Mary I

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Mary I (18 February 1516 – 17 November 1558), was Queen of England and Queen of Ireland from 19 July 1553 until her death. She was the only living child of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and therefore a half-sister to both her predecessor, Edward VI, and her successor, Elizabeth I. Her reign was short, tumultuous and marked by controversy, most particularly a return to Roman Catholicism following the official adoption of Protestantism as the national religion during the reign of her brother Edward. She executed 300 Protestants in her reign, including the Archbishop of Canterbury[1] leading to the epithet Bloody Mary. Her mother was also Spanish and Roman Catholic.

Initially a sympathetic and popular figure in public opinion, she lost all her popularity following her marriage to Phillip of Spain and her attempts to place the nascent Church of England back under the dominion of Rome. She was plagued by ill health and emotional anguish all her life, and died childless, probably of ovarian cancer, in the certain knowledge that her half sister Elizabeth I, a Protestant, would succeed her.


Mary was the only child of Henry and Catherine to survive past infancy. Indications are that her father doted on his heir presumptive, despite being very obviously disappointed that his marriage had not produced a male heir. Although Mary was not a healthy child, she was intelligent and talented, qualities that Henry appreciated. Mary remained in the king's favour as long as there was hope that Catherine might yet have a living son.

Queen Catherine was several years older than Henry, and successive miscarriages took their toll on her health and looks, and made it less and less likely that she would ever produce another living child. Henry's increasing frustration, and the appearance at court of an attractive young noblewoman named Anne Boleyn, set the stage for the dissolution of the marriage with Catherine, and many traumatic years for the young Princess Mary.

Through her mother, Mary was the granddaughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. She was educated by the Spanish scholar Juan Luis Vives in Latin, Greek, and music. When Mary was nine years old, Henry gave her her own court at Ludlow Castle and the title of Princess of Wales, usually only reserved for male heirs. In 1526, Mary was sent to Wales to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches.

Uncertainty and disinheritance

The king used every power at his disposal to persuade the Pope that his marriage to Catherine was void, based on her previous marriage to Arthur, Henry's late brother. When the Pope refused nullify Henry's marriage to Catherine, the king, aided by powerful nobles following the reformed or Protestant faith, eventually declared the Church of England separated from the Church of Rome, with the king as the head of the church. Henry, himself a staunch catholic who had been given the title Defender of the Faith by a former pope for a treatise in which he defended the church from the attacks of the reformers, did not actually change the religion; that would come during his son's reign. However, by declaring himself head of the Church in England, he empowered himself to annul his marriage, setting himself against a stubborn and resolute Catherine, who had the backing of the pope and of her nephew, the King of Spain.

In 1533, Henry married Anne Boleyn, and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, formally declared the marriage with Catherine void and the marriage with Anne valid. Henry then broke with Rome and declared himself head of the Church of England. Catherine lost the dignity of being queen and became Princess Dowager of Wales. Mary was deemed illegitimate, and her place in the line of succession transferred to her half-sister, the future Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn. She was styled "Lady Mary" rather than princess because of her illegitimate status.

Despite his intense annoyance, Henry could not afford to harm Catherine or Mary, although he stripped them of their royal titles. Mary was expelled from Court, her servants dismissed from her service, and she was forced to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth. Mary was not permitted to see her mother Catherine, nor attend her funeral in 1536. For the next few years Mary's fortunes would wax and wane. Her status reached a low when Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen, and particularly after Princess Elizabeth was born in 1533, but at least two of Henry's subsequent wives pleaded her case; Katherine Parr, particularly, did much to reconcile the family. By that time Henry was older and had a legitimate son and heir, and Catherine was dead. Princesses Mary and Elizabeth were eventually reinstated in the line of succession, behind Edward.

Anne Boleyn lost royal favour and was beheaded in 1536. Within two weeks of Anne Boleyn's execution, Henry married Jane Seymour, who died shortly after giving birth to a son, the future King Edward VI of England. Mary was allowed to be godmother to her half-brother Edward and chief mourner at Jane Seymour's funeral. In return, Henry agreed to grant her a household, and Mary was allowed to reside in Hatfield House, the Palace of Beaulieu and Richmond,. She was later awarded the Palace of Beaulieu as her own.

Edward VII

In 1547, Henry died and was succeeded by his son, Edward VI. Since Edward was still a child, rule passed to a regency council. Young Edward and his advisors realised that there was a distinct danger to having Mary as Edward's heir. She, like her mother, remained a Roman Catholic, with allegiance to the pope as the legitimate head of the church. By this time, Protestant ideas had taken firm hold in England; in addition, unlike his father, Edward had officially declared Protestantism the faith of England, and the practice of Roman Catholicism illegal. It was only after Mary appealed to her cousin Charles V that she was allowed to worship the Roman Catholic faith.

Recognising potential problems should Mary ever become Queen, Edward began to take steps to have her removed from the line of succession and replaced by Edward VI instead devised that he should be succeeded by Lady Jane Grey, a granddaughter of Henry VIII's younger sister. Edward died before his plan could be implemented. Lady Mary stayed in the country to hold off a siege of the attacking armies. After nine days, however, a popular upwelling of support for Mary who was living at Framlingham Castle resulted in her being proclaimed Queen, and rival Lady Jane Grey was imprisoned. She was crowned Queen Mary I on 1 October 1553.


Mary next turned her attention to finding a husband and producing an heir to prevent the Protestant Elizabeth from succeeding to the throne. Her cousin Charles V suggested she marry his only son, Prince Philip of Spain. Their marriage at Winchester Cathedral on 25 July 1554 took place just two days after their first meeting. Mary was already 37 years of age.


Mary, thinking she was pregnant, had thanksgiving services at the diocese of London in November 1554. This turned out to be the first of two phantom pregnancies. Philip persuaded his wife to permit Elizabeth's release from house arrest, probably so that he would be viewed favourably by her in case Mary died during childbirth. After only fourteen months, Philip found an excuse to leave for Spain. Mary was thereafter alone for most of her reign.


As Queen, Mary was very concerned about religious issues. She had always rejected the break with Rome instituted by her father and the establishment of Protestantism by Edward VI. She had England reconcile with Rome and Edward's religious laws were abolished by Mary. Numerous Protestant leaders were executed in the Marian Persecutions. Many rich Protestants chose exile, and around 800 left the country. The persecution lasted for almost four years.

Foreign Policy

Having inherited the throne of Spain upon his father's abdication, Philip returned to England from March to July 1557 to persuade Mary to support Spain in a war against France (the Italian Wars). As a result of her agreement to declare war, England became full of factions and Protestant pamphlets inflaming the country against the Spaniards. English forces fared badly in the conflict and as a result lost Calais, England's sole remaining continental possession, on 13 January 1558.


Mary died at age 42 at St. James's Palace on 17 November 1558. She was succeeded by her half-sister, who became Elizabeth I of England. Although her will stated that she wished to be buried next to her mother, Mary was interred in Westminster Abbey on 14 December in a tomb she eventually shared with Elizabeth.


  • Duffy, Eamon, and David Loades, eds. The Church of Mary Tudor. (2006) 380pp; essays by scholars excerpt and text search
  • Froude, James Anthony. History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada (1856) vol 6. old and hostile to "Bloody Mary" but famous narrative complete text online
  • Loach, Jennifer. "Mary Tudor and the Re-catholicisation of England." History Today 1994 44(11): 16–22. Issn: 0018-2753 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Loach, Jennifer. Parliament and the Crown in the Reign of Mary Tudor. (1986). 262 pp.
  • Loach, Jennifer, and Robert Tittler, eds. The Mid-Tudor Polity c. 1540-1560 (1980)
  • Loades, David. The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government, and Religion in England 1553-1558 (1979), 516pp
  • Loades, David. Mary Tudor: The Tragical History of the First Queen of England (2006), the standard scholarly biography excerpt and text search
  • Loades, David. Mary Tudor: A Life (1989), stresses Mary's psychological dependency and the weaknesses of her policies of restoration of papal authority and the Spanish alliance
  • Loades, David. "The Reign of Mary Tudor: Historiography and Research." Albion 1989 21(4): 547–558. Issn: 0095-1390
  • Powell, Raymond Arthur. "Reform, Reaction, and Renewal: The English Church during the Reign of Mary Tudor." PhD dissertation U. of Virginia 2006. 479 pp. DAI 2006 67(5): 1774-A. DA3218463 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Richards, Judith M. "Mary Tudor as 'Sole Quene?' Gendering Tudor Monarchy." Historical Journal 1997 40(4): 895–924. Issn: 0018-246x in Jstor
  • Thurston, Herbert. "Mary Tudor," Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) online edition
  • Tittler, R. The Reign of Mary I (1983), a standard history
  • Weikel, Ann. "Mary I (1516–1558)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004) online edition, Jan 2008, the best starting point

See also