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. Hi claire, i adore this site, bess deserved!!!
    About mary i think she had the best intentions but she had only 5 years,bess had much more time to fix a whole mistakes of her dinasty.i ‘ll add to you a text i translated about Mary in a special site of her,also a historian’s opinion of her given by Willian Durrant.

  2. The Kind Queen
    (a description about Mary’s triumph to be crowned the first queen of England and her first days as such)

    In August of 1553, Mary made a triumphal entry into London as the first woman to rule England(something that her father worked so hard to prevent). Besides her sister that gave her support, Princess Elizabeth and her stepmother Anne of Cleve’s.The people never felt so happy with a rise of a new monarch since Henry VIII, but that happened 40 years previous and the differences between Father and daughter were huge. Henry’s legitimacy was never challenged, Mary’s was. Henry didn’t dispute his throne, Mary did.Henry was 18 and very health boy, Mary was 37 and in ill health.Catholics and protestants were for the first time celebrating together the fact that Mary, Henry’s daughter would be the next monarch. Some say that to win the support of the protestant faction she claimed, not mention religion,”I’m Henry VIII’s daughter I have his blood, she has not!”.The festivities surrounding the fires,while people danced for days a Italian visitor commented that the city was “in lights”. Initially, Mary had tolerance for the protestants The funeral and burial of her brother, were awarded according to Edward’s faith. She allowed that, and wanted to have patience with the Protestant Archbishop Cranmer with Jane Gray and, if possible, with the John Dudley.But the Queen’s Privy Council was not willing to grant this kindness.

    The early days of reign were triumphant. She was shocked by the corruption that appeared in the administration. Ordered to cease the unbridled corruption.The Parliamentary elections were said by a contemporary as “cleaner since history is known as history.” The Queen gave a very good example by reducing the costs of the Royal House, ensuring the instability of the currency. Mary sharply reduced taxes, and reduced the rent lower than the expenditure, she created duties on imports of farm and tax imports of French wines. The measures that sought to help the poor, caused retraction trade. Mary limited the number of looms to one or two per person. She criticized the high bourgeoisie (rich merchants) to pay low wages to their employees.Unfortunately, the elements that surrounded her were not the best character and so Mary could not do that with his orders were fully met.

    The Queen was involved in social works, and was told that it was the custom to go in less favored areas of London to talk to the owners-of-home and help them as it could. Again to behave with restraint, Mary agreed to remain, for now, as Supreme Head of the Church of England. But their plans were not such. In her view, it would serve at least undesirable to ban the Protestant bishops of their positions. Again, Bonner was the Catholic bishop of London; Gardiner returned to the Bishopric of Winchester, and became a Queen’s Counsel. the catholic cult was now stimulated and the married priests were expelled from their parishes.
    On March 4, 1554, Catholicism was restored as the official religion of England, together with the Papal authority. As was also prohibited any Protestant movement. All this theological change did not result in the confusion than the marriage of Queen Mary. The Council, as the people, like an English consort and never a stranger. When she finally wed Mary Philip on March 6, 1554 – to consummate the marriage more than four months later – the Council and the people tremble. They feared that Spain involving, the neutral England, in conflicts against France.

    The country was revolted. The Duke of Suffolk (the father of Jane Grey, who had earlier obtained forgiveness) led a revolt in Warwickshire, Sir James Croft lead in Welsh, Peter Carew was the head of the people of Devonshire, and Sir Thomas Wyatt lead the revolt more, in Kent. All these senior members of the nobility had reason, beyond the wedding of the queen, to rebel. There were not a willing to return their land taken from the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the Church. All this apparently clever conspirators had a single error: trust his plans to Courtenay. The fact is that, at the behest of Mary, the bishop Gardiner watched closely this dangerous element. And to lie about any suspected Courtenay, it participated in a session of torture promoted by these horrible ways, he had to talk about the plans of his friends. So desperate, Suffolk, Croft, Carew and Wyatt raised arms against the Queen. Wyatt gathered an army of seven thousand men and put in the Squid in London. The people are way ported colluding with him, and the Council itself has not moved even a finger to ensure the integrity of the Queen. If it were not for the demonstration of courage by Mary I, her reign and her life probably would have ended up there. She was personally the Assembly divided, not knowing what to take from. Within her power of persuasion, she said: “I can not say as a mother can love a child because I was never a mother, but certainly, if a queen can love with the same naturalness and ardor her subjects as a mother to their children, with your lady and sovereign, love you with all tenderness and passion. ” His words were warmly applauded.

    The Board now your warranty support, so could collect 25,000 armed men in a day. Suffolk was arrested. Croft and Carew managed to escape. Wyatt came to the gates of the palace of Queen in Whitehall. The soldiers demanded that Mary flee, but she again showed courage and strength and denied. Wyatt was finally arrested and taken to the Tower of London. Mary’s council more than one time condemned her policy of clemency,she breathed relieved once again but now in a spirit completely broken, it is not the most kind queen.

  3. WILL DURAN defined Mary:
    “In relation to Mary I, can say a few complacent words . Pain,disease and many injustices suffered warp her spirit. Her leniency gave rise to the cruelty that conspiracies only after tried to deprive her Crown. Followed the advice of trust church, which has suffered persecution, sought revenge. By the end, I think, with those performances, was fulfilling its obligations to the religion that she loved as a reason for his own life. She doesn’t deserves the nickname of ” Blood Mary, “unless the adjective applied to all of her time; adjective that summarizes the character wrongly, since there was much to love. While it seems strange, it is notable she have taken forward the work of the father [Henry VIII], to separate England from Rome. She showed to the country that was still the worst feature of the Catholic church she served. When she died, England was more prepared than ever to accept the new faith that she strive to destroy.

  4. I always wondered if Mary did care about Elizabeth – she could have had her executed but never did, so what held her back? Perhaps she felt she had to follow the Act of Succession that Henry had set up? Mary must have known that Elizabeth had Protestant leanings, and might lead the country back that way. Thanks for setting up this site – now I have more uses for my computer!

  5. Yes, I’m not sure. I’m sure that Mary must have had some affection for Elizabeth, even if she was the whore/concubine’s daughter! They were said to have been close when they were growing up and they shared the same father. Perhaps Mary respected her father’s wish or perhaps she realised how dangerous it would be for her to actually execute Elizabeth for treason plus she never really had any hard evidence that Elizabeth instigated any plots, or was part of them, people used Elizabeth as a figurehead but was Elizabeth really involved? I’m sure that Mary knew Elizabeth’s religious stance, even though Elizabeth acted the true Catholic. It’s interesting that Mary suffered at the hands of Edward VI with her private masses being prohibited and feeling that her life was threatened, yet she treated Elizabeth in the same way. Elizabeth was really expecting to be executed when she was imprisoned in the Tower. It’s sad that families can treat each other like that, but I guess that the security of the throne comes first!

  6. Elizabeth enjoyed the protection of Mary’s Husband Philip, after they met at Hampton Court. Philip saw her a ‘spare’ if anything were to happen to Mary during childbirth. Even after the ‘pregnancy’ was over and done with, Elizabeth was still viewed as a likely match for one of Philip’s relations, or perhaps still even himself. This protection counteracted the pressure that people such as Gardener and Pole were constantly putting on the Queen to have her tried for treason. So the man who was later to become her greatest foe was actually her most important friend during the years leading up to her accession.

  7. Yes, Philip was definitely useful then! I have to laugh at the portrayal of Philip in the Cate Blanchett film because it’s how I imagine him. He’s just like the portrait of him and Mary I with his little spindly legs – so funny! How did he walk on those legs?!! Do you think the portrait was painted as a message against Philip? Afterall, shapely calves and legs were seen as beautiful in men weren’t they and Philip’s were nothing like Henry VIII’s amazing calves in his portraits!

    Sorry to go off at a tangent! I think you’re right about Elizabeth being a “spare” for Philip, marrying her would mean that he could keep a grip on England, so it was in his interests to keep her safe and well.

  8. Thanks for all your input. But now I’ve got another question: why would Philip think that Elizabeth would ever want to marry him? Wasn’t his marriage to Mary unpopular with the nobility and people of England? I must say, he is not the most appealing looking guy, especially in his portrait with Mary, and I agree with Claire that Henry’s legs were far better looking LOL!

  9. Never have I been a hater of Elizabeth, but the kingdom Elizabeth got was far less destroyed than the kingdom Mary got. You thought Elizabeth’s kingdom was split apart ? Mary’s whole kingdom was still in extreme peril from Edwards chaos, he instilled pure Protestantism into a land still mostly Catholic, diminished the currency by as much as half, parliament and the royal council were split into several factions, and debts were at their highest ever seen because of Edward Seymour and John Dudley, there were more poor people in England as well because of the further destruction of church lands. Not only did did Mary make England’s money solvent again, making it of worth again in the European market which kickstarted trade again and lowered the number of the poor (because everything used to cost so much and now merchants once again had work). Mary also helped rid of most ‘political’ factions in council and parliament (the number shrunk to 2 parties: Catholics and Protestants). Mary repealed nearly all of the useless and self serving laws Edward put into place which strengthened the throne, and by marrying Philip (although it caused more unrest than peace) had extreme political advantages; like steady income from the richest nation in Europe and if they would have had children they would inherent the most powerful nation. England was also in an extremely large religious ball of confusion…the nation was nearly 60-70% Catholic and when Edward got the throne he only further confused the religious identity of the country many Catholics had to adopt a totally different radical theology, although it eventually made her ‘unpopular’,the burnings served as help to find the national identity religiously and it did rid of many Protestants increasing the Catholic population…but as everyone knows Mary died and when Elizabeth got the throne the country was basically split into a religious compromise which helped that situation. In reality the England Elizabeth got was far better than the one Mary got. Yes Calais was lost but later that only proved to be an advantage to Elizabeth because all continental holdings were just giant economical trash cans.

  10. 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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

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