Mary I

England’s first female monarch, Mary I (1516-1558) ruled for just five years. The only surviving child of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Mary took the throne after the brief reign of her half-brother, Edward VI. She sought to return England to the Catholic Church and stirred rebellions by marrying a Spanish Habsburg prince. But she is most remembered for burning nearly 300 English Protestants at the stake for heresy, which earned her the nickname “Bloody Mary.”

Mary I: Early Life

Mary Tudor was born on February 16, 1516. She was the fifth child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon but the only one to survive past infancy. Educated by an English tutor with written instructions from the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives, she excelled in Latin and, like her father, was an adept musician.

At age 6 she was betrothed to Charles V, the king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor. Charles broke off the engagement after three years but remained a lifelong ally. Henry desperately wanted a son as heir and sought permission from the papacy to end his marriage. When Pope Clement VII refused to grant the annulment, Henry declared himself exempt from papal authority, asserting that England’s king should be the sole head of its church.

Mary I: The Princess Made Illegitimate

In 1533 Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, who bore him a daughter, the future Elizabeth I. Mary was demoted from her own household and forced to take up residence with her infant half-sister. In 1536 Catherine of Aragon died at her castle in Cambridgeshire, Anne Boleyn was accused of treason and executed, and Mary was forced to deny the pope’s authority and her own legitimacy.

Henry married four more times before his death in 1547. He got his longed-for male heir in the future Edward VI, son of his third wife, Jane Seymour. Upon Henry’s death, the official order of succession was Edward, followed by Mary and then Elizabeth.

Mary I: Path to the Throne

Edward VI remained a minor for his entire six-year reign. The lords of Somerset and of Northumberland served as his regents, working to expand his father’s ecclesiastical changes. They also altered the order of succession to favor the Protestants, placing Henry VIII’s niece Lady Jane Gray next in line to the throne. When Edward died in 1553, however, Mary had her own succession strategy planned: Proclamations were printed and a military force assembled in her Norfolk estates. Pushed by Edward’s regents, the Privy Council made Jane queen but reversed course nine days later in the face of Mary’s popular support.

Mary I: Reign as Queen

After taking the throne, Mary quickly reinstated her parents’ marriage and executed Northumberland for his role in the Jane Gray affair. Her initial ruling council was a mix of Protestants and Catholics, but as her reign progressed she grew more and more fervent in her desire to restore English Catholicism.

In 1554 she announced her intention to marry Prince Philip of Spain, the son of Charles V. It was an unpopular choice for Protestants, who feared the permanent loss of Henry’s reforms, and for those who suspected a Spanish king would herald a continental takeover of England. Nevertheless, Mary moved forward with her plan, persuading Parliament to assent after Charles consented to leave Mary in full control and to keep the throne in English hands if the union produced no heirs.

Mary’s marriage to Philip was nearly as troubled as her father’s unions. Twice she was declared pregnant and went into seclusion, but no child was born. Philip found her unattractive and spent most of his time in Europe.

Mary I: The Protestant Martyrs

Mary soon moved from simply reversing her father’s and Edward’s anti-Catholic policies to actively persecuting Protestants. In 1555 she revived England’s heresy laws and began burning offenders at the stake, starting with her father’s longtime advisor Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury. Almost 300 convicted heretics, mostly common citizens, were burned. Dozens more died in prison, and some 800 fled to Protestant strongholds in Germany and Geneva, from whence they would later import the Calvinist tenants of English Puritanism.

The events of Mary’s reign—including attempts at currency reform, expanded international trade and a brief war with France that lost England its last French enclave at Calais—were overshadowed by the memory of the so-called Marian Persecutions. After her death in 1558, the country quickly rallied behind Henry VIII’s second daughter and England’s second reigning queen, Elizabeth I.


Princess Mary by Master John
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Born: 18 February 1516
Greenwich Palace

Proclaimed Queen: 19 July 1553
St. Paul's Cathedral, London

Coronation: 1 October 1553
Westminster Abbey

Died: 17 November 1558
St. James's Palace

Buried: 14 December 1558
Westminster Abbey


Mary Tudor was the only child born to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon to survive childhood. Had she been born a boy, it is likely that the whole of English history would have been different (but probably less interesting!).

Mary had a good childhood as a young princess, and was the center of court attention in her earliest years. But, as the years progressed and no little brothers followed, Mary's father began to look into the alternatives. Eventually, Henry sought an annulment from Catherine, and married his second Queen: Anne Boleyn. Mary was declared illegitimate and was to no longer be called "princess", but rather "The Lady Mary".

When Anne Boleyn gave birth to Elizabeth, Mary was sent to attend the new young Princess in her household. Soon Elizabeth would be declared a bastard as well, since her mother also failed to produce a male heir for Henry.

Shortly after the death of Anne Boleyn, Henry wed Jane Seymour, who sought to reconcile the King with his two daughters. Henry and Jane visited Mary and after, she wrote letters to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (her cousin) and the Pope stating that her parent's marriage had not been valid. [Mary was able to get an additional message to them, in secret, saying that she wrote the letters under duress.] After that, she returned to court, although her title of Princess still had not been restored.

In October 1537, Queen Jane gave birth to Edward, Henry's longed for son and Mary stood as the young Prince's godmother at the christening. The court was soon plunged into mourning as Jane died two weeks after Edward's birth.

In January 1540, Mary gained yet another stepmother: Anne of Cleves. Although they shared different religions (Mary was Catholic, Anne a Lutheran), the two women became fast friends and would remain so until Anne's death in 1557. Unfortunately Anne's marriage to Henry wasn't so long-lived and she was divorced in July of the same year.

Shortly after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves,Henry took another wife [now his 5th], Kathryn Howard. Kathryn was probably 18 years old, making Mary six years older than her new stepmother. Mary was apparently appalled at her father's action and there were come quarrels between Mary and Kathryn during the young Queen's reign. That reign turned out to be all too short, as she was arrested, tried and executed for adultery in 1542.

At this time of emotional upheaval, Mary fell seriously ill and may have been in danger of losing her life. Her father was concerned enough to send his own doctors to look after her.

Henry's last Queen was Katherine Parr, who was about four years older than Mary. They were married in 1543, and she survived Henry at his death in 1547. All three of Henry's children attended the wedding at Hampton Court. Mary was friends with her last stepmother, although they too had religious differences, as Katherine was a strong supporter of the Reformed Church.

When Henry VIII began to fall ill, he drafted his will declaring that Edward would be his heir and Mary was to follow him if the young Prince were to die childless. Elizabeth was also included, and she would take the throne if Mary were to die without an heir. As we know in hindsight, this is exactly what was to happen.

Henry VIII died January 28, 1547, leaving his 9 year-old son as King. The young Edward was a supporter of the Protestant faith, although Mary seems to have hoped at one point he would see the error of his ways and return England to the Church of Rome.

Alas, this was not to be. She defied Edward's Act of Uniformity and openly celebrated Mass, which had been abolished. Edward and Mary struggled with this issue through the rest of the King's short reign.

Some time in 1552, Edward began to show signs of the illness that would eventually claim his life. He was reported to have a hacking cough that eventually resulted in him spitting up blood and tissue. Medical historians generally agree that he had tuberculosis.

Fearing Mary would return the country to the Catholic faith, powerful men in the realm, such as John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk began to make their plans. Although they made moves to court Mary's favor, they worked secretly with their own agenda. Northumberland married his son Guildford to Suffolk's daughter Jane Grey, who would be in line for the throne after Mary and Elizabeth. By placing Jane on the throne in Edward's wake, they thought they would have a puppet they could control [although Jane seems to have had other ideas about that!].

Northumberland put his plans into action and convinced Edward to leave his crown to his cousin Jane.


Mary realized that a plot was being hatched to place Jane on the throne. She had been urged by some friends to flee the country since they feared her life would be in danger. Mary knew that if she fled, she would forfeit all chances of becoming Queen and returning England to Catholicism, so she chose to remain and make a stand for her crown.

Edward died on July 6, 1553. Shortly afterwards, Northumberland informed Jane at Syon house that Edward had left the crown to her and that she was now Queen of England. Mary, meanwhile, was in East Anglia. Northumberland and three of his sons went to take Mary into custody. Mary was at this time moving around with a growing army of supporters. She knew that he must have confirmation of her brother's death, because it would be treason to declare herself Queen otherwise. She received news from a reliable source that Edward was indeed dead, and promptly sent proclamations throughout the country announcing her accession to the throne.

Mary went to Framlingham Castle in Suffolk, which was better fortified. Her number of supporters was increasing and Mary took time to inspect her troops personally. The people of Suffolk were flocking to Mary and many of the leaders who were supposed to take her into custody instead went and begged for her pardon.

By this time, the Privy Council in London realized their error in going along with Northumberland's plot and declared Mary the true Queen of England. She left Framlingham for London on July 24.

Mary I’s phantom pregnancy

The first queen of England in her own right, Mary I was known as 'Bloody Mary' for her brutal persecution of Protestants. But she is also remembered for her phantom pregnancy of 1555. Perhaps a result of the queen&rsquos overwhelming desire to have a child, the peculiar episode had great political consequences for her reign

This competition is now closed

Published: May 12, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Here, Professor Carole Levin from the University of Nebraska investigates…

With the recent birth of Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, daughter of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, there has been much excitement, pleasure and celebration.

On 30 April 1555 there was a similar rejoicing over the birth of a royal infant: bells rang, bonfires were lit and there were celebrations in the street, following news that Mary I had given birth to a healthy son. But in reality there was no boy, and eventually all hope of a child died out. What was thought to be a royal pregnancy ended in sadness, humiliation and political turmoil. This was the phantom pregnancy of Mary I.

Mary was declared queen on 19 July 1553, less than a fortnight after the death of her half-brother, Edward VI, and just days after Lady Jane Grey was briefly acclaimed queen [the decision to make Grey queen was reversed in light of Mary’s widespread popular support]. When the boy-king, Edward, died, there were no appropriate male heirs to the throne, and thus his older half-sister Mary, Henry VIII’s oldest child, became queen of England – and a Catholic queen at that.

As soon as Mary was crowned, everyone – including Mary herself – expected her to marry so that she could bear a child. This would hopefully be a son, so that the English could look forward to someday having a king again. As Mary was already 37, there was no time to waste.

Mary decided to marry Philip II of Spain, the son of Charles V. For a number of months the Spanish feared it was not safe for Philip to come to England because there was such uproar over the proposed marriage. Though he eventually came, it meant the two were not married until 25 July 1554, more than a year after Mary ascended the throne.

By September there were rumours that Mary was pregnant, though as late as November the queen herself was unsure. According to medical texts from the period, it was very difficult to tell a false pregnancy from a real one – at least until a baby was born, or too much time had passed. However, Mary stated towards the end of the month that she felt the child move in her womb.

Those at both the English and the Spanish courts were delighted by Mary’s pregnancy, but there were still some, including Spanish ambassador Simon Renard, who wondered if the queen was really with child. But he thought it would be good for the Anglo-Spanish alliance if she were, reportedly announcing in one of his dispatches: “If it is true, everything will calm down and go smoothly here.” [Jo Eldridge Carney’s Fairy Tale Queens: Representations of Early Modern Queenship, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012].

c1554, Philip II (king of Spain from 1556) with Queen Mary I of England. The pair married in 1554. Original artwork: engraved by Joseph Brown after the drawing by G P Harding of 1812, after the painting by Antonio Moro. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Mary, now thoroughly convinced she was pregnant, expected she would give birth in May 1555. The birth chamber was prepared, as was the nursery with a beautifully carved cradle, and many women were hired to help care for the baby. Letters announcing the birth were written, with just the date and the sex of the infant to be filled in. Historian Chris Skidmore claims the word ‘Fil’ (son) was written on the letters because it could easily be amended to ‘fille’ if the baby was the girl. [Chris Skidmore’s Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart, Orion, 2010]. Mary and Philip went to Hampton Court, where they wanted the birth to take place.

The rumours of Mary’s safe delivery soon spread abroad, and those on the continent even sent out letters of congratulations. In London, one preacher reported that no one had ever before seen such a beautiful prince. But in fact, no one had seen this prince. It soon became known the rumour was false, yet Mary and Philip waited.

As May became June, Mary stayed in her chamber, refusing to see people, but not giving up hope. Though in July Mary asserted she was still pregnant, and had simply miscalculated her timings, by the end of the month all hope was gone. In early August Mary left her chamber at Hampton Court for a smaller, more private residence. Giovanni Michieli, the Venetian ambassador, wrote that Mary’s pregnancy was more likely to “end in wind rather than anything else”.

Everywhere there was gossip and speculation. Had the people been told she was pregnant to keep them happy and supportive of their queen? Surely that was a shortsighted idea, if so! Some were convinced that Mary was ill, and had simply convinced herself she was pregnant, while others claimed that she had been pregnant and her miscarriage kept secret. Some were convinced that she had never been pregnant at all, and the plan for some other baby boy to be smuggled into the court had somehow fallen apart. A few wondered if the queen were even still alive, or if those in power put an effigy of her in the window for people to see. One particularly strange idea was that instead of a baby, Mary had given birth to a mole!

The story of the queen’s failed, fictive pregnancy was so powerful that it came around again more than a century later, when James VII and II’s second wife, another Catholic Mary [of Modena], fell pregnant. Many spoke of Mary I, and how now once again a queen was not really pregnant. It was later claimed that a baseborn boy had been smuggled into the palace in a warming pan to be presented as Mary’s child.

Mary of Modena with her son, James Francis Edward Stewart (or Stuart), Chevalier de St George, c1689. James later claimed the English, Scottish and Irish thrones and was known as ‘The Old Pretender’. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The reign of ‘Bloody Mary’ ended in disappointment and despair, with no heir to the throne. The country turned happily instead to her younger half-sister, Elizabeth. For Protestant historians writing in the next century, the futile, phantom pregnancy became a metaphor for all of Mary’s failures – especially the burning of around 300 people as heretics.

Carole Levin is Willa Cather professor of history and director of the medieval and renaissance studies programme at the University of Nebraska. She is also Fulbright scholar at the University of York.

Levin will be speaking about Mary I and phantom pregnancies as part of University College London’s festival of the arts on Wednesday 20 May. For more information, click here.

A Contemporary Description of Queen Mary I, 1557 – Primary Sources

This description of Queen Mary I was written by Giovanni Michieli, the Venetian ambassador to her court.
He mentions Mary’s infamous menstrual problems, the cause of great physical and psychological stress for the queen, as well as her near-sightedness.

She is of low rather than of middling stature, but, although short, she has not personal defect in her limbs, nor is any part of her body deformed. She is of spare and delicate frame, quite unlike her father, who was tall and stout nor does she resemble her mother, who, if not tall, was nevertheless bulky. Her face is well formed, as shown by her features and lineaments, and as seen by her portraits. When younger she was considered, not merely tolerably handsome, but of beauty exceeding mediocrity. At present, with the exception of some wrinkles, caused more by anxieties than by age, which makes her appear some years older, her aspect, for the rest, is very grave. Her eyes are so piercing that they inspire not only respect, but fear in those on whom she fixes them, although she is very shortsighted, being unable to read or do anything else unless she has her sight quite close to what she wishes to peruse or to see distinctly. Her voice is rough and loud, almost like a man’s, so that when she peaks she is always heard a long way off. In short, she is a seemly woman, and never to be loathed for ugliness, even at her present age, without considering her degree of queen. But whatever may be the amount deducted from her physical endowments, as much more may with truth, and without flattery, be added to those of her mind, as, besides the facility and quickness of her understanding, which comprehends whatever is intelligible to others, even to those who are not of her own sex (a marvellous gift for a woman), she is skilled in five languages, not merely understanding, but speaking four of them fluently – English, Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian, in which last, however, she does not venture to converse, although it is well known to her but the replies she gives in Latin, and her very intelligent remarks made in that tongue surprise everybody….

Besides woman’s work, such as embroidery of every sort with the needle, she also practices music, playing especially on the clavichord and on the lute so excellently that, when intent on it…she surprised the best performers, both by the rapidity of her hand and by her style of playing. Such are her virtues and external accomplishments. Internally, with the exception of certain trifles, in which, to say the truth, she is like other women, being sudden and passionate, and close and miserly, rather more so than would become a bountiful and generous queen, she in other respects has no notable imperfections whilst in certain things she is singular and without an equal, for not only is she brave and valiant, unlike other timid and spiritless women, but she courageous and resolute that neither in adversity nor peril did she ever even display or commit any act of cowardice or pusillanimity, maintaining always, on the contrary, a wonderful grandeur and dignity, knowing what became the dignity of a sovereign as well as any of the most consummate statesmen in her service so that from her way of proceeding and from the method observed by her (and in which she still perseveres), it cannot be denied that she shows herself to have been born of truly royal lineage.

[She is also subject to] a very deep melancholy, much greater than that to which she is constitutionally liable, from menstrous retention and suffocation of the matrix to which, for many years, she has been often subject, so that the remedy of tears and weeping, to which from childhood she has been accustomed, and still often used by her, is not sufficient she requires to be blooded either from the foot or elsewhere, which keeps her always pale and emaciated.

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Queen Mary I by Hans Eworth
More Images

Born: 18 February 1516
Greenwich Palace

Proclaimed Queen: 19 July 1553
St. Paul's Cathedral, London

Coronation: 1 October 1553
Westminster Abbey

Died: 17 November 1558
St. James's Palace

Buried: 14 December 1558
Westminster Abbey

Of the conspirators who tried to place Jane on the throne, only a few were initially executed, including the Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley. Jane and Guildford were found guilty of treason, but Mary refused to execute them. Guildford's brothers, the other three sons of John Dudley, were kept in the Tower, but not killed. The Duke of Suffolk (Henry Grey), Jane Grey's father, was released.

As Mary approached the outskirts of London, she was met by her sister Elizabeth, who offered her congratulations and rode in a place of honor with the new Queen. When Mary made her formal entry into London on the 30th of September, Elizabeth and the surviving wife of Henry VIII, Anne of Cleves, rode in a chariot behind the Queen's in the great procession.

On the morning of October 1, Mary made the short walk from Westminster Palace to Westminster Abbey across the street for her coronation. It was nearly 5 o'clock before the ceremony was finished and the court made it's way back to Westminster Palace for the banquet in the Great Hall.

Parliament met four days after the coronation and in the second session (three days later), Mary began to introduce the legislations that she had long hoped for. First, there was an act proclaiming Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon valid and legal. This act passed with little resistance. However, the other main act was to repeal all the religious laws passed in the reign of Edward VI, and this didn't pass as easily.

The next step for Mary was to begin searching for a suitable husband. One of the possibilities was Edward Courtenay, who had spent most of his life in the Tower. He was younger than Mary, but he was one of the last descendants of the House of York and one of the most obvious choices for a husband. One of Courtrenay's greatest attractions in the view of the people was that he was an Englishman, not a foreign Prince.

However, the Emperor Charles V (Mary's cousin), who had been an instrumental advisor to the English Queen, had other idea and was already making plans to suggest his son, Prince Philip of Spain as Mary's best choice of husband. The ambassador formally suggested this to the Queen a short time after her coronation. After much thought and prayer on the matter, Mary accepted the proposal. Negotiations of the contract began, although the public sentiment was not in favor of the match.

During this time, plots were being hatched to depose Mary and place Elizabeth and Edward Courtenay on the throne. It turns out that there were a total of four plots at hand. One involved Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger (son of the poet Thomas Wyatt, a courtly suitor of Anne Boleyn) and the Duke of Suffolk, Henry Grey (already released from the Tower after his involvement with the Northumberland plot) who would lead rebel armies from various parts of England. Wyatt's army reached London, but the rebellion was put down at the city gates. He and his fellow conspirators were arrested.

Mary realized the mistake she had made before in her lenient treatment of Northumberland's rebels, and vowed not to make it again. In all, roughly 100 rebels were hung, although the Queen pardoned 400 others. Lady Jane Grey and her husband would also have to be put to death now, as they may be the possible focal point for another rebellion. Edward Courtenay was put back in the Tower where he had spent much of his life. Elizabeth had been summoned to London for questioning and was eventually imprisoned in the Tower as well, although she was later sent to Woodstock.

In March, 1554, Mary acted in a proxy betrothal, with the Count of Egmont standing in for Prince Philip. He eventually set sail for England on July 12, arriving at the Isle of Wight a week later. On July 23, he arrived at Winchester where he would meet his bride for the first time. It is not known exactly what language they used to converse (quite possibly Latin), but Philip and Mary talked into the evening and by all appearances seemed to be getting along well.

The marriage took place two days after their meeting, on July 25th, the day of St. James- patron saint of Spain. After the wedding, they were proclaimed:

Philip and Mary, by the grace of God, King and Queen of England, France and Naples, Jerusalem and Ireland, defenders of the faith, Princes of Spain and Sicily, Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Milan, Burgundy and Brabant, Counts of Habsburg, Flanders and the Tyrol.

After dancing and dinner, the couple was put to bed in accordance with the ancient blessing ritual.

In September, one of the Queen's physicians announced that she was pregnant. In fact, she did seem to show many of the signs including nausea and an enlarging belly.

Meanwhile, Mary began to act on her intention to restoring the Catholic faith in England. The nobles were allowed to keep the lands gained in the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, but the Queen encouraged returning former Church property (mainly furniture and plate) and set an example by doing so herself. The medieval heresy laws were restored by Parliament, which meant that heretics could be killed and their property and holdings given over to the Crown.

In January 1555, the arrests began. John Hooper (former Bishop of Gloucester), John Rogers and John Cardmaster were arrested after they refused to cease their heretical activities and put on trial. All three were condemned to be burnt at the stake, with Rogers the first to die.

Instead of deterring the Protestants, the burnings mainly served to increase their hatred of the Queen. In all about 275 people died and were later included in John Foxe's Acts and Monuments of the English Martyrs. It was because of these burnings that the Queen gained the epitaph "Bloody Mary".

As Mary's pregnancy progressed, Philip began to make plans for the succession if the Queen were to die in childbirth, a relatively common occurrence in Tudor England. Mary would most likely want to exclude Elizabeth from the throne, which meant that the crown would then fall to Mary Queen of Scots, who was about to marry the son of the King of France and was unacceptable for Spanish interests. Philip suggested marrying Elizabeth to a Catholic (and ally of the Holy Roman Emperor): Philibert, Duke of Savoy.

Mary had refused to allow Philip and Elizabeth to meet, but in April when the Court moved to Hampton Court Palace Elizabeth was brought there as well (she had still been at Woodstock until then). She had few visitors and had not been granted an audience with the Queen, since she was still in disgrace. However, one evening the Queen sent over a rich dress to Elizabeth with the message that she was to wear it that evening. She met the King and was later brought into see the Queen. Foxe records that Philip was hiding behind a tapestry during the interview. At the end, Mary agreed to welcome Elizabeth at court.

Mary had retreated into privacy awaiting the birth of her child, as was customary. She waited for the labor pains to begin, but her due date came and went without the birth of a child. The doctors predicted the child would come on June 6, then June 24, and then finally July 3. but none came to pass.

It is thought that Mary did in fact suffer what is called a 'phantom pregnancy' arising from her great wish to have a child. She may have actually been pregnant at some point, but miscarried, or the child died and was not properly expelled. Whatever the case, it became quite clear that the Queen was not going to give birth, since it was now nearly a year after she was first reported to be with child.

After a while, Mary began to receive again and the signs of her "pregnancy" disappeared. The subject was not brought up in the Queen's presence.

In August, Philip left England to conduct business for Spain in the Netherlands. The Queen was overcome with sadness at his departure and wrote to him almost daily.

Meanwhile, the trials and burnings continued. Hugh Latimer (former Bishop of Worcester) and Nicholas Ridley (former Bishop of London) were condemned and burnt at the stake in October 1555. In March 1556, Thomas Cranmer (former Archbishop of Canterbury) followed, thrusting his right hand into the fire first because it had signed his earlier recantation of the Protestant faith.

Philip eventually returned to England in March 1557. Shortly afterwards, England declared war on France following a raid on Scarborough, England by Thomas Stafford, who had been in exile in France. The French King Henry II denied initiating the raid.

Philip led forces into France and took the town of St. Quentin and surrounding lands. But France struck back and took the city of Calais, the last foothold of England on the Continent. It had been in English hands since 1347.

With this loss came some good news, however. The Queen was sure she was pregnant again, now at the age of 42. She entered seclusion in late February 1558, thinking her confinement for labor would come in March. Those around her seemed to have doubts about the validity of this pregnancy after the earlier incident.

On March 30, Mary drafted her will and it is worded in such a way to portray that the Queen thought she was indeed with child. But, by April, no child had come and the Queen knew that she was once again mistaken. After the symptoms began to fade, Mary was left quite ill. From then on, she became progressively worse. In late October, she added the codicil to her will but did not expressly name Elizabeth as her heir in it.

The Queen drifted in and out of consciousness, but at one point was lucid enough to agree to pass the crown to her half sister, adding that she hoped Elizabeth would maintain the Catholic faith in England. It was around this time that Philip learned of the death of both his father and his aunt.

On November 16, 1558, Mary's will was read aloud keeping with custom. She was lucid during the Mass held in her chamber the next morning. The priest performed the Last Rites, and the Queen died.

Elizabeth gave her sister a royal funeral and she was interred in Westminster Abbey in the chapel built by her grandfather, Henry VII. During the reign of Elizabeth, Mary's tomb became buried under piles of stones from broken altars. When Elizabeth herself died, James I built a magnificent tomb for both sisters (although only Elizabeth's figure is on it). A plaque on the marble reads -- translated from the Latin --

Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection.

The True Story of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I

Mary, Queen of Scots, towered over her contemporaries in more ways than one. Not only was she a female monarch in an era dominated by men, she was also physically imposing, standing nearly six feet tall.

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Her height emphasized Mary’s seemingly innate queenship: Enthroned as Scotland’s ruler at just six days old, she spent her formative years at the French court, where she was raised alongside future husband Francis II. Wed to the dauphin in April 1558, 16-year-old Mary—already so renowned for her beauty that she was deemed “la plus parfaite,” or the most perfect—ascended to the French throne the following July, officially asserting her influence beyond her home country to the European continent.

As Mary donned dual crowns, the new English queen, her cousin Elizabeth Tudor, consolidated power on the other side of the Channel. Unlike her Scottish counterpart, whose position as the only legitimate child of James V cemented her royal status, Elizabeth followed a protracted path to the throne. Bastardized following the 1536 execution of her mother, Anne Boleyn, she spent her childhood at the mercy of the changing whims of her father, Henry VIII. Upon his death in 1547, she was named third in the line of succession, eligible to rule only in the unlikely event that her siblings, Edward VI and Mary I, died without heirs. Which is precisely what happened.

From the beginning of her reign, Elizabeth was keenly aware of her tenuous hold on the crown. As a Protestant, she faced threats from England’s Catholic faction, which favored a rival claim to the throne—that of Mary, the Catholic Queen of Scots—over hers. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, Elizabeth was the illegitimate product of an unlawful marriage, while Mary, the paternal granddaughter of Henry VIII’s older sister Margaret, was the rightful English heir.

The denouement of Mary and Elizabeth’s decades-long power struggle is easily recalled by even the most casual of observers: On February 8, 1587, the deposed Scottish queen knelt at an execution block, uttered a string of final prayers, and stretched out her arms to assent to the fall of the headsman’s axe. Three strikes later, the executioner severed Mary’s head from her body, at which point he held up his bloody prize and shouted, “God save the queen.” For now, at least, Elizabeth had emerged victorious.

Robbie provides the foil to Ronan’s Mary, donning a prosthetic nose and clown-like layers of white makeup to resemble a smallpox-scarred Elizabeth (Parisa Tag/Focus Features)

It’s unsurprising that the tale of these two queens resonates with audiences some 400 years after the main players lived. As biographer Antonia Fraser explains, Mary’s story is one of “murder, sex, pathos, religion and unsuitable lovers.” Add in the Scottish queen’s rivalry with Elizabeth, as well as her untimely end, and she transforms into the archetypal tragic heroine.

To date, acting luminaries from Katharine Hepburn to Bette Davis, Cate Blanchett and Vanessa Redgrave have graced the silver screen with their interpretations of Mary and Elizabeth (though despite these women’s collective talent, none of the adaptations have much historical merit, instead relying on romanticized relationships, salacious wrongdoings and suspect timelines to keep audiences in thrall). Now, first-time director Josie Rourke hopes to offer a modern twist on the tale with her new Mary Queen of Scots biopic, which finds Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie stepping into the shoes of the legendary queens. Robbie provides the foil to Ronan’s Mary, donning a prosthetic nose and clown-like layers of white makeup to resemble a smallpox-scarred Elizabeth.

All too frequently, representations of Mary and Elizabeth reduce the queens to oversimplified stereotypes. As John Guy writes in Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart (which serves as the source text for Rourke’s film), Mary is alternately envisioned as the innocent victim of men’s political machinations and a fatally flawed femme fatale who “ruled from the heart and not the head.” Kristen Post Walton, a professor at Salisbury University and the author of Catholic Queen, Protestant Patriarchy: Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Politics of Gender and Religion, argues that dramatizations of Mary’s life tend to downplay her agency and treat her life like a “soap opera.” Meanwhile, Elizabeth is often viewed through a romanticized lens that draws on hindsight to discount the displeasure many of her subjects felt toward their queen, particularly during the later stages of her reign.

Mary Queen of Scots picks up in 1561 with the eponymous queen’s return to her native country. Widowed following the unexpected death of her first husband, France’s Francis II, she left her home of 13 years for the unknown entity of Scotland, which had been plagued by factionalism and religious discontent in her absence. (Francis’ younger brother, Charles IX, became king of France at just 10 years old with his mother, Catherine de Medici, acting as regent.)

Mary was a Catholic queen in a largely Protestant state, but she formed compromises that enabled her to maintain authority without infringing on the practice of either religion. As she settled into her new role—although crowned queen of Scotland in infancy, she spent much of her early reign in France, leaving first her mother, Mary of Guise, and then her half-brother James, Earl of Moray, to act as regent on her behalf—she sought to strengthen relations with her southern neighbor, Elizabeth. The Tudor queen pressured Mary to ratify the 1560 Treaty of Edinburgh, which would’ve prevented her from making any claim to the English throne, but she refused, instead appealing to Elizabeth as queens “in one isle, of one language, the nearest kinswomen that each other had.”

Mary is alternately envisioned as the innocent victim of men’s political machinations and a fatally flawed femme fatale who “ruled from the heart and not the head” (Liam Daniel/Focus Features)

To Elizabeth, such familial ties were of little value. Given her precarious hold on the throne and the subsequent paranoia that plagued her reign, she had little motivation to name a successor who could threaten her own safety. Mary’s blood claim was worrying enough, but acknowledging it by naming her as the heir presumptive would leave Elizabeth vulnerable to coups organized by England’s Catholic faction. This fear-driven logic even extended to the queen’s potential offspring: As she once told Mary’s advisor William Maitland, “Princes cannot like their own children. Think you that I could love my own winding-sheet?”

Despite these concerns, Elizabeth certainly considered the possibility of naming Mary her heir. The pair exchanged regular correspondence, trading warm sentiments and discussing the possibility of meeting face-to-face. But the two never actually met in person, a fact some historians have drawn on in their critique of the upcoming film, which depicts Mary and Elizabeth conducting a clandestine conversation in a barn.

According to Janet Dickinson of Oxford University, any in-person encounter between the Scottish and English queens would’ve raised the question of precedence, forcing Elizabeth to declare whether Mary was her heir or not. At the same time, Post Walton says, the fact that the cousins never stood face-to-face precludes the possibility of the intensely personal dynamic often projected onto them after all, it’s difficult to maintain strong feelings about someone known only through letters and intermediaries. Instead, it’s more likely the queens’ attitudes toward each other were dictated largely by changing circumstance.

Although she was famously dubbed the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth only embraced this chaste persona during the later years of her reign. At the height of her power, she juggled proposals from foreign rulers and subjects alike, always prevaricating rather than revealing the true nature of her intentions. In doing so, the English queen avoided falling under a man’s dominion—and maintained the possibility of a marriage treaty as a bargaining chip. At the same time, she prevented herself from producing an heir, effectively ending the Tudor dynasty after just three generations.

Mary married a total of three times. As she told Elizabeth’s ambassador soon before her July 1565 wedding to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, “not to marry, you know it cannot be for me.” Darnley, Mary’s first cousin through her paternal grandmother, proved to be a highly unsuitable match, displaying a greed for power that culminated in his orchestration of the March 9, 1566, murder of the queen’s secretary, David Rizzio. Relations between Mary and Elizabeth had soured following the Scottish queen’s union with Darnley, which the English queen viewed as a threat to her throne. But by February 1567, tensions had thawed enough for Mary to name Elizabeth “protector” of her infant son, the future James VI of Scotland and I of England. Then, news of another killing broke. This time, the victim was Darnley himself.

Mary, Queen of Scots, after Nicholas Hilliard, 1578 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Three months after Darnley’s death, Mary wed the man who’d been accused of—and acquitted of in a legally suspect trial—his murder. James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was a “vainglorious, rash and hazardous young man,” according to ambassador Nicholas Throckmorton. He had a violent temper and, despite his differences from Darnley, shared the deceased king’s proclivity for power. Regardless of whether sexual attraction, love or faith in Bothwell as her protector against the feuding Scottish lords guided Mary’s decision, her alignment with him cemented her downfall.

In the summer of 1567, the increasingly unpopular queen was imprisoned and forced to abdicate in favor of her son. Bothwell fled to Denmark, where he died in captivity 11 years later.

“She had been queen for all but the first six days of her life,” John Guy writes in Queen of Scots, “[but] apart from a few short but intoxicating weeks in the following year, the rest of her life would be spent in captivity.”

The brief brush with freedom Guy refers to took place in May 1568, when Mary escaped and rallied supporters for a final battle. Defeated once and for all, the deposed queen fled to England, expecting her “sister queen” to offer a warm welcome and perhaps even help her regain the Scottish throne. Instead, Elizabeth placed Mary—an anointed monarch over whom she had no real jurisdiction—under de facto house arrest, consigning her to 18 years of imprisonment under what can only be described as legally grey circumstances.

Around 8 a.m. on February 8, 1587, the 44-year-old Scottish queen knelt in the great hall of Fotheringhay Castle and thanked the headsman for making “an end of all my troubles.” Three axe blows later, she was dead, her severed head lofted high as a warning to all who defied Elizabeth Tudor.

Today, assessments of Mary Stuart range from historian Jenny Wormald’s biting characterization of the queen as a “study in failure” to John Guy’s more sympathetic reading, which deems Mary the “unluckiest ruler in British history,” a “glittering and charismatic queen” who faced stacked odds from the beginning.

Kristen Post Walton outlines a middle ground between these extremes, noting that Mary’s Catholic faith and gender worked against her throughout her reign.

“[Mary’s] failures are dictated more by her situation than by her as a ruler,” she says, “and I think if she had been a man, … she would've been able to be much more successful and would never have lost the throne.”

Janet Dickinson paints the Scottish queen’s relationship with Elizabeth in similar terms, arguing that the pair’s dynamic was shaped by circumstance rather than choice. At the same time, she’s quick to point out that the portrayal of Mary and Elizabeth as polar opposites—Catholic versus Protestant, adulterer versus Virgin Queen, beautiful tragic heroine versus smallpox-scarred hag—is problematic in and of itself. As is often the case, the truth is far more nuanced. Both queens were surprisingly fluid in their religious inclinations. Mary’s promiscuous reputation was largely invented by her adversaries, while Elizabeth’s reign was filled with rumors of her purported romances. Whereas Mary aged in the relative isolation of house arrest, Elizabeth’s looks were under constant scrutiny.

The versions of Mary and Elizabeth created by Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie may reinforce some of the popular misconceptions surrounding the twin queens—including the oversimplified notion that they either hated or loved each other, and followed a direct path from friendship to arch rivalry—but they promise to present a thoroughly contemporary twist on an all-too-familiar tale of women bombarded by men who believe they know better. John Knox , a Protestant reformer who objected to both queens’ rule, may have declared it “more than a monster in nature that a Woman shall reign and have empire above Man,” but the continued resonance of Mary and Elizabeth’s stories suggests otherwise. Not only were the two absolute rulers in a patriarchal society, but they were also women whose lives, while seemingly inextricable, amounted to more than their either their relationships with men or their rivalry with each other.

Mary, Queen of Scots, may have been the monarch who got her head chopped off, but she eventually proved triumphant in a roundabout way: After Elizabeth died childless in 1603, it was Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland and I of England, who ascended to the throne as the first to rule a united British kingdom. And though Mary’s father, James V, reportedly made a deathbed prediction that the Stuart dynasty, which “came with a lass”—Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce—would also “pass with a lass,” the woman who fulfilled this prophecy was not the infant James left his throne to, but her descendant Queen Anne, whose 1714 death marked the official end of the dynastic line.

Ultimately, Guy argues, “If Elizabeth had triumphed in life, Mary would triumph in death.”

The queen herself said it best: As she predicted in an eerily prescient motto, “in my end is my beginning.”


The Princess Mary was born in 1516, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII of England. As the daughter of the King of England, Mary's value during her childhood as a potential marriage partner for the ruler of another realm was high. Mary was promised in marriage to the dauphin, son of Francis I of France, and later to the emperor Charles V. A 1527 treaty promised Mary to Francis I or to his second son.

Soon after that treaty, however, Henry VIII began the long process of divorcing Mary's mother, his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. With the divorce of her parents, Mary was declared illegitimate, and her half-sister Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, successor to Catherine of Aragon as wife of Henry VIII, was declared princess instead. Mary refused to acknowledge this change in her status. Mary was then kept from seeing her mother from 1531 on Catherine of Aragon died in 1536.

After Anne Boleyn was disgraced, charged with being unfaithful and executed, Mary finally capitulated and signed a paper accepting that her parents' marriage was unlawful. Henry VIII then restored her to the succession.

Mary, like her mother, was a devout and committed Roman Catholic. She refused to accept Henry's religious innovations. During the reign of Mary's half-brother, Edward VI, when even more Protestant reforms were implemented, Mary held fast to her Roman Catholic faith.

On Edward's death, Protestant supporters briefly put Lady Jane Grey on the throne. But Mary's supporters removed Jane, and in 1553 Mary became Queen of England, the first woman to rule England with full coronation as Queen in her own right.

Queen Mary's attempts to restore Catholicism and Mary's marriage to Philip II of Spain (July 25, 1554) were unpopular. Mary supported harsher and harsher persecution of the Protestants, eventually burning more than 300 Protestants at the stake as heretics over a four-year period, earning her the nickname "Bloody Mary."

Two or three times, Queen Mary believed herself pregnant, but each pregnancy proved to be false. Philip's absences from England grew more frequent and longer. Mary's always-frail health finally failed her and she died in 1558. Some attribute her death to influenza, some to stomach cancer, which was misinterpreted by Mary as pregnancy.

Queen Mary named no heir to succeed her, so her half-sister Elizabeth became queen, named by Henry as next in succession after Mary.

Bloody Mary 1) Queen Mary I (1516 &ndash 1558)

Mary I of England could have had historical laurels to her name. She was the only offspring of Henry VIII and his first wife, the Spanish queen Catherine of Aragon, to survive childhood. She was also England&rsquos first queen regnant—that is the first queen to rule in her own right rather than as the wife of a king. But what Mary I is instead most (in)famous is for being ardent Catholic, whose burning devotion to her faith earned her the nickname &ldquoBloody Mary&rdquo.

As the blood queen of the English Reformation, Mary had at least 280 people burned at the stake for resisting her re-Catholicisation of England. These purges, known to history as the &ldquoMarian Persecutions&rdquo, were aimed at those who remained loyal to Protestantism—a religious sect embraced by Mary&rsquos father, Henry VIII, and his son and brief successor, Edward VI, but rejected by the Catholically-raised Mary. And not only did Mary execute those who refused to renounce their Protestantism, she also burned people who did.

Her most famous victim was Thomas Cramner, the Archbishop of Canterbury. After his trial, Cramner renounced his faith and re-embraced Catholicism. However, Mary had a score to settle. As an advisor to her father, Cramner had been responsible for annulling Henry&rsquos marriage to Mary&rsquos mother, Catherine, so Henry could marry Anne Boleyn. He&rsquod also been a passionate promoter of Protestantism under Mary&rsquos predecessor, Edward VI. So Mary ignored the law of repentance—which should have absolved him—and condemned Cramner to the flames anyway in 1556.

This illustration, taken from John Foxe&rsquos Book of Martyrs, shows the execution of John Rogers: the first Protestant martyr of Mary I&rsquos reign. History Answers

Even for the standards of the time, the burnings were seen as being gratuitously nasty. They were met with hostility among the English population, serving only to fan the flames of anti-Spanish sentiment. Worse still for Mary and her Catholic supporters, it was all in vain. For upon Mary&rsquos death, and the accession of her successor, Elizabeth I, England was steered back towards Protestantism. Rather than a turning point in England&rsquos sectarian history, Mary&rsquos persecutions were a minor—though no less bloody—blip.

Mary was betrothed at the age of just two and married a series of powerful royals across Europe. But she was never able to produce an heir. Aged 37 she seemingly became pregnant, displaying all of the symptoms, but never gave birth. Medical experts now suggest she may have suffered from pseudocyesis: a condition that essentially ghosts a pregnancy by producing all the symptoms. She fell pregnant again but died, aged 42, during an influenza epidemic in 1558. It wasn&rsquot influenza that got &ldquoBloody&rdquo Mary I, though, but ovarian cysts or uterine cancer.

The sad life of England’s first female ruler is rendered even more tragic in comparison with her half-sister and successor’s reign. Poor Mary Tudor, destined – like her half-brother and predecessor – to languish between those two giants of English history, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Yet there is much to warrant even a brief examination of her life and reign. Though her hated half-sister would outshine her in virtually every sphere – physical, political, intellectual, artistic – Mary also had a formidable impact upon English history. Throughout the first thirty-seven years of her life, she was tossed about by the whims of her father and, later and perhaps more galling, her Protestant brother Edward VI and his council. It was perhaps inevitable that when she first tasted real power, the experience would be both intoxicating and unfortunate.

Princess Mary, age 28, painted by Master John

When Mary came to the throne, she was thirty-seven years old. She had never been married though, in her youth, several matches had been suggested and abandoned. Contrary to later beliefs, Henry VIII was pleased with her birth in 1516, proudly displaying the infant Mary to visiting ambassadors and noblemen. It was only years later, with Mary as his sole legitimate offspring, that Henry began his desperate search for a son. This search would forever brand him as a misogynist and cruel tyrant who discarded, divorced, and beheaded the women who did not bear him sons. But one must be fair to Henry and judge him by the standards of his time, which certainly his contemporaries did. He was only the second Tudor monarch and, as such, he understood the necessity of stabilizing the English throne. Indeed, his father had only won the crown in 1485, barely thirty years before Mary’s birth. And if Henry VII, born the unprepossessing earl of Richmond, could steal the crown then his son’s actions can be understood. Above all else, Henry VIII was determined the crown would remain in Tudor hands. Mary, like her half-sister Elizabeth, was always recognized as his daughter. But England had never had a woman ruler, one who ruled in her own right without a male consort or as regent for an infant son. The only possible precedent was Matilda, Henry I’s heir, and the precedent was not good – Matilda was expelled by the English barons and her cousin Stephen of Blois was made king. Though this had happened four centuries before, its lesson was still valid.

With this in mind, Henry’s treatment of Mary’s mother becomes – if not palatable – at least understandable. Certainly the petty cruelties and humiliations he forced upon her were his own doing but the overall aim was to ensure the Tudor succession. But all this happened years after Mary’s birth. From 1516 to about 1530, Mary led a happy, sheltered life. She was considered one of the most important European princesses and Henry used her as every king used his daughter – as a pawn in political negotiations. She was also well-educated with a fine contralto singing voice and great linguistic skill. Her mother, Katharine of Aragon, was deeply devoted to Mary. This was a reflection of Katharine’s strongly domestic nature as well as the numerous miscarriages she suffered. Any mother would naturally love a child but Katharine had lost enough children to make her especially devoted to the one who survived. When Henry proposed the idea of divorce, Katharine fought it passionately, not least because divorce would destroy her daughter’s future. Katharine was the youngest daughter of those great Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the ‘Catholic Kings’ who united Spain geographically and spiritually. Through her mother, she could trace her lineage to John of Gaunt, that legendary figure in English history. She grew up as an Infanta of Spain and, unlike Henry, her claim to royalty was not a mere few decades old. As such, she was naturally proud and dignified. Mary inherited this pride as well as her mother’s enduring affection for Spain. When she became queen, this affection was to have terrible consequences.

Educated by her mother and a ducal governess, Mary was at last betrothed to her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain.) Charles made the unfortunate demand that she come to Spain immediately, accompanied by a huge cash dowry. Henry ignored the request and Charles jilted Mary, concluding a match with a more accommodating princess. Meanwhile, Henry invested his daughter as Princess of Wales in 1525 and she held court at Ludlow Castle. With this decision, Henry meant to soothe Katharine’s fears that Mary’s position as the only legitimate Tudor heir was being undermined. Only a few weeks before the investiture, Mary had attended a ceremony in which her father ennobled his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, as Duke of Richmond (among various other titles.) And though he sharply rebuked Katharine for criticizing his open affection for Fitzroy, and the accompanying titles and wealth he gave the boy, Henry did not neglect his daughter. In fact, Mary was the first princess of Wales, and the first female royal to hold court at Ludlow. But of course, sending Mary to Wales was not the same as sending a son and heir Henry never intended her to rule England, at least not as its sole ruler. Her role in Wales would be primarily symbolic, and she would be replaced as soon as he had a legitimate male heir. This elusive son – Henry’s most fervent wish – occupied his mind even as he continued to scour Europe for a suitable husband for Mary.

Yet even as new betrothal plans were being made, the king’s attention was increasingly elsewhere. Henry had met Anne Boleyn, daughter of a simple knight and sister of a former mistress. His passionate attraction to Anne, coupled with the increased need for a male heir, made Henry restless. He looked at Katharine, nine years his senior and as domestic as Anne was exotic, with new eyes. At first, he sought a quiet, amicable annulment of their long marriage. Certainly, such a decision was not revolutionary Henry could cite numerous examples in European history where kings had annulled marriages to barren queens. Since he and Katharine had a mutual respect and affection for one another, Henry anticipated her cooperation. Certainly he would tread with delicacy but – in the end – his will would be done.

But Henry had not anticipated his wife’s immediate and intense anger. For he had based his argument upon theology – in short, Henry argued that because Katharine had been briefly married to his brother, Arthur, her marriage to Henry was incestuous. Katharine responded that this matter was already resolved. Before she wed Henry, the Pope had granted a dispensation. He did so under political pressure from Henry VII and Ferdinand – but also because Katharine swore she and Arthur had never consummated their marriage. In short, she was a virgin when she wed Henry, a fact Henry would be certain to know. Cynics could not help but mock the King’s sudden attack of conscience, occurring some twenty years into the marriage and in the midst of his affair with Anne Boleyn.

Portrait of Katharine of Aragon by Lucas Horenbout

It would be impossible to argue that Anne had no role in his decision. In his mid-thirties, Henry had entered into the most passionate romantic attachment of his life. Indeed, after her death, he would complain that Anne had ‘bewitched’ him. It was true that Henry displayed an intensity of feeling toward her which shocked their contemporaries. Today we can read his love letters to her across the span of four centuries, they retain their power. Anne was not beautiful but she possessed greater gifts – she was witty, graceful, and stylish. She had been educated at the glittering French court so she sang and danced beautifully, skills which Henry admired. She was also very intelligent and confident. Unlike her older sister Mary, Anne Boleyn had no desire to be the king’s temporary mistress. In fact, she had intended to wed Henry Percy, heir to the earl of Northumberland, until the king – already enchanted – put a stop to the match. He wrote to Percy’s father, arguing against the unsuitable match. A knight’s daughter wed to one of the most important peers of the realm? Percy’s angry father immediately sent for his son, ending the romance but not the attachment. Percy wrote poetry about Anne and, at her trial, he had to be carried from the room. Unlike the other peers, he could not bear to sit in judgment of her. For Anne, the loss of Percy was undoubtedly galling. After all, had the king ended the engagement simply to make her his mistress? Henry’s disregard for her personal feelings, his interference in her personal life, was not endearing. But it convinced Anne of the king’s attraction and she resolved to be his wife or nothing.

For Mary, the sudden ascent of Anne Boleyn signaled the end of her world. Her beloved mother, equally loved by the English people, was being forced aside by a former lady-in-waiting. Her father was determined to declare her a bastard in effect, Henry’s charge of incest dissolved his marriage and illegitimized his daughter. In the midst of this, Mary developed a lasting hatred of Anne Boleyn which extended to Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth. She never openly blamed her father for his actions, though she considered them unlawful and impious. Instead, she persuaded herself that he had been Anne Boleyn’s pawn. Such a reaction was perhaps inevitable. However, it was to have an unfortunate impact upon Elizabeth’s life.

The Pope refused to recognize Henry’s argument for an annulment or divorce and thus began a power struggle between the Vatican, Spain, and England. Katharine’s nephew, Charles V, naturally agreed with his aunt for personal and political reasons. He exerted considerable military and political pressure against the Pope. Henry’s numerous petitions were disregarded. Eventually he simply gave up and decided the matter himself. In 1534 Henry took the unprecedented step of breaking with Rome, establishing the Church of England with himself as Supreme Head. The annulment was granted and Katharine and Mary were officially outcasts.

In the meantime, Mary continued her somewhat restricted life. Despite her declared illegitimacy, Henry continued to propose various husbands for her. The searches were not particularly thorough or serious, however, and Mary remained a spinster. She was now in her late twenties, leaving behind her youth and – most importantly for a woman – her safest reproductive years.

Even before the official decree, Henry had stopped living with Katharine and recognizing her as Queen. He took Anne Boleyn with him to France to meet his rival Francis I this was an important state visit and her appearance was commented upon. Henry, however, had already ordered Katharine to surrender her jewelry Anne now wore it. He also sent Katharine to one decaying residence after another, dismissing several of her devoted servants. Though deprived of her title, home, jewels, and companionship, Katharine never recognized the divorce. She refused the title of Princess Dowager, offered by Henry as recognition of her marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales. She continued to assert that she and Arthur had never consummated their marriage. And, above all else, she professed faith in the judgment of the Pope. A devout Catholic, daughter of the monarchs who introduced the Inquisition to Spain, Katharine never acknowledged the Church of England. Since she had raised her daughter to be equally devout, Mary also refused to acknowledge both the Church and her father’s position as Supreme Head.

It should be noted that Henry VIII, though ostensibly head of a new church which overthrew the Catholic supremacy, remained a devout Catholic throughout his life. He continued to attend Mass and heartily despised ‘heretics’ like Martin Luther. But Henry possessed the ability to separate the secular from the spiritual, a quality which Mary completely lacked and Elizabeth honed to fine perfection. Though his son would become a bigoted Protestant determined to stamp out Catholicism and his eldest daughter a bigoted Catholic determined to stamp out Protestantism, Henry was a Catholic who lapsed when it suited him. Of course, he always asserted theological justification for the lapses. However, he would not allow Katharine or Mary to deny his authority. Both paid a stiff penalty for their refusal to submit. Katharine, as noted, was sent from court and deprived of all accustomed luxuries. Mary was equally disgraced. Now a bastard, declared such by Parliament, she was denied any communication with her mother and made lady-in-waiting to Anne and Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth. Unlike Mary, Elizabeth was recognized as a Princess of the realm. For the seventeen-year-old Mary, the complete reversal of her fortune was devastating. She began to suffer from a variety of illnesses, undoubtedly stress-related. These plagued her until her death, causing such symptoms as severe headaches, nausea, insomnia, and infrequent menstruation.

Anne took an equal dislike of Mary. It was a simple fact that if Anne and Elizabeth’s fortunes rose, Mary’s would fall. After all, Elizabeth was legitimate only if Mary was not, and vice versa. Anne would have been foolish to encourage any reconciliation between Henry and Mary, quite possibly she did the opposite. But after her fall from grace, Henry offered to pardon Mary and restore her to favor – but only if Mary acknowledged him as head of the Church of England and admitted the ‘incestuous illegality’ of his marriage to Katharine. To Mary’s credit, she refused to do so until her cousin, Charles V, persuaded her otherwise. She gave in to Henry’s demands, an action she was to always regret. Meanwhile, Katharine of Aragon had died at Kimbolton Castle, loving – and defying – Henry to the last her final letter to him was signed ‘Katharine the Queen.’ Katharine and Mary had not seen one another for years though they had written one another, against Henry’s orders, in great secrecy. Katharine’s last thoughts were undoubtedly of her daughter.

Henry, however, was soon reconciled to Mary. Flush with marriage to the meek Jane Seymour and her quick pregnancy, he welcomed Mary home. She was given a household befitting her position as his daughter and included in court festivities there were even rumors of a possible marriage in her future. Jane Seymour encouraged Henry’s reconciliation with both of his daughters. Mary, in turn, respected and liked the new queen. She was named godmother to Henry and Jane’s son, Prince Edward, born in October 1537 and when Jane died shortly after her son’s birth, Mary was the chief mourner. Their friendship was not so unlikely. They were relatively close in age and Mary, having lost her mother and longing for her father’s affection, was grateful for any kindness. Furthermore, she had the satisfaction of knowing Elizabeth, too, was bastardized Anne Boleyn’s execution on charges of incest and treason had illegitimized her daughter. It is revealing to note that, upon her ascension, Mary revoked the Act of Parliament which made her a bastard. Elizabeth, upon ascension, didn’t bother to do so.

However, Mary and Elizabeth were not forgotten. After Jane’s death, Henry determined the line of succession as follows: first, Edward or Edward’s heirs if Edward died without issue, the throne passed to Mary after Mary, to Elizabeth. Henry recognized the fragility of his succession, resting as it did upon just one son. He, after all, was a second son. But there was little he could do. His fourth marriage, to Anne of Cleves, had ended disastrously. She was too unnattractive for the king so she was titled ‘the king’s sister’ and given a generous pension. Anne preferred this solution to returning home.

Soon enough, Henry’s attentions were captured elsewhere. He wed Catherine Howard, cousin to the infamous Anne Boleyn. It was a pathetic match. Henry was old enough to be her grandfather, plainly in lust with a young woman who exuded sex appeal. Mary’s opinion on the match is not known but it would be safe to assume that even if she disapproved, she would never say so. Mary recognized her father’s secular authority as king even as she disapproved of his spiritual authority as head of the English Church. In any case, there was barely time to know Catherine before she, too, was executed on charges of adultery. Whether she was guilty is a matter of conjecture if she was, one can hardly blame her and, if she wasn’t, she was yet another blot upon Henry’s conscience. In her defense, she refused the easy path of divorce. Henry offered to recognize a pre-contract with another nobleman. If she, too, recognized it, their marriage would be invalid. Catherine would be divorced but still alive. She refused to admit such an arrangement, however, and met her end at the Tower of London.

Henry’s last queen was the Protestant Katharine Parr, twice-widowed and chosen for her excellent character and nursing abilities. Like Jane Seymour, Katharine Parr was determined to bring the royal family closer together. To that end, she provided the only true home and maternal guidance Edward and Elizabeth would ever know. She also befriended Mary, a difficult task because of their opposing religious beliefs. Mary, however, did respect Katharine’s intellectual accomplishments.

Katharine Parr was the product of the changing climate in Tudor England. When he ended Catholic supremacy in England, dissolving the monasteries and granting their lands to various nobles and the crown, Henry had begun a process whose end he never foresaw. As mentioned, Henry never became a Protestant. But his decision to use Protestantism for his own ends allowed Protestantism to flourish. Toward the end of his reign, there were few councilors who could remember the Catholic supremacy. They had benefited from the break with Rome, both spiritually and materially Henry, meanwhile, never understood the force he had unleashed. When Katharine made the mistake of arguing about theology with him, she came very close to losing her head. Only a timely intervention and her own impassioned apology saved her. But upon Henry’s death and Edward’s ascension, the Protestant faction was in control. The new king, just nine years old, had Protestant tutors and a Protestant step-mother. Indeed, Edward VI is revealed in his journal as a priggish, unfeeling boy who noted the executions of his uncles with no trace of compassion. His letters to Katharine Parr, however, are the only examples of feeling and affection which he left behind. To her, he confided his insecurity and vulnerability.

Katharine Parr’s influence on Edward VI was to simply strengthen the Protestantism which his tutors and the English court encouraged. For Mary, the situation was disastrous. Edward, swayed by religious fervor and his advisors, made English compulsory for church services. Mary continued to celebrate Mass in the old form and in Latin. During the six years of her brother’s reign, she tread the fine line between piety and treason. Edward attempted to reason with her at court yet she refused his advice. Indeed, she was a woman in her thirties and he was still a child. Edward was also under the control of the Duke of Somerset, Jane Seymour’s staunchly Protestant brother. Though Henry VIII’s will had specified a specific group of councilors to guide his son’s regency, his wishes were disregarded. His fellow councilors, most of whom had profited from the Catholic expulsion, titled Somerset Lord Protector. The nine-year-old king had no deep affection for his uncle Somerset kept Edward short of pocket money and hired harsh tutors who regularly beat the boy. But their religious sympathies were similar. Mary managed to disregard the combined pressure of Somerset and Edward, largely because she stayed away from court. Her brother was firm with her. He told her she was misguided and occasionally threatened her. Mary was intelligent enough to not risk open disobedience, preferring the quiet celebration of Mass in her country home. Meanwhile, in 1549, Somerset had overstepped his authority and was executed. His fall was largely engineered by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and soon-to-be Duke of Northumberland. From then on, Edward was under Dudley’s control.

Edward VI ruled for just seven years. The last year of his life was one of near-constant pain and suffering. Various illnesses have been suggested, consumption being the most likely. He had never been of robust health, unlike his father, and the Protestant councilors did all they could to prolong his life. To that end, Edward was given arsenic and various other poisons which were believed to prolong life even as they increased suffering. For Dudley and his supporters, Edward’s death was inevitable but they needed every available moment to prevent Mary from ascending the throne. They were not fools and knew their fate with a Catholic queen. Dudley hurriedly married his son Guildford to Lady Jane Grey, Edward VI’s Protestant, scholarly cousin. Like Edward, Jane was a pawn in Dudley’s schemes. She was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary Tudor and, thus, a remote claimant to the English throne. Working together, Edward and Dudley disregarded Henry VIII’s will yet again and barred both Mary and Elizabeth from the succession. In turn, Edward willed the throne to Jane and her heirs. When he finally died, Jane was declared Queen by Dudley and the Protestant lords.

Jane Grey’s ascension to the throne lasted but nine days. Though the Protestant councilors were not fond of Mary’s religious views, many still regarded her as the rightful heir. She was, after all, Bluff King Hal’s daughter. Like her mother, Mary had enormous sympathy from the English people, a gift she was to squander recklessly. Many viewed her as the poor victim of Anne Boleyn’s scheming, a quiet, kindly, and pious woman. It should be noted that the English people cared not so much for her religious views as they did her parentage. She was the old king’s child and therefore, she should follow Edward to the throne. This loyalty to Mary’s dynastic claims was something she never fully understood. As queen, Mary was capable of both extreme affection and disdain for her English subjects.

With Jane declared queen, Mary fled to Norfolk. Though her closest friends advised against it, she soon decided to ride to London and stake her own claim to the throne. The people of London welcomed her ecstatically. Mary arrested Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley, though she displayed her typical leniency by not immediately executing them. When Jane’s fugitive father attempted to lead an uprising for her, Mary had him executed along with John Dudley. Jane and Guildford, however, remained in the Tower of London.

Biography of Mary Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots is perhaps the best known figure in Scotland’s royal history. Her life provided tragedy and romance, more dramatic than any legend.

She was born in 1542 a week before her father, King James V of Scotland, died prematurely.

It was initially arranged for Mary to marry the English King Henry VIII’s son Prince Edward however the Scots refused to ratify the agreement. None too pleased by this, Henry sought to change their mind through a show of force, a war between Scotland and England… the so called ‘Rough Wooing’. In the middle of this, Mary was sent to France in 1548 to be the bride of the Dauphin, the young French prince, in order to secure a Catholic alliance against Protestant England. In 1561, after the Dauphin, still in his teens, died, Mary reluctantly returned to Scotland, a young and beautiful widow.

Scotland at this time was in the throes of the Reformation and a widening Protestant – Catholic split. A Protestant husband for Mary seemed the best chance for stability. Mary fell passionately in love with Henry, Lord Darnley, but it was not a success. Darnley was a weak man and soon became a drunkard as Mary ruled entirely alone and gave him no real authority in the country.

Darnley became jealous of Mary’s secretary and favourite, David Riccio. He, together with others, murdered Riccio in front of Mary in Holyrood House. She was six months pregnant at the time.

Her son, the future King James VI of Scotland and I of England, was baptised in the Catholic faith in Stirling Castle. This caused alarm amongst the Protestants.

Lord Darnley, Mary’s husband, later died in mysterious circumstances in Edinburgh, when the house he was lodging in was blown up one night in February 1567. His body was found in the garden of the house after the explosion, but he had been strangled!

Mary Stuart and Lord Darnley

Mary had now become attracted to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, and rumours abounded at Court that she was pregnant by him. Bothwell was accused of Darnley’s murder but was found not guilty. Shortly after he was acquitted, Mary and Bothwell were married. The Lords of Congregation did not approve of Mary’s liaison with Bothwell and she was imprisoned in Leven Castle where she gave birth to still-born twins.

Bothwell meanwhile had bid Mary goodbye and fled to Dunbar. She never saw him again. He died in Denmark, insane, in 1578.

In May 1568 Mary escaped from Leven Castle. She gathered together a small army but was defeated at Langside by the Protestant faction. Mary then fled to England.

The abdication of Mary Queen of Scots in 1568

In England she became a political pawn in the hands of Queen Elizabeth I and was imprisoned for 19 years in various castles in England. Mary was found to be plotting against Elizabeth letters in code, from her to others, were found and she was deemed guilty of treason.

She was taken to Fotheringhay Castle and executed in 1587. It is said that after her execution, when the executioner raised the head for the crowd to see, it fell and he was left holding only Mary’s wig. Mary was intially buried at nearby Peterborough Cathedral.

Mary’s son became James I of England and VI of Scotland after Elizabeth’s death in 1603. Although James would have had no personal memories of his mother, in 1612 he had Mary’s body exhumed from Peterborough and reburied in a place of honour at Westminster Abbey. At the same time he rehoused Queen Elizabeth to a rather less prominent tomb nearby.

Mary with her son, later James I

Did the recent film, Mary Queen of Scot (2018) peak your interest in Queen Elizabeth’s archrival? Why not find out more in the ‘Mary Queen of Scots: Film Tie-In’ audiobook? Available for free via the Audible trial

Watch the video: Bloody Mary Mary I of England (January 2022).