The Myth of Bloody Mary

Apologies for the rather inflammatory headline but I do like to be controversial! I’ve purposely used the misleading nickname that history has given Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, a title that is still being used today in the new London Dungeon’s Exhibition “Bloody Mary: Killer Queen”.

On this day, 457 years after Mary was informed that the Privy Council had proclaimed her Queen Mary I, I’d like to challenge that nickname.

The Myth of Bloody Mary

This title really does get on my nerves. By nicknaming Mary I “Bloody Mary”, we are completely misunderstanding her, maligning her, perpetuating the myths about her and not giving her the credit she deserves for her reign and for paving the way for Elizabeth I’s Golden Age. When I went to the London Dungeon Bloody Mary exhibition webpage, my blood really began to boil as I read the following on Mary I:-


Bloody Mary, the deadliest daughter of Henry VIII is ruthlessly ridding the country of heretics.

In her eyes there is only one faith and all those who believe otherwise must be punished. No one is safe from persecution – men, women and children are all suspect in the eyes of Bloody Mary.

Feel the force of her wrath, the heat of the flames and the intensity of Mary’s obsession!”

It goes on to describe what you’ll experience if you visit the exhibition:-

“What you’ll experience

  • Watch as Bloody Mary punishes non believers
  • Frightening fire
  • Punishment and persecution
  • Horrid smells
  • Hair raising silence”


(banned London Dungeon Bloody Mary advert)

Now, I do have a sense of humour (really I do!) and I’m all up for a bit of fun and for making history accessible and interesting, but I do feel that this gives a very misleading picture of Mary. I am not justifying what she did, she did order the executions of many heretics and it is clear that she was a very damaged woman, BUT compare her reign to her father’s and it is clear to see who really deserves the nickname “Bloody”.

Was Mary “Bloody”?

In an article on The Daily Telegraph website last week entitled Anti-Catholic junk history II: Mary I killed 284, Henry VIII up to 72,000 – but it’s ‘Bloody Mary’ and ‘Bluff King Hal’, Gerald Warner argued that Protestant propaganda has misrepresented history and that the London Dungeon’s promotion of “junk history” regarding Mary I stems from the blackening of Mary’s name in Protestant Elizabethan England. Very true. He goes on to say that according to John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”, a Protestant book, Mary I was responsible for the burning of 284 heretics during her reign whereas, according to Holinshed’s Chronicle, Henry VIII was responsible for 72,000 executions, two of them being his wives! Warner also points out that during Edward VI’s reign 5,500 Cornish Catholic rebels were massacred in the Prayer Book Rebellion. So, let’s do some calculations and divide those numbers of deaths by the number of years of their reigns:-

  • Henry VIII – 72,000 divided by 37 years (I’m being kind) = 1945.94
  • Edward VI – 5,500 divided by 6 years = 916.66
  • Mary I – 284 divided by 5 years = 56.8

Now, I know that this doesn’t give us a full picture because Mary’s and Edward’s figures don’t take into account other executions, but I think it is clear that Mary wasn’t quite as bloody as people make out.

Some of you may argue that Mary was “Bloody” because she killed for religious reasons instead of killing rebels, people who challenged her throne, but then you could argue that Mary saw Protestants as traitors, both to England and to God. To understand Mary I, we have to take into account the context of Tudor England, the religious divisions that existed, and Mary’s beliefs. Just like Thomas More before her, she believed that Protestants were heretics and that it was her job as a true believer to rid England of this evil. Linda Porter, in “Mary Tudor: The First Queen”, points out also that many members of the public were not executed on Mary’s orders but were rounded up and burned by their local authorities, a valid point. I’m not justifying what she did, I hate what she did in God’s name, I’m simply trying to understand the woman.

Historical Illiteracy

In Warner’s article, he accuses London Dungeon of  “perpetuating anti-Catholic mythology”,which I think is an unfair accusation as I can’t imagine that London Dungeon were aiming to be anti-Catholic in any way, but I do agree with Warner when he says that “the root problem is historical illiteracy”. By perpetuating myths about historical characters we are doing them an injustice and causing people to learn bad history. We have Elizabeth Woodville the witch or Melusina, Richard III the murdering hunchback, Anne Boleyn the six-fingered whore and witch, Catherine Howard the tart… the list goes on and it is time to challenge these labels and stereotypes and teach people proper history, the truth behind the stereotypes and myths.

The Real Mary I

For those of you who want to know more about the real Mary I, I would heartily recommend Linda Porter’s “Mary Tudor: The First Queen” which I reviewed at Porter’s Mary I is not “Bloody Mary”, but, as the blurb on the back of the book says, “a cultured Renaissance princess, strong-willed and courageous”. Remember, this woman was able to become monarch in a time when females were not meant to rule, she was able to rally troops, challenge Lady Jane Grey and win the crown, and she squashed rebellions successfully during her five year reign. Let’s stop calling her “Bloody Mary” and let’s not make the mistake of seeing her as a pathetic puppet of her husband, Philip of Spain, but instead we should give her credit for her achievements:-

“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.” Linda Porter, Mary Tudor: The First Queen.

In a BBC History Magazine article, David Loades lists Mary I’s achievements as:-

  • Mary I preserved the Tudor succession
  • She strengthened the position of Parliament by using it for her religious settlement
  • She established the “gender free” authority of the crown
  • She restored and strengthened the administrative structure of the church
  • She maintained the navy and reformed the militia

He concludes that “Parliament, the revenues, the navy, even the church benefited from her policies. But the big beneficiary was also the least grateful – Elizabeth. Without her sister’s enlightened legislation and sound administration she would have had a much harder time.”

Mary I’s Struggle for the Throne

You can find out more about Mary I’s struggle for the throne in July 1553 in a wonderful series of posts at littlemisssunnydale’s blog “Mary Tudor: Renaissance Queen”, starting with Monday 3 July 1553: Mary Must Act

Notes and Sources

  • Mary Tudor: The First Queen byLinda Porter
  • “Anti-Catholic junk history II: Mary I killed 284, Henry VIII up to 72,000 – but it’s ‘Bloody Mary’ and ‘Bluff King Hal'” by Gerald Warner
  • The Bloody Queen by David Loades – BBC History Magazine, March 2006
  • London Dungeon website

46 thoughts on “The Myth of Bloody Mary

  1. I feel sorry for Mary Tudor, the girl and woman, but the burnings were so terrible and such crude revenge – like Cranmer, for example – that London and Oxford never forgot. The stench of what she did – burning people “to save their souls” makes as much sense as bombing for peace! – still permeates Protestant souls to this day. I could never be a Catholic knowing that.

  2. Hi Fiz,
    I agree with you about Cranmer, there definitely was some revenge involved in his death, and the burnings were horrific, but what about Edward VI and the massacre of the Cornish Catholics or Henry VIII and the Pilgrimage of Grace? They were horrific too. I really don’t want to get into a Protestant V Catholic battle here because I think we all agree that Christianity is about love, not brutality, and God’s name should never be used to justify murder. God must be forever weeping at what we do in his name.

  3. Absolutely superb post Claire and really enjoyed it. Very refreshing to see people like you who are prepared to look past these myths and stereotypes and present another point of view. I agree with you entirely about Mary’s reputation being unjustified to a degree. I was just thinking about her this morning funnily enough, and thinking that in many ways she is to be admired for her courage in defying her father and standing up to him for her principles and in defence for how badly he treated her mother. Warner’s article raises some interesting points, though I don’t agree with all of his points, but Henry is not the ‘merry monarch’ so many people still seem to assume he is, and Mary is nothing like as black as she is painted. When you begin to understand the woman, you can begin to understand why she acted as she did, but not condone it.

  4. Well, I bought the DVD “The twisted tale of Bloody mary” and I most say the whole beginning is badly done (Anne Boleyn is a idiot on the scaffold) but when Mary I comes in the movie it is brilliant.
    You see another Mary than the “Bloody one” we all know from the legends.
    I see a very damaged woman in that movie , and shure she burned people but think about her live and you understaind a lot of her behavior , she was so sad .
    I recomend this movie to everybody (skip the Anne part please hahaha), its well done I think.
    Sorry for my English but to speak and listen to English is not so difficult than writing it hahaha.

  5. Great post there Claire, always great to read another point of view on the traditionally held assumption that Mary was a ‘bloody’ monarch. Will have to add the Linda Porter book to my ever-expanding ‘to read’ list…

    On another note… that advert is terrifying 🙁

  6. What you say is fair and just, Claire, and provides an excellent balance to the more idiotic and opportunist comments made by people like those in charge of publicity at the Dungeon. But what it is difficult to forgive Mary for is her continual acquiescence before the Church and its increasingly fanatical and vengeful tendencies as it gradually began to regain ground during her reign. She let the interests of the Spanish rule over those of her own people, and allowed the papal legate Cardinal Pole to impose what was more or less an Inquisition in England to rival that of Spain and the incredibly barbaric cruelties inflicted on, say, the people of the Netherlands – who were under Spanish occupation at the time.

    As for Bluff King Hal. Yes, of course he was a horrid tyrant. But he also happened to be holding the reigns of power as England went through its greatest and most difficult social transformation from a feudal society to a Renaissance nation, and it was not an easy business negotiating that change – driven as it was by the realities of scientific discovery and geographical expansion. These are what drove the religious Reformation every bit as much as Henry’s love for Anne andthe whole thing inevitably resulted in a lot of unrest and conflict. The huge figure of 72 thousand deaths for which he is said to have been responsible includes those who were dispatched as a result of military campaigns and revolts over the years, along with those convicted of treason.

    Mary’s victims, on the other hand, included children, pregnant women and the blind – simple men and women for the most part whose only crime, in some cases, was being unable or unwilling to list the sacraments or else to have been found in possession of a book of prayer in English instead of Latin. They died dreadful deaths by burning – a slow and lingering death. The euphemism at the time of ‘lighting a candle for the pope’ was not merely metaphorical. Often, in rural communities and in the hands of unskilled and incompetent executioners, the victims would burn like candles for hours.

    So lets please not become too dewy-eyed over poor Mary. Yes, she was an unfortunate woman, badly treated and psychologically damaged. The task given to her to run the country in 1553 would have overwhelmed the best of men, let alone a poor woman completely unprepared and unsuited for the task. But, at the end of the day, she was cruel more often than she needed to be. She became vindictive and possibly quite mad, especially during her final years of power, and her Council were responsible for some dreadful errors of judgement that caused immense and entirely unnecessary suffering to its own people.

  7. I completely agree with what you say, Robert, and she was needlessly cruel, but I think this tag of “Bloody Mary” and advertising campaigns like that of the London Dungeon are completely misleading and result in bad history and people never getting past that label, stereotype and myth. I can’t abide what she did and the way she let Spain dominate England like that, but she was not the only monarch capable of atrocities, look at Henry and the executions of Margaret Pole and Anne Askew, and the treatment of the people during the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the Cornish rebels in Edward’s time, and yet Mary is the one that is always vilified. I suppose we see the deaths of her reign as more atrocious because she justified them with religion and because burning was so horrible, and perhaps because she was a woman too, not sure!
    Anyway, I’m not arguing with you Robert, because I completely agree with you and my Mary is a very damaged woman who let bitterness and hate take a hold of her. I just want people to get past the myth and look at her reign in a more objective way, and perhaps I like causing controversy too!!

  8. Claire, I have long thought, as does my husband, that Henry VIII was England’s most wicked
    king. And I don’t want a pro/anti Catholic Argument.

  9. Hear, hear! It’s about time that someone adressed “Bloody” Queen Mary I, as well as the other historic labels. You are absolutely right about Henry VIII ultimately being responsible for more deaths yet being looked upon more favoribly. This is not even the only case of this happening in history. If you ask your average person who they believe to be the more evil dictator of the past few hundred years, most will reply Adolf Hitler over Joseph Stalin as Hitler is the one you hear most about due to the Holocaust. But while Hitler was responsible for the deaths of approximately 11 million (Jews and other “undesirables”), Stalin slew between 40 and 60 million of his own countrymen. As in the case of Henry and Mary, we really need to abandon pre-concieved notions and just let the numbers speak for themselves.

  10. Personally, I don’t like labels – Alexander was probably not “the great” to the people he conquered, I doubt Ivan “the terrible” was worse than most czars, and Mary was not “bloody” in comparison with the other Tudors. Rob, I don’t think there is a good way to kill someone – all over the world people have done horrible things to one another in the name of religion, political, racial, or economic reasons. I think historians should help us understand the causes and the reasons for a person’s actions, as well as putting their actions into the context of when they lived and how those actions effected others.

  11. Hi Claire, i loved your post on Mary I, you said everything.
    Mary doesn’t deserve this title, unless we can add it on the others absolut kings and queens of her time. It’s like all the things she did in good of England was erased by the marian persecutions.

  12. It was not so much “Bloody Mary” as “Bloody Tudors.” They were all mass murderers. Life was very cheap. They were collectively the Stalins or Hitlers of their day.
    The Murder of Queen Jane Gray, (who had been legitamately declared Queen under the laws of succession of the day) turned the people of London, sickened by the blood of the early Tudors, against her. The use of burning on religeous opponents was an act of gross barbarism, even by the standards of the day, leading many to dispise her.
    Elizabeth 1st was little better in her early years, but she won a war against the Spanish (Thanks to the Weather) and the people forgave her earlier behavior.
    As the Chinese curse is reputed to say
    “May you live in interesting times.”
    These were very interesting times.

  13. i love mary tudor. The reason why she killed all the people is because she was treated very badly as a child. and when someone who is treated bad as a child they are messed up in the head. henry VIII divorce mary’s mother to be with a witch and that was just wrong. just b/c henry couldnt have a son with catherine. that dont mean divorce the wife and marry another. i dont approve of what henry did to his true rightful wife and queen catherine and his daughter mary…. if all that mess would not have happened mary would not have killed so many people trying to bring back the country to the TRUE faith.

    1. I think the Marian burnings were more to do with Mary’s faith than her childhood. Just like Thomas More, she viewed heretics as spawn of the Devil and saw her job as monarch to rid England of such evil. I don’t approve of Henry’s treatment of many of his wives but Anne Boleyn was no witch and I believe that the Reformation in England would have happened whether Henry VIII had annulled his marriage to Catherine or not, just look at France and the problems they had with religion.

  14. I visited the London Dungeon last year and thought the Mary section of the tour somewhat biased. I don’t think this was anti-catholic but just the nature of the attraction to consentrate on the horrifc aspects of history. When Mary became Queen she believed that God had allowed her to truimph in order to bring England back to the Catholic faith. But at thirtyeight with a history of ill health and menstrual problems she knew time was against her. I believe this is why she became so militant in the burning of heretics, perhaps if she had become Queen as a younger and healthier woman she would have not have felt the need to persucute to such extremes. There was a documentary on this year that put forward the theory that given the symptoms of Mary’s illness that she may have had a brain tumour that effected her actions. The same documentary pointed out that it was after his jousting accident, in which he likely suffered brain damage, that Henry became increasingly more ruthless.

  15. Bravo. Finally an educated person. I lived in England and was an Oxford MSc,DPhil student and it always amazed me that the English come up with all sorts of myths to justify virtually anything – from Jesus coming to England to Elizabeth ! being such a level-headed and fair tolerant Christian. I have to remind people that Mary came to power after Henry VIII had already committed horrible acts of murder against clergy and that many of Mary’s actions were aimed at bringing justice/punishment towards those who had perpetrated these crimes in the first place. I still have to find an Anglican clergy person of the likes of some of those murdered by Elizabeth I. Please don’t cite Cranmer – he was a worm. But I digress. Elizabeth ! was so controlling that she put to death people who even had rosaries or copies of Robert Bellarmine’s scholarly book arguing the illegitimacy of their arguments. The more I read on the history of England I find that more and more Catholics existed but were afraid of being “out” in Elizabethan days. She too is portrayed improperly. She was after all the daughter of a whore and illegitimate.

  16. I must agree with many arguments you have said Claire but I would like to point out that in her early reign she gave the people freedom of religion she did not wish to force religion on the people. Not until the rebellions of Kent, and other provinces that threatened not only her crown but her religion in which case she had had to act. As well we must not think all protestants burnt were just the kindest most peaceful people, on several accounts groups of protestant men would stand outside churches and when the Catholics exited after mass the protestants would stab groups of them at a time; men, women and children; to death. On Another account a protestant man lit a church on fire while mass was being said and everyone inside perished. I cannot justify the burnings as much as I favor Mary, but no one can really look on such a situation this day and age and judge the burnings unbiased. Another point to bring up is that even Mary found some disgust in some of the burnings. She gave power to her Bishops and local authorities to burn heretics, this is when the people of England even started to despise the burnings. The bishops and authorities burned people with cruelty and without pity or care. Although Mary did believe strongly in the burning of heretics she did not personally condemn them all, most of the people she condemned were the leaders of the Protestants. If Mary would not have succumbed to death I believe England would be Catholic today, as near the end of her reign the burnings finally started to show the intended effect they were supposed to have; repelling of Protestants, and Increasing in the number of Catholics. But instead she died and her ultimate goal was ended, she was then to be remembered ‘Bloody Mary’ an unfortunate namesake for a great Queen.

  17. No matter what her intentions, it was a bloody reign of death and murder. Mary I was responsible for the burning of 284 heretics during her reign whereas, according to Holinshed’s Chronicle, Henry VIII was responsible for 72,000 executions, two of them being his wives! Warner also points out that during Edward VI’s reign 5,500 Cornish Catholic rebels were massacred in the Prayer Book Rebellion.

  18. So then Mo, in your accusation are you willing to say that every king or queen of England were just bloody murderers? That any ruler in all of history were just bloody murderers? For you to look in on Mary’s reign and claim is was just a “bloody reign of death and murder” is both unknowledgable and ill-insightful of the times in which these these Monarchs ruled. I have no way of backing the executions of any ruler, but you must put your mind into their heads in order to understand where they stand.

  19. I’d just like to add that Queen Elizabeth I also killed many Catholics whom she regarded as political foes (not unlike Queen Isabella of Spain who tied to root out the Jews and the Moors). I wonder how many of them she killed? Burning at the stake sounds tortuous but what about drawing and quartering? This is how Queen Elizabeth killed Catholic priests. I’m not trying to downplay burning at the stake but I did read that most victims dies from smoke inhalation rather than physically burning to death. A terrible death nonetheless. But, the point I’m getting at is that English (and American history) is very one-sided when it comes to the struggles between Catholics and Protestants. From what I’ve read, Catholics ended up being the largest victims.

    Leah Dickerson

  20. I’m so glad I wasn’t around that time period at all The Tudor was Murder plain and simple they did what they wanted, and it didn’t matter who was in the way, when you tied someone to a pile of wood and set it on fire doesn’t matter if the smoke killed you first it is still wrong. A Murder is still a Murder no matter how you justified it, all the beheading and torture, killing women and children alike, and by reading everyone post i learn a lot I respect everyone views but I will never side with Murder, those of the past or the future.

  21. Regarding the relative tolerance of Mary and Elizabeth, there may be more to the story than just the different personalities of the two monarchs. Despite the attempt at a thorough Protestant Reformation in Edward VI’s reign, it was probably still the case that the majority of the population in the late 1550s were Catholic in belief, although with widely differing degrees of conviction and commitment. Elizabeth therefore probably had little realistic choice but to tolerate private dissent and settle for outward conformity – any attempt to emulate her sister (but from the Protestant side) would have risked large-scale rebellion. Mary, by contrast, probably resorted to outright persecution because it seemed like a feasible solution to her problems.

    It’s worth noting that, quite apart from the 16th century’s different notions of what would be pleasing to God, it was also a truism of the age that differing religions in the same kingdom was an inevitable recipe for bloody civil war, and the experience of France, Scotland, Germany, Ireland, Spain and the Low Countries was interpreted not as evidence of the need for tolerance, but as confirmation that any kingdom must have only one faith. And indeed even England subsequently went on to have a Civil War in the 1640s, at least partly over religious differences that the Elizabethean settlement had driven underground, rather than actually resolving.

    I suspect that Mary would have argued that it was better to execute a few hundred heretics in the short term rather than to risk far bloodier religious dissension in the long run. Barring a few cases where personal score-settling was an issue (eg Cranmer), I don’t think Mary derived any pleasure from the burnings; she more probably simply persuaded herself that they were a grim “necessity”.

    In non-religious matters at least, Mary and Elizabeth were both regarded by their counsellors as frustratingly hard to persuade to execute people – Mary was very reluctant to sanction the execution of Jane Grey, and Elizabeth similarly hesitated over the Duke of Norfolk in the 1570s and Mary Stuart a little later. Neither Queen was an irresponsible person who took killing people lightly.

    Unlike, perhaps, a certain King Henry VIII.

    And even King Henry’s misdeeds may need to be put in a certain amount of context. The Pilgrims of Grace, for example, were demanding not only the execution of Henry’s chief ministers, notably Thomas Cromwell, but also the instituting of immediate heresy trials and burnings. Not all of Henry’s victims were themselves altogether tolerant ! It was an age where it was difficult to be an entirely “nice” monarch.

    Still no real excuse for Henry’s treatment of his wives, daughters and cousins though.

  22. I wonder if Mary was a man, her reign would be looked upon differently. She killed 284 people. I understand that they were killed in a horrific way but in the grand scheme of things how can you compare 284 deaths with those who killed in the thousands ? What difference does it make what the cause was. Murder is murder no matter how it is justified.

  23. I wonder if Mary was a man, her reign would be looked upon differently. She killed 284 people. I understand that they were killed in a horrific way but in the grand scheme of things how can you compare 284 deaths with those who killed in the thousands ? What difference does it make what the cause was? Murder is murder no matter how it is justified.

  24. I’m not sure which is more irritating: the “Bloody Mary” sound bite, or the assumption that Mary I was Mary, Queen of Scots!!!

  25. Actually Mary did not kill anyone: the authorities tried and lawfully executed them using her laws.

    The article is very good but some of the comments above are still the normal hysterical rubbish that comes out when you mention Queen Mary Tudor. I am not even going to discus the legitimate deaths for heresy in her reign as they have been covered already but turn to your list of her achievments. One is actually missing and it is probably the most important as it was a difficult one for her to pass in Parliament.

    Mary negotiated a complex and sympathetic treaty concerning her marriage to KIng Philip of Spain that protected English independence and our national interests. She was sensitive to the fact that some quarters under Wyatt who actually rebelled despite her efforts to protect the English identity in the marriage; were worried about what sort of influence Philip and Spain would have in England. She even threw herself on her knees before her council and begged them to help her in her dilemma and to advise her on how to be a good and just ruler. Her marriage treaty was discused with them and both houses of Parliament, that were free to do so without her displeasure.

    The treaty that followed maintained that Mary would rule England and that although Philip would have the title of King, he would not have any of the power; he would be her equal but her consort. It maintained England’s independance and prevented Philip from ruling England should Mary die. It also made sure that we were not meant to be dragged into Spains wars, but it did allow for some mutural military aid in certain cases such as Flanders and both England and Spain had on going claims in this region. The treaty is a long and rather complx document but it is seen as remarkable in it attempts to maintain the total independence of both parties, unique for a dynastic marriage treaty. Mary did this to ensure the continuance of the independence of the Tudor dynasty.

    Mary had great intelligence, charm and grace and she was sensitive to the needs and the desires of her people. It was Mary who first used the symbol of her coronation ring as her wedding ring to her people, a claim that was stolen later by Elizabeth. This showed that she felt firstly for her people, secondly for her marriage and she was not going to marry without their consent. This pacified them and Mary was extremely popular and a very successful and diplomatic ruler. It was unfortunate that we were in the end dragged into support of Spain but in fact we won a great victory in 1557 and it was only towards the end of her reign that we lost Calais in the disaster of 1558. She is not the first monarch to lose a state nor was she the last and her reign was too short to be fairly judged as a comparrision with Elizabeth who was fortunate to be 25 when she came to the throne and to rule for 45 years.

    Her anti-Catholic laws were far more vicious than the heresy laws of Mary Tudor and saw the deaths of far more people, for religious reasons, either directly or in prison or during protests when they were masacred. Heresey laws may be terrible to the modern mind but they were the norm at the time. Heresy was seen as being against the law of God, against the natural law, against the social order and against the peace of the human race. It was condemned and dealt with harshly not just by Catholics but also by Protestants. Several heretics were burnt in the reign of Edward VI although it is not generally known or made public. Every monarch on the continent saw it as a crime that threatened everything that was civilized and it existed in varied degrees. In fact the majority of heretics were not burnt they were either imprisoned or fined or confined to a religious house. It was normally those who were judged worse and who had offended twice before who paid the ultimate penalty. In England and in Spain and in France it was a crime that became mixed up with the political changes of the day and was also linked in some high profile cases to treason. The most famous trial under Mary is that of Cranmer. But he was also guilty of treason as well as heresy so he was not merely executed on religious grounds. Lady Jane Grey was not an innocent that was killed on religious grounds either and her proclaimation as Queen was not lawful. She was a religious leader and she knew what she was doing when she accepted the crown. Her decrees show that she also would have dealt harshly with the Catholic Faith. Mary did not want to have her executed; she wanted to spare her, but her father’s involvement in the rebellion six months later sealed her fate. As later with Mary Queen of Scots she was seen as too dangerous to be kept alive by the council as she would be the focus of plots, and Mary reluctantly had her legally executed. To the hysterical person at the start of the debate: she was not murdered!

    There are many great books that can be read if anyone on this site wants to educate themselves about Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and his lawful wife Katherine of Aragon, and I would be pleased to recommend several of them. Linda Porter and Whitelock are two recent and very good ones; but there is also The Lady Mary by Milton Waldman and even David Loades has written a book that is not too bad. Tudor Queenship by Whitelock and Alice Hunt compares the reigns of Elizabeth and Mary and there are many good ones on both Queens. Historians should be balanced, unfortunately some people get carried away when they are being passionate and a lot of people even these days are not.

  26. Thank you for this article! There are a lot of myths perpetuating the Tudor to this era, not just Mary but Henry’s six wives as well and her sister. People tend to ignore that Edward VI’s persecutions as well, and that Henry VIII had more people executed, and not just executions but as you pointed out, suppression of rebellions and his expensive wars, 1513, then in the twenties going to war against France again, then in the 40s once again, and around that same time the skirmishes against Scotland. You join all that together, the number of deaths surpasses Mary’s reign. I read Porter’s book and she was the first one that got me to see Mary in a different light and not just bloody.
    These were dangerous times, altogether alien to us; as you pointed out all the monarchs were bloody but it’s always baffled me why Mary often gets put as the devil incarnate while other monarchs do not (not just her father and brother, but her cousin Charles and nephew Philip II).

  27. A very well written,objective piece,thank you. I am just a little concerned by the execution figures.Whlst the ones for Edward, Mary and Eizabeth seem to focus on those killed for “religious” reasons,quite rghtly,in the context of the article,surely the ones for Henry are the sum total for his reign? I find it hard to believe that he killed 72,000 people on religious grounds alone. If this is true the sum total of executions for his reign would put hm somewhere on apro ratio level with Stalin? In fact the very article itself proves that this is the sum total as it refers to his 2 wives,neither of whom were killed for “religious” reasons. Unless you count adultery as a crime against religion!
    I was a little saddened to see that some of the comments were rather subjective,and seem to have more to do with the posters own issues than the subject under discussion.But I suppose that is natural.

  28. I have been to the London Dungeon before not in a while though. It is really giving Mary I a bad name!.

  29. One thing to remember is that in Christianity, there is a separation of Church and State. Except in the Papal states, or now Vatican city. Where the Pope is the head of state and the head of a religion. The Pope did not order Mary to kill anyone. In fact, I believe that Mary was told to be lenient. Now in effect, Henry VIII FUSED church and State. (the American founding fathers were real clear that was a bad thing)

  30. I would like to re-state that Henry VIII had a major head injury during a jousting accident, and it was after that when he became even more irrational, had major mood swings, and started really executing many people. If you’re familiar with how a head injury can change a person, it’s obvious that this had to be what led to his mass murderer/psycho ruler stage. Now add the perilous situation of women of the time, the intolerance of different religions, and his abusive/murderous relationships with his wives, children, and friends. The product is two psycho daughters. How either Mary or Elizabeth could have come out smelling like roses after being so damaged is a mystery, yet some people are still extremely taken with the idea of Elizabeth. (Just look at how many Irish were murdered under her rule if you want to talk numbers.) IMHO they were both nuts and had everything going against them, but Elizabeth, with her long reign, was able to accomplish more that pleased the common people. She had Mary’s example to learn from so that her public persona was much more attractive to her people, and she set herself up to take the place of the Virgin Mary for those missing that part of Catholicism. What’s amazing to me is that she is STILL perceived by many people as this wonderful monarch today. I do admire her intelligence and what must have been charisma, but she and Mary were both clearly crazy, and who can blame them? The paranoia and plots against their lives alone would’ve driven them insane regardless of the the unfortunate circumstances of their parentage. What very difficult lives they must have led.

  31. I remember at school our history teacher telling us about the Protestants that were burnt and thinking what a horrific woman she was, that must be the most painful death of all, then some time ago I read how she even burnt pregnant women that’s always been a no go in English law, they wouldn’t hang a woman if she was found to be with child right upto the 20 th c, and there’s a particularly ghastly story of how one woman began to give birth to her child and the baby was thrown into the fire, what sort of people were they? She had all the fanacticsm of her mother combined with the cruelty of her father, I often think of her as Countess Dracula out for blood! I know the heresy laws were there but surely she could have just had the hangman instead, I think her unhappy childhood had a lot to do with the way she turned out you could see a lot of her father in her.

  32. Christine-Heresy laws required the offender be burnt at the stake, not hung. Mary didn’t decide on a whim to burn people alive because she was trying to be as monstrous as possible; the law explicitly dictated that heretics MUST be burned. I believe they thought death by burning would save them from the fires of hell or something like that.

    Then, as now, the government pushed out propaganda. Mary 1 was not any more evil than Elizabeth, yet she’s been treated harshly by history and time. Elizabeth killed many more people than Mary and she used the torturous method of hanging, drawing and quartering. That’s just as horrific a death as burning, but the winners write history and Elizabeth has been heralded as the “greatest monarch ever” and Mary 1 as “Bloody Mary”…neither of them deserves these names.

  33. Even as a young child (Protestant) I felt that Mary was persecuted by her sisterElizabeth and certainly by her fatherElizabeth was hopelessly jealous of her sister’ beauty and the wicked Ig Henry hated her because she was a girl and the offspring of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.He blamed his wives for their inability toprovide him with a male heir. I guess when he got to the other side he found out the fault was all his. Both these women were the subjects of his cruelty and most likely mental health problems.

  34. Mary was treated so badly as a child, when Henry VIII went to visit Elizabeth, she was locked in her bedroom and forbidden to leave until Henry had left.
    She may have killed people, and if this means that she is bloody, then it’s safe to say that there are hundreds of ‘bloody’ people out there. Dead or alive.

    What is considered right and wrong has developed and changed overtime, Mary tried very hard to give herself a good image, but she has always been perceived as Henry’s daughter or Elizabeth’s sister.

    It’s fair to say she needed help, and she murdered innocent people, but bloody Mary killer queen is going too far!

  35. A good article. One thing to remember is that for many decades after the death of Mary I it would have been extremely dangerous to say or do anything implying a favourable or positive view of her and for centuries it remained unwise, at best, to do so in piublic. So, while we should be wary of the ‘history is written by the winners’ cliche, it is not surprising that the widely held view of her as an overwrought monster has taken hold. Neither of the Christian sects involved emerges with any credit from that period, they were both dominated by adherents driven mad to the point of murder by their religiosity. If we can learn anything from this period of history, it is that religion should nevr again be allowed to play any part in politics or law.

  36. Such a no brainer to answer. England that ended up Protestant wrote their history. Of course they would make Mary out to be evil,

    If one looks at the laws passed and the actual trials and deaths, during Mary Tudor’s reign compared to Elizabeth i’s reign, Elizabeth would not even allow the Catholic mass to be celebrated and hunted down and killed Catholic priests and anyone who helped them. None were allowed in the country under Elizabeth. Mary Tudor was much more tolerant and most often, it you look at the trials, only had killed those who attacked her. Which all Monarchs did. Protestant England would never want to admit the deaths of these thousands of Catholics killed. Just look at Protestant Martyr books and you will find Catholics they killed not mentioned. It’s like they pretend to not mention the thousands of peasants killed by Martin Luther’s writings, and his vile hatred of the Jews. It is all like the bias media today and their one sided news. Good men must look hard to find truth, and take into account what one’s agenda is.

  37. Who were the most famous people Bloody Mary killed?
    I’m not sure if there were any at all but can you please help me

  38. Could you please explain to me how you justify comparing all the executions under Henry VIII with only the heretical executions committed under Mary I? Please could you amend your article to show how many heretics were executed during each reign, divided by the number of years. You might find that a fairer statistical analysis supports the name of ‘bloody Mary’.

    Just to support my point, here is a link to a Wikipedia article listing all the Protestants executed during each Tudor reign.
    All you have to do is scroll down the page to see the massive discrepancy between the numbers executed for treason during each name. Mary’s list just goes on and on. In a reign of four years.

    No one should be killed or attacked for their beliefs. I’m not justifying the deaths under Elizabeth or Henry either. But Mary effectively killed one Protestant every four days of her reign. She earned her name.

  39. This has been a very interesting read. As a Catholic i have experienced the hatred/discrimination that protestants have towards us but the lies that have been spread throughout history is really sad. The picture that emerges here is so one sided. I have always wondered how any protestant/Anglican can justify belonging to a church that began with a mans lust for another woman. That is the real truth in all this. Henry killed his wife because he lusted after another. He hated the Pope because he wouldn’t go along with his sin. He killed Catholics in his own court to justify his sin & lust & to sooth is guilty conscience. He killed his own countrymen to force them to go along with this charade. He made himself that head of HIS church! it wasn’t Christs church it was Henry’s church! How can anyone belong to it is beyond me. He was worse than any crooked pope i have ever read about.

  40. Hannah, why do you believe the thousands of Catholics executed DON’T earn the name “Bloody” for Henry or Elizabeth?

  41. My first encounter with the Mary Tudor vs Elizabeth question was at a Catholic school my daughter attended. It presented the number of executions under Mary comparing them to the number under Elizabeth. As the latter was much greater, the book concluded that the “bloody” moniker should belong to Elizabeth, not to Mary. This was an irritating argument, and frankly dishonest because Elizabeth reigned for much longer than Mary. The author of this history text failed to calculate the average number of executions >>per year<<. On that statistic Elizabeth come out better.

    But the article raises some interesting points. The claim that Henry executed about 72000 is to be questioned. Were the executions with a signed death warrant? Or were the battles to put down rebellion? Or were these needless mass slaughter of innocents within the context of rebellion? Taking that 72000 figure, and supposing 1 execution per day, it would take about 200 years to execute that many people. But Henry reigned for 24 years, which raises the death rate to about 18/day.

    Were these executions with signed warrants? If so, I can only imagine that Henry would have done better with a computer, a printer and a mail merge function. I mean … signing 18 death warrants every day!!?? Did he do this before or after breakfast?

    So….being the objective oriented engineer that I am I would like to see the summary facts presented in a table, that includes categories such as "Death Warrant", "Death in declared battle", "Death by terror attack", and so on. And also to have each of these averaged over the number of years of their reign, at least. Such a summary picture woudl be most helpful.

    Henry was tyrant. He executed wives, he shamed his first daughter. The human story of Henry, (and Mary, and Elizabeth etc….) is certainly worth understanding. But it possible to understand these stories in a non-partisan manner??

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