The Tudor Society

Mary I – The good, the bad and the ugly

In this week's Claire Chats talk, I am continuing my series on the Tudor monarchs, and examining their reigns for "the good, the bad, the ugly", i.e. their achievements and the not-so-good stuff, by looking at the reign of Queen Mary I, who ruled from 1553 to 1558.

This daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon has gone down in history as "Bloody Mary", but let's have a more balanced view, let's look at some of her achievements as well as the "ugly" of her time as queen.

Here are the other Claire Chats talks in this series:

and here are the Claire Chats talks I mention:

Further Reading and Sources

There are 3 comments Go To Comment

  1. L

    Great video Claire

  2. L

    Thanks Claire! Great overview of Mary! I really think that she did not intend at all to end up having as many burnings as she did.. she actually thought she was trying to save their soul, as you mention, and it just got more out of control as more protestants were standing firm in their beliefs.. So it is also greatly appreciated that you pointed out all of the executions in her siblings’ reigns, and of course her father’s reign as well.. She had a tough and challenging life to the end..

  3. R

    Thanks for another great video. This series puts the myths to bed and shows the Tudors and all these Kings and Queens had more to them than ruthlessness.

    The Tudors made themselves more complicated because of the domestic marriage mess made by King Henry Viii and the religious and social changes which tore the country apart. For example Elizabeth most probably wouldn’t have been born or certainly not Queen had Henry had sons or him content to be succeeded by Mary. Mary would not have had much of a problem with heresy as the reign of Edward would not have changed anything because those able to influence the Protestant Reformation would not have had that authority in the first place. So anything that we see as negative in either reign has to be seen in those reforms.

    Mary as Claire quite correctly pointed out was a successful Queen, she restored the Catholic Faith which was popular because she was ruling a Catholic country, not a Protestant one, she made economic and social and fiscal reforms, the navy was reformed and trade helped many people.

    The things which Mary is wrongly attacked for also have to be seen in context. Both Mary and Elizabeth suffered famine and harvest failures, the war had good and bad results, her marriage was negotiated well and although unpopularity was raised up by Thomas Wyatt into a rebellion, Mary raised the people against him and he lost support. We cannot condone the legislation which led to the burning of 284 people but again in context, this was sadly how people felt against the various new and often odd varieties of religious reforms around and every heretic was given the chance to recant but stood firm. The exception to this rule was Thomas Cranmer, whose execution was particularly controversial. I don’t believe locking Elizabeth up was a bad thing as she was implicated in high treason and it was a highly dangerous time. Elizabeth wasn’t the first half sibling or even full one locked up by a reigning monarch and would not be the last but her imprisonment is always beefed up by propaganda although it was no more than a sensible precaution. She was interrogated, but the truth had to be discovered and Elizabeth had plenty of people tortured, more than any other monarch. She wasn’t tortured and was kept in the Royal Apartments, which ironically and frightening was the place her mother was also kept. She was the guest of the warden at meal times, as was Queen Jane and she did have the use of a private garden. Mary was probably more sensible than her father because she didn’t give in to demands to try and execute Elizabeth but released her to luxurious house arrest and then her own household. However, Elizabeth is seen as some innocent little Princess and Mary as cruel, when had their roles been reversed she would have done the same, faced with information her life was in danger and her half sibling was going to be put on the throne in her place. I have to be honest here, I would have done the same thing. Fortunately for Elizabeth any evidence vanished and Thomas Wyatt the Younger didn’t implicate her on the scaffold and the danger passed.

    Mary’s marriage was the best one available for her and she negotiated a good settlement but unfortunately she wasn’t able to have children and as Philip was absent a lot it wasn’t personally successful. However, Mary did make certain her country came first and she is represented with him jointly on coins and on joint documents. Father Simon Renard was cautionary on religious persecution. Elizabeth was able to succeed because of Mary’s restoration of the authority of the crown, stability of the country in general and the strength of the gender free and female nature of kingship. Elizabeth came to the throne without any problems, although Mary had thought about other candidates such as Lady Margaret Douglas first but agreed as she neared death to name Elizabeth as her successor. Elizabeth was also fortunate to be 25 and reign for 44 years and thus created her own legend at the cost of that of her sister.

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Mary I – The good, the bad and the ugly