Biographers have already used hundreds of pages to describe the life of this daughter of Henry VIII. In a super-brief page on a website the writer must keep things down to a bare minimum. Mary I was the first ruling queen in England since the Empress Matilda (1102 – 67). She was born into the terrible but brilliant sixteenth century in 1553, the only surviving child of Henry VIII and the Infanta Catherine of Aragón.
Sick and subject to migraine from birth, she had to suffer the indignities of her dreadful father’s attempts at divorce from her mother in order to marry another woman (Anne Boleyn). During these goings on Mary was separated from her mother and never saw her again. She was a teenager of fifteen.
Her father’s advisors suggested to Henry that Mary should be banished from the Court (what better fate?) declared illegitimate (utterly ridiculous and cruel), and barred from royal succession (she had her own ideas about that).
When the great monster of English history died, his ailing son Edward VI became king in 1547 at the under-age of ten. He was the result of the marriage between the monster and Jane Seymour (pronounced properly ‘Seemer). His painfully short reign (1547 – 53) was little more than a struggle for power. At first authority was exercised by Edward Duke of Somerset, in Edward’s name; powerful opposition forces were at work however and quite soon the Duke was short of a head, thanks to plotting by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.
Young Edward is said to have liked the new Protestant religion, favouring Cranmer’s English Prayer Books. He is also said to have been half in love, at any rate very friendly, with little Lady Jane Grey. Tuberculosis carried him off at the age of sixteen, and Northumberland married Jane off to his own son Guildford Dudley.
When first told this was to happen, Jane refused to accept, but she was forced to, and as it turned out Guildford, with a bad reputation as a scoundrelly teenager loved her and the love became mutual. Meanwhile Northumberland had persuaded Edward VI to name Jane Grey as his successor! She was ‘queen’ for nine days, before being swept off to prison with her husband at the orders of Mary Tudor, whom you will remember had other ideas.
Thus Mary became Queen, and being a staunch Roman Catholic, she and her ‘advisors’ set about dealing in the usual manner with Protestants. In this she enjoyed considerable popular support. Northumberland (caught plotting) claimed to be as Catholic as the Pope, but this declaration did not stop his execution. Mary’s brief popularity ended when she announced her forthcoming wedding to King Felipe II of Spain, who could not have been more Catholic and was supposed to be a deadly enemy of the English.
Wyatt’s Rebellion (q.v.) was a direct result of the proposed marriage with Spain, and had to be put down savagely. The wedding took place, but King Felipe hardly ever came to England, being fully occupied with his enormous empire and the building of one of the wonders of the world – The Escurial, just outside Madrid. The marriage with Mary was unhappy and childless.
Mary was much advised by Reginald Pole, especially on the counter-attack to her father’s Reformation, in which all Catholic religious property had been stolen in order to provide money for Henry VIII and immense lands for his friends. Mary and Pole did not care much about this aspect however; it was the actual religious side that mattered to Mary, not the money or the lands. She set about burning archbishops and bishops such as Cranmer himself, and Ridley and Latimer, as well as rather more than three hundred other Protestants, thus earning for herself the nickname ‘Bloody Mary’.
Mary’s foreign policy, such as it was, was also unpopular, including as it did being dragged by King Felipe into his Habsburg-Valois struggle and losing Calais (last English outpost on the Continent) into the bargain. Jokers at the time said that Mary confessed to Pole that when she died, the word ‘Calais’ would be found etched on to her heart. Wracked with pain, separated from her husband, permanently ill, Mary I did indeed die in 1558 at the early age of forty-two. She was succeeded by the daughter of Anne Boleyn – Elizabeth I (q.v.), last of the Tudors.