Queen of England
Book Published - "Queen in Waiting: A Life of 'Bloody Mary' Tudor"
by Georgess McHargue, now available from iUniverse.com, amazon.com and
Mary Tudor was not born to rule. She was intended to be a player in the royal
European marriage market, adding
prestige and security to the kingdom of her father, Henry the Eighth. But before
she would come to the throne at age 37, her life was to be far more turbulent,
distressing, and dangerous than she or anyone else could have expected.
Mary had a pleasant and secure childhood, in the manner of Tudor princesses. She
had her own traveling household, her own tutors and governesses and servants,
but saw comparatively little of her parents, Henry and his wife Katharine of
Aragon, except at festivals and state occasions. Her parents were proud of her,
and oversaw her education carefully, but both desperately hoped for a son to
inherit Henry's throne. That hope was dashed, with momentous consequences.
At the age of nine, Mary was declared Princess of Wales and sent with a small
but impressive personal court to live on the Welsh border. The purpose was to
create a royal presence among the always-restive Welsh and to allow the senior
officer of her household to dispense justice in the King's name. Her visit to
Wales was based on the assumption that small, golden-haired Mary was heir to the
throne of England.
Two years later, Mary's world was shattered when her father Henry began to talk
openly about divorcing Katharine, to whom he had been married for eighteen
years. In a combination of lust, policy, and egotism, Henry proposed to marry
Ann Boleyn, a young woman of (about) 27, which was 16 years younger than
Katharine. The tragedy for Princess Mary was that, as so often happens, she was
forced to choose sides in the long, painful struggle that followed. Mary
sympathized deeply with her mother, who behaved throughout with dignity. She
never accepted Henry's convenient theory that they were not legally
married in the first place because Katharine had been (very briefly) wedded to
Henry's late older brother, Prince Arthur. Katharine's thwarting of his royal
will brought out a cruel streak in Henry, and one way in which he expressed it
was by progressively cutting off Mary's contact with her mother. Ultimately, the
two were reduced to exchanging letters in secret.
When Mary was 17, her father gave up his attempts to gain a divorce from the
Pope and simply declared that he himself was the head of the English church.
then married Ann, who shortly gave birth to a baby girl named Elizabeth. Now
began a time of severe stress for Mary. Since the official view was that her
parents had never been married, she was now deprived of the title of princess
and referred to simply as "the Lady Mary." In other words, the world
considered her to be a bastard, which was a perfectly respectable term in those
days, but an unthinkable insult to a child who was granddaughter to three
reigning monarchs. (See Isabella of Castile, Katharine's mother.)
Mary's household budgets were slashed, many of her servants were sent away, and
she herself was ultimately sent to serve as waiting woman to the baby Elizabeth
whose birth both Mary and the Catholic Church considered illegitimate.
But repeated humiliation only strengthened Mary's loyalty to Katharine and to
the Catholicism in which she had been raised. Mary could at any time have
restored herself to favor with her father, merely by taking or signing various
oaths acknowledging him as head of the English church, which was now beginning
to be referred to as the Reformed Church.
Meanwhile, in the mid 1530s, Mary still remained a possible prize in the
European marriage game, although not such a valuable one as she had been. Just
as they had since she was two, when she had been briefly betrothed (engaged) to
the eldest son of the King of France, marriage proposals swirled around Mary, or
rather around her father. But the truth was that Mary was of more value to Henry
as a possible bride than as an actual one. Thus the years went on and Mary was
still single, even though by this time she would probably have welcomed any
marriage that would have taken her out of England and away from the insults,
pressures, and outright dangers of her situation.
During this period, Mary found that her best friend at court was Eustace Chapuys,
the ambassador of Emperor Charles the Fifth, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.
Charles was also Katharine's nephew, so it was not surprising that he instructed
his ambassador to give aid and comfort to both Katharine and Mary, whom the
Catholic world saw as victims of a deep injustice.
Mary at this period spent most of her time at one or another of her country
manors, rarely being invited to court. She learned loneliness, but also
self-sufficiency, and she began to find herself the center of a circle of
devoted Catholics who had no intention of abandoning "the Old
Religion." Mary took comfort in music and books. She was a more than
ordinarily talented musician, and played several stringed and keyboard
instruments. She also read fluently in Latin, Greek, and English. In addition,
she was a great lover of both walking and riding, especially riding to the hunt.
She complained that she actually became ill if deprived of outdoor exercise.
Then, in 1536, Queen Katharine died. Mary was not even allowed to visit her
mother in her last days. Now Mary was even more alone in the world, with few
friends except her faithful household officers and waiting women.
Meanwhile, the hated Ann Boleyn (who had failed to present Henry with a
living son) was beheaded on an almost certainly false charge of adultery. Henry
promptly married a young woman of the court named Jane Seymour, and this time he
was in luck, though his new wife was not. In 1537, Jane died a few days after
giving birth to a boy named Edward. Now it seemed certain that neither Mary nor
Elizabeth would ever inherit the English throne. Over the next ten years, Mary
found herself with a succession of additional stepmothers (three more in all)
and an increasingly difficult political position. Even though Queen Katharine
had said firmly that she wanted no rebellion or invasion on her behalf, Henry
was aware that there were those, such as the Emperor Charles and his Spanish
subjects, who would cheerfully overthrow him if they had the opportunity. After
Katharine's death, these plots and imagined plots tended to center on restoring
Mary as heir to the throne, and some powerful courtiers clearly felt she would
be less of a threat if she were beheaded, or at least imprisoned. By way of
example, Henry had begun ordering the deaths of other prominent persons who
would not take the required oath, such as the famed scholar, author, and
statesman Sir Thomas More.
Things became so stressful for Mary that she enlisted the aid of Ambassador
Chapuys in planning her escape from the country. Several plots were hatched,
secret messages were sent, horses and riders waited for her in tiny harbors far
from the public eye, but nothing ever came of the carefully laid plans. Even in
her country manor houses, Mary was carefully watched.
By the time her father died, in 1547, Mary probably thought she could not
possibly be worse off. She was wrong. Henry was succeeded by his son Edward, but
since the boy was only ten years old, the actual power in England passed to a
Council, of which the young king's uncle, Ned Seymour, was the dominant
member. Under Seymour, who held the title of Lord Protector, policy began to
swing more and more toward the Protestant side. The Lord Protector was
protecting everyone except convinced Catholics like Mary. Both he and his
successor, the Earl of Northumberland, harassed and badgered the
Princess. (At least her title had now been restored.) They wanted her to
acknowledge the Reformed (Protestant) Church, and soon they also wanted her to
stop hearing the Catholic Mass, even privately in her own home. Mary
courageously and steadfastly resisted all their attempts at intimidation. She
became a symbol of leadership to those English Catholics who continued to
practice their religion, sometimes in secret.
But young Edward was not in good health. By 1553, it was clear he would not live
long. When her brother died (probably of tuberculosis), Mary showed herself
capable of decisive action. Even though Northumberland had sent his son to
arrest her, she rallied her forces, occupied a secure castle, and declared
herself queen, since she was King Henry's oldest surviving child. All her piety,
all her prayers, all her steadfast faith seemed to have had an answer.
Despite a desperate attempt to place Henry's great-niece, the Protestant Lady
Jane Grey, on the throne in Mary's stead, Mary had the firm support of the
English people and rode triumphantly into London.
Mary had never especially wanted to be queen, but now that, as she saw it, God
had called her to this task, she was determined to do her best for her people.
She believed her first duty was to marry, and she soon arranged to wed Prince
Philip of Spain, the son of the Emperor Charles. Philip was younger than
Mary and not over-anxious to go through with the match, but his all-powerful
father insisted. Mary seems to have convinced herself that she loved Philip
passionately, but the feeling was not returned. When 37-year-old Mary failed to
become pregnant, Philip began spending less and less time in England. This
disappointed Mary, but pleased the English people, many of whom were unhappy
with the idea of a foreign king.
Mary's reign clearly shows how what is a virtue in one situation may be a defect
in another. As queen, Mary was conscientious and hard-working to a fault, but
unbending in her religious views. Her church saw the Protestants as heretics,
and Mary consented to many trials and executions of those who disagreed with
Catholic teachings. Years of resisting Protestant pressure had made her blind to
the notion that there might be two sides to the religious question.
During Mary's years on the throne, she had to face a major rebellion. Under the
leadership of a man named Wyatt, soldiers were actually marching on London.
Mary's advisors urged her to flee to safety, but she refused. Instead, she went
to the city's Guildhall and made a rousing speech to her supporters, concluding,
"And now, good subjects, pluck up your hearts, and like true men, stand
fast against these rebels . . . and fear them not, for I assure you, I fear them
nothing at all!" It was one of Mary's finest moments. Inspired by her
courage, the Londoners went out and fought off the rebels. By the standards of
the time, Mary's treatment of the defeated rebels was notably merciful. But
popular dislike of her Spanish marriage and of her religious policies was to
make her remaining years difficult.
Desperate to bear a child to inherit her throne, Mary at one point believed she
was pregnant and made all the proper preparations for a royal birth. But as the
months dragged on past nine, it became clear to the world that there was to be
no baby. It seemed that even her war against heretics had not persuaded God to
give her a child, but Mary never rebelled against what she believed to be God's
She died in 1558 (probably of cancer of the uterus, which had caused the
swelling she so joyfully mistook for pregnancy) and was succeeded by her sister
It has often been remarked that most later historians of Mary's reign have been
Protestants, and it was they who gave her the title "Bloody Mary." The
Protestant Elizabeth, by contrast, brilliant, stubborn, contradictory and
beloved as she was, is known to history as "Good Queen Bess." Yet she
also executed people for their religious beliefs. Was one queen good and the
other bad, and if so, which was which?
click Sophia's torch