Mary I (England)

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Queen Mary I, (18 February 1516 – 17 November 1558), reigned July 1553 until her death, also known as Mary Tudor, was a queen regnant of England, and of the Kingdom of Ireland created by her father, Henry VIII. She was the only living child of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and therefore a half-sister to both her predecessor, Edward VI, and her successor, Elizabeth I. Her reign was short, tumultuous and marked by controversy, most particularly a return to Roman Catholicism following the official adoption of Protestantism as the national religion during the reign of her brother Edward.

Initially a sympathetic and popular figure in public opinion, she lost all her popularity following her marriage to Philip of Spain and her attempts to place the nascent Church of England under the dominion of Rome. Her vigorous persecution of protestants, especially Church of England clerics, earned her the sobriquet Bloody Mary.

She was plagued by ill health and emotional anguish all her life, and died childless, probably of ovarian cancer, in the certain knowledge that her sister Elizabeth, a protestant, would succeed her.

Early life

Mary was the only child of Henry and Catherine to survive past infancy. Indications are that her father doted on his heir presumptive, despite being very obviously disappointed that his marriage had not produced a male heir. Although Mary was not a healthy child, she was intelligent and talented, qualities that Henry appreciated. Mary remained in the king’s favour as long as there was hope that Catherine might yet have a living son.

Queen Catherine was several years older than Henry, and successive miscarriages took their toll on her health and looks, and made it less and less likely that she would ever produce another living child. Henry’s increasing frustration, and the appearance at court of an attractive young noblewoman named Anne Boleyn, set the stage for the dissolution of the marriage with Catherine, and many traumatic years for the young Princess Mary.

Uncertainty and disinheritance

The king used every power at his disposal to persuade the Pope that his marriage to Catherine was void, based on her previous marriage to Arthur, Henry’s late brother. When the Pope refused nullify Henry’s marriage to Catherine, the king, aided by powerful nobles following the reformed or protestant faith, eventually declared the Church of England separated from the Church of Rome, with the king as the head of the church. Henry, himself a staunch catholic who had been given the title Defender of the Faith by a former pope for a treatise in which he defended the church from the attacks of the reformers, did not actually change the religion; that would come during his son’s reign. However, by declaring himself head of the Church in England, he empowered himself to annul his marriage, setting himself against a stubborn and resolute Catherine, who had the backing of the pope and of her nephew, the King of Spain.

Despite his intense annoyance, Henry could not afford to harm Catherine or Mary, although he stripped them of their royal titles; Princess Mary was declared illegitimate, restyled The Lady Mary, and removed from the line of succession. For the next few years Mary’s fortunes would wax and wane. Her status reached a low when Anne Boleyn was crowed Queen, and particularly after Princess Elizabeth was born in 1533, but at least two of Henry’s subsequent wives pleaded her case; Katherine Parr, particularly, did much to reconcile the family. By that time Henry was older and had a legitimate son and heir, and Catherine was dead. Princesses Mary and Elizabeth were eventually reinstated in the line of succession, behind Edward.


Young Edward and his advisors realised that there was a distinct danger to having Mary as Edward’s heir. She, like her mother, remained a Roman Catholic, with allegiance to the pope as the legitimate head of the church. By this time, protestant ideas had taken firm hold in England; in addition, unlike his father, Edward had officially declared Protestantism the faith of England, and the practice of Roman Catholicism illegal. Recognising potential problems should Mary ever become Queen, Edward began to take steps to have her removed from the line of succession. This was illegal; there was inherent hypocrisy in both Henry’s and Edward’s actions, for more detail, see the articles on Henry VIII, the English Reformation and the Debate Guides.

Edward died before his wishes could be implemented. Mary Tudor was now Queen of England in her own right.

See also