(18 February 1516 – 17 November 1558), also known as Mary Tudor
, was Queen of England and Queen of Ireland
from 6 July 1553 (de jure) or 19 July 1553 (de facto) until her death. Mary, the
fourth and penultimate monarch of the Tudor dynasty, is remembered for her
attempt to return England from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. To this end,
she had almost three hundred religious dissenters executed; as a consequence,
she is often known as Bloody Mary
. Her religious policies, however, were
in many cases reversed by her successor and half-sister, Elizabeth I.
Mary Tudor is sometimes confused with her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, who
lived at approximately the same time.
Mary was the second daughter and fifth child of Henry VIII and his first
wife, Catherine of Aragon. A stillborn sister, two short-lived brothers, and a
stillborn brother had preceded her. She was born at the Palace of Placentia in
Greenwich, London, on Monday 18 February 1516. She was baptised on the following
Wednesday with Thomas Cardinal Wolsey standing as her godfather. The Princess
Mary was a precocious but sickly child who had poor eyesight, sinus conditions and bad headaches.
Her poor health has been theorised by some authors to be from congenital
syphilis transferred to her from her mother, who presumably would have
contracted the disease from Mary's father. Whether or not he had the disease is
debated, however, as the story emerged long after his death. Henry gave the
Princess Mary her own court at Ludlow Castle and many of the prerogatives
normally only given to a Prince of Wales, sometimes leading to false assertions
that she was created Princess of Wales, even though he was deeply disappointed
that he (or, as he believed, his wife) had again failed to produce a healthy
son; Catherine's sixth and last child was a stillborn daughter.
Mary I. By Antonius Mor, 1554.
The Princess Mary became an extremely well-educated child under the direction
of her governess, the Countess of Salisbury. She learned to speak Latin,
Spanish, French and Italian, as well as her native English. Other studies
included Greek, science, and music. In July 1520, when scarcely four and a half
years old, she entertained some visitors with a performance on the virginals (a
smaller harpsichord). A great part of the credit of her early education was
undoubtedly due to her mother, who not only consulted the Spanish scholar Juan
Luís Vives upon the subject, but was herself the Princess Mary's first teacher
Even when she was a young child, the Princess Mary's marital future was being
negotiated by her father. When she was but two years old, she was promised to
the Dauphin Francis, son of Francis I, King of France. After three years, the
contract was repudiated; in 1522, the Princess Mary was instead contracted to
her first cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V by the Treaty of Windsor.
Within a few years, however, the engagement was broken off. In 1526, the
Princess Mary was sent to Wales to preside over the Council of Wales and the
Marches. It was then suggested that the Princess Mary wed, not the Dauphin, but
his father Francis I, who was eager for an alliance with England. A marriage
treaty was signed; it provided that the Princess Mary should marry either
Francis or his second son, Henry, Duke of Orléans. Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII's
chief advisor, managed to secure an alliance without a marriage.
Meanwhile, the marriage of the Princess Mary's parents was in jeopardy. Queen
Catherine had failed to provide Henry the male heir he desired; consequently,
the King attempted to have his marriage to her annulled. In 1533, Henry secretly
married another woman, Anne Boleyn. Shortly thereafter, Thomas Cranmer, the
Archbishop of Canterbury, formally declared the marriage with Catherine void and
the marriage with Anne valid. Since the Pope had previously denied him the
annullment, Henry broke with the Roman Catholic Church. All appeals from the
decisions of English ecclesiastical courts to the Pope were abolished, and the
King was acknowledged as "Supreme Head" of the Church of England.
Mary, meanwhile, was deemed illegitimate, as Henry's marriage to Catherine
was officially null and void from the beginning. She lost the dignity of a
Princess, becoming a mere "Lady". Her place in the line of succession was
transferred to the Princess Elizabeth (daughter of Queen Anne). The Lady Mary
was expelled from the Royal Court; her servants were dismissed from her service,
and she was forced to serve as a lady-in-waiting under the Queen Anne's aunt,
the Lady Shelton, to her own infant half-sister Elizabeth, then living in
Hatfield. She was not permitted to see her mother Catherine, or attend her
funeral in 1536. Her treatment and the hatred Queen Anne had for her was
perceived as unjust; all Europe, furthermore, regarded her as the only true heir
and daughter of Henry VIII, although she was illegitimate under English law.
Mary confidently expected her troubles to end when Queen Anne lost royal
favour and was beheaded in 1536. The Princess Elizabeth was also degraded to a
Lady and removed from the line of succession. Henry married Jane Seymour, who
died shortly after giving birth to a son, the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall.
The Lady Mary's privy purse expenses for nearly the whole of this period have
been published, and show that Hatfield, Beaulieu or Newhall in Essex, Richmond
and Hunsdon were among her principal places of residence.
However, it quickly transpired that it had been Mary's father Henry, not Anne
alone, who had been persecuting Mary. The only way he would grant her his favor
was if she accepted humiliating attacks on her religion and royal position. The
Lady Mary attempted to reconcile with her father by submitting to him as head of
the Church of England under Jesus, thus repudiating Papal authority, and
acknowledging that the marriage between her mother and father was unlawful, thus
making her illegitimate. She also became godmother to her half-brother Edward
and was chief mourner at Queen Jane's funeral. In turn, Henry agreed to grant
her a household, and the Lady Mary was permitted to reside in royal palaces.
Henry's sixth and last wife, Catherine Parr, was able to bring the family closer
together, again improving the Lady Mary's position.
There were several attempts to marry her off to European princes, but none of
them succeeded. In 1544, an Act of Parliament returned the Lady Mary and the
Lady Elizabeth to the line of succession (after their half-brother, the Prince
Edward, Duke of Cornwall). Both women, however, remained legally illegitimate.
In 1547, Henry died, to be succeeded by Edward VI. Edward was England's first
Protestant monarch; his Parliament's Act of Uniformity prescribed Protestant
rites for church services, such as the use of Thomas Cranmer's new Book of
Common Prayer. The Lady Mary, desirous of maintaining the old Roman Catholic
form, asked to be allowed to worship in private in her own chapel. After she was
ordered to stop her practices, she appealed to her cousin and former matrimonial
prospect, the Emperor Charles V. Charles threatened war with England if the Lady
Mary's religious liberty were infringed; consequently, the Protestants at court
ceased to interfere with her private rituals.
Edward VI died in 1553 whilst Mary was staying at Framlingham Castle in
Suffolk. He did not desire that the Crown go to either the Lady Mary or the Lady
Elizabeth; consequently, he excluded them from the line of succession in his
will, which was unlawful, because it contradicted an Act of Parliament passed in
1544 restoring the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth to the line of succession,
and because it was made by a minor. Under the guidance of John Dudley, 1st Duke
of Northumberland, Edward VI instead devised the Crown to the Lady Jane Grey, a
descendant of Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk, and
the Duke of Northumberland's daughter-in-law.
Thus, after Edward died on 6 July 1553, the Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed
Queen. Jane's accession was met with popular disapproval, which was suppressed
by the use of force. A young boy so bold as to hail "Queen Mary" was punished by
having his ears cut off. Still, the country remained devoted to Mary. On 19
July, Jane's accession proclamation was deemed to have been made under coercion
and was revoked; instead, Mary was proclaimed Queen. All support for the Lady
Jane vanished and Mary rode into London triumphantly and unchallenged, with her
half-sister, the Lady Elizabeth, at her side, on 3 August.
Since the Act of Succession passed in 1544 recognised only Mary as Edward's
heir, and since Edward's will was never authorised by statute, Mary's de jure
reign dates to 6 July 1553, the date of Edward's death. Her de facto
reign, however, dates to 19 July 1553, when Jane was deposed. One of her first
actions as monarch was to order the release of the Catholic Thomas Howard, 3rd
Duke of Norfolk and Stephen Gardiner from imprisonment in the Tower of London.
Originally, Mary was inclined to exercise clemency, and initially set the
Lady Jane Grey free, recognising that the young girl was forced to take the
Crown by her father-in-law. The Lady Jane's father, Henry Grey, 1st Duke of
Suffolk, was also released. The Duke of Northumberland was the only conspirator
immediately executed for high treason, and even this was after some hesitation
on the Queen's part. She was left in a difficult position, as almost all the
Privy Counsellors had been implicated in the plot to put the Lady Jane Grey on
the Throne. She could only rely on Stephen Gardiner, whom she appointed Bishop
of Winchester and Lord Chancellor. Gardiner performed Mary's coronation on 1
October 1553 because Mary did not wish to be crowned by the senior
ecclesiastics, who were all Protestants.
Mary's first Act of Parliament retroactively validated Henry VIII's marriage
to Catherine of Aragon, and legitimated the Queen.
Now 37, Mary turned her attention to procuring a husband to father an heir in
order to prevent her half-sister, the Lady Elizabeth, from succeeding to the
Throne. She rejected Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon as a prospect when her
first cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, suggested that she marry his
only son, the Spanish prince Philip. The marriage, a purely political alliance
for Philip, was extremely unpopular with the English. Lord Chancellor Gardiner
and the House of Commons petitioned her to consider marrying an Englishman,
fearing that England would be relegated to a dependency of Spain. The fear of
dependency was due in large part to the inexperience of having a queen regnant.
Insurrections broke out across the country when she refused. The Duke of Suffolk
once again proclaimed that his daughter, the Lady Jane Grey, was Queen. The
young Sir Thomas Wyatt led a force from Kent, and was not defeated until he had
arrived at London's gates. After the rebellions were crushed, both the Duke of
Suffolk and the Lady Jane Grey were convicted of high treason and executed.
Since the rebellion was designed to put her on the throne, the Lady Elizabeth
was imprisoned in the Tower of London, but was put under house arrest in
Woodstock Palace after two months.
Mary married Philip on 25 July 1554 at Winchester Cathedral. Under the terms
of the marriage treaty, Philip was to be styled "King of England", all official
documents (including Acts of Parliament) were to be dated with both their names
and Parliament was to be called under the joint authority of the couple.
Philip's powers, however, were extremely limited; he and Mary were not true
joint Sovereigns. Nonetheless, Philip was the only man to take the crown
matrimonial upon his marriage to a reigning Queen of England; William III became
jointly sovereign with his wife, Mary II, pursuant to Act of Parliament, rather
than matrimonial right. Coins were to also show the head of both Mary and
Philip. The marriage treaty further provided that England would not be obliged
to provide military support to Philip's father, the Holy Roman Emperor, in any
war. Mary fell in love with Philip and, thinking she was pregnant, had
thanksgiving services at the diocese of London in November 1554. But Philip
found his queen, who was eleven years his senior, to be physically unattractive
and after only fourteen months left for Spain under a false excuse. Mary
suffered a phantom pregnancy; Philip released the Lady Elizabeth from house
arrest so that he could be viewed favourably by her in case Mary died during
Mary then turned her attention to religious issues. She had always rejected
the break with Rome instituted by her father. Her half-brother, Edward, had
established Protestantism; Mary wished to revert to Roman Catholicism. England
was reconciled with Rome, and Reginald Cardinal Pole, who would become an
adviser Mary very heavily depended upon, became Archbishop of Canterbury, after
Mary had his predecessor executed. Edward's religious laws were abolished by
Mary's first Parliament and numerous Protestant leaders were executed in the
so-called Marian Persecutions. The first to die was John Rogers (4 February
1555) and the next to be killed was John Hooper, the Bishop of Gloucester (9
February 1555). The persecution lasted uninterrupted for three and three-quarter
years. She earned the epithet of Bloody Mary though her successor and
half-sister, Elizabeth, more than balanced the number killed under Mary with
Catholic persecution, in total, but not in frequency. (Elizabeth reigned seven
times as long, and some of her executions were of actual traitors, under any
definition). For frequency the persecution of Catholics under the short reign of
her predecessor Edward VI is perhaps more comparable or possibly the persecution
of Protestants in the early years of their father Henry VIII.
Having inherited the Throne of Spain upon his father's abdication, Philip
returned to England from March to July 1557 to persuade Mary to join with Spain
in a war against France in the Italian Wars. Meanwhile, England was full of
faction, and seditious pamphlets of Protestant origin inflamed the people with
hatred against the Spaniards. But perhaps the strangest thing about the
situation was that the Pope sided with France against Spain. English forces
fared badly in the conflict and as a result the Kingdom lost Calais, its last
remaining continental possession. Mary later lamented that when she lay dead the
words "Philip" and "Calais" would be found inscribed on her heart.
Mary persuaded parliament to repeal the protestant religious laws passed by
Edward and Henry before her. But it took several years to persuade parliament to
go all the way. And to get their agreement, she had to make a major concession -
tens of thousands of acres of monastery lands confiscated under Henry were not
returned to the monasteries. The new group of landowners that had been set up by
this distribution remained very influential.
Mary also set in motion currency reform to counteract the dramatic
devaluation of the currency overseen by Thomas Gresham that characterized the
last few years of Henry VIII's reign and the reign of Edward VI. These measures,
however, were largely unsuccessful and it was only under Elizabeth that economic
catastrophe was prevented. Mary's deep religious convictions also inspired her
to institute social reforms, although these were unsuccessful as well.
Under her reign, in another of the Plantations of Ireland, English colonists
were settled in the Irish midlands to reduce the attacks on the Pale (the colony
around Dublin). Two counties were created and, in her honour, were named Queens
County and, for Phillip, Kings County. The county town of Queens County was
During her reign, Mary's weak health led her to suffer numerous phantom
pregnancies. After such a delusion was suffered in 1558, Mary decreed in her
will that her husband Philip should be the regent during the minority of her
child. No child, however, was born, and Mary died at the age of forty-two of
influenza, uterine cancer or ovarian cancer at St. James's Palace on 17 November
1558. It has been theorised that an ovarian cyst prevented her from becoming
pregnant. She was succeeded by her half-sister, who became Elizabeth I. Mary is
buried in Westminster Abbey immediately beside Elizabeth. The Latin inscription
on their tomb translates to "Partners both in Throne and grave, here rest we two
sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection".
Although Mary enjoyed tremendous popular support and sympathy for her
mistreatment during the earliest parts of her reign, she lost almost all of it
after marrying Philip. The English viewed the marriage as a breach of English
independence; they felt that it would make England a mere dependency of Spain.
The marriage treaty clearly specified that England was not to be drawn into any
Spanish wars, but this guarantee proved meaningless. Philip spent most of his
time governing his Spanish and European territories, and little of it with his
wife in England. After Mary's death, Philip became a suitor for Elizabeth's
hand, but Elizabeth refused.
During the five-year long reign, 283 individuals were burnt at the stake,
twice as many as had suffered the same fate during the previous century and a
half of English history, and at a greater rate than under the contemporary
Spanish Inquisition. Several notable clerics were executed; among them were the
former Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, the former Bishop of London
Nicholas Ridley and the reformist Hugh Latimer. John Foxe vilified her in a book
entitled The Actes and Monuments of these latter and perilous Dayes, touching
matters of the Church, wherein are comprehended and described the great
Persecution and horrible Troubles that have been wrought and practised by the
Romishe Prelates, Epeciallye in this Realme of England and Scotland, from the
yeare of our Lorde a thousande to the time now present, commonly called
The Book of Martyrs. The persecution of Protestants earned Mary the
appellation "Bloody Mary" and led the English people to revile her. It is said
that the Spanish ambassadors were aghast at the jubilation and celebration of
the people upon her death. Many historians believe, however, that Mary does not
deserve all the blame that has been cast upon her. She was not solely
responsible for the persecution of Protestants; others who participated included
the Archbishop of Canterbury Reginald Cardinal Pole, who was appointed during
her reign, the Bishop of Winchester Stephen Gardiner and the Bishop of London
Edmund Bonner ("Bloody Bonner", who had been deprived of his see until Mary's
accession to the throne).
One popular tradition traces the nursery rhyme Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
to Mary's unpopular attempts to bring Roman Catholicism back to England,
identifying the "cockle shells", for example, with the symbol of pilgrimage to
the shrine of Saint James in Spain and the "pretty maids all in a row" with
nuns. Another tradition has it that the rhyme was based on the life of Mary's
cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. There is however no proof that the rhyme was known
before the 18th century:
Mary has appeared several times in Tudor-related movies. Ann Tyrrell made a
cameo appearance as Mary in the movie Young Bess (1953). Nicola Pagett
played Mary in the 1969 film Anne of the Thousand Days; Pagett's brief
appearance was in a fictitious scene depicting Mary at Catherine of Aragon's
deathbed. (Historically, Mary was not present at the time.)
In 1971, the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast the six-part
television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII. In the first part,
Catherine of Aragon, the young Princess Mary was portrayed by Verina
Greenlaw. The character, played by Alison Frazer, reappeared in the third part,
Jane Seymour, and in the sixth part, Catherine Parr. In the
blockbuster sequel, Elizabeth R, the middle-aged Mary was played by
The 1985 movie Lady Jane had Mary played by Jane Lapotaire. In 1998,
Mary was portrayed by Kathy Burke in the lavish costume drama Elizabeth.
In 2003, Lara Belmont played Mary in the British television drama Henry VIII.
Mary is the subject of the novel, The Shadow of the Crown by Jean
Plaidy. Mary also appears in Philippa Gregory's novel, The Queen's Fool
and in Margaret Irwin's trilogy of Queen Elizabeth youth, Young Bess,
Elizabeth, Captive Princess and Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain.
For younger readers, Mary's story is told in Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn
Style and arms
Like Henry VIII and Edward VI, Mary used the style "Majesty", as well as
"Highness" and "Grace". "Majesty", which Henry VIII first used on a consistent
basis, did not become exclusive until the reign of Elizabeth I's successor,
When Mary ascended the Throne, she was proclaimed under the same official
style as Henry VIII and Edward VI: "Mary, by the Grace of God, Queen of England,
France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and also
of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head". The "supremacy phrase" at the end of the
style was repugnant to Mary's Catholic faith; from 1554 onwards, she omitted the
phrase without statutory authority, which was not retroactively granted by
Parliament until 1555.
Under Mary's marriage treaty with Philip II of Spain, the couple were jointly
styled King and Queen. The official joint style reflected not only Mary's but
also Philip's dominions and claims; it was "Philip and Mary, by the grace of
God, King and Queen of England, France, Naples, Jerusalem and Ireland, Defenders
of the Faith, Princes of Spain and Sicily, Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Milan,
Burgundy and Brabant, Counts of Habsburg, Flanders and Tyrol". This style, which
had been in use since 1554, was replaced when Philip inherited the Spanish Crown
in 1556 with "Philip and Mary, by the Grace of God King and Queen of England,
Spain, France, Jerusalem, both the Sicilies and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith,
Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Burgundy, Milan and Brabant, Counts of Habsburg,
Flanders and Tyrol".
Mary I's arms were the same as those used by her predecessors since Henry IV:
Quarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or (for France) and Gules three lions
passant guardant in pale Or (for England). Sometimes, Mary's arms were
impaled (depicted side-by-side) with those of her husband.