engineering experts, dug out defences against the damp and heated them. He built Richmond Palace to replace Sheen and he had a decent navy. He sent two expeditions to the New World. John and Sebastian Cabot sailed in the Matthew, first unsuccessfully in 1496,_ then to New Foundland 1497 and 1498. Via his mother, Margaret Beaufort Henry founded colleges at Oxford and Cambridge and encouraged scholars live Lovell and Colbert. John Fisher and Erasmus came to his court. He encouraged the law and art and he also made a new powerful image for the crown..the crown imperial. He may have been cautious and occasionally suspicious, but he didn’t overreact as later monarchs did. He even formed a pact with Macmillan the Holy Roman Emperor in 1507, ending years of support for Yorkist claimants.

      Mary certainly had many of these qualities, she was careful and didn’t rush into making snap decisions or in condemning people. Even when dealing with enemies, Mary valued advice and weighed things out, before making a choice to execute a traitor. She was also devout and strong willed and in many ways her mother and maternal grandmother gave her a warriors courage. Elizabeth I may be more glamerous, as was Henry Viii, but they could also be hasty and too determined to have their own way. In the end, all the Tudors have given us entertainment and intrigue, lavish lives and scandalous gossip and no end of interest in their fascinating lives.

      1. Forget to mention he redeveloped the old lady chapel at Westminster Abbey to build the new Lady Chapel or Tudor memorial chapel we see today containing the grand array of Tudor tombs and monuments we see now. This was controversial as other tombs had to be moved ti make way, including that of Anne Neville, Richard iii’s Queen, resulting in her actual burial vault being misplaced. All we now know is the Queen is buried somewhere close to the entrance of the chapel, which has a memorial plaque to commemorate Anne, but nothing else. This is why Richard could never have been buried with Anne, plus the fact that in Westminster Abbey there is not enough room for any more tombs. The beautiful chapel is well worth a visit and is probably Henry’s best legacy.

  7. It was a great article, but I cannot agree with you about her success. Though probably not her fault–there were no therapists, even “royal” ones, to help Mary deal with her problems, I believe Mary suffered greatly from what happened between her mother, Katherine of Aragon, Henry VII, and, of course, Anne Boleyn.

    Mary was raised to be a true Queen, in every sense of the word–her grandmother, after all, was the “Warrior Queen,” Isabela. She was also raised in an exceptionally close relationship with her mother–I would say, from everything I’ve read–a pathologically close relationship, especially after Henry turned to Anne. On top of that, she was raised as a staunch Catholic.

    I think something in Mary “snapped,” after being forced to sign the decree making Henry Supreme Leader of the Church of England, and especially being forced to sign that her mother was never married to Henry (making Mary a “technical” bastard), leading to a pathological need to redeem herself, not only in the eyes of the Church, but in the eyes of her mother.

    Anyway, the upshot of it all, imho, of course, is that Mary’s persecution of Elizabeth, her naive love and dependence on Philip of Spain, and most importantly, her willingness to bring the Inquisition to England with its resultant auto-de-fa, was a psychological and, again, pathological need to “burn out her own great sin” of deserting her Mother.

    What do you think?

    1. I disagree. Mary’s “persecution” of her half-sister may seem cruel and misguided to us today, but Elizabeth was suspected of colluding in Wyatt’s rebellion of 1554, and Mary may genuinely have believed that Elizabeth sought her deposition. Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower for a few months and was later placed under house arrest, but she was not treated especially cruelly and it is possible that her imprisonment was misrepresented during her own reign to portray her as a long-suffering, persecuted princess.

      Your approach is psychologically based and it may have much to recommend it, but we cannot assess sixteenth-century individuals from a psychological or psychoanalytical perspective. I do not know whether Mary sought to vindicate her mother; her marriage to Philip of Spain could tentatively be seen as Mary honouring her mother’s homeland but, then again, Anglo-Spanish royal marriages had taken place for centuries. Who else should Mary marry? There was no-one suitable from the French royal house, the other traditional matrimonial ally of England’s, and she was not keen to marry one of her own subjects, of whom Edward Courtenay was the only viable candidate.

      Mary did not “bring the Inquisition to England” and there were no auto de fas in England. Burning at the stake for heresy was introduced to England in the fifteenth-century and previous monarchs, including Henry VIII and Edward VI, had ordered heretics to be burned at the stake. Mary was not introducing the Inquisition to England, nor was this form of execution Spanish in origin. It had been in use as a punishment in England for around 150 years by the time Mary came to the throne.

      So, interesting perspective, but there is little to recommend it.

      1. Hi Conor, couldn’t put it better myself. I have to add one thing. Mary also made sure that Philip was not to have an input politically through her marriage treaty. The procedure that she introduced for investigation and questioning alleged heretics in England was also fairer than those used by the Inquisition. Yes, of course the number of people who died seems excessive as the 280 deaths were in only a few years, but the Queen was not involved in the majority of cases. Heresy, as with most other crimes, whether they carried the death penalty or not, and most did, was prosecuted locally, by local magistrates, quite often with the accused being denounced by neighbours, plus the records show that a number of victims were actually accused of other crimes first, such as theft and when those prosecutions failed, a harder to defend charge of heresy was brought. I think people see heresy as being a state crime due to high profile cases like Latimer and Cranmer, but the majority were ordinary people tried in their local communities. Where people get confused about auto de fete is when there are several people burnt in one place, Sussex or Essex, which was done at first for effect and because people from small towns were taken to larger ones for trial and punishment. They were nothing like the auto de fetes which were very over the top and meant as a show and a shared event. As you say Henry iv introduced heresy laws against the Lollards and although not every King used them, they had been enforced on and off since then. They became more in use from the 1520s with the introduction of new ideas from the continent, especially Germany and France. I don’t believe you can analysis anyone from 500 years ago. This was all normal to them. Even if horrified, and I don’t see how you can’t be, it was accepted by many as the way to deal with stubborn and dangerous members of society who were disturbing the peace and unity of mainstream Christianity. Devient elements of society were dealt with harshly, not because society was psychologically damaged, but because the deviant was a threat to be eliminated. I don’t agree with the death penalty, but I understand why they may have done 500 years ago and try not to judge….not very easy when reading some terrible description of a harrowing execution…..but you are right, attempting to find an explanation why Mary or Elizabeth chose harsh laws for religious deviance in a medical or psychiatric text book, just dosent work.

  8. There’s certainly a case to be made for pointing out the weaknesses in the ‘Bloody Mary’ interpretation of Mary’s reign, but I think it’s important not to over-state the case. Granted, Mary’s lack of an heir and her short reign were the biggest factors in preventing any legacy she might achieve from lasting, but they’re what happened. We can suggest numerous ‘what if’s almost indefinitely in relation to how things might have gone for her, but the long and short of the matter is that, given what actually happened, her reign cannot really be considered a success in most respects. Catholicism never became the state religion again and her legacy was largely non-existent within a few years of her death.

    I think you could make a case for a lot of this being down to bad luck rather than bad judgement, but I also don’t get much sense that she was a particularly good judge of character in terms of choosing her advisors in the way that Elizabeth was – her reliance on Renard in the early part of her reign, who clearly had his own agenda when influencing her, doesn’t suggest someone who would have been able to easily handle the unstable political situation ahead. Had she lived and continued not to produce an heir (which was certainly probable), I wonder how strong her relationship with Philip would have remained.

    I also get the impression that her attitudes hardened as her reign went on, so she may well have become even more black and white in her outlook. Her behaviour towards Elizabeth after the brief lull following her succession has a rather visceral quality to it and doesn’t really show her in a very good light. I think it fairly likely that she’d have had no qualms about executing Elizabeth following Wyatt’s Rebellion if she felt that sufficient evidence could be gathered together to justify it.

    1. In that case, surely she would have been justified to execute Elizabeth had her sister indeed been plotting with Wyatt to kill and overthrow Mary, you know that thing which has been treason since Edward iii…imaging the King’s death? In this case Mary is a female King. If Elizabeth was found guilty of hiding a plot to kill Mary, she could have justly been imprisoned for life or executed. After all, Edward iv executed his own brother, Clarence, for less, as he was tried and found guilty of treason. Yes, most treason cases are nonsense, but in this case Elizabeth was flying too close to the sun.

      1. Evidence doesn’t have to mean truth, particularly in Tudor times. The point I was making is that Mary’s hostility towards Elizabeth seems to have been quite personal in its nature rather than just because in some sense she viewed Elizabeth as problematic poltiically. I think that if Mary felt that something could have been cobbled together regarding Elizabeth and Wyatt’s Rebellion, then that would have been sufficient, regardless of whether it was actually likely to have been the case. Her motive for doing so would have been as much about taking revenge on Elizabeth simply for being Anne Boleyn’s daughter as it was about Elizabeth’s own guilt or otherwise. She allowed the bitterness and rivalry between her own mother and Anne to transfer over to the next generation.

        Contrast this with Elizabeth’s own attitude towards Mary Queen of Scots – on several occasions she resisted ordering Mary’s execution despite pressure from her advisors and of Mary’s own likely complicity in at least some of the plots.

        I have to disagree with you on the Clarence parallel too – Clarence had done far worse towards Edward IV than Elizabeth ever did towards Mary. His illegal ‘lynching’ of Ankarette Twynyho was just the last in a long list of patently disloyal behaviour towards a brother who forgave him time and again.

        1. Yes, a case can be made for bitter revenge or any motive assumed. My point is there is no evidence to support any analysis on how Mary felt about Elizabeth up to this point. In fact, any bits of evidence we do have show a reasonable relationship. Mary actually showed evidence of feeling sorry for Elizabeth and affection towards her. Up to this point their relationship was cordial. Elizabeth was suspected of plotting with men who wanted to remove Mary and replace her with Elizabeth. Mary questioned (not personally) and investigated her sister, thoroughly. No evidence was found and Elizabeth gave clever answers. However, she did know of the plot and said nothing. Mary could have legally have tried her for misprison. She didn’t as there was nothing to sustain the charges after several months of investigation. Elizabeth prolonged her own problems with her illness (faigned or otherwise) used each time she was asked to give her answers. Elizabeth was also invited to court before her imprisonment and after but said she was too ill. Once she was arrested and taken to the luxurious royal apartments in the Tower for confinement, Mary could no longer give her an audience, despite her letter. We don’t know if Mary read it, but it still exists…but she still relented after the trial and execution of Thomas Wyatt. Any assumed and probably justified resentment towards Elizabeth stems from the Wyatt plot. Oh, by the way, there is also signs that this so called resentment died down after Elizabeth was released, under house arrest in the vast royal estate of Woodstock, and then her own home Hatfield as she was invited to court for at least one Christmas celebration and on other occasions. Mary also wrote to Elizabeth to reassure her. Elizabeth was under suspicion of a plot to depose and kill Mary….there is nothing worse than that. I would resent any of my relatives I had seen evidence of them wanting me dead or they came under suspicion off doing. Clarence overstepped his authority in the case of Twynycho, to be sure, but she was accused of poisoning his wife. Edward refused to try the matter and George, Duke of Clarence, hot head as he was… took matters into his own hands. He didn’t actually act illegally. As their master he legally had the right to execute them for crimes against him or their families. He was accused of overtaking the Kings authority, for questioning the Kings legitimacy, attacking his marriage and the legitimacy of his children. He was not accused of plotting to kill or knowing of a rebellion to depose Edward. Edward had twice taken Clarence back for rebellion, but now his reputation and claim were being undermined. That really is not the point. Whatever Clarence had done, has no bearing, he was the brother of the King and still had no mercy. Elizabeth was the half sister of the Queen, but based on Clarence had no expectations of mercy. My point is Edward is not castigated for having Clarence eventually privately executed, but Mary is attacked for “persecution” of her not exactly innocent sister. Why? Because of Protestant political Elizabethan and later William iii Puritanical propaganda that has created a myth of the poor innocent Princess being hauled off to a dungeon by the resentful Queen Mary. Rubbish!!!! Mary acted quite reasonable and quite legally and with good reason. Please cite any sources, contemporary that she resented her sister before she was suspected of hiding a plot to kill her? Elizabeth was not mistreated and it is only an assumption that Mary would plant something or look for something. Why should she? Mary didn’t as yet have an heir. She didn’t see Elizabeth as that heir, but she did see her as a rival for the crown. Mary would never risk another Jane Grey and wisely changed her mind to name Elizabeth. Mary was a lawfully minded Queen. She would not proceed without proper evidence. This is myth and unsustainable guesswork, not evidence. However, if you can cite a source which proves Mary blamed Elizabeth for her parents or resentment towards her up to this point… please share. Thanks.

      2. I totally agree with you.
        And let’s not forget how Elizabeth executed Mary Queen of Scots. So Mary Tudor would have been well within her right.

  9. By some accounts, Henry VIII had some 60,000 to 80,000 people executed during his reign. Mary Tudor, after initially taking an approach of reconciliation which was met with violence, had some 300 people executed. It’s she, not Henry of course- thanks to Protestant “spin” – who is called “bloody”.

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