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Mary Tudor

Queen of England from 1553 to 1558; b. Feb. 18, 1516; d. November 17, 1558

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Mary Tudor, Queen of England from 1553 to 1558; b. February 18, 1516; d. November 17, 1558. Mary was the daughter and only surviving child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Cardinal Wolsey was her godfather, and amongst her most intimate friends in early life were Cardinal Pole (q.v.) and his mother, the Countess of Salisbury, put to death in 1539 and now beatified. We know from the report of contemporaries that Mary in her youth did not lack charm. She was by nature modest, affectionate, and kindly. Like all the Tudor princesses she had been well educated, speaking Latin, French, and Spanish with facility, and she was in particular an accomplished musician. Down to the time of the divorce negotiations, Mary was recognized as heir to the throne, and many schemes had been proposed to supply her with a suitable husband. She was indeed affianced for some time to the Emperor Charles V, the father of the man she was afterwards to marry. When, however, Henry VIII became inflexibly determined to put away his first wife, Mary, who was deeply attached to her mother, also fell into disfavor, and shortly afterwards, in 1531, to their great mutual grief, the mother and daughter were forcibly separated. During Anne Boleyn’s lifetime as queen, the harshest treatment was shown to “the Lady Mary, the King’s natural daughter”, and widespread rumors affirmed that it was intended to bring both the princess and her mother to the gallows. However, after Queen Catherine’s death in January, 1536, and Anne Boleyn’s execution, which followed in a few months, the new queen, Jane Seymour, seems to have shown willingness to befriend the king’s eldest daughter. Meanwhile very strong pressure was brought to bear by the all-powerful Cromwell, and Mary was at last induced to sign a formal “submission”, in which she begged pardon of the king whom she had “obstinately and disobediently offended”, renounced “the Bishop of Rome‘s pretended authority”, and acknowledged the marriage between her father and mother to have been contrary to the law of God. It should be noted, however, that Mary signed this paper without reading it (Gairdner, “Lollardy”, I, 312; Stone, “Mary I, Queen of England“, 125), and by the advice of Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, made a private protestation that she had signed it under compulsion. The degree of favor to which Mary was restored was at first but small, and even this was jeopardized by the sympathy shown for her in the Pilgrimage of Grace, but after the king’s marriage to his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, Mary’s position improved, and she was named in Henry’s will, next to the little Edward, in the succession to the throne.

When Henry died it was inevitable that under the influences which surrounded the young king, Mary should retire into comparative obscurity. She chiefly resided at her manors of Hunsdon, Kenninghall, or Newhall, but during Somerset’s protectorate she was not ill-treated. When the celebration of Mass was prohibited, she summoned up courage to take a strong line. She wrote to the Council and appealed to the emperor, and it seemed at one time as if Charles V would actually declare war. Throughout, Mary remained firm, and despite repeated monitions from the Council and a visit from Bishop Ridley, she to all intents and purposes set the government at defiance, so far, at least, as regarded the religious observances followed in her own household. At the same time her relations with her brother remained outwardly friendly, and she paid him visits of state from time to time.

At Edward’s death on July 6, 1553, the news was for some days kept from Mary, Northumberland, the Lord President of the Council, having contrived that the young king should disinherit both his sisters in favor of Northumberland’s own daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey. The Lord President, backed at first by the Council, made a resolute attempt to secure the succession for Lady Jane, but Mary acted promptly and courageously, setting up her standard at Framlingham, where the men of the eastern counties rallied round her and where she was soon joined by some members of the Council. By July 19 Mary had been proclaimed in London, and a few days later Northumberland was arrested.

Mary’s success was highly popular, and the friends of the late administration, seeing that resistance was hopeless, hastened to make their peace with her. Her own inclinations were all in favor of clemency, and it was only in deference to the remonstrances of her advisers that she ultimately consented to the execution of the arch-traitor Northumberland with two of his followers. In his hour of distress Northumberland, apparently in all sincerity, professed himself a Catholic. Lady Jane Grey was spared, and even in matters of religion, Mary, perhaps by the advice of Charles V, showed no wish to proceed to extremities. The Catholic bishops of Henry’s reign, like Bonner, Tunstall, and Gardiner, were restored to their sees, the intruded bishops were deprived, and some of them, like Ridley, Coverdale, and Hooper, were committed to custody. Cranmer, after he had challenged the Catholic party to meet him and Peter Martyr in disputation, was committed to the Tower upon a by no means frivolous charge of having participated in the late futile rebellion. But no blood was shed for religion at this stage.

In September Mary was crowned with great pomp at Westminster by Gardiner, in spite of the excommunication which still lay upon the country, but this act was only due to the constitutional impasse which would have been created had this sanction to the royal authority been longer delayed. Mary had no wish to refuse obedience to papal authority. On the contrary, negotiations had already been opened with the Holy See which resulted in the nomination of Pole as legate to reconcile the kingdom. Parliament met, October 5, 1553. It repealed the savage Treason Act of Northumberland’s government, passed an Act declaring the queen legitimate, another for the restitution of the Mass in Latin, though without penalties for non-conformity, and another for the celibacy of the clergy. Meanwhile Mary, owing perhaps partly to the fact that she fell much under the influence of the Spanish ambassador, Renard, had made up her mind to marry Philip of Spain. The suggestion was not very palatable to the nation as represented by the lower house of Parliament, but the queen persisted, and a treaty of marriage was drawn up in which English liberties were carefully safeguarded. All the Spanish influence was exercised to carry this scheme safely through, and at the emperor’s instigation Pole was deliberately detained on his way to England under the apprehension that he might oppose the match. The unpopularity of the projected alliance encouraged Sir Thomas Wyatt to organize a rebellion, which at one time, January 29, 1554, looked very formidable. Mary behaved with conspicuous courage, addressed the citizens of London at the Guildhall, and when they rallied round her the insurrection was easily crushed. The security of the State seemed now to require stern measures. The leaders of the revolt were executed and with them the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey. Whether Mary’s sister Elizabeth was implicated in this movement has never quite been made clear, but mercy was shown to her as well as to many others.

Meanwhile the restoration of the old religion went on vigorously. The altars were set up again, the married clergy were deprived, High Mass was sung at St. Paul’s, and new bishops were consecrated according to the ancient ritual. In Mary’s second Parliament the title of supreme head was formally abrogated, and an attempt was made to reenact the statutes against heresy, but was defeated by the resistance of the Lords. Some of this resistance undoubtedly came from the apprehension which prevailed that the complete reestablishment of Catholicism could only be effected at the price of the restitution of the abbey lands to the Church. When, however, the marriage of Mary and Philip had taken place (July 25), and the Holy See had given assurances that the impropriators of Church property would not be molested, Pole towards the end of November was at last allowed to make his way to London. On November 30, he pronounced the absolution of the kingdom over the king and queen and Parliament all kneeling before him. In was this same Parliament which in December, 1554, reenacted the ancient statutes against heresy and repealed the enactments which had been made against Rome in the last two reigns.

All this seems to have excited much feeling among the more fanatical of the Reformers, men who for some years past had railed against the pope and denounced Transubstantiation with impunity. Mary and her advisers were probably right in thinking that religious peace was impossible unless these fanatics were silenced, and they started once more to enforce those penalties for heresy which after all had never ceased to be familiar. Both under Henry VIII and Edward VI men had been burned for religion, and Protestant bishops like Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley had had a principal hand in their burning. It seems to be generally admitted now that no vindictive thirst for blood prompted the deplorable severities which followed, but they have weighed heavily upon the memory of Mary, and it seems on the whole most probable that in her conscientious but misguided zeal for the peace of the Church, she was herself principally responsible for them. In less than four years 277 persons were burned to death. Some, like Bishops Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley, were men of influence and high position, but the majority belonged to the lower orders. Still these last were dangerous, because, as Dr. Gairdner has pointed out, heresy and sedition were at that time almost convertible terms. In regard to these executions, a much more lenient and at the same time more equitable judgment now prevails than was formerly the case. As one recent writer observes, Mary and her advisers “honestly believed themselves to be applying the only remedy left for the removal of a mortal disease from the body politic. What they did was on an unprecedented scale in England because heresy existed on an unprecedented scale” (Inns, “England under the Tudors”, 232; and cf. Gairdner, “Lollardy”, I, 327).

Something, perhaps, of Mary’s severity, which was in contradiction to the clemency and generosity uniformly shown in the rest of her life, may be attributed to the bitterness which seems to have been concentrated into these last years. Long an invalid, she had had more than one serious illness during the reign of her brother. But the dropsy had now become chronic, and she was in truth a doomed woman. Again it was her misfortune to have conceived a passionate love for her husband. Philip had never returned this affection, and when the hope of her bearing him an heir proved illusory, he treated her with scant consideration and quitted England forever. Then in Mary’s last year of life came the loss of Calais, and this was followed by misunderstandings with the Holy See for which she had sacrificed so much. No wonder the Queen sank under this accumulated weight of disappointments. Mary died most piously, as she had always lived, a few hours before her staunch friend, Cardinal Pole. Her good qualities were many. To the very end she was a woman capable of inspiring affection in those who came in contact with her. Modern historians are almost unanimous in regarding the sad story of this noble but disappointed woman as one of the most tragic in history.


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