Mary I’s Legacy

Elizabeth I was the third of Henry VIII’s children to reign over England, following in the footsteps of her step-siblings Edward VI and Mary I, and although she must have been ecstatic to receive what was rightly hers she must also have been incredibly apprehensive.


Because England was in a pretty bad way.

The vast fortune that Henry VII had left his son, Henry VIII (Elizabeth’s father), had been spent by Henry on his famous palaces and fortifications, on his court and household, and on financing his wars.

Even though he had seized money from dissolving the monasteries, Henry VIII died in debt. He had, however, accomplished great feats during his reign including the formation of the English Navy.

Edward VI never really reigned because he did not survive long enough to take over from the Regency Council. However, his reign is known for the social unrest and violence of 1549, for its economic problems, for the establishment of a completely Protestant Church of England and for the military defeats in both France and Scotland which added to England’s economic woes. When Mary I acceded to the throne, after removing Lady Jane Grey, England was not in good health and her reign brought it to its knees, to wrack and ruin.

So what was Mary I’s legacy?

The England of 1558

Although there is much to admire in Mary I – her energy, her principles, her detemination and the fact that she was the first woman to rule England in her own right, her reign is associated with cruelty, persecution and unpopularity.

The Introduction of Alison Weir’s “Elizabeth the Queen” is a brilliant description of the England that Elizabeth was inheriting. In just 5 short years, Mary I had damaged the country seemingly beyond repair. How?

  • England had huge debts – The government owed the incredible amount of £266,000!
  • Mary I had turned the country back to Catholicism, causing divisions and unrest, particularly as she had reintroduced the heresy laws and burned around 300 “heretic” protestants.
  • Mary I had famously lost Calais to the French – Calais was the last outpost of England’s empire. Mary is said to have commented: “When I am dead and opened, you shall find “Calais” lying in my heart”.
  • Mary I had caused unrest and bad feeling my marrying King Philip of Spain and supporting his foreign wars with England’s money.
  • England’s alliance with Spain put the country at threat from France who were uniting with Scotland.
  • England had no money, arms or munitions left to defend itself with if France attacked.
  • People were in poverty – There were no longer monasteries to help the poor and many country people were being evicted as landowners turned arable land to pasture in an effort to earn money in the wool trade.

This was the England that was awaiting Elizabeth as she was declared Queen on Mary’s death on 17th November 1558. How on earth did she turn the country round and become known for heralding in England’s famous “Golden Age”?

This blog will explore Elizabeth’s reign and the woman that she was and provide the answer to that question.

14 thoughts on “Mary I’s Legacy

  1. I think Mary’s tragedy is the fact that she had allowed England to become a vassal of Spain, obviously she loved her mothers country and after the misery she suffered in England all through her fathers treatment of her she probably leant more towards Spain than the country of her natural birth, she allowed the inquisition over here and many people were needlessly murdered, they sound a bit like the nazis, they murdered Jewish children so did Mary’s beloved inquisition, and pregnant women to, had she loved England more and acted more merciful her reign would have been seen as a success, sadly it wasn’t to be, she was very emotional and let her heart rule her head, the burning of the Protestants made her feared and hated ever since then the heirs to the throne have been excluded from marrying a catholic, she could have been popular the people had loved her mother and had their support over her divorce, Mary was held in affection yet she turned them from her, she had had such a sad life yet when she seized power she acted like a tyrant, it is said that Henry V111 never lost the affection of his people even after all the things he had done, they forever remembered him as a handsome cheerful prince and whose charm had won them over, Elizabeth 1st had his gift but Mary tragically did not and although I do feel sorry for her unhappy childhood most of it stems from her blatant disobedience to her father, she could have just secretly supported her mother in her heart and mind but still acted dutifully towards Henry, I think both Katherine and Mary were foolish women, Mary was just a child at the time but as I said in an earlier post you couldn’t win with Henry, when Jane Grey was crowned Queen the country rallied to Mary’s support which shows how much they loved her, she had good qualities she was brave and said to be kind and loved children, how then could she have ruined it all by marrying Philip and allowing the inquisition over here? She made a dreadful mistake and Philip left her during their marriage preferring to live abroad, he certainly did not love her or his adopted country, her story is very sad but even sadder are the murdered souls of those poor victims who were all burnt alive in the name of Catholicism.

  2. I have a question.How did Mary 1 make money? As Elizabeth 1 made money by robbing Spanish ships and colonies, how did Mary1 make money?

  3. Mary I didn’t leave England in poverty and bankrupt. Neither Edward or Mary had the revenue to call upon that their father did, and yet England economic recovery was well underway when Elizabeth came to the throne. Neither was the conversation back to the Catholic Faith unpopular, because the majority of people were Catholic. It was the Reformation which was unpopular and the fact that Masses were being said in London before Mary even arrived and women queued up to be Churched speaks volumes. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of religious persecution, Mary’s religious reconciliation wasn’t unpopular.

    Mary wasn’t daft either, she knew her marriage to Philip was controversial which is why she was careful to negotiate a treaty which greatly benefitted England economically regarding trade and restricted Philips role in politics. England benefitted greatly through access to Dutch and Flanders trade and the opposition was to do with anti Spanish xenophobia rather than Philip himself. I recommend the scholarship of Alexander Sampson on this matter.

    Mary set out to bring trade routes via Russia and Islam, both of which were expanded under Elizabeth I. She reorganised naval finances and the economy and did much for the poor. Mary looked to enhance new opportunities in trade and with considerable success. Her alliance with Spain was the most sensible option available. In fact England won a great victory at Saint Quentin the year before the so called lamented loss of Calais. The loss of Calais was at the very end of her reign and was inevitable. Calais was our last and oldest foothold on French soil but it was also extremely expensive to maintain and draining on the economy. The chances are that it would have been handed over soon anyway.

    Mary also gained the rights to bigger and better warships, building three prototypes which later Elizabeth was forced to neuralize in order to revamp the navy. The foundation of much of what Elizabeth later achieved and used to great effect she took from Mary. The gender free authority of the crown was established by Mary and she also made that authority respected again. Elizabeth would of course do this to great effect through fashion and portraits and propaganda. Mary’s own use of education and tracts was very successful. However, both Edward and Mary were on the throne for a short period of time and their achievements were hidden by the long reign of Elizabeth I.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *