8 Facts About Mary I aka. 'Bloody Mary'

#1 Her parentage and childhood

Mary I of England, also known as Mary Tudor and as Bloody Mary for her ruthless persecution of the Protestant population of England, was the only surviving child of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She was mostly neglected through her childhood, as Henry was desperate for a male heir and showed little care or affection towards his daughters. At the age of nine, she was sent to preside over Wales (in name only) with her own court and had limited interactions with her father until his death. Her hatred for her father was further fuelled by the fact that, in the later years of her adolescence, he would not even permit her to see her mother, who became gravely ill and eventually died in 1536, leaving Mary inconsolable. 

#2 The origin of her namesake

The infamous moniker ‘Bloody Mary’ was coined by her Protestant opponents, who Mary spent a great majority of her reign suppressing and executing in what became known as the Marian persecutions. Shockingly, almost three-hundred religious dissenters were burnt at the stake for heresy under her supervision. She attempted desperately to reverse the religious shift that had taken place under her father, Henry VIII, and tried to put the country back under the dominion of the Catholic church. However, most of her attempts to do so were thwarted by the British parliament, and she was ultimately unsuccessful as her successor, Elizabeth, would double down on their father’s protestant policies.

#3 She was England’s first queen regnant

Though there were disputed claims by English noblewomen to the throne prior to Mary’s own reign, such as those by Empress Matilda and Lady Jane Grey, Mary was the first undisputed queen regnant of England. The term ‘queen regnant’ refers to a female monarch who rules the country in her own right, as opposed to a ‘queen consort’ which refers to the subordinate wife of a king.

#4 She had five step-mothers.

Being the daughter of Henry VIII, to say that Mary experienced a somewhat tumultuous court life and upbringing would be the understatement of the century. In her father’s desperation to sire a male heir to the throne, he famously married and divorced six women. For the young Mary, this meant that she technically had five step-mothers - however, in practice, her relationship with her father became very distant as she grew up and she had little-to-no interaction with most of her step-mothers.

#5 She lost the last English territory in France

The port-town of Calais was the sole remaining English-held territory in the de jure domain of France. Upon its capture in the 14th century, it became a beacon for English trade and economy, coming to be called “the brightest jewel in the English crown” for its significance in ensuring a steady flow of textile trade through an English port in mainland Europe. At times, it was calculated to have amounted approximately a third of the crown’s income. However, maintaining the small territory was costly, and French kings made numerous attempts at reclaiming it. Eventually, one of these attempts proved to be successful when, after a short siege, Henry II of France reclaimed Calais for the Kingdom of France. Devastated by the loss, Mary famously stated, “When I am dead and opened, you shall find Philip and Calais lying in my heart.”

#6 She was betrothed several times

Henry VIII was an extremely traditional, misogynistic monarch as typical for his time, and believed firmly in the traditional role of women in medieval courts. As such, from a very young age, many attempts were made by the crown to utilise her as a bargaining chip through brokering engagements and political marriages to influential European nobles. In fact, Mary was betrothed as early as two years old - before she could even speak or walk! However, every attempt made by Henry’s government to ship Mary off to a distant corner of Europe were ultimately unsuccessful during his lifetime. After his death, Mary would marry King Philip II of Spain - a match of her own choosing.

#7 Her burial

Mary died on 17 November 1558 at the age of forty-two of what historians believe to be uterine cancer. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, a royal church located in Westminster, London. The abbey has served for centuries as the site of many royal burials and weddings - including the 2011 marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. In the abbey, Mary is buried beneath her sister, Elizabeth, where a latin inscription reads, “Partners both in throne and grave. Here rest we two sisters Mary and Elizabeth in the hope of one resurrection.”

#8 Her legacy

The passage of time has not looked favourably upon Mary’s reign, considered as a particularly dark time in the history of the country by a great many Protestant historians. Remembered as one of the most reviled monarchs in the history of England for burning hundreds of Protestants at the stake, her actions no doubt served to cement her reputation as a despotic tyrant. However, was she really any more tyrannical than her predecessors? Many historians argue that Mary was in fact no less of a monster than the many who came before her, and that her reputation owes largely to the fact that, as a Catholic monarch in the 16th century, she was simply on the wrong side of history.

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