The Tudor Society

18 February – The birth of Queen Mary I

Happy Birthday to Queen Mary I! Yes, Mary I, a woman who has unfortunately gone down in history as "Bloody Mary" and whose reign is often seen as a failure, was born on this day in 1516.

In today's video,I talk about Mary I's birth and baptism and share some of Mary I's achievements as queen. She's so much more than Bloody Mary.

Here's my video "February 1 - Mary I's Rousing Speech"

You can also enjoy Samantha Wilcoxson's expert talk on Mary - click here.

Also on this day in history:

  • 1503 – Henry Tudor, the future Henry VIII, was created Prince of Wales.
  • 1558 – Death of Sir George Barne, former Alderman and Lord Mayor of London. He was buried at St Bartholomew by the Exchange, London.
  • 1561 – Death of Sir Thomas Denys, administrator. His offices included Comptroller to Princess Mary, Chancellor of Anne of Cleves' household, member of Parliament for Devon, Sheriff of Devon and Deputy Lieutenant of Devon and Cornwall.
  • 1563 – Francis, Duke of Guise, was wounded by a Huguenot assassin. He died six days later.
  • 1612 – Death of Roberto di Ridolfi, the merchant and conspirator famed for the Ridolfi Plot to assassinate Elizabeth I. He died in Florence, Italy.

There are 6 comments Go To Comment

  1. M

    I have (what I consider to be) a pretty balanced view of Mary. I think she was a product of her earlier troubles going back to her mother’s banishment and the ensuing difficulties. I think she’s unfairly judged, Elizabeth did the same thing to the Catholics. Saying that, I’m not anti Elizabeth, or pro Mary at the expense of Elizabeth. I just see both sides. Both queens had good and bad things to them. Thanks for the video! Michelle t

    1. C - Post Author

      I find that both fascinating and in different ways. It’s such a shame that Mary is remembered as Bloody Mary and Elizabeth for her Golden Age as neither sum those queens up.

  2. R

    Happy Birthday Queen Mary I, the first Queen Regnant of England, Wales and Ireland.

    I got her recent celebration 500 years since her birth for Valentine’s Day Birth of a Queen which is four academics looking at various aspects of her life and reign as scholars using articles and sources and I was well pleased as it had come down £50 in price. The next day it was back up to the normal price but I was delighted as I have looked forward to this book for two years.

    Mary may or may not have been affected by her parents annulment, that unfortunately is something we can only speculate about as we don’t have her private thoughts on this matter. It is something, however, given what we know psychologically now something we would be very surprised if she wasn’t. Yes, I know we shouldn’t put 21st century stuff onto the sixteenth, but she adored both of her parents and was desperate to reconcile with her father. I can only guess that she missed her mother and she was more than a little relieved once she was back at Court being pampered as a Princess again.

    I don’t believe the above had anything to do with her persecution of reformers and heretics, because this was her duty as a Catholic Monarch, albeit a charismatic and Evangelical one, a forward thinking one, which is shown by the evidence, because she had a genuine faith, because it was her role to unite and protect the realm and uniformity was the way to do that and because the vast majority of her subjects expected her to do so. We forget, England was not a Protestant country, it was one which had reforms forced upon it, but with a small but expanding variety of people who followed the new faith. The Mass was being said in London within hours of her proclamation as Queen without any promotion, despite being illegal still. She was popular and she was able to win people over, even in the middle of a short lived but dangerous rebellion. She recognised that the country had been under six years of forced and half welcome reforms and some people had conformed. She didn’t just go in headlong, even with legislation and the much welcomed Reconciliation to Rome, with arresting people on heretical charges. No a campaign of preaching, education and printing of pamphlets went on for almost two years. Yes, some of the leading evangelical bishops were arrested but nothing was done with them. They went through a process to lose their office, but the first trials and executions started in 1555.

    The process of heresy trials is very much different to treason trials, is carried out locally, does not involve the crown personally and only a handful did, those of the famous leaders like Hugh Latimer and particularly Thomas Cranmer. Most were carried out locally, the accused often being denounced by their neighbours and sometimes arrested for something completely different. The process was fair and balanced, didn’t involve torture, despite the fantastic stories later in John Fox, the actual records prove the opposite, the accused were given several weeks to consider their position and only those who didn’t recant were burned for serious offences. The drawbacks of this process was that local magistrates could and did go to far and contrary to popular myth the Queen did stop several local trials if this happened, but unfortunately not all were reported as such. The outstanding and perhaps the most famous exception to the rule was Cranmer. Although his trial had been in November 1553_for treason, he went on to Appeal to Rome and to have a debate in public and to various imprisonment because he recanted seven times and then changed his mind. He may have had some kind of Stockholm syndrome as argued a couple of years ago but he may also just being trying to get more visitors and things. He was under great strain one would imagine and he did the human thing, but I doubt not his bravery. In the end he accepted everything and that should have spared his life but Mary didn’t accept his last public recanted statements and signed his death warrant. This is a black mark on her character, but he could also have been executed for treason. Cranmer was the person responsible for the annulment of her parents marriage, the one who Henry put in place to enact his own legal religious changes and he had set up the laws which reformed the entire country. So for Mary, battling for the soul of her people, one could say she might sed him as the person who led everyone into heresy. There is no evidence to support accusations that her decision was personal but it could well be the case, even if it was unconscious. She wasn’t the sort of person who acted in spite and other evidence shows she actually went out of her way to accommodate him.

    Mary was a sixteenth century Queen, a female King who achieved a great deal. Her religious reforms were not a return to Medieval Catholic ways but very fresh and active. She would have succeeded but for the tragic end to her life prematurely. Her reforms were starting to show success and did have widespread support as well as some protests. There was some local sympathy by people who witnessed the executions, there always was, especially if they died well. There were also those who unfortunately jeered and attacked them, which is often overlooked. Mary wasn’t unpopular at her death, yet another myth. Neither was her successor universally popular and it was not a golden age. It was believed because Elizabeth reigned for 45 years, being 25 when she came to the throne and because of the Book of Martyrs by Fox and Elizabeth was a good political spin doctor. Mary was not as good as a politician. However, most of what Elizabeth did, she learned from her father and from her sister. She even pinched her speech and her coronation gown.

    Mary was a champion of the arts and many beautiful pieces have survived the Protestant purge of images and religious painting. She restored church land but didn’t move the land taken from the monasteries back as it wasn’t practical or wise. She restored the orders, however. She sent explorers out to the Balkans and Russia and the New World, built ships, reorganised naval finance and restored a failing economy. She made it possible for Elizabeth to succeed and restored the respect for the crown.

    Her biggest mistake, although that is debatable, was in her choice of marriage, although she made a treaty which kept England independent from Spain. Everything that Philip is responsible for was long in the future and he wasn’t even King Philip when he married her. He became King when his father abdicated. He stayed out of our political life but he had to take over when Mary believed she was pregnant. As a match it was one which made sense, more sense than the ridiculous suggestion that she marry her imbecile cousin. Nor could she in reality marry Cardinal Pole. Spain was an ally against France. Although we were reluctantly brought into the war, there was a great victory of Saint Quentin before the unfortunate loss of Calais which was at the end of her reign and which was financially a good thing.

    Mary and Elizabeth were not mortal enemies and Mary was very tolerant towards her sister who was implicated in a plot to murder her. She was arrested and imprisoned in the luxurious royal apartments, there was no plans to do away with her, and despite being questioned several times she was merely held on suspicion. After the turmoil was over Elizabeth was released to comfortable house arrest, then to her own home. What was Mary meant to do with someone accused of treason? Her Council wanted her to execute Elizabeth and she refused. There was not as much difference between them as history has made out, or rather as myth making has made out.

    As Michelle points out Elizabeth was no more tolerant than anyone else, sending several hundreds of Catholics to be hung, drawn and quartered for their faith under the guise of treason. Henry Viii was impartial, executing people from both sides on the same day. Edward vi oversaw the terrible retribution of the executions of thousands after the Prayer Book and Western Rebellions. Elizabeth hid in the countryside during the crisis of the Spanish Amarda and her ships ran out of ammunition but she refused to supply more. She only came out to do her famous bit after it was over! It was a great victory in the end, just about but England was lucky, very lucky. Elizabeth saw the expansion of trade and exploring and theatre and culture, nobody denies that, but her wars in Ireland were a complete disaster. Her dealings with the two Northern Rebellions was as cruel as anyone else. She managed her own image very well, was successful for many reasons, but Mary is under appreciated and I am pleased to see so many writers now taking a more balanced view with both Queens.

    I know Elizabeth was given the grand memorial over both of their shared tomb but the epitaph is appropriate.
    After a long winded memorial dedication, the bottom reads: Partners in throne and grave, here we lie, Mary and Elizabeth, two sisters in the hope of the Resurrection.

    Maybe it’s time for a proper effigy of Mary as well and of her mother in Peterborough.

    Happy Birthday again. Mary Queen of England, Wales, Ireland and France.

  3. R

    I recommend both of those books and John Edwards Mary I England’s Catholic Queen and for the early life of Princess Mary the recent book by Melita Thomas The King’s Pearl: Henry Viii and His Daughter Mary.

    It’s amazing that even John Fox credits Mary as being in the right with regards to Thomas Wyatt the Younger and her being brave and married to and the mother of the realm.

    1. C - Post Author

      I haven’t got round to getting a copy of Melita’s book yet. Does it cover her whole life?

      Thanks for the recommendations!

      1. R

        Hi Claire, no it finishes with the death of Henry Viii because it’s concentrated on the relationship between Mary and her father and the inner circle around the Court. It doesn’t cover her later life but it gives some very good insights into how Mary kept close to her support network inside the Court, even when she was banished and how father and daughter felt about each other is revealed in some surprisingly tender letters. I found it very touching and endearing as well as emotional when she was looking at the strain Mary and Katherine felt being separated, as well as the desperation and determination of Mary to get Henry to accept her again as his dearest daughter. It’s heart breaking in places, but her strong resolve and capacity for love and forgiveness and her reconciliation with her father was so warm and complete, despite what it cost her.

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18 February – The birth of Queen Mary I