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This Week In History

The Coronation of Bloody Mary. October 1, 1553.

Mary I, also known as Mary Tudor, was the queen of England from July 1553 until her death. She is best known for her vigorous attempt to reverse the English Reformation, which had begun during the reign of her father, Henry VIII. Her attempt to restore to the Church the property confiscated in the previous two reigns was largely thwarted by parliament, but during her five-year reign, Mary had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake in the Marian persecutions, which led to her denunciation as “Bloody Mary” by her Protestant opponents.

Mary was the only child of Henry VIII by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, to survive to adulthood. Her younger half-brother, Edward VI, succeeded their father in 1547 at the age of nine. When Edward became mortally ill in 1553, he attempted to remove Mary from the line of succession because he supposed, correctly, that she would reverse the Protestant reforms that had continued during his reign. Upon his death, leading politicians proclaimed Lady Jane Grey as queen. Mary speedily assembled a force in East Anglia, where many adherents of the Catholic faith lived, and deposed Jane.

On 10 July 1553, Lady Jane was proclaimed queen, and by 12 July, Mary and her supporters had assembled a military force at Framlingham Castle, Suffolk. Jane´s support collapsed, and she was deposed on 19 July. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London and ultimately beheaded. Mary rode triumphantly into London on 3 August 1553, on a wave of popular support. She was accompanied by her half-sister Elizabeth and a procession of over 800 nobles and gentlemen.

One of Mary’s first actions as queen was to order the release of the Roman Catholic Duke of Norfolk and Stephen Gardiner from imprisonment in the Tower of London, as well as her kinsman Edward Courtenay. She appointed Gardiner to the council and made him both Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor, offices he held until his death in November 1555. Susan Clarencieux became Mistress of the Robes. On 1 October 1553, Gardiner crowned Mary at Westminster Abbey.

At age 37, Mary turned her attention to finding a husband and producing a heir, which would prevent the Protestant Elizabeth (still next-in-line under the terms of Henry VIII’s will and the Act of Succession of 1544) from succeeding to the throne. Edward Courtenay and Reginald Pole were both mentioned as prospective suitors, but her cousin Charles V suggested she marry his only son, Prince Philip of SpainPhilip had a son from a previous marriage and was heir apparent to vast territories in Continental Europe and the New World.

Lord Chancellor Gardiner and the House of Commons unsuccessfully petitioned her to consider marrying an Englishman, fearing that England would be relegated to a dependency of the Habsburgs. The marriage was unpopular with the English; Gardiner and his allies opposed it on the basis of patriotism, while Protestants were motivated by a fear of Catholicism. When Mary insisted on marrying Philip, insurrections broke out.

While Mary’s grandparents, Ferdinand and Isabella, had retained sovereignty of their own realms during their marriage, there was no precedent to follow in England. Under the terms of Queen Mary’s Marriage Act, Philip was to be styled “King of England“, all official documents (including Acts of Parliament) were to be dated with both their names, and Parliament was to be called under the joint authority of the couple, for Mary’s lifetime only. England would not be obliged to provide military support to Philip’s father in any war, and Philip could not act without his wife’s consent or appoint foreigners to office in England. Philip was unhappy at the conditions imposed, but he was ready to agree for the sake of securing the marriage. He had no amorous feelings toward Mary and sought the marriage for its political and strategic gains; Philip’s aide Ruy Gómez de Silva wrote to a correspondent in Brussels, “the marriage was concluded for no fleshly consideration, but in order to remedy the disorders of this kingdom and to preserve the Low Countries.”

To elevate his son to Mary’s rank, Emperor Charles V ceded to Philip the crown of Naples as well as his claim to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Therefore, Mary became Queen of Naples and titular Queen of Jerusalem upon marriage. Their wedding at Winchester Cathedral on 25 July 1554 took place just two days after their first meeting. Philip could not speak English, and so they spoke in a mixture of Spanish, French, and Latin.

In September 1554, Mary stopped menstruating. She gained weight, and felt nauseated in the mornings. For these reasons, almost the entirety of her court, including her doctors, believed her to be pregnant. Parliament passed an act making Philip regent in the event of Mary’s death in childbirth. In the last week of April 1555, Elizabeth was released from house arrest, and called to court as a witness to the birth, which was expected imminently. According to Giovanni Michieli, the Venetian ambassador, Philip may have planned to marry Elizabeth in the event of Mary’s death in childbirth, but in a letter to his brother-in-law, Maximilian of Austria, Philip expressed uncertainty as to whether his wife was pregnant.

Mary continued to exhibit signs of pregnancy until July 1555, when her abdomen receded. Michieli dismissively ridiculed the pregnancy as more likely to “end in wind rather than anything else”. It was most likely a false pregnancy, perhaps induced by Mary’s overwhelming desire to have a child. In August, soon after the disgrace of the false pregnancy, which Mary considered to be “God’s punishment” for her having “tolerated heretics” in her realm, Philip left England to command his armies against France in Flanders.

In the month following her accession, Mary issued a proclamation that she would not compel any of her subjects to follow her religion, but by the end of September 1553, leading Protestant churchmen were imprisoned. Mary’s first Parliament, which assembled in early October, declared the marriage of her parents valid and abolished Edward’s religious laws. Church doctrine was restored to the form it had taken in the 1539 Six Articles of Henry VIII, which (among other things) re-affirmed clerical celibacy. Married priests were deprived of their benefices.

Under the Heresy Acts, numerous Protestants were executed in the Marian persecutions. Around 800 rich Protestants fled into exile. The first executions occurred over a period of five days in early February 1555. Thomas Cranmer, the imprisoned archbishop of Canterbury, was forced to watch Bishops Ridley and Latimer being burned at the stake. Cranmer recanted, repudiated Protestant theology, and rejoined the Catholic faith. Under the normal process of the law, he should have been absolved as a repentant. Mary, however, refused to reprieve him. On the day of his burning, he dramatically withdrew his recantation. In total, 283 were executed, most by burning. The burnings proved so unpopular that even Alfonso de Castro, one of Philip’s own ecclesiastical staff, condemned them. Mary persevered with the policy, which continued until her death and exacerbated anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish feeling among the English people. The victims of the persecutions became lauded as martyrs.

After Mary’s death in 1558, her re-establishment of Roman Catholicism was reversed by her younger half-sister and successor, Elizabeth I.

 

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