Mary I


This England - - News - PAUL JAMES

If Lady Jane Grey is con­sid­ered to be England’s most tragic queen, Mary Tu­dor must rank a close se­cond for hers is very much a story of re­jec­tion. Re­jected by her fa­ther, her brother, her hus­band and ul­ti­mately by her coun­try.

The el­dest sur­viv­ing child of King Henry VIII and Cather­ine of Aragon, Mary was born at Green­wich Palace on 18th Fe­bru­ary 1516 and was baptized at the Fri­ary Church there. Al­though Henry was pleased to have fa­thered a child, he was dis­ap­pointed that it was a girl for he des­per­ately needed a male heir to con­tinue the Tu­dor dy­nasty. He told courtiers, “By God’s grace the sons will fol­low.” Henry and Cather­ine had at least eight other chil­dren, in­clud­ing three boys, all of which were ei­ther mis­car­ried, still­born or died in in­fancy. It was this fail­ure to pro­duce the heir Henry so craved that led to his sep­a­ra­tion and even­tual di­vorce from Cather­ine and re­sulted in an un­happy child­hood for Mary.

Pos­si­bly be­cause of ten­sions in her home life, Mary de­vel­oped into a strong­willed child, some would say pre­co­cious. She was ini­tially ed­u­cated by her mother and Mar­garet Pole, the Count­ess of Sal­is­bury, and was later tu­tored in as­tron­omy, ge­og­ra­phy, math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence. She ex­celled at lan­guages, stud­ied Greek and spoke Latin, French, Ital­ian and Span­ish flu­ently. Like her fa­ther, Mary was mu­si­cal and could play the vir­ginals be­fore her fifth birth­day, and learned to play the clavi­chord and lute. For re­lax­ation, Mary en­joyed needle­work and em­broi­dery, and she loved danc­ing. At the age of 11 she took part in sev­eral en­ter­tain­ments at Green­wich Palace for the French am­bas­sador, danc­ing as an Ice­landic maiden and later, richly dressed in a cos­tume of crim­son and gold, as an an­cient Ro­man lady.

Al­most from birth Mary was a pawn in the mar­riage stakes to strengthen re­la­tions with other coun­tries. At the age of just two she was en­gaged to the French Dauphin, al­though Car­di­nal Wolsey later changed his mind and the young Mary found her­self be­trothed to Charles V of France in­stead. She was five years old, he was 23! With no dowry of­fered, Charles V backed out of the ar­range­ment. James IV of Scot­land was then sug­gested as a pos­si­ble hus­band, but the idea was aban­doned.

When she was 10, Car­di­nal Wolsey tried to ar­range a mar­riage be­tween Mary and 32-year-old Fran­cis I of France. Henry of Or­leans was also con­sid­ered, be­fore Wolsey turned his at­ten­tion to England and sug­gested that Mary marry Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Rich­mond. As the Duke was an il­le­git­i­mate son of Henry VIII with his mis­tress El­iz­a­beth Blount, the union be­tween a girl and her half-brother proved too much even for the Tu­dors. Then the son of the Duke of Nor­folk was pro­posed, but also re­jected. Love did not ap­pear to be a req­ui­site and poor Mary seemed to have no say in her choice of fu­ture hus­band. Having first been en­gaged at the age of two, Mary did not ac­tu­ally marry un­til she was 37.

Caught up in her fa­ther’s mar­i­tal prob­lems, Mary found her­self re­jected by him when he sep­a­rated from Cather­ine of Aragon. When the mar­riage was nul­li­fied, Mary was de­clared il­le­git­i­mate and even had to give up her ti­tle of Princess. Henry VIII’S se­cond wife, Anne Bo­leyn, saw Mary as an en­emy. When Anne gave birth to a daugh­ter in 1533, Mary was re­jected still fur­ther.

In­stead of be­ing treated roy­ally, Mary was now con­sid­ered to be no­body. She was given the smallest room at Hat­field House and was al­most a ser­vant, act­ing as a nanny to her half-sis­ter, Princess El­iz­a­beth. Anne Bo­leyn’s sis­ter, Lady Skel­ton, took con­trol of all that Mary did and was in­structed to beat her if she dis­obeyed or­ders. Not sur­pris­ingly, Mary be­came ill. “While my fa­ther lives I shall be only the Lady Mary,” she said, de­scrib­ing her­self as “the most un­happy lady in Chris­ten­dom”. So se­vere was the at­ti­tude to­wards her that if any­one wrote a let­ter to her ad­dress­ing her as “Princess” Mary, they were sent straight to the Tower. Know­ing that her own life could be in dan­ger, the young Mary learned to act with hu­mil­ity at this time.

When Cather­ine of Aragon was dy­ing at Kim­bolton in 1535, Mary was for­bid­den to go and see her. She was not al­lowed to go to the fu­neral, or to ac­cept a be­quest in her mother’s will.

Af­ter Anne Bo­leyn’s ex­e­cu­tion in 1536, Henry mar­ried Jane Sey­mour who was sympathetic to Mary’s sit­u­a­tion. Mary, then aged 20, tried to ini­ti­ate a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with her fa­ther, but was told that first she had to agree that his mar­riage to Cather­ine of Aragon was il­le­gal and also to ac­cept Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England. Mary’s re­li­gious con­vic­tion was es­sen­tial to her and she was drawn to the old Catholic faith and be­lieved in the supremacy of the Pope, which was com­pletely at odds with her fa­ther’s po­si­tion.

Ini­tially Mary re­fused to ac­cept Henry as Head of the Church, but even­tu­ally re­lented. Many peo­ple were be­ing ex­e­cuted at this time for their faith, in­clud­ing some close to Mary,

and she feared that she might also lose her head. Strong willed, how­ever, she could not re­lin­quish her Catholic lean­ings and up­set the King when he heard that she had “en­ter­tained a group of dis­pos­sessed nuns”. The Duke of Nor­folk said threat­en­ingly that were he Mary’s fa­ther, he would knock her head against a wall “un­til it was as soft as a baked ap­ple”.

Mary was to re­main some­thing of an out­sider within the Royal Fam­ily un­til Henry VIII mar­ried for the last time. His sixth wife, Cather­ine Parr, took pity on Mary, and was said to have treated her like a sis­ter and tried to pour oil on trou­bled waters. As a re­sult, a statute of 1544 put Mary back in line of suc­ces­sion af­ter her brother, Ed­ward, but she still seemed to be con­sid­ered il­le­git­i­mate.

Af­ter Henry VIII’S death in 1547, the new King Ed­ward VI was de­ter­mined to main­tain his fa­ther’s Protes­tant stance and the Catholic Mass was out­lawed. This caused fric­tion with Mary, who told her brother that her faith would never change. In 1549 she was in­formed that she could not hold a pri­vate Mass even in her own home.

When Ed­ward died at the age of 15 on 6th July 1553, two days later it was re­vealed that the pow­er­ful Duke of Northum­ber­land had per­suaded the young King to name his Protes­tant cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his suc­ces­sor in­stead of Mary. Mary had been re­jected once again. Jane was taken in an elab­o­rate pro­ces­sion by state barge to the Tower of London on 10th July where her ac­ces­sion was of­fi­cially an­nounced.

Mary was in Suf­folk when Jane was pro­claimed Queen and sent a let­ter to Par­lia­ment stat­ing that she was the right­ful heir to her half-brother King Ed­ward VI. Lady Jane Grey’s hus­band, Guild­ford Dudley, sent a re­ply signed by 20 coun­cil­lors con­firm­ing that Jane was now Queen of England.

Mary set out for London, stay­ing overnight at Saw­ston Hall near Cam­bridge, then owned by the Ro­man Catholic Hud­dle­ston fam­ily. She was forced to leave early in the morn­ing dis­guised as a dairy maid when news reached her that the Duke of Northum­ber­land’s sol­diers and a group of Protes­tant sup­port­ers were ap­proach­ing, with the aim of tak­ing her pris­oner. When they dis­cov­ered that they had been thwarted, they set fire to Saw­ston Hall, de­stroy­ing a large part of it. “Let it burn,” said Mary, “I shall build a finer one there.” This she did, grant­ing a li­cence for stone to be used from Cam­bridge Castle. It is now a Grade I listed Tu­dor manor house and, not sur­pris­ingly, has one of the finest pri­est holes in England where the Catholic Mass could be said in se­cret.

It soon be­came clear that Lady Jane Grey was not the pop­u­lar choice of the peo­ple and there was much greater sup­port in England for a true daugh­ter of King Henry VIII. On 13th July Mary’s sup­port­ers pro­claimed her Queen and marched to­wards London, where she was met by the Lord Mayor at Aldgate and re­ceived a rap­tur­ous wel­come from the peo­ple. She went on to the Tower of London to be met by Ro­man Catholic pris­on­ers who had been in­car­cer­ated dur­ing the reigns of Henry VIII and Ed­ward VI. Mary im­me­di­ately or­dered their re­lease. In their place, the hap­less Lady Jane Grey found her­self im­pris­oned: a girl who never wanted the crown. Mary of­fi­cially be­came Queen on 19th July and her reign dates from then.

On 30th Septem­ber Queen Mary rode to West­min­ster, a spec­ta­cle that is de­scribed in the 16th-cen­tury Holin­shed Chron­i­cles. Mary was “in a char­iot of cloth of gold, wear­ing a gown of pur­ple vel­vet trimmed with er­mine, her crown so heavy with jew­els that she was faine to beare up her head with her hand”. Her Coro­na­tion took place in West­min­ster Abbey on 1st Oc­to­ber, when she be­came the first crowned Queen to reign over the whole of England. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the ser­vice was con­ducted by a Ro­man Catholic bishop. The Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, Thomas Cran­mer, had been ar­rested, later to be tried for trea­son.

As monarch, Mary had a num­ber of achieve­ments which in­cluded re­form­ing England’s fi­nan­cial po­si­tion and mak­ing im­prove­ments to the roads, but it is for is­sues with the church that she is largely re­mem­bered. One of her first acts was to dis­miss all the ad­vis­ers that had sur­rounded Ed­ward VI and brought in her own sup­port­ers. At her first Par­lia­ment she re­scinded all Ed­ward VI’S laws con­cern­ing the Protes­tant church, re­stored the Mass and made the Book of Com­mon Prayer il­le­gal.

As an un­mar­ried monarch, the ques­tion of her mar­riage was soon high on the agenda and Mary was given a list of six pos­si­ble suit­ors. She was 37 and it seemed as if peo­ple had been try­ing to find her a hus­band for her en­tire life.

She even­tu­ally set­tled on Philip, son of her cousin Charles V the Holy Ro­man Em­peror and King of Spain.

Philip was heir to the Span­ish throne, a wid­ower who was 11 years younger than Mary. He was said to be a zeal­ous Catholic and just what she needed by her side if she was ever to make England a Catholic coun­try. Par­lia­ment urged her to opt for an English hus­band, fear­ing that the union would be a threat to England’s in­de­pen­dence, but Mary stub­bornly re­fused. She did make one con­ces­sion with Par­lia­ment that if she died child­less, Philip and his heirs would not have any claim to the throne and he was re­fused the ti­tle King of England.

Mary’s choice of hus­band did not go down well and there was hos­til­ity prior to the mar­riage to Philip of Spain. Her pop­u­lar­ity with the English peo­ple plum­meted and chil­dren even threw snow­balls at vis­it­ing Span­ish en­voys that win­ter. There was a re­bel­lion led by Sir Thomas Wy­att in Jan­uary 1554, when 15,000 peo­ple marched in protest from Kent to South­wark, with Wy­att at the head to op­pose the Queen’s mar­riage.

Mary re­fused to be cowed and went in­stead to London’s Guild­hall, where she made a dra­matic speech. “I am come in mine own per­son to tell you what you al­ready see and know,” she said. “I mean the trai­tor­ous and sedi­tious as­sem­bling of the Ken­tish rebels against us and you. They pre­tend to ob­ject to the mar­riage with the Prince of Spain…. good sub­jects, pluck up your hearts and like true men stand fast against these rebels and fear them not, for I as­sure you I fear them noth­ing at all.”

Her ad­vis­ers urged her to go to the safety of Wind­sor Castle, but Mary re­fused and de­fi­antly watched from the gate­house of St. James’s Palace as the rebels marched past.

In the en­su­ing Bat­tle of Fleet Street, the re­bel­lion was quashed on 7th Fe­bru­ary and Wy­att and over 100 men were ex­e­cuted. The Queen even had her own sis­ter El­iz­a­beth im­pris­oned in the Tower of London for fear that she sup­ported the re­bel­lion, but when no ev­i­dence could be un­earthed Mary had her moved to Wood­stock Palace un­til the fuss had died down. When it be­came known that Lady Jane Grey’s fa­ther had been one of the rebels, Mary also signed the death war­rant of Jane. The in­no­cent girl was ex­e­cuted on 12th Fe­bru­ary, along with her hus­band Guild­ford Dudley.

Philip ar­rived at Southamp­ton ahead of the mar­riage in a howl­ing gale and tor­ren­tial rain. Al­though he told the dep­u­ta­tion that greeted him in London that evening that he had come to live in England as an English­man, he ad­dressed them in Latin as he did not speak any English!

Mary mar­ried Philip on 25th July 1554 in Winchester Cathe­dral and the cou­ple hon­ey­mooned at Hamp­ton Court. On mar­riage Mary adopted the ti­tle Queen of England, France, Naples, Jerusalem and Ire­land. When Philip ac­ceded to the Span­ish throne in Jan­uary 1556, Mary also be­came Queen of Spain.

Al­though the cou­ple ap­peared con­tent in public, it was an un­happy re­la­tion­ship and through the mar­riage she lost the af­fec­tion of the English peo­ple. With an eye for the ladies, there was soon gos­sip of Philip’s li­aisons in London with what were de­scribed at the time as “fe­males of low con­di­tion”. A bal­lad of the day lam­pooned his dal­liances:

The baker’s daugh­ter in her rus­set

gown, Bet­ter than Queen Mary with­out her


One of the rea­sons for the cou­ple’s un­pop­u­lar­ity in England is that Philip had a rep­u­ta­tion for having nonCatholics tor­tured to in­duce them to give up their Protes­tant be­liefs.

Af­ter her mar­riage, Mary did in­deed re­vive an old law which al­lowed peo­ple to be burned at the stake as pun­ish­ment for heresy and some 300 Protes­tants suf­fered this dread­ful fate. Not sur­pris­ingly, the Queen be­came known as “Bloody Mary” as a re­sult. The first to suf­fer was John Rogers, a mar­ried Prebendary at St. Paul’s Cathe­dral. His fam­ily were forced to watch the ex­e­cu­tion in the hope that the pri­est would see them and re­nounce his Lutheran faith. He did not. In fact his fam­ily sup­ported his mar­tyr­dom and cheered him on his way out of this world.

No­tably, Mary had three bish­ops put to death in Ox­ford: Thomas Cran­mer, Ni­cholas Ri­d­ley and Hugh La­timer, of­ten re­ferred to as the Ox­ford Mar­tyrs. A grue­some re­minder is a sunken cob­bled cross, set into the road at the western end of Broad Street in Ox­ford, mark­ing the ex­act spot where the bish­ops were ex­e­cuted. There is also a Mar­tyrs’ Me­mo­rial in Ox­ford, a stone mon­u­ment in the shape of an Eleanor Cross with stat­ues of the bish­ops. Un­cowed, La­timer had shouted out to Ri­d­ley as the flames licked around them, “We shall this day light such a can­dle in England as, by the grace of God, shall never be put out.”

It was not just clergy that suf­fered the regime. Long records in­clude weavers, butch­ers, bar­bers…peo­ple from all pro­fes­sions, who lost their lives for re­fus­ing to re­nounce their faith. Four women in Es­sex were put to death for not know­ing what a sacra­ment was.

Be­cause the Queen was so fa­nat­i­cal about Catholi­cism, mar­ried clergy were now forced to leave their wives if they wanted to stay in the church. Where

churches had been stripped bare of or­na­men­ta­tion by her pre­de­ces­sors, Mary now had al­tars, icons and stat­ues re­stored, and soon there were Acts of Par­lia­ment ac­knowl­edg­ing the Pope’s supremacy.

In Novem­ber 1554 it was an­nounced that Queen Mary was ex­pect­ing her first child and there was public celebration through­out England at the prospect of a new heir to se­cure the Tu­dor line. In May 1555, when the birth ap­peared to be im­mi­nent, the wait­ing game con­tin­ued and it even­tu­ally be­came ap­par­ent that this was a phan­tom preg­nancy and there was no baby to be born. Fluid re­ten­tion as a re­sult of dropsy, now known as edema, had caused her stom­ach to swell. With Mary and Philip’s re­la­tion­ship stormy from the out­set, he now packed his bags at the news and set sail for Spain leav­ing her alone and re­jected. He was to marry twice more af­ter Mary’s death and fa­thered at least 10 chil­dren.

Philip re­turned to England briefly in 1557 sim­ply to muster English troops to join in a war be­tween Spain and France, and some 8,000 sol­diers de­parted with him to fight. On 5th Jan­uary 1558 England lost Calais. Its last piece of French ter­ri­tory, won in 1347, had gone and Mary was hu­mil­i­ated. “When I am dead and opened, you shall find Calais ly­ing on my heart,” she said.

Phys­i­cally, Mary was never a great beauty. Short, plump, pale skinned with dark hair, a Span­ish gen­tle­man de­scribed her at the time of her mar­riage as “flabby rather than fat…and she dresses badly”. Vene­tian Am­bas­sador Gio­vanni Michieli recorded in 1557 that Mary’s “eyes are so pierc­ing that they in­spire not only re­spect, but fear in those on whom she fixes them, al­though she is very short-sighted, be­ing un­able to read or do any­thing un­less she has her sight quite close to what she wishes to peruse or to see dis­tinctly. Her voice is rough and loud, al­most like a man’s, so that when she speaks she is al­ways heard a long way off.”

In the sum­mer of 1558 Mary suf­fered with dropsy again, but de­luded her­self that she was preg­nant. She had not seen Philip for over nine months, yet in­sisted that it was her hus­band’s child. This time the con­di­tion proved fa­tal and mod­ern physi­cians con­clude that she may well have been suf­fer­ing from ovar­ian cancer. On 17th Novem­ber Mary was anointed and a Mass was said at her bed­side at St. James’s Palace. She died while be­ing blessed by the pri­est. Few peo­ple mourned at her pass­ing and there was no great na­tional out­flow of grief. Her hus­band wrote to his half­sis­ter, “The Queen, my wife, is dead…. I felt a rea­son­able re­gret for her death.”

When the news was an­nounced in London there was in fact jubilation at El­iz­a­beth’s ac­ces­sion rather than Mary’s pass­ing. “Did any­one ever see such a time?” said one Lon­doner, “No one would think that a queen had died since the day be­gan; there has been noth­ing but bon­fires and bell-ring­ing and feast­ing and shout­ing.”

Mary’s heart and bow­els were buried at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace, and her body at West­min­ster Abbey. Whilst many of our English mon­archs were given elab­o­rate tombs, Mary shares her fi­nal rest­ing place with her half-sis­ter and suc­ces­sor, Queen El­iz­a­beth I, in West­min­ster Abbey. It is Good Queen Bess’s ef­figy that adorns the tomb and a Vic­to­rian in­spec­tion of the burial cham­ber re­vealed that El­iz­a­beth’s bet­ter qual­ity cof­fin had been placed di­rectly on top of Mary’s. Even in death, Mary was over­shad­owed.

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