The Tudor Society

Expert Talk – Mary I – Samantha Wilcoxson

Our expert speaker this month wants us to re-examine our thoughts and beliefs about Mary I. Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of many books about the Tudors, and her talk is an excellent reminder that we must continually look at the facts in history.

There are 7 comments Go To Comment

  1. M

    This was fascinating! Thank you!
    I really enjoyed listening to this. I’ve been thinking about Mary as I’ve been reading and learning more about this time. I’ve been sympathetic towards Mary, so this validated that for me. Thanks again!
    Michelle t

    1. S

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Michelle! I hope to talk with you during the live chat on the 25th as well.

  2. E

    My first Expert Talk. Enjoyable and enlightening – thank you.

    1. C

      Hi Elizabeth,
      If you have some time then you can find the Expert talk archives at They go all the way back to 2014. I hope you can come to the live chat on 25th.

    2. S

      It was my first time speaking for the Tudor Society as well, Elizabeth. Hope to hear from you during the chat on the 25th!

  3. R

    I entirely agree, Mary certainly doesn’t deserve the latter nickname and in fact there is evidence for her being more merciful than many other monarchs. People don’t understand how heresy trials work, that they are mostly done by local magistrates, it was actually accepted and expected by the majority of her subjects, she tried to avoid persecution, with education and preaching and people chose to remain reformed because it was now entrenched because of the previous reign, it was how things were and it was not necessarily a cruel way of thinking. Her ridiculous name is much later and she doesn’t deserve it. People didn’t turn en mass against the Catholic Faith, it was still a majority faith even at her death. It was the vicious persecution of Catholics by Elizabeth I and the atmosphere of suspicion that men like William Cecil and Francis Walsingham created which makes Elizabeth see them as enemies. Elizabeth was a Protestant ruler surrounded by Catholic rulers and they saw her as illegitimate and then Mary Queen of Scots has a claim and comes to England, giving her subjects a new focus. Inevitably there are plots or imagined fears to replace and even kill Elizabeth by a few extremists but everyone was persecuted as enemies of the state. Elizabeth is never criticised and her own propaganda enabled the myth of Mary as a failure and cruel Queen, in John Fox being published gave us the myth of Bloody Mary. It wasn’t actually used as a political name until the later seventeenth century. Unfortunately it was taught in English schools for so long that people have become too lazy to find out the truth.

    More recently we have Linda Porter and Jane Edwards and Anna Whitelock have reviewed the sources and have written excellent biographies which redress the balance. Mary wasn’t rash and she took her time in her introduction back to the Catholic Faith. Her reforms are actually moderate, the state of the Church at 1529, much of which her father reformed, she didn’t restore monastic land if she did their orders, she took her Council as advisers and her return was popular. I agree her problem was her choice of husband but the choice some people wanted Sir Edward Courtney was ridiculous. He was in his 20s and an imbecile. Reginald Pole certainly would have been a good compromise but he was a Cardinal and problematic. Prince Philip is the best choice because he is the son of Charles V and would be the best person to stand up to France, so actually he was the best choice. It wasn’t a popular choice, at least in the West Country but she won people over by appealing to them and gaining their supporters in London. If Mary had have had a child that would have changed things. Philip wasn’t the best choice from an English point of view but Mary’s sex was the crux of the matter here. A King could have married a Spanish Queen but Mary had to establish herself as a true Monarch, something she actually did do. She was successful in strengthening the role of the female King and made way for other Queens.

    I think Mary made errors but she was more successful than she is given credit for. Elizabeth was lucky in that she came to the throne when she was twenty five and so had a longer time to get her own goals realised and to set her image in the popular imagination. Elizabeth also made plenty of errors but she got away with them due to her long reign and her spin or political savvy ways. In the end it’s how we have to decide, but we need to really think carefully before condemning Mary for acting as a normal monarch.

  4. R

    Re Cranmer it could be argued that as he was guilty of treason he was going to die in any case. He was the man who was responsible for the forced conversation to the Reformation, the chief heretic who made everyone else follow his reforms and he himself executed people for heresy and wanted people executed within two weeks of arrest, with little opportunity for repentance. He was still trying to prevent her from coming to the throne and preaching and writing against her for months after her ascension. That would also be in her mind when she decided to finally execute Cranmer. It was a mistake but was it personal? I don’t see any evidence for that but I do believe it wasn’t a great political move and she should have spared him as a penitent heretical man who had returned to the Catholic Faith, but as you said, it was also possible she didn’t believe him. He had recanted and then returned again twice and he also suffered from what one researcher believes is a syndrome to please his captors. In the end his bravery won the day and his martydom has been highlighted by his followers and historians. There does seem to be a lot of emotional baggage when it comes to how Mary possibly saw Cranmer, but on the other hand that is our 21st century speculation with no evidence to back it up. There is actually some evidence that she didn’t blame him personally for her parents annulment. She kept a letter and book of hours he had written in and a letter and work he had given to Katherine Parr. They were in her personal effects.

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Expert Talk – Mary I – Samantha Wilcoxson