Discover the turbulent life of England’s first queen in her own right, Queen Mary I, and how she got her fearsome reputation…
1. Our first queen regnant
Mary was the first crowned queen to rule England, from 1553 to 1558, in her own right rather than through marriage to a king, she created the precedent, enshrined in law in 1554, that the powers of the monarchy were the same for a queen as a king.
Aged 17, Mary was declared illegitimate and removed from the succession and sent from court after her father King Henry VIII, in his quest for a male heir, divorced her mother Catherine of Aragon in favour of Anne Boleyn.
She reacted truculently when expected to kowtow to Henry and Anne’s new baby daughter, Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I), in the nursery of the royal palace at Hatfield, and refused to renounce her Catholic faith.
In 1544 Mary was restored to the line of succession (although she remained illegitimate) after her father married his sixth wife Catherine Parr in 1543 who, to her credit, reunited the king and his three children in something approaching family harmony.
Then fortunes changed again when her nine-year-old half-brother, King Edward VI, ascended the throne in 1547. He removed her from the succession and, when he died in 1553, his Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey was nominated queen instead.
Mary rallied forces at Framlingham Castle in Suffolk and the rebels behind ‘Nine Days Queen’ Lady Jane’s ill-judged coup backed down. When Mary rode into London, bells pealed and crowds cheered. Her Tudor inheritance had been upheld and she was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 1 October 1553.
Mary’s marriage to Philip, heir to the Spanish throne, in July 1554, got off to a good start, despite him being 11 years Mary’s junior. But, while she loved with her husband, Mary refused him a coronation and funds from the English purse. Philip, somewhat annoyed, spent much time on the Continent, leaving his heartbroken queen behind. The marriage remained childless.
Mary restored papal supremacy in England and revived old heresy laws. So began the terror that saw nearly 300 people being burned at the stake between February 1555 and November 1558.
Mary became even more unpopular when her Philip, King of Spain from 1556, dragged England into war against the French, resulting in the loss of Calais in 1558 – England’s last possession in France. Mary lamented, “When I am dead, you will find Philip and Calais engraved upon my heart.”
Dogged by ill health and despair, she passed away later that year at St James’s Palace. She was just 42.
For the full feature on Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary), see the March/April 2016 issue of BRITAIN
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