The Death of Mary I – 17th November 1558

Posted By on November 17, 2011

Mary Tudor On this day in history, 17th November 1558, Henry VIII’s eldest child, Queen Mary I, died. She was just 42 years old.

In his recent biography of Mary, “Mary Tudor”, David Loades writes of Mary “seems to have retreated into her shell” after her husband Philip’s second departure in July 1557. He writes of how “apart from the state opening of Parliament on 20 January 1558, and the relevant high mass, there are almost no mentions of her appearance, and the revels accounts tell a similar story” and that “Mary seems to have lacked all enthusiasm” for entertainment such as masks and plays. Obviously, Mary believed that she was pregnant in early 1558 but it does sound as if the Queen was withdrawing into herself. It may well have been that she was stressed and depressed, or perhaps her health was affecting her.

After Easter 1558, Mary I made her will. Loades points out that this was not because she was seriously ill but because she believed that she was pregnant. In fact, she started her will with the words “Thinking myself to be with child in lawful marriage…” Loades believes that this second phantom pregnancy “was all happening in Mary’s own mind” because when she made her will birth should have been imminent since Philip had departed in July 1557, yet there is no mention in the records of preparations being made such as nursery staff being appointed, remarks on her changing body shape, preparations for confinement etc. Poor Mary.

David Loades writes of how, “with the benefit of hindsight”, we can see how Mary’s health began to decline after that, although nobody seems to have been unduly worried at the time. In August 1558, Mary contracted a fever and although she was able to fight that off she was reported to be suffering from a “dropsy” at the end of September. At the end of October she made an addition to her will and although she did not name Elizabeth, her half-sister, she did confirm that the throne would go to the next lawful heir and that was Elizabeth. The Duke of Feria arrived at the English court on the 9th November and reported to his master, Mary’s husband Philip II of Spain, on the 14th November:-

“there is… no hope of her life, but on the contrary each hour I think that they will come to inform me of her death, so rapidly does her condition deteriorate from one day to the next.”

Loades writes of how, in her last days, she “confided to those about her that she had had a vision of angels ‘like little children'” and that she also spoke of how the word “Calais” would be found written across her heart after her death. She received the ‘viaticum’, the special holy communion for the dying, on the 17th November and was able to make the appropriate responses before she lapsed into unconsciousness, never to wake again. The exact time of her death is not recorded as it was not noticed, she slipped peacefully away.

It was the end of an era, as the crown of England passed from one of Henry VIII’s daughters to the other, from Mary I to Elizabeth I. Although it doesn’t seem to have been said at the time, I’ll say it now: “The Queen is dead! Long live the Queen!”

Notes and Sources

  • Mary Tudor, David Loades, Chapters 11 and 12, “Mary & Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth the Heir”

39 thoughts on “The Death of Mary I – 17th November 1558”

  1. Kerenza says:

    My heart goes out to this poor woman, she had such a lonely life. Abandoned by her husband when she was dying and believing so desperately that she was pregnant.

  2. Lynn says:

    @Kerenza: So right about the lonely life. Can you imagine being taken from your mother at such an early age then cast off and disowned repeatedly by your father? Then married to a man you want to love and raise a family (and future heir) with but he does not want you??? I cannot imagine what Mary I’s last few years were like. Did her hard line on Protestants and her title of “Bloody Mary” give her satisfaction do you suppose?

    1. Esther says:

      I don’t know for certain, but based on what I have read, I think that the people overwhelmingly backed Mary’s claim, over that of Lady Jane Grey, made Mary think that they wanted to return to Rome and the Catholic Church. I think that Mary was somehwat surprised, and very sad, to discover that they didn’t want to return to “the true church”.

      1. Michele Villafana says:

        Lady Jane Grey was a Protestant and she believed Mary was the rightful Queen. Even before her execution Lady Jane was given the opportunity to convert to Catholicism to spare her life. Lady Jane stayed firm in her beliefs. I believe this is how most of England felt, including many Protestants, thatMary was the rightful heir to the crown. However, they also didn’t know of Mary’s plans to return the country to Catholicism until she was sitting on the throne. She wanted to reunite Rome and England.

        LJG never wanted the crown but took it for fear (most probably) of disobeying her parents and Father-In-Law. She was reluctant to take the crown and at first refused it.

  3. Anne Barnhill says:

    It’s easy to see how Mary could become depressed. The stress of an unhappy marriage, the stress of the religious changes and the burnings, etc. I think there is a connection between stress and health and I believe both Mary and her mother died partly due to the stress caused by you-know-who!

    1. Hayley Walker says:

      I really hope you mean Henry there and not Anne.

      1. lynn says:

        But it was Anne she made Katherine and Mary’s life hell!

        1. Claire says:

          Henry VIII was ultimately responsible for Mary’s ill treatment as Mary found to her cost after the death of Anne Boleyn and her treatment actually got worse.

        2. margaret says:

          i agree anne did not make life easy for katherine or mary she had a cruel time when being seperated from her mother ,and like it or not anne was cause of a lot of heartache for them both

        3. Helen says:

          Lynn, Mary’s sufferings continued after Anne Boleyn’s death. Things actually got worse for her.

        4. Helen says:

          I can see both sides of it. Henry was awful but without Anne, Katharine and Mary would have had perfect lives with no troubles.

    2. Helen Ruth Davis says:

      Anme did cause a lot of suffering for KOA and Mary but the root of it was Henry.

  4. Ceri C says:

    I think Mary’s life was one of the saddest in history. From her teens onwards any period of happiness was short-lived and book-ended by misery. At least she went peacefully in the end.

  5. Orsolya says:

    I agree about feeling bad for Mary. She is my favorite Tudor and she displayed strength in times when she was abandoned starting as a child. She has a bad reputation and one needs to look deeper into all she’s been through. She was an amazing child and adult. I love her!

  6. David Loades says:

    Delighted to see that Mary continues to generate interest and indeed affection. Readers may be interested in a small paperback on Susan Clarencieux. I have written the Preface. and will be published by The Davenant Press. There is a link from my own website at the bottom of my Homepage.

    Best wishes to all
    David Loades

    1. Claire says:

      Hi David,
      I’ve just written a review of your Mary book – see http://reviews.theanneboleynfiles.com/mary-tudor-by-david-loades/772 – and I’ve had people ask whether it’s a re-issue of your 2006 book, which I don’t have. Thanks for the information regarding Susan Clarencieux.
      Best Wishes,
      Claire

      1. David Loades says:

        Hi Claire
        Will get back will info…. at home for a few hours sleep.. as I am a key speaker at a conference in London on historical novels/professional historians.. have to return tomorrrow.. back late.. nightmare Saturday then speaking in Woodstock on Sundays on the Tudor Navy. I am a Vice President of the Navy Record Societyand glad to have the support of the Duke fo Edinburgh and Prince Andrew, Duke of York inteh many enterprises.. especially with the work on the Elizabethan wreck of Alderney. I am a trustee,.
        Best
        David

        1. Claire says:

          Thanks, David, I appreciate that. I hope the conference goes well and the event at Woodstock, Tim and I used to live near Woodstock!

  7. Lena says:

    Mary was cruel woman, but it exuses her difficult childhood. She wanted to be happy in love, but her husband her did not love.

  8. Eliza says:

    I don’t feel particularly sympathetic towards Mary, but this “she also spoke of how the word “Calais” would be found written across her heart” really moved me. I can understand how she thought about it in her last days.. RIP.

  9. Bonnie says:

    So ironic that I stumbled upon this site today, the anniversary of her death. Poor Mary — I believe she was very misunderstood. For all the tragedies in her life, I hope she is happy in the afterlife.

  10. Dawn 1st says:

    Took your advise Claire and added to my name as there is a ‘new’ Dawn who has recently posted, and I wouldn’t want her to get held responsible for something I had said 🙂 lol… so Hi there new Dawn.

    There is always a sadness when someone dies liked or not, and I don’t think Mary would have won any popularity contests then, or now perhaps, but that seems to make her demise even sadder to me. She died as she had lived most of her life lonely, unloved and starved of the most basic emotional ties and feelings. Her mother was the only person who gave her pure love, her father was indifferent, and others around her did it as a sense of duty.
    As I see it Mary had only two true loves, her mother and her religion that helped her through all her troubles. Although she seems to have loved Philip, I feel this grew from a desperate attempt to achieve the happiness and family that had alluded her.
    After her mother died she became so consumed by her religion that it worked against her in the end, which is a shame. Though she is always portrayed as a cold, cruel zealot, she did show sisterly kindness to Elizabeth as a child at Hatfield, but as time passed I don’t think Mary could get past who Elizabeth’s mother was (plus the differences in their believes) and that small bond was lost, another great shame, as they could have been such great comfort and support to each other.
    The poor Lady, I do pity her as a person…. and hope she’s resting in peace.
    .

  11. Dawn 1st says:

    P.S. Anyone know what the medical term ‘Dropsy’ meant, I have always thought it to be the body swelling because of water retension, due to kidney failure/infection, is that right?

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, it appears to be the old term for “oedema” or “edema”, an accumulation of fluid and it can occur in specific organs as well as under the skin.

      1. Sally says:

        Dropsy is the old medical term for heart failure. Blood backs up into the liver, lungs and the legs and abdomen swell.

  12. Courtnie says:

    I have recently started reading the book , “The Virgin Queen” by Philippa Gregory (who aslo wrote “The Other Boleyn Girl”. This is when Mary Tudor is Queen of England. Though Mary is not one of my favorite Tudor Monarch, I realized there are no shows that can help people learn from the end of Henry VIII to the Beginning of Elizabeth I. It’s like people don’t really care. When I saw this article I knew I had to read it because I would actually like to know more about that time period.

  13. Sharon says:

    Mary was a woman who was loyal to her mother and her faith. Also, she was a woman mistreated by the men in her life. her father, and her husband and im sure the others that surrounded her father and her husband. She was a woman who I believe would have been happy to be Beloved Wife and mother of children. Mary was like a ship at sea in a large storm, being tossed to and fro from the winds of history.

  14. Anne Barnhill says:

    Hayley, Yes I definitely meant Henry–he’s the one she loved or tried to love and he’s the one who continued to force her to submit to his will long after Anne was gone. Mary, though damaged by the trauma of her childhood, was at least game for trying at marriage. It must have been difficult for her to trust any man after her own father mistreated her, yet she really threw herself into her marriage. Gotta admire that.

  15. margaret says:

    am i speaking out of turn here by saying i think mary 1 was very cantankerous and fierce looking also very ugly

  16. JaneB says:

    @Margaret: Mary was, as far as I have read, considered very attractive in her youth with pleasant features and very pretty colouring (reddish hair, big blue eyes). She was known by all her attendants to be loyal and kind. The portraits of her in her middle age are without the benefit of a modern hair stylist, no make up and rather unflattering head gear. We have no way of knowing how she might have “turned out” had her Kingdom remained Catholic like Spain and France, if she had been allowed by her father to marry in her early 20s and perhaps managed to have at least one child. Life was very cruel to her.

    1. jane says:

      She waited on the side, while everyone in power would pass away. her father and all her step mothers and even her youngest brother at such young age passed away. while she and her sister where illigitemate children . and even on her death bed while she thought to be with child she left in her will , thinking she was pregnant but not sure. she left it to her next heir without mentioning Elizabeth. In the stories told she wasnt planning on presenting Elizabeth to court , until her husband talked her into it. then she did. and in power she got rid of all those who did not approve of the catholicism in to her kingdom. she made many enemies , thats why they named her bloody mary. evil as it sounds. and most probably the word calais . she probably meant callous in to her heart . which means without heart , without feelings. and in those days words wherent said how we say them now a days.

  17. jane says:

    I have a different theory, I believe , for what i have read in many stories which come out as different but , the part of lady jane grey and Mary. it seems to me Mary felt guilty of something , so guilty it fed into her soul and let her to die. in fact . she was given the viaticam holy communion. to ease her suffering soul. She most probably had to face many decisions of ending some innocent peoples life. just to bring back catholicim to the kingdom. and for what after Elizabeth took over as Queen the papal separated the church from the Queens . and they become higher than the kingdom itself.

  18. Charlie palmer says:

    Claire, can you explain the reference to Calais. Thank you.

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, no problem. Calais had been an English territory since the reign of Edward III in the 1300s and Mary I famously lost it to the French in 1558.

  19. Mary says:

    Awful devil woman! She could of had love from her own sister but pushed her away and made her suffer with her discussing evil jelousey. To bad she didn’t burn like she made so many other people! Hope she burns in hell

    1. Camille Dvorak says:

      I don’t think you can judge her so harshly. She was very much a woman in a man’s world and had to arrrange her own marriage, with her prospects affected by her father’s actions.
      Those who had wanted nothing to do with her because England was at odds with Rome, were suddenly beating a path to her door, the same ones who refused to intercede on her behalf when Lady Jane was held up to usurp her throne. Yet, she had to maintain civility for the sake of future matches for her own heirs, trade, and treaties.

    2. Banditqueen says:

      Where is your evidence for your claims? Please provide references, would be interested as the actual sources and historians don’t support such bias.

      1. Mary Tudor is God says:

        Banditqueen don’t you pray to Mary Tudor as the virgin mary and agree she was sinless and is above christ?

    3. Helen says:

      Mary, that is really hateful and judgmental. How would you like to be stripped from your mother by a woman who makes your life Hell, and then have stepmothers with varying affection for you, marry a man who cheats on you, and die childless alone and abandoned.
      Mary was sinless.

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