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Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”)

The only surviving child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary is unfortunately recognized best by the nickname “Bloody Mary,” with which history has unfairly branded her. Although successful at reversing the anti-papal legislation her father had enacted, her attempt to restore Catholicism in England was destined to fail after her death.

Mary was born on February 18, 1516, in Greenwich. She was well educated and was particularly acquainted with the works of Ambrose and Augustine. Mary was recognized as the heir to the throne of England and was offered in marriage to many of the royal families of Europe.

When Henry decided to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn, in an attempt to produce a male heir for the Tudor dynasty, Mary’s life of privilege ended abruptly. Henry’s claim that his marriage to Catherine was invalid branded Mary as illegitimate, and she was treated as such. Separated from her mother, she was forced to sign a document recognizing Henry’s ecclesiastical supremacy and the invalidity of her parents’ marriage. Though constantly pressured to do so, she obstinately refused to give up her Catholicism.

At the death of Henry, her sickly half-brother Edward, son of Jane Seymour, assumed the throne at eleven years of age. He was a puppet of his Protestant uncle. Upon Edward’s death a short time later, and fearing a Catholic restoration, the Duke of Northumberland attempted to have crowned as successor Lady Jane Grey, a descendant of Henry’s sister. The majority of the populace supported Mary instead, and she ascended to the throne in 1553. She received the support of Parliament, which ratified her coronation. Catholic bishops previously deposed were returned to their sees, Mass was restored, and Protestantism was permitted to continue.

When it became apparent that she would marry Philip II of Spain, the still formidable Protestant resistance surfaced in a rebellion against Mary’s throne. It was crushed; its obvious Protestant nature led Parliament to restore the supremacy of the pope and to re-enact laws against heresy.

Mary became intent on protecting the throne as well as fighting heresy, which she saw as the source of all the tragedy in her life. This attempt at restoring Catholicism led to the trial and execution of many leaders of Protestant factions. Three hundred people were burned to death in four years–thus the nickname “Bloody Mary.”

Her brutal reaction to sedition and heresy, typical in a brutal age, contributed to the eventual triumph of Protestantism in England with Elizabeth. Mary died in London on November 17, 1558.

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