British Royalty: Mary I (1516-58)

Figure 1.--Notice that the painting was labeled "Ladt Mary" and not "Princess Mary". This painting was done in 1544. I have not been able to find a painting of her at a younger age. Mary's father and Protestant brother Edward refused to allow Princess Mary to marry as the result would be a politically dangerous Catholic claimant to the throne. Thus Mary passed her most productive child bearing ages. As queen, Mary became perhaps the most hated of all British monarchs. Mary's fervent desire was to return England to the Catholic Church. She came very close to ordering Elizabeth's execution. Her brief reign and inability to produce an heir mean that England's future was with Elizabeth and Protestantism.

Mary's father and Protestant brother Edward refused to allow Princess Mary to marry as the result would be a politically dangerous Catholic claimant to the throne. After the death of her brother, Edward VI, Mary I reigned as queen of England for only 5 years. She was one of thge least syccessful and most hated of all British monarchs. She failed in her primary goal of returning England to the Roman Catholic Church. She was not even able to bear a child to continue a Catholic monarchy and persue her dream of a future Catholic England. Mary also failed in her domestic policies. She came very close to executing her half-sister Elizabeth. Mary's fervent desire was to return England to the Catholic Church, but her short reign, restrictons of English law, and failure to produce an heir doomed that effort.


Princess Mary was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII is one of the most remembered of all England's monarchs. Henry was the second son of Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York. Henry VIII is most remembered for his many wives and ways of dispensing with them. Henry's first wife Catherine had failed to provide him a son. Henry desperately wanted a son to succeed him. This much more than theological questions had led him to divorce Catherine, break with Rome, and marry Anne. While Henry is best remembered for his marital affairs, he was in fact one of the country's greatest monarchs and his reign had a huge impact in shaping modern Britain.

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine was born in 1485 at Alcala de Henares, Madrid. Her parents were the famous Catholic Kings (Ferdinand and Isabella) who dispached Colunbus on his fateful voyage. She was their fifth and yungest child. Her father was King Ferdinand V "The Catholic" of Aragon (1452- ). His parents were John II of Trastámara, King of Aragón, (1398- ) an Juana Enriquez (1425- ). Catherine's mother was Isabella "The Catholic" of Castile (1451- ). Isabella's parents were King John II (Juan II) of Castile, King of Castile & León (1405- ) and Isabella of Portugal (1428- ). Henry after the untimely death of his older brother married Arthur's new bride, Catherine of Aragon (1509). The Spanish queen proved to be very popular with the English people. There were many reasons for this. Her regal manner and religious piety were factors. One example followed Evil May Day. Appretices unhappy with their treatment turned a London May Day celebration into a riot. Many were arrested and sentenced to the gallows. Catherine had pleaded with Henry to spare them and he consented. [Lofts, p. 65.] Catherine had several pragnancies, but only produced one surviving child, Princess Mary. Catherine prided herself on her obedience to her husband. It thus came as a great surprise to Henry when she refused to consent to the annulment of their marriage. Catherine died in 1536, Kimbolton Castle, probably of cancer. She is interred: Peterborough Cathedral.


Mary was born at Greenwich Palace (1516). She by all accounts was a healthy, lively if not precocious little girl. Mary's father famnously anted a boy, but took her birth well, assuming that the next child would be a boy. Her childhhod changed dramatically after her father decided to annul his mariage with her mother. Ar first Henry treated Catherine with great respect, inpart out of guilt. But when Catherine refused the convenient option of taking the veil, Henry's attitide began to harden. Mary was kept from Court. [Lofts, p. 62.] When Catherine was banished from Court to The More, she was allowed to receive ambassadors and friends, but Princess Mary was not allowed to see her. Henry moved Catherine to increasingly less comfortable quarters (Ampthill, Buckden, and Kimbolton) in an effort to compel her compliance with an annullment. Mary continued to be kept from her mother another enducement. For several years no action was taken against Princess Mary, except that she was not allowed to attend Court or see her mother. This changed when nne Boleyn gavebirt to her alf-sister Elizabeth. Henry ordered her to move from Beaulieu where she was treated royally to a humble residence. She could no longer be called Princess Mary, but rather Lady Mary. Nor could she have her servants with livery. She wrote to her father complaining of this treatment. Mary was willing to accept Elizabeth as her half-sister like the Duke of Richmond, Henry's illegetimate son. Henry decided to show Mary just where she stood. The Princess Elizabeth was to have an establisment precided over by Lady Shelton, Anne's aunt. She was usually at Hatfield. Mary was to be a lady-in-waiting to her baby half-sister. [Lofts, pp. 121-122.] Anne instructed her aunt to slap Mary on the face if she insisted on being called princess. [Lofts, p. 123.] There is no evidence that Lady Shelton ever did so. Anne wet to Mry at Hatfield to seek an accomodation. She wa prepared to accept Mary at Court and treat her honorably. Mary would not even meet with her. he locjked herself in her room, maintaining that her mother was the only rightful queen. Anne was furious. Some believe that her rage may have contributed to Anne's miscarriage. Elizabeth was left in the care of the steady stream of women that moved through her father's life. I assume that the sme was the case of Mary, but she was considerably older. These of course included: Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and finally Catherine Parr. I have few details about Elizabeth's relatiinship with these women. I assume that the sme was the case of Mary, but she was considerably older. I know little about the relationship with her siblings, Elizabeth and Edward. As far as we know, the only child which Henry took much interest in was Edward.


We do know that Elizabeth received an excellent education. Many girls even nobel girls were not seriously educated until the 20th century. Elizabeth was, however, given a first class education. It had become fashionable in the 16th century among nobel families to educate girls. Interestingly subsequent royals even as late as the early 20th century might be indifferently educated. Royal parents varied greatly on this. In Elizabeth's case she benefitted from a very thorough education. Elizabeth was an excetional pupil. She ws taught by renowned scholars such as William Grindal and Roger Asham. I'm unsure to what extent the royal children were educated together. Elizabeth showed a special talent for language. She learned to speak five languages fluently. I am not sure yet about Mary. We do know that Isabella had Mary's mother Catherine reducated and trained as a queen. Y\This presumably affected Catherine's attitude toward educating Mary.

Political Situation

Elizabeth while her father lived was safe. After he died (1547) when she was about 14 years old, she became vulnerable. Henry had her any Mart declared illegitimate, but later decided to include them in the line of succession. First was Edward and second was her older sister Mary. Elizabeth was third. This meant that Elizabeth was vulnerable to be drawn into political plots and becuse of the religious situation and the fact that Edward and Elizabeth were Protestant and Mary Catholic, there were many plots a foot and dangers that an innocent young girl might be drawn into them.


Henry VIII had three legitimate (here the different religious parties had different views) surviving children, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward. Edward as the boy was the first in the succession.

Elizabeth (1533-1603)

Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, the woman who repalced Mary'm mother Cataherine of Aragon as queen. Mary had every reason to hate her half-sister Elizabeth. I am not sure what their relationship was like when Elizabeth was a little girl. When Mary became queen, she came very close to executing Elizabeth. Elizabeth was again implicated in another plot--the Wyatt rebellion (1554). Elizabeth's Protestant faith troubled the relationship with her sister now the queen. Elizabeth's situation worsened when Edward died. His health had never been strong (1553). After Edward died there was an attempt to by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, to make his daughter in law, Lady Jane Grey, Queen. Mary's supporters included many Protestants devoted to the idea of legitimacy quickly ended the threat to her rule. Mary was not, however, popular with the people. She resented the fact that the increasingly Protestant English people liked Elizabeth. She thus became supicious of her. Advisers persuaded Mary that Elizabeth may have been ivolved in a plot by Thomas Wyatt to seize the throne. Little information is known about the Wyatt plot. Is is not known if Wyatt was even planning to install Elizabeth as queen. Nor is it known that Elizabeth had any knowledge of the plot. There is no evidence one way or the other. Elizabeth was arrested and sent to the Tower of London as a prisoner. Many of the Caholics around Mary wanted her to execute Elizabeth as she would threaten ther position if she accended to the throne. Mary was conflicted. She knew Elizabeth from childhood. There was no real evidence against her. Elizabeth wrote to her sister from the Tower assuring Mary of her loyalty and offering to take instruction in the Catholic faith. Finally Mary allowed to leave the Tower, but kept in close confinement at Woodstock Manor in Oxfordhsire. Elizabeth was kept there for a year. Mary tried to convert Elizabeth to Catholocism.

Edward VI (1537-53)

Edward succeeded his father in 1547. Edward was only 9 years old and not old enough to rule. His mother had died in child birth. His uncle Edward Seymour became Protector of England. Edward Seymour's younger brother, Thomas, became very jealous of his older brother's exalted position and organized a plot which included kidnapping King Edward. The plot failed and Thomas Seymour was tried and executed for treason. There were charges that Elizabeth was implicated. Certainly she was very young and might have been talked into something by a man like Thomas Seymour. For his part Seymour had expressed a desire to marry Elizabeth. It would have been an act of trason for Elizabeth as an heir to the throne to marry or even consent to marry without obtaining the consent of the King and his counsel. Elizabeth was quite young at only 15 years of age, but she was also very smart and would have known this. No one knows is she had any involvement. At any rate, she persuade her interrogators that she was completely unaware of the plot. It seems unlikely that she would have been involved in any plot aimed at her brother, but innocent liasons with Seymour are another matter. She along comvinced her interogators that she had not consented to marry Seymour. This did not dispell rumours. The fact that he had married to Elizabeth's last step-mother, Katherine Parr, before she died in childbirth, made the whole affair more scandelous.


Mary did not marry until her miidle ages. Presumably this was because her father did not want any Cathlic descendenys who could clain the throne. Her brother's Protestant advisers presumably had similar opinions. Thus Mary could not marry until she became queen. Mary in the hope of producing a Catholic heir, married Philip II of Spain (1554). This added to the concern of her subjects who were already disturbedwith her religios policies. Spain had become to be seen during Edward's reign as England's arch enemy. Mary was 37 years old when she maried Philip, at the far range of child bearing years. She ws unable to conceive a child. Twice she became became convinced that she was actually pregant. Modern historians believe that she may have had an ovarian cyst that prevented a pregnancy and may have contributed to her death in 1558.

Philip II

Mary had married the most powerful Catholic monarch in Europe, Philip II of Spain. Mary and Philip hoped that a son would ensure that England could be rturned to the Cathloic camp. Philip like Mary was a devoted Cathloic, but he was more pragmatic. He knew that Elizabeth was very popular and any action against her would damage the Catholic cause. It was Philip who convinced Mary to allow Elizabeth to return to her childhood home, Hatfield in Hertfordshire. Philip became increasingly aware of Mary's poor health and tried to cultivate a relationship with her in case she should become queen.

Succession (1558)

After the death of her half-brother, Edward VI, in 1553, Mary became queen only after English nobles tried to replace her with Lady Jane Grey, or the "nine day queen." Lady Jane Grey executed (1554).


Life Style

The Protestant Reformation

The importance of Protestantism had grown greatly in England during Edwrd's reihn. Mary's brief reign could no turn the country back to Catholocism. Mary's repression has earned her the sobiqunt bloody Mary and appears to have damaged the Catholic cause. Mary on becoming queen begins to work on returning her country to the Roman Catholic faith. She rescind the religious proclamations of Edward VI and reserected old English laws enforcing heresy against the Church. Here the executions earned her the name by which she is known to history--"Bloody Mary." Mary had more than 300 Protestants burned at the stake. The most prominent were Protestant clergymen, especially Thomas Cranmer (1556). The numbers were not enough to cow the Protestants, but thdy were enough to instill hated of mary and the Catholics. Mary's support of the Catholic Church and her efforts to restablish it alientated the now increasingly Protestant nobility as well as the English people. Had she followed her father, she might well have been able in turning England back to Catholocism, but the chanhes during Edward's reign was just to pervasive.

Foreign Policy

Mary at Philip's request allied England with Spain by Philip in a war against France. The only result was that England lost Calais, the last English possession in France.


Last Year

Mary's health worsened. Seeing there was no hope for a child, Philip returned to Spain to claim the Spanish throne (1558). Mary with her health weakening and her husband gone now saw that her Protestant half-sister would succeed her and undo all her efforts to return England to Catholocism.


Mary's fervent desire was to return England to the Catholic Church, but her short reign, restrictons of English law, and failure to produce an heir doomed that effort.


Mary succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth I (1558).

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I was one of the greates monrarchs in English history. She presided on the emergence of England as an important naval power. She was like her father a skilled politican and egotistical, unliked her father she had a sence of the responsibilities of office and duty to her people. She was immensely popular throughout her reign.


Lofts, Norah. Anne Boleyn (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan: New York, 1979), 192p.


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Created: September 29, 2003
Last updated: 2:09 AM 10/12/2009