Mary I Facts

As it is Mary I’s birthday today – Happy 494th Birthday Mary! – I thought it would be good to do a bio or factfile on this much maligned Queen:-

Mary I Facts

  • Birth: In the early hours of Monday the 18th February 1516.
  • Birthplace: The Palace of Placentia, Greenwich, London.
  • Father: Henry VIII, King of England and son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
  • Mother: Catherine of Aragon (also spelled Katherine) or Catalina de Aragon, Queen Consort of Henry VIII and daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile.
  • Brothers and sisters: Mary’s older brother Henry was born in January 1511 but died 52 days after his birth. Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, had at least 4 other pregnancies which resulted in miscarriages or stillbirths. Mary also had halfbrothers and sisters through her father Henry VIII: Henry Fitzroy the Duke of Richmond (by Bessie Blount), Elizabeth I (by Anne Boleyn) and Edward VI (by Jane Seymour). It is also rumoured that Henry had other illegitimate children including Mary Boleyn’s son and daughter, Henry and Catherine Carey.

  • Appearance: The Venetian ambassador, Gasparo Spinelli, wrote of Mary in 1527 when she was 11, saying: “Her beauty in this array produced such an effect on everybody that all other marvellous sights… were forgotten and they gave themselves up solely to contemplation of so fair an angel” and he also spoke of her “silver tresses as beautiful as ever seen on human head.” Linda Porter, in her biography on Mary, writes of how this description is “perhaps overstated”, unless Mary’s hair had been dressed in some way as she actually had auburn hair. The French Count of Turenne described Mary as “too thin, spare and small” to be married soon. Porter writes of how many sources agree that she had a beautiful complexion and that Mario Savagnano described Mary in 1531 as “not tall, [she] has a pretty face, and is well-proportioned, with a very beautiful complexion.”
    In 1540, the French ambassador wrote that Mary “looks not past 18 or 20, although she is 24” and also mentioned that she resembled her father and laughed and spoke like him, although she had a deeper voice.
    Although we think of Mary as dumpy and unfashionable, Linda Porter argues that Mary was actually a fashion trendsetter and loved the French fashions that were around when she was in her 20s.
  • Education: In 1531, Mario Savagno wrote that Mary “speaks Latin, French and Spanish, besides her own mother-English tongue and is well-grounded in Greek and understands Italian but does not venture to speak it. She sings excellently and plays on several musical instruments, so that she combines every accomplishment.”
    Linda Porter writes of how both Mary’s parents took a keen interest in Mary’s education and that her education followed “the precepts of the leading thinkers of the day” and that it “was at the cutting edge of Renaissance theory.” By the age of 4, she could play the virginals and went on to learn the regal and lute. She was said to excel at dancing, a pastime she really enjoyed, and, as stated above, she was quite a linguist.
    Mary’s tutors included Henry Rowle (her chaplain), Dr Richard Fetherstone, Giles Duwes and probably the humanist scholar Thomas Linacre. Catherine of Aragon instructed Mary in Latin and introduced her to the works of Juan Luis Vives, the Spanish humanist.
  • Princess of Wales: In 1525, Henry VIII decided to make Mary Princess of Wales and send her to her own household in the Welsh Marches.
  • From Princess to Lady: In 1533, Henry VIII finally married Anne Boleyn. His marriage to Catherine of Aragon was annulled and Catherine was made Dowager Princess of Wales and Mary was made illegitimate. She lost the title of Princess and became “The Lady Mary”. When Henry and Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth, was born in September 1533, Mary was sent to Princess Elizabeth’s household to attend her half-sister.
  • Restored to Succession: Henry VIII restored both his daughters to the succession in his will of 1547. He named Edward as his heir, followed by Mary and then Elizabeth.
  • Mary I Becomes Queen: Mary became Queen Mary I in July1553 after deposing Lady Jane Grey who had been proclaimed Queen after Edward VI’s death on 6th July 1553. On the 24th July, after being declared the true Queen of England, Mary left her safe house at Framlingham heading, with her supporters, for London. Mary made her formal and triumphant entry into London on 30th September 1553 and was crowned Queen Mary I at Westminster Abbey on 1st October.
  • Nickname: Bloody Mary due to her persecution of Protestants. “Heretics” burned by Mary’s regime include John Rogers, Bishops Latimer and Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer. It is thought that around 280 Protestants were killed in Mary I’s five year reign compared to the 72,000 people executed in Henry VIII’s reign (an average of around 1,800 a year) so perhaps the Bloody Mary name is unfair.
  • Reign: Mary sought to bring England back to Rome by repealing all of the Protestant legislation of Edward VI’s reign. She also introduced an act undoing the annulment of her parents’ marriage and making it valid. Although Mary’s reign has often been seen as a disaster, in comparison to her half-sister’s Golden Age, Linda Porter: “her successes foreshadowed the achievements generally associated with Elizabeth. She encouraged commerce and exploration, overhauled the tax system and saved England’s navy from rotting in the country’s ports. Had she lived longer, she might have achieved still more. Only her premature death, at the age of 42 made it easy for her critics to represent her reign as an aberration.”
    It seems sad that her 4 year reign is known for the execution of Lady Jane Grey, the burning of Protestants and the loss of Calais.
  • Marriage: At the tender age of 2 and a half, Mary was betrothed to the Dauphin of France, but this betrothal was broken just a few years later. In 1522 Mary became betrothed to her cousin Charles V, but again this was broken off. Mary finally married King Philip II of Spain on 25th July 1554, aged 38, at Winchester Cathedral. Mary died just 4 years later.
  • Children: None. On 18th September 1554, it was announced at the imperial court that Mary I was pregnant but it turned out to be a false pregnancy. Later, in 1557, it was thought that the Queen was pregnant but it was a false alarm again.
  • Motto: Truth, the daughter of time (Veritas temporis filia) – ironic considering that the Bloody Mary image has prevented many from searching for the real truth about this Queen.
  • Death: Mary I died on the 17th November 1558 at St James’s Palace, aged 42, after contracting the virus which killed many of her subjects in the epidemic of 1558 and 1559. At 6am on the 17th November, Mary heard mass and then died peacefully at around 7am.
  • Successor: Mary’s coronation ring was taken to her half-sister, Elizabeth, at Hatfield and she was proclaimed Elizabeth I of England.
  • Resting Place: After a royal funeral, Mary I was alid to rest at Westminster Abbey. In 1603, James I erected a lavish monument over the vault which contained the coffins of Mary and Elizabeth. The tomb lacks an effigy of Mary but the plaque reads: “Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we, two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of the resurrection.”
  • Views of Mary I: Linda Porter writes of how Mary’s name was blackened in Elizabeth I’s name and that it is John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs” that is mainly responsible for the Bloody Mary image. However, according to Porter, attempts to soften her image have tended to make her into “a sad little woman who would have been better off as the Tudor equivalent of a housewife” and this is just as wrong as the Bloody Mary image because “to dismiss her life as nothing more than a personal tragedy is both patronising and mistaken.”

I love Linda Porter’s conclusion to her book:-

“One of the main themes of Mary’s existence is the triumph of determination over adversity. She lived in a violent, intolerant age, surrounded by the intrigues of a time when men and women gambled their lives for advancement at court. Deceit, like ambition, was endemic among the power-seekers of mid-Tudor England who passed, in procession, through her life. Pride, stubbornness and an instinct for survival saw her through tribulations that would have destroyed a lesser woman. Her bravery put her on the throne and kept her there, so that when she died she was able to bequeath to Elizabeth a precious legacy that is often overlooked: she had demonstrated that a woman could rule in her own right.”

Yes, Elizabeth’s reign was a glorious Golden Age but Mary I helped pave the way by showing that a woman could be Queen, she was the rule-breaker and trendsetter, and left Elizabeth something to build on. As David Loades says:-

“Mary was England’s first ruling queen, a political pioneer who established the precedent that the gender of the monarch made no difference to the powers or the prerogatives of the Crown.”


11 thoughts on “Mary I Facts

  1. Great overview of Mary I. I’ve always felt a sense of empathy for Mary. Her life and role as the first official Queen of England is overshadowed by the great bookends, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. While I shy away from making historical figures into sympatheic characters, Mary’s infamous epithet, “Bloody Mary” is a misnomer. Claire, you are right by noting her father killed far more people than Mary, yet he is remember a “Bluff King Hal.” One of the issues at hand is optics. History is written by the winners, and unfortunatley for Mary, her rule and memory suffered because of it.
    David Loades wrote a great book entitled “Mary Tudor: A Life.” While it’s a bit dated, Loades does position Mary as a falliable person who was out of touch with what England and her people had become. The Catholic country she was born into did not exist anymore, and her treatment of Protestants shocked many English people. Loades also noted that the mass burnings of heretics was more accepted in Spain than England. How true that is, I am not sure.
    Although, books like Linda Porter’s gives me hope that all the interesting Tudor figures will be given their time in the limelight. Regardless of how I feel about historical figures, personally, I love reading about the 16th century, and the interesting religious and political era that changed English history forever.

  2. Hi Candice,
    Thanks for your comment. I do think it is very unfair that Mary is known as “Bloody Mary” and Henry VIII and “Bluff King Hal” or “Good King Hal”. I’m not excusing Mary for what she did but it does seem a case of double standards!
    I enjoyed the David Loades article on Mary from the BBC History Magazine and I loved his Six Wives book so I’m sure I’d enjoy his book on Mary, thanks for the recommendation. I do think Mary was mentally damaged by the treatment she received at the hands of her father and she was rather fanatical about her faith but then so was her father and many people of that time. I suspect that she really felt that she was doing God’s work by ridding the world of evil heretics. I would highly recommend Linda Porter’s book, it’s a great read and is very detailed.

  3. Thank you for the very well done view on Mary. I have always had a soft spot for her as I felt she git the short end of the stick. She went through so much to stay alive and to get to be Queen. She was not perfect and only wanted the best for her people, yes she made mistakes but then so did her father and her sister. Happy Birthday Mary!

  4. I think she has suffered from an image problem, because writers tend to want black and white heroes and villains. She has been painted as very black indeed, as a consequence, and probably this is unfair. Like all tyrants she probably started out with good intentions, but became corrupted by power and the pressure of leadership, for which she was not at all well prepared or suited. Difficult, however, to feel sympathy for her.

  5. From what I understand Katherine of Aragon was almost born on a battlefield and experienced not long after the introduction of the inquisition in Spain by espcially her mother Isabella. Although from a veryr young age Katherine was bethrothed to Arthur and considered heself to be Queen of England it was in her mid teens that she actually went there. From what again I can see from the “Reyes Catolicos”, anything Islaam was considered to be heretical, including washing and the preparing of vegetables which is why I feel Phillipa Gregory’s novel “The Constant Princess” to be a lovely novel, but that was it. However, Katherine was warned not to drink the water in England but to go for the mead and wine insstead. According to Alison Weir, she did introduce “salad” but a hot varierty.

    Her grandmothet, on the maternal side, was considerde to be mad (probably suffering from post natal depression) and Katherine’s sister Juana (Joan) who married Philip the `Handsome of Hapsburg was out of her head so there was some sort of taint in the blood.

    When Katherine married Henry, despite a number of miscarriages, a healthy daughter, Mary, was born and she was very well looked after and given an extremely good education. She possibly did not have the intelligence of her younger sister or brother, but certainly was highly educated far above her station.

    Proposed marriages both to the Dauphin of France and Philip of Hapsburg (son of Jioan and Philip the Handsome) came to nothing bui it seems that she lived a happy childhood and even accepetd her bastard brother, the Duke of Richmond.

    It was when H8 turned against her beloved mother whom she highly defended, that her character seemed to have changed but under all that physoclogical pressure/torture, I wonder if any one would come out unscathed.

    From being no. 1, she became villified and seemed to find only consolation in her religion BUT it was one of her ex’s and cousin, “Philip of Habsburg” who encouraged her to accept her new position which she did not like.

    That must have changed her mentally and physically and until her brother’s death she was constantly hounded with very little love given from anyone/where.

    However being H8’s daughter the common people supported her claim to the throne after EVI’s death and it seemed to be her intention to go slowly as far as returning to the old faith was concerned.

    However, despite her age, she was a “catch” for her cousin’s son, Philip of Spain with whom she fell head over heels in love despite not having seeing him.

    Philp wanted control of England not realising that his wife could be stubborn, BUT, there was the subject of the return to the old faith and as time went on Mary introduced her grandmother’s “auto de fe·s” although not on such a grand level which is why she received the nickname of “Boody Mary”.

    Poor woman was a victim of circumstance. Edward VI, being so young was also. At least Elizabeth, at a tender age, knew how the winds could change – saw the reigns of her two siblings, and learnt a lot from their errors.

    Mary is to be pitied more than hated I think.

  6. I think tht Mary was hated a lot! because if you think about it she did not kill as many people as her husband or her father! .. and protestants are bound to not say nice things! So you need to look at different resources not just one!

  7. fadrid, Mary did not kill thousands of people, 284 protestants were burnt at the stake during her reign, so that’s a pretty far cry from thousands of people.

  8. This is very interesting!!!!!!! But…. do people really believe this? I mean I… er she might have had a good reason to be doing this, don’t you think? You need to find facts and see what Mary left behind. gtg bye.

  9. Dear Farbid; no she did not kill over 1000 people! She actually did not kill anyone. Her heresy laws may have resulted in the deaths of 283 people for heresy and other political treasons but there were no mass killings; even the Wyatt rebellion resulted in less than 100 executions in total and most of those were for treason. She pardoned many of the leaders who stole her throne and it was only when they rebelled a second time and again threatened her and the peace of the realm that through their own choices that they were justly executed. No other monarch pardoned those who led risings against them. She was criticised for being too lenient, but she did not want to start her reign with a bloodbath. Foxe exaggerated much of what he wrote about the martyrs and his woodcuts were published just after her death, so put the legend of Bloody Mary onto the pages of history. You need to read more about her first and not make hysterical claims about her.

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