Queens of England + Mary I of England (1516-1558)

Mary was born in February 1516, the only surviving child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. As a princess, she was well educated and by the age of nine could read and write Latin. Throughout her childhood, her father negotiated potential marriages with the Dauphin of France, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and Francis I. They were all broken off for various reasons.

Mary’s status was thrown into jeopardy when her father sought to divorce Catherine. By 1531, Catherine had been banished from court and Mary was forbidden to see her. In 1533 her parents’ marriage was declared legally void and Henry married Anne Boleyn. Mary was then deemed illegitimate and was styled “The Lady Mary” rather than Princess. Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth, took Mary’s place in the line of succession. Her household was dissolved and she was sent to join the household of her infant sister.

Mary refused to acknowledge Anne that was the queen or that Elizabeth was a princess, enraging her father. He kept her movements restricted and she was frequently ill, which the royal physician attributed to “poor treatment.” The relationship between Mary and Henry disintegrated to the point that they did not speak to each for three years. Despite both of them being ill, Henry still would not allow Mary to see her mother and she was inconsolable when Catherine died in 1536.

Anne Boleyn fell from favor in the same year of Catherine’s death and she was executed. Mary’s sister Elizabeth joined her in the downgraded status of “Lady” and was also removed from the line of succession. Henry soon married Jane Seymour who urged him to make peace with Mary. She was eventually bullied by her father into signing a document that would acknowledge him as head of the Church of England, acknowledge that her parents’ marriage was unlawful, and accept her illegitimacy. Reconciled on Henry’s terms, Mary was allowed to resume her place at court and was granted a household. In 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Edward, and Mary was made godmother. When Jane died soon after the birth, Mary was the chief mourner at her funeral.

In 1539, Mary was courted by Duke Philip of Bavaria, but he was Lutheran and Mary a strict Catholic so the suit was unsuccessful. Her father married again in 1540 to Anne of Cleves but the marriage was annulled only months later. As a Catholic, she watched her father execute her old governess and godmother, the Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, on the pretext of a Catholic plot in 1541. After Henry’s fifth marriage to Catherine Howard failed and she was executed, Mary was invited to attend the royal Christmas festivities and serve as hostess since Henry was without a consort. It was her father’s last wife, Catherine Parr, that succeeded in convincing him to return both of his daughters to the line of succession after their brother with the Act of Succession 1544. However, Mary and her sister were both still legally illegitimate.

Henry died in 1547 and rule passed to Edward VI. His regency council attempted to establish Protestantism throughout the country but Mary remained faithful to Catholicism and defiantly celebrated traditional mass in her own chapel. She stayed on her estates for most of Edward’s demands and a reunion with both of her siblings at Christmas in 1550 ended in tears when he embarrassed her by publicly reproving her for ignoring his laws. Neither of them ever gave concessions to the other.

Edward died in 1533, and because he did not want Mary to succeed him and undo his religious reforms, he planned to exclude her from the line of succession. He ended up excluding both of his sisters from his will and instead named Lady Jane Grey as his successor. Knowing of his plans, Mary fled to her estates to find support from Catholic adherents and wrote to the Privy Council with orders for her proclamation as Edward’s successor. Mary and her supporters assembled a military force and the faction that supported Jane Grey collapsed. After nine days of being queen, Jane was deposed and eventually executed. Mary rode triumphantly into London in August 1553, accompanied by Elizabeth and a procession of over 800 nobles and gentlemen. She was crowned at Westminster Abbey in October, and became England’s first undisputed queen regnant.

In her first Parliament, Mary abolished her brother’s religious laws and had the marriage of her parents declared valid. Parliament later repealed the Protestant religious laws and returned the English church to Roman jurisdiction. This led to the revival of the Heresy Acts, and numerous Protestants were executed under it, a total of less than 300 people. These actions eventually led to her being called “Bloody Mary,” despite the fact that her father himself had executed tens of thousands of people during his reign.

In 1554, Mary wed Prince Philip of Spain, the only son of her cousin Charles V, and it was unpopular marriage with the English people. She desperately wanted an heir to keep the Protestant Elizabeth from succeeding her but she would only have two false pregnancies and no children. She was forced to accept that Elizabeth would be her lawful successor.

In January 1558, Mary’s reputation suffered a blow when she lost Calais, England’s last remaining possession on the European mainland after several months of conflict between Spain and France. Despite an ultimately ineffectual rule, Mary did begin policies of fiscal reform, naval expansion, and colonial expansion that would later be lauded as Elizabethan accomplishments.

She died in May 1558 during an influenza epidemic and her will stated that she wished to be buried next to her mother but she was interred in Westminster Abbey. Her sister would later be buried next to her. (x)


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