Queen Mary I of England, or Bloody Mary, was a short-lived English Queen from 1553 to 1558 (and lived from 1516 to 1558). As daughter of King Henry VIII and sister of Elizabeth I, she is often overlooked – or seen as a failure. More intriguingly, in contrast to her father and sister, she was not Protestant but Catholic. Here, Casey Titus tells us about this Tudor Monarch.

See past Tudor history writing from Casey on King Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI (here), and the person who could have been king instead of Henry VIII (here).

Mary I as painted by Master John in the 1540s.

Mary I as painted by Master John in the 1540s.

Mary I of England was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. After an early life marked by religious and personal strife at the hands of her father, Mary inherited the English throne upon the death of her half-brother Edward VI in 1553. She married Phillip II of Spain in July 1554, with the hopes of forging an alliance with her Spanish family and producing a Catholic heir. When the latter failed and by the time Queen Mary I of England died in late 1558, history forever lamented her “Bloody Mary,” for her ferocious persecution of English Protestants and attempt to reverse her father’s Reformation which was promptly completed by her Protestant successor and half-sister, the more renowned Queen Elizabeth I of England, or Gloriana, during her unforgettable forty-five year reign.

The Tudor dynasty lasted from 1485 to 1603 and played an extraordinary role in turning England from a feuding European backwater still engrossed in the Medieval Ages into a powerful Renaissance nation that would dominate much of the world and lead to the formation of even stronger nations and revolutionary philosophies. Yet, typically only three monarchs are given credit for this: Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I. In between the transition of power from Henry VIII to his second daughter, Elizabeth I, Mary I is dismissed despite her direct relation to two of the most influential and powerful nations at the time: Spain and England. Was her ‘bloody’ reign as unfruitful as historians claim?


Early Years

For the first half of King Henry VIII’s reign, Mary was revered as the rightful heir to the English throne. She was ensured an outstanding education by her mother and referred to “his pearl in the world,” by her father. Several marriages were negotiated for little Mary, including the infant son of King Francis I of France and her 22-year old first cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. By the time Mary reached adolescence, she had reportedly developed as a pretty and well-proportioned lady with a fine complexion that resembled both of her fine-looking parents. 

Out of Catherine’s seven pregnancies, only Mary survived beyond infancy. Because of her mother’s failure to produce a living male heir, Henry VIII had fallen passionately in love with Anne Boleyn and sought a divorce from Catherine on the grounds of her previous marriage to his late brother, Arthur, which Henry interpreted as violating a biblical verse (Leviticus 18:16) and was therefore, cursed in the sight of God. The evidence was their lack of male heirs, he insisted. Catherine stood her ground by asserting that her marriage to her brother was not consummated and hence was annulled by a previous pope, Julius II. Her firm resolution to not only keep her position and title as Queen of England but refuse to acknowledge her marriage as void which would render her daughter both illegitimate and unable to inherit the throne suggests that Catherine believed her daughter to be capable of ruling in her own right. This perspective can be further supported by the example of her celebrated mother, Queen Isabella I of Castile who also ruled in her own right and both united and centralized Spain as we know it today. In contrast, Henry’s mother never exercised much political influence as queen, and her husband had no intention of sharing power with her.


Mary’s Problems in the 1530s

Henry’s efforts to divorce Catherine, known as the “King’s Great Matter,” complicated Mary’s life and future. From 1531 onward, Mary fell ill with irregular menstruation and depression, possibly caused by the stress of her parents’ situation or a sign of a deep-seated disease that would affect her later life. She was forbidden from seeing her mother, allowed only one brief visit in five years. After breaking from the Church of Rome, Henry finally married his pregnant mistress, Anne Boleyn, in 1533. That same year in September, with the disappointing birth of a girl they named Elizabeth, Mary was formally stripped of her title of Princess and demoted to “Lady Mary,” and on Anne’s persuasion, was placed in her half-sister’s household as a servant to the baby Elizabeth. Mary would not see her father for two and a half years, having been banished from court as well.  

Despite her banished mother’s worsening health, Henry still forbade Mary from visiting her. Catherine of Aragon died on January 7th, 1536 at the age of 50, most likely of cancer. Mary, described as “inconsolable” at the news of her mother’s death was still forbidden from attending her funeral by her father. Mary saw no future for her in England at this point and wrote to her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Charles V, begging him to help her flee to Spain. Only four months later, Anne Boleyn was imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges (most likely trumped up) of treason, adultery, and even incest with her own brother. She was beheaded on Henry’s orders on May 19, 1536. 

Even with her mother’s usurper out of the picture, Henry would not reconcile with his daughter until she recognized him as Supreme Head of the Church of England, renounced papal authority, and both acknowledge the unlawful marriage of her parents and her own illegitimacy. At first resisting as far as “God and [my] conscious” permitted, she was frightened into signing a document by Henry that met all of his demands on the probable penalty of a traitor’s death if she refused. The reward of signing that hated document was a decade of peace. Her place at court, household, and estates were restored and King Henry VIII had finally sired a baby boy through his third wife, the sympathetic and meek Jane Seymour.


A new King… and Queen

In 1544, Henry returned Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession through the Third Succession Act behind their half-brother, Edward VI. When Henry died in January 1547, the nine-year old Edward succeeded him. While Mary remained away from court and faithful to Roman Catholicism, her equally committed Protestant brother intensified the Protestant Reformation in England and pressured Mary to comply and convert. A plan was even formulated by her cousin, Charles V, to smuggle Mary to mainland, Catholic Europe, but this did not end up happening

On July 6, 1553, Edward VI died at the age of 15, possibly from tuberculosis. Fearful that his half-sister would overturn his reforms, Edward defied his father’s will and the Succession Act by naming his cousin and fellow Protestant, Lady Jane Grey, as his heir. Informed of this, Mary fled into East Anglia where Catholic adherents and opponents of Lady Jane’s father-in-law, the ambitious John Dudley, resided. On July 10, Lady Jane was proclaimed queen by Dudley. Two days later, Mary assembled a military force and support for Dudley collapsed. Both Dudley and Jane were imprisoned in the Tower of London. Mary rode into London on August 3, surrounded by 800 nobles and gentlemen as well as her half-sister Elizabeth. The citizens of London wept joyfully and Mary read passionately from the Bible: “If God be with us, who could be against us?” (Romans 8:31)


Mary I as Queen

Mary endured extreme joys and sorrows to claim the throne of England. Threats were made against the faith she learned at her mother’s knee as well as to her own life. Now age 37, Mary would spend the remainder of her life searching to avenge it. By that time, her legacy would only be tarnished and maligned. Is there anything worth noting during her reign that challenges the nickname, “Bloody Mary?”

One of her first acts as queen was to find a husband and produce a Catholic heir to prevent her Protestant sister from ascending to the throne. Charles V suggested a marriage to his only son, Prince Philip of Spain, which Mary agreed to. The alliance proved unpopular with the English people and the House of Commons, and a rebellion broke out lead by Thomas Wyatt with the intention of deposing Mary and replacing her with Elizabeth. On February 1, 1554, Mary first demonstrated her resilience and capability as a political leader by rallying the people of London against Wyatt’s Rebellion. During her booming speech, she referred to the people as her “child” and loved them “as a mother doth her child.” Wyatt surrendered and was executed along with ninety rebels. Another example of her skilled capability as a negotiator came when Mary desired to reverse the Dissolution of the Monasteries that had occurred in 1536. However, this threatened the contemporary owners of monastic and ecclesiastical lands that acquired them. As a compromise, Mary permitted the ecclesiastical lands to remain with their owners and merely eliminated the Edwardian reforms to the church.  

As a female monarch in a very patriarchal age, Mary negotiated with her desire to form an Anglo-Spanish alliance with the hopes of a Catholic heir and to please her uncertain people and council. The issue revolved on Mary’s status as queen regnant and holding a traditionally male position with contemporaries believing that a good Catholic wife should submit wholly to her husband, making Prince Philip not only head of his realm but head of his household. Mary resolved this through the marriage treaties that defined Philip’s authority as king consort of England. Mary was represented as a king and queen. England would not be obliged to provide military support to Philip’s father in any way and Philip could not act without his wife’s consent or appoint foreigners to office in England.


Policy during her reign

The loss of Calais overshadowed Mary’s previous military victories. Calais fell to the French in January 1558, although it wasn’t formally lost until the reign of Elizabeth I under the Treaty of Troyes. Calais was expensive to maintain and the queen meanwhile enjoyed the successes such as the Battle of Saint Quentin. While her half-sister was often reluctant to engage in war, Mary relished it, and possibly wanted to imitate her grandmother, the warrior queen Isabella I of Castile.

Mary had inherited the economically strived realms of her father and half-brother. Mary has been credited for her reforms to coinage, extension of royal authority into the localities, managed her parliaments, and made significant reforms to the navy. Mary drafted plans for currency reform but they were not implemented until after her death. The queen had a progressive commercial policy that was embraced by English merchants. Her government restructured the book of rate in 1558, leading to an increase in revenue. 

Moreover, Mary’s failed ability to produce an heir was no fault of her own as thirty-seven was a late age to marry in the sixteenth century and she had only ruled for five years. 

The most infamous aspect of her reign at last was her religious policy. At the start of her reign, her first Parliament declared her parents’ marriage valid and abolished Edward’s religious laws, known as the First Statute of Repeal. Church doctrine was restored including clerical celibacy. By the end of 1554, the Heresy Acts were revived. Under these Acts, almost three hundred Protestants were burned at the stake, one of them being the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who had annulled the marriage of her parents twenty-three years earlier. Nearly 800 wealthy Protestants fled England, including John Foxe. It is interesting to note that the burnings of Protestants did not take place until after the marriage of Philip and Mary, which begs the question of whether Philip influenced his wife’s decisions. Most of the burning victims were from lower classes in the south-east of England. The public burnings were unpopular and Mary’s advisers were divided as to whether or not they were necessary and effective. The question remains to this day as to who was responsible for the burnings, due to a lack of conclusive evidence and the attempt at deflating blame by those who wrote about it. Only the fact exists that she could have halted them and did not.


In conclusion

Historians have been divided on whether Mary I’s five year reign was a success. For the public, her image has been tarnished through the nickname of perpetual infamy: “Bloody Mary,” overshadowing her accomplishments. Mary’s reign was the shortest of the Tudor monarchs (except for Lady Jane Grey, who only ruled for nine days) and would probably not have a lasting effect were it not for Elizabeth. Elizabeth, unlike Mary, was not raised to rule and subsequently learned from Mary’s successes and failures and built upon the foundations of Mary’s reign as one of the greatest English monarchs of all time. 


What do you think of Mary I? Let us know below.




Abernethy, Susan. “Mary I, Queen of England.” The Freelance History Writer, The Freelance History Writer, 16 Nov. 2018, thefreelancehistorywriter.com/2018/11/16/mary-i-queen-of-england/.

“Mary I of England.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Jan. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_I_of_England#Religious_policy.

“Mary I: 8 Facts about Her Life, Death and Legacy.” History Extra, 3 Oct. 2018, www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/mary-i-bloody-facts-life-death-legacy-illiegitimate-henry-viii/.

NikitaBlogger. “Just Why Is Queen Mary I Known as 'Bloody Mary'?” Royal Central, 31 July 2016, royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/insight/just-why-is-queen-mary-i-known-as-bloody-mary-51995.

Ridgway, Claire. “Mary I - An Underappreciated Queen.” The Anne Boleyn Files, 16 Feb. 2017, www.theanneboleynfiles.com/mary-underappreciated-queen/.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

Regarding Mary Tudor’s reign as Queen of England, John Knox defiantly asserted, “unworthy, by reason of her bloody tyranny, of the name of a woman.”

The Tudor Dynasty of England, which spanned the late fifteenth century to the early seventeenth century, was filled with many colorful monarchs who impacted the country politically, economically, and socially. One of these monarchs was Queen Mary I of England (1553-1558) – otherwise known as Bloody Mary. Anthony Ruggiero explains how Mary’s marriage to King Philip II of Spain and England’s role in the ongoing struggle between France and Spain ultimately led to the fall of Calais (England’s territory in modern-day France) and greatly undermined Mary.

King Philip II of Spain and Mary I of England - the pair married in 1554.

King Philip II of Spain and Mary I of England - the pair married in 1554.

Mary would England into a war against France from 1557-1558, which ultimately proved to be a disaster for England, considering the loss of numerous lives and the loss of the Calais territory. Influenced by her husband, Philip, Mary entered a conflict that was initially contested by Spain and France over territory in Italy, known as the Italian Wars. Mary’s decision to enter the Italian War of 1551-1559 was also a result of two insurrections affiliated with the French by Henry Dudley and later Thomas Stafford. Mary’s involvement put her at odds with the Pope, Paul IV, turning her and the country against the authority of the Catholic Church, a relationship she had worked so hard to once again obtain. This would ultimately tarnish her reputation.                                                                                 

Prior to entering the Italian War of 1551-1559, France and Spain had long engaged in a war over claimed territories in Italy. Beginning in 1494, the Italian War dominated a majority of the sixteenth century, with a frequent back-and-forth between Emperor Charles V of Spain and the Valois kings of France.[1] Both countries continued lobbying for the support of the English, which placed England in the middle to serve as a potential ally to either of the two countries. All three countries depended on each other for trade. England and France exchanged grain in order to prevent food shortages. Spain heavily relied on access to the English Channel, which connected Spain to the Netherlands, another important country for trade, which was also a Spanish-controlled area.[2]  Mary recognized the importance of forging peace between England and Spain in order to maintain access to the benefits England could receive through trade. Furthermore, Mary and Philip’s act of marriage prevented her from involving England in any conflict between France and Spain.[3] The act of marriage states:

The realm of England, by occasion of this matrimony, shall not directly or indirectly be entangled with the war that is between the most victorious lord the emperor, father unto the said lord prince, and Henry, the French king, but he the said lord Philip, as much as shall lie in him, on the behalf of the said realm of England, shall see the peace between the said realms of France and England observed, and shall give no cause of any breach…[4]


This statement from the act of marriage reaffirmed that Mary could not involve England in the current conflict happening between Spain and France. Mary initiated treaty negotiations in 1555; unfortunately, nothing resulted from these negotiations due to each country refusing to give up land the other had requested.[5] Despite this initial failure, negotiations continued, and Spain and England did ultimately obtain brief peace through the treaty of Vaucelles in February 1556.[6]


Not keeping the peace

However, the treaty of Vaucelles would not keep the two countries from eventual conflict due to interference from the Catholic Church. The newly elected Pope, Paul IV, was described as a “bitter foe” of the Spanish due to their rule of his native Naples. Overall, Paul was against Spanish control in Italy due to his overwhelming fear that the Spanish were a threat to the Papacy’s independence and authority.[7] Paul openly expressed his disdain by labeling Charles V as “heretic, schismatic, and tyrant” and asserting that Philip, who now assumed power after Charles abdicated the throne in 1556, was the same.[8] Paul stated that Charles, and now Philip, was attempting to take the lands away from the papacy to continue to amass their own wealth, and as he also stated, to “oppress the Holy See,” meaning to take away the authority and power of the Catholic Church.[9] Philip reacted to this denouncement of both himself and his father by prompting an invasion by his viceroy, the duke of Salva in Naples, of the Papal States in September 1556.[10] France had signed a secret treaty with the papacy in December of 1555 that promised them control of Naples if they could force out the Spanish.[11] They countered this attack through a surprise invasion of one of the Spanish occupied lands of Douai, France in January of 1557.[12] Thus, the treaty of Vaucelles was officially broken, war was declared, and Philip returned to England in March of 1557 to ask the assistance of his wife Mary.[13]


Mary’s hands were tied. Both France and Spain were allies to England, and the marriage act prevented Mary from placing England in the conflict between the two countries. Additionally, Mary and her council were concerned that if England were to assist the Spanish, they would be cut off from access to grain and wool from France.[14] The harvests responsible for supplying a vast majority of food within England were particularly horrendous in both 1555 and 1556, resulting in shortages of food and rises in prices due to scarcity. Maintaining trade with France was crucial in order to supply the people of England with food.[15] There was additional concern that assisting the Spanish would lead to France prompting Scotland to invade England, and Ireland, controlled by England at the time, to rebel against England.[16]


Choosing Spain

Despite these factors, due to preexisting French hostilities between France and England, as well as her marriage to Philip, Mary was more inclined to pursue assisting Spain against France. For example, prior to Mary’s ascension to throne, Henry II supported the Duke of Northumberland’s choice of Jane Grey as the successor of Edward VI due to Mary’s inclination towards the Spanish.[17] Another event that continued to sour Mary’s sentiment towards the French occurred in 1556: Henry Dudley, who allegedly conducted a conspiracy in France with French influence, was discovered attempting to steal from the Exchequer and invade England due to hatred of the Spanish and his favor of Mary’s sister, Elizabeth.[18] The conspiracy was defeated, and the French ambassador who was suspected in the plot, Antoine de Noailles, was dismissed from the English court.[19] England did eventually decide to assist Spain and declare war on France when nobleman Thomas Stafford arrived in England on April 23rd, 1557 with two French warships; combined with French and English rebels, they seized Scarborough castle with between 30 and 100 men.[20] Stafford further intended to dispose of Mary, declaring that she was “handing the country to foreigners.” He also added that the crown needed to be “kept in English blood,” and declared his right to the throne.[21] Mary and her council were informed four days later, and on April 28th the insurrection was defeated.[22] This event, along with the improved harvest in May of 1557, which meant England was not dependent on France for grain, allowed the council to officially declare war on France on June 7th, 1557.[23]

Although many still feared a break from France would have negative effects on England, there were some of Mary’s subjects who supported the war. For example, William Paget, the serving Lord Privy Seal and strong supporter of the marriage of Mary and Philip, was eager to get into the field of battle.[24] Support for the war was also derived from national pride and support of the King and Queen. For example, a Scottish Earl stated in a conversation with the earl of Westmorland, “I am no more French than you are a Spaniard,” to which Westmorland replied, “as long as God shall preserve my master and mistress together, I am and shall be a Spaniard to the uttermost of my power.”[25] This conversation insinuated that as long as they were able to maintain the safety of their monarchs and their way of life in England, they would be willing to fight. Furthermore, support for the war was created due to the job opportunities and profit it offered.[26]

At the start of the war, things looked optimistic for Mary and Philip. For example, large focus was placed on improving the navy. Initially rising to prominence in the early 1540s, the navy suffered under the regime of Edward VI, when economic issues resulted in Edward’s government having to sell off war ships in order to garner money for the government, thus downsizing the navy.[27] By the time war was declared during Mary’s reign, twenty new ships had been constructed.[28] By July of 1557, approximately 7,000 men were across the English Channel, and allied with the Spanish fleet, they were able to successfully clear out French ships from the channel.[29] Further victories came in August and October of 1557. One of these was the Battle of St. Quentein. On August 10th, 1557, Englishmen, as well as Spanish and Imperial forces, were able to capitalize on the mistake of the French Constable, Anne de Montmorency, and successfully break through French forces, killing 3,000 French troops as well as capturing 7,000 others, and eighteen days later they were able to take the town.[30] Additionally, the French were able to convince the Scots to join their forces. Mary of Guise, who was serving as Regent of Scotland, due to her daughter living in France, hoped to also maintain French support, which contributed to her aligning with the French.[31] The two forces first met in October of 1557, which saw the English emerge victorious.[32] Both Mary and Philip rejoiced as the war was seemingly progressing in their favor. However, as the war continued, things would soon begin to unravel.


Changing Fortunes

Despite their initial success, Mary and Philip’s luck ran out as the war progressed. Although the English and Spanish forces were victorious at the battle of St. Quentein, it can be argued that from an early point there was the foreshadowing of a negative outcome for the English. For example, according to casualty statistics from the treasurer, Mary supplied more men in battle than the Spanish.[33]

However, each group endured various circumstances that hindered their abilities in battle and the effectiveness of a large majority of English subjects in service.  For example, out of the 4,148-foot soldiers, 417 were sick, 137 hurt, and 108 were discharged due to the severity of their sickness.[34] Additionally, the English were ill equipped with weapons, food, and money. These were provisions necessary for the English to handle a “large-scale” and surprise attack from the French. Absence of these provisions would prove to be detrimental for the English during the French attack on the English controlled town of Calais.[35]   

The French were initially skeptical about deciding to attack the town of Calais. Calais was described as an “isolated fortress.”[36] It was protected by a series of smaller forts and benefited from its geographic location. To approach the town from the north, the French would encounter the fortress of Rysback that guarded Calais. Rysback, which bordered the English Channel was also surrounded by a marsh, which made it virtually impossible to penetrate the fortress.[37] Attempting to capture the town from the south also seemed impossible due to its protection by a fortress at Newnham Bridge, also called Nieulay by the French.[38] Despite the obstacles, King Henry II attempted to gain revenge from the loss of St. Quentein by calling upon the Duke of Guise, the brother of Mary de Guise and commander of the French army, to attack and claim Calais.[39] Furthermore, Antoine de Noailles, the former French ambassador to England, described that Calais possessed a large level of Protestant activity, and projected that any attempts by the French to claim Calais would be seen as favorable by the people living there.[40] In an attempt to take Calais, the Duke of Guise devised a plan.[41]


The Attack on Calais

In December of 1557, it was officially decided by the French to attack Calais while the Duke of Guise would also attack Calais from the south, separate his troops, and attempt to take the town from both sides. This plan would eventually prove to be successful.[42]

News of France’s intentions to attack Calais spread to the English government by December 22nd, 1557.[43] During this time, the English government was in the midst of reducing its army due to the fact that, historically, no attacks took place in December or January because of the holiday and weather conditions; additionally, peace was usually negotiated at this time.[44] On December 29th, Wentworth mistakenly wrote to Queen Mary I that the French were not targeting Calais when he heard of their presence in another one of Philip’s fortresses in France; he stated “the enemy's power is already planted before New Hesdin, where the French King is shortly looked for.”[45] This miscalculation would prove to be costly, as 27,000 men of the Duke of Guise’s forces arrived at Newnham Bridge on January 1st, 1558, while another group of Guise’s men simultaneously crossed the frozen marshes and arrived at Rysback the same day.[46] French forces were able to successfully defeat the English forces at Rysback on January 2nd and then Newnham Bridge on January 4th to finally proceed to Calais. Outnumbered, Lord Wenworth surrendered the town of Calais to the French on January 7th, 1558.[47]

Philip recognized that the loss would weaken both the English desire to continue to engage in a war in Europe as well as his own reputation in England.[48] People speculated that Philip purposely allowed Calais to fall so that he could conquer the territory himself.[49] This was widely debated due to Philip’s fervent pleas to the Privy Council to send troops to reclaim Calais as well as his mournful statements of the loss. Philip lamented, “That sorrow was unspeakable, for reasons which you well imagine and because the event was extremely grave one for those states.”[50] The cost of the war had drained Mary’s ability to afford to send more troops. At the start of the war, taxes had been raised to four times the normal rate on goods in order to accumulate £ 300,000.[51] Although the amount was achieved, immediate payments towards both weapons and soldiers quickly drained their expenses, which meant there was no more money in reserve. In order to avoid a taxpayer strike, Parliament refused to raise taxes, and denied the requests for reinforcements in March of 1558.[52]


Turning away from Mary

Coinciding with the loss of English morale was Mary’s declining popularity. Following the loss of Calais, soldiers soon began deserting their posts due to their lack of faith in Mary’s ability to recover from the loss. Additionally, soldiers and sailors also began deserting the army and navy due to Mary’s inability to pay their salaries, which led to a proclamation labeling desertion as a felony.[53] One of Mary’s subjects, Robert Cockrell, was executed for stating, “he would serve the French King before he would serve the Queen’s Majesty.”[54] John Knox, a Protestant reformer who was forced to retreat to Geneva, Switzerland during Mary’s reign, published The First Blast of the Trumpet the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Although the overall rhetoric of the publication was that women should not rule over men in all aspects of life, Knox used Mary as an example to justify his argument and commented on her marriage to Philip:

[55]Wonder it is, that the advocates and patrons of the right of our ladies did not consider and ponder this law, before they counseled the blind princes and unworthy nobles of their country to betray the liberties thereof into the hands of strangers: England, for satisfying of the inordinate appetites of that cruel monster Mary (unworthy, by reason of her bloody tyranny, of the name of a woman), betrayed, alas! to the proud Spaniard…


Knox commented that women should be wary of whom they marry. Additionally, he accused her of handing over the “liberties” of the English people to a “Spaniard,” and compared her to a “monster.”[56] Furthermore, Mary’s failure to secure Calais resulted in fear of a French invasion throughout the spring and summer of 1558 in England.[57] Mary’s health was also rapidly declining during this time; with her chances of survival low, Philip recognized that Elizabeth was next in line to the throne. In order to maintain an alliance with England, he secretly offered marriage to Elizabeth.[58] However, Elizabeth refused as she believed that, “the queen had lost the affection of the people of this realm because she had married a foreigner.”[59] Whether Mary knew of this is unknown; however, during this time and throughout the later months of that year, Mary’s health continued to rapidly decline, and on the morning of November 17th, 1558, Mary passed away at the age of forty-two.[60]

England’s involvement in the French War ultimately demonstrated how foreign influence was detrimental to Mary’s reign. Philip’s goading and Mary’s willingness to please her husband led to England’s involvement in a long standing rivalry between the French and Spanish. Although the war was initially successful, the outcome was ultimately a disaster with England losing Calais to the French. With the loss came the continued decline of Mary’s popularity, which plagued her reputation until her death.


What do you think of Queen Mary I of England? Let us know below.





Secondary Sources

Davies, C.S.L. England and the French War. In The Mid-Tudor Polity, 1540-1560, edited by Jennifer Loach and Robert Tittler, 159. London, England: Macmillan Press, 1980.

Loades, D. M. Mary Tudor: A Life. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Loades, D. M. The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government, and Religion in England, 1553-1558. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979.

Porter, Linda. Mary Tudor: The First Queen. London, England: Portrait, 2007.

Tittler, Robert. The Reign of Mary I. London: Longman, 1983.

Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: England's First Queen. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.


Primary Sources

"'Act for the Marriage of Queen Mary to Philip of Spain (1554).'" Last modified 1920. http://rbsche.people.wm.edu/H111_doc_marriageofqueenmary.html -.

Eworth, Hans. Mary I and Philip II of Spain. 1558. Oil on Panel. Woburn Abbey, Woburn, Bedfordshire, England.

"Mary: August 1554," in Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Mary 1553-1558, ed. William B Turnbull (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1861), 110-117. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/foreign/mary/pp110-117

"Mary: December 1557," in Calendar of State Papers Foreign: Mary 1553-1558, ed. William B Turnbull (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1861), 346-354. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/foreign/mary/pp346-354.

Knox, John. The First Blast of the Trumpet the Monstrous Regiment of Women. N.p., 1558. http://www.swrb.ab.ca/newslett/actualNLs/firblast.htm.


[1] C.S.L. Davies. England and the French War. In The Mid-Tudor Polity, 1540-1560, edited by Jennifer Loach and Robert Tittler, London, England: Macmillan Press, 1980, 159.

[2] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 160-161.

[3] Titler, The Reign of Mary I, 68.

[4] "Act for the Marriage of Queen Mary to Philip of Spain (1554)." Act for the Marriage of Queen Mary to Philip of Spain (1554). http://rbsche.people.wm.edu/H111_doc_marriageofqueenmary.html.

[5] Titler, The Reign of Mary I, 68.

[6] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 160.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Titler, The Reign of Mary I. 68

[11] Ibid.

[12] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 161.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Titler, The Reign of Mary I, 69.

[15] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 161.

[16] Titler, The Reign of Mary I, 69.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life, 261. The Exchequer was a department that managed the royal revenue.

[19] Ibid, 262.

[20] Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government, and Religion in England, 1553-1558, 365.

[21] Ibid, 366.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 162.

[24] Ibid, 162.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 162-163.

[27] Ibid, 164.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Titler, The Reign of Mary I. 72

[30] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 164.

[31] Titler, The Reign of Mary I, 73.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 166.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid, 167.

[36] Ibid, 169.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid, 168.

[40] Ibid, 169.

[41] Figure 3 in Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 171.

[42] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 170.

[43] Ibid,173.

[44] Ibid,170.

[45] "Mary: December 1557," in Calendar of State Papers Foreign: Mary 1553-1558, ed. William B Turnbull (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1861), 346-354. British History Online, accessed September 13, 2016, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/foreign/mary/pp346-354.

[46] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 172.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Porter, Mary Tudor, 396.

[49] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 176.

[50] Porter, Mary Tudor, 396.

[51] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 180.

[52] Porter, Mary Tudor, 396.

[53] Davies, England and The French, in The Mid-Tudor, 179.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Knox, John. The First Blast of the Trumpet the Monstrous Regiment of Women. N.p., 1558.

[56] Knox, “The First Blast of the Trumpet the Monstrous Regiment of Women.”

[57] Porter, Mary Tudor, 401.

[58] Ibid, 405-406.

[59] Ibid, 406.

[60] Ibid.

In this article, Myra King follows up on her article about the Divine Right of Kings, by telling us about religious conflict in Henry VIII’s England. As we will see, this conflict would continue to simmer beneath the surface well into the 1600s; indeed, it would be a major factor in the English Civil War.


Once upon a time in a land far, far away, a regal king met the woman of his dreams. He instantly knew he had to marry her and make her his Queen. The only problem with this plan… He was already married.

When Henry VIII came across Anne Boleyn, he was already in his fourteenth year of marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Divorce was the only option. Unfortunately the pope refused to grant him one. After nearly seven years of fighting the Vatican, Henry got his Tudor breeches in a twist and decided to break away from the Roman Catholic Church. He established the Church of England, making himself the leader and instated the newly formed denomination, Protestantism. This was no simple decision as Catholicism had been the official religion of England since the Romans had brought it over one thousand years earlier. The people of England had had their faith ripped out from underneath them and they had no way to fight it. Henry’s decision to break with Rome did not end at the peaceful renaming of churches. Henry introduced an act called “The Reformation” and that was far from peaceful. Thomas Cromwell and Henry’s goons ransacked over eight hundred monasteries, literally stripping them of everything from their lead roofs, to their golden candlesticks and valuable books. The lucky monks were thrown into the street. The rest were executed for refusing to comply. The reformation brought in a ton of gold for Henry and a ton of misery for everyone else. Many of those who revolted against this act were murdered. Not only the rebellious men, but their wives and even small children were left swinging from ropes.

A strange fruit left to rot in the fields. 

King Henry VIII of England by Lucas Horenbout (c. 1526)

King Henry VIII of England by Lucas Horenbout (c. 1526)

It wasn’t only the peasants who met their untimely deaths in the reformation. Several of Henry’s own politicians were sent for the chop. Not to mention the fact that women were subjected to torture on the rack. An act unheard of before the tyrant Henry and his church.

There was nothing peaceful about this religious change. Many suffered at the newborn hands of the Church of England. This was the start of the religious wars that would plague the country for over a century. The people of England now became the unfortunate pawns in this genocide. And they had no way to fight back.



In 1547, Henry finally succumbed to whatever ailment had killed him (it is heavily debated), leaving his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, as king. Edward, having been born and bred a Protestant, kept the kingdom as his father had left it. But Edward was a sickly boy and at the tender age of fifteen he was dead and buried. This left his elder sister, Mary I, as queen. Mary’s bloodlust and stupidity is almost stomach turning. Her first act as queen was to undo the reformation and return England to the Vatican. Bad idea. By this point, the Church of England was the only religion the young English knew. They had been schooled by Henry and Edward to read the bible, now Mary burned them for it. They had been taught that prayers were private, and the vanity and abuse of the Catholic Church were not their god’s doing. Mary burned them for questioning the Vatican. Mary’s second mistake was to marry her cousin, Philip of Spain. He was a money and power hungry Catholic who was anything but popular among the English. Mary had been warned by her government that marriage to Philip would be political suicide. But she did not heed their warning. And so, Philip brought his hand in marriage as well as his need to conquer an unconquerable land – France.

England owned one town in France, Calais, a town close to England on the French coast. Philip wanted more. Mary’s government begged her not to go to war with the French. England was in trouble, you see; it had done nothing but rain during Mary’s reign. The crops were ruined. There would be no food for the following year. England needed her money in order to buy food from the French. They couldn’t use that money for war. Mary would not listen though. England not only lost the war with France, but also Calais – a town that could have produced food for them.



In Mary’s five short years as Queen she undid the horror that her father had done; all Henry VIII’s crimes against his people had been for nothing. She burned every Protestant she could find in a land completely Protestant. She married an unpopular fool and sent her army to their deaths to do his bidding. She lost French territory. She did nothing as her country flooded and starved to death. She earned herself the nickname “Bloody Mary” and is known as the most useless monarch England has ever had. All in the name of religion. Once again, the English people were the wretched victims of a monarch’s unholy obsession with their own religious ideas. More than three hundred Protestants were burned at the stake so that she could purge the country of the religion her father had killed nearly fifty-seven thousand people to introduce.

Mary died childless in 1558, leaving her half-sister as queen. Elizabeth quickly changed the country back to Protestantism. And the only people who needed to fear the stake were the corrupt Catholic priests. No one mourned for them; no one mourned the loss of Catholicism. Her memory lives on as one of the greatest leaders in English history; she has no connection to religious genocide. Her father and sister live in infamy as atrocious monarchs hated by the people. And besides their laughable marriages, all they are known for is the suffering their religious beliefs caused. Could it be a coincidence that one is adored while the other two are abhorred?

Elizabeth died childless in 1603 and left the throne to her cousin’s son, the king of Scotland – James VI of Scotland. England’s first fear was that the Catholic king would bring his dreaded religion to England and that there would be a repeat of Mary’s or Henry’s reign. Luckily James had some smarts and left his religion in Edinburgh castle. He became James I of England and brought with him, not one, but two sons. This officially ended the Tudor dynasty and the fears of succession that Henry’s questionable virility and his childless children brought to the table. James walked a fine line though. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings that meant he answered to no one but his god. He believed it was his right to do and say whatever he wanted. The English soon got a tad sick of this behavior. He must have known the dangerous dance he was partaking in. After two cruel monarchs who hid behind the thin guise of religion to commit their atrocities, religion was now top of the suspicion list. Every pro-Catholic move James made, he put his life on the line. Equally, every anti-Catholic move he made he put himself and his family in danger.

If James wasn’t aware of the danger he was in, the Gunpowder plot definitely showed him.

I don’t think James I ever failed to remember the 5th of November.

And that's for next time...


The next article in the series is on King James I and a conspiracy related to the Gunpowder Plot. Click here to read it!


Now, if you enjoyed the article, tell your friends! Tweet, like or share it by clicking the buttons below!




  • Who’s Who in British History by Juliet Gardiner
  • British History by Miles Kelly
  • Slimy Stuarts by Terry Deary
  • Terrible Tudors by Terry Deary

In the first of a new series, Myra King starts to tell the story of the English Civil War.


“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockleshells and pretty maids all in a row.”

Sound like a sweet, children’s rhyme? Well it’s not.

It actually refers to Queen Mary I of England. A woman so violent and psychologically imbalanced she earned herself the name, Bloody Mary. This queen, the first child and eldest daughter of King Henry VIII, had the strange idea that her God was punishing her with infertility because she was too tolerant of Protestants. This was an unfortunate belief as her father, 40 years before, believed his God was punishing him with infertility because England was not Protestant. And so, Henry broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and changed the religion of the England. This might not sound catastrophic, but in an era when science and reason barely existed, belief in the church was all these people had. And Henry took it away from them. He replaced it with a church that saw him as the unquestioned leader. This tyrannical leader then burned monasteries, killed monks, stole their gold and hanged all those who questioned him.

Queen Mary I of England

Queen Mary I of England

Henry earned himself two of his own nursery rhymes, “Little Jack Horner” and “Old Mother Hubbard.” Once again, this might not seem important, but this shows us the turning tide of public opinion towards monarchs. Throughout the history of England, the question of who reigned had always been more important than how they reigned. The law called “The Divine Right of Kings” meant that the monarch was seen as God’s choice; he was a chosen person to rule over their land. Therefore, who were the commoners to question who ruled? A king was a king was a king was a king. If he wasn’t a good one, hopefully the next one would be better. And that was the end of it. The common man had no say.

Or did he?

Henry VIII destroyed his reign and the love of his people by gutting England of its long standing religion; of putting wives aside, or worse, killing them; of starving the nation for his wars; of murdering all those who opposed him. The people remember him by mocking him in rhyme. His son, and successor, did not rule for long enough to live in infamy. But his daughter, Mary, will always be remembered as the blood-thirsty, psychopath she was.

The poem, “Mary, quite contrary,” refers to Mary’s garden that in reality was the growing graveyard her religious genocide caused. Mary, unlike most of the rest of England, had never abandoned Catholicism. Upon her disastrous marriage and second phantom pregnancy, the Queen decided that England would once again be Catholic, and all Protestants should be tortured and burned. Silverbells, Cockleshells and Pretty Maids were all torture devices used heavily in her reign. Mary earned herself even more rhymes: Ladybird, Ladybird, Three Blind Mice, and Goosy Goosy Gander, as well as a handful that have not survived into modern times. Despite their sweet words, these rhymes depict the hell that Mary brought to the realm. More hated than her father had ever been, Mary lives on despite her death four hundred years ago. Although, only children, their mothers and pre-school teachers still speak of her. Rhyming happily to a poem forged in the blood and torture of the Protestants she destroyed.

Henry and Mary serve to prove the changing opinions of the English people. Their chosen monarch could be evil, they now saw. Their chosen monarch could be cruel and unjust; their policies wrong; their beliefs and rules could be against the wishes of England.

Common men of the past had quietly accepted their kings without complaint. But those kings had abused their people. Those kings had destroyed the trust put in to them.

And so when James I and his son, Charles I, insisted on the law of the Divine Right of Kings despite England not wanting that law, England no longer wanted their Kings.


You can read Myra’s first series of articles on the Wars of the Roses by clicking here.



  • Who's who in British History by Juliet Gardiner
  • British History by Miles Kelly
  • Rhymes.org.uk