Mary I

Mary I tried to have children with Philip II, and thereby secure the English throne for her offspring, but she died before producing an heir. The War of the Roses has some impact on her life, and her attempt to secure an heir to the throne.

Mary I (1516–1558), queen of England and Ireland, was born at Greenwich Palace on Monday 18 February 1516. Although she was not the male heir desired by her parents, Henry VIII (1491–1547) and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon (1485–1536), her birth and early survival offered hope that a healthy son would follow. Henry's desire for a male heir dominated Mary's first twenty years. The fear of anarchy caused by a disputed succession was never far from the minds of contemporaries who could well remember the Lancastrian–Yorkist conflicts. The recent troubles over succession, the relative novelty of the Tudor dynasty, contemporary opinion about the nature of women, diplomatic considerations, and the law, directed Henry's actions in regard to his daughter. In spite of elements in her education working to a contrary effect, conventional, conservative attitudes about women affected Mary's entire life.

Childhood, 1516–1527

Henry and Katherine celebrated Mary's baptism with the pomp and solemnity befitting a royal princess on 20 February in the church of the Observant friars adjoining Greenwich Palace. The important nobility attended: the countess of Surrey carried her to the font assisted by the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, while Catherine Courtenay, countess of Devon and daughter of Edward IV, Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury and daughter of George, duke of Clarence, and the duchess of Norfolk served as her godmothers; the godfather was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.

Princess Mary
Princess Mary

Henry and Katherine gave Mary unusually close attention during her early years because she was the only survivor of Katherine's many pregnancies and because the pretty and precocious child obviously delighted both parents. The women in charge of the infant's household changed frequently in the early years, as Margaret Bryan replaced the first governess, Elizabeth Denton, only to be replaced by a woman of higher social status, the countess of Salisbury, in 1519. Since the countess of Salisbury was too closely connected with the third duke of Buckingham, executed in 1521, Henry wanted the dowager countess of Oxford to take over governance of the household, but when the latter's health prevented such service, he appointed Sir Philip Calthorpe as chamberlain and his wife, Jane, as governess at £40 per year. By 1525 the countess of Salisbury had returned to her post and remained a powerful influence on Mary. From the beginning Catherine, wife of Leonard Pole, served as Mary's nurse; Richard Sydnour, dean of Totnes, filled the office of treasurer, while Henry Rowle became her chaplain and clerk of the closet. One gentlewoman (Alice Baker), four rockers, and a laundress completed the first household. By her third year Mary's household had expanded to include six gentlemen, nine valets, three grooms, one yeoman of the chamber, and twelve grooms of the household, as well as Beatrice ap Rice, the laundress who served Mary for the rest of her life. In these early years no expense was spared: the cost of Mary's household, estimated at £1400, amounted to about 18 per cent of the outlay of the whole royal household.

The proud parents enjoyed displaying their attractive and gifted child to foreign ambassadors who commented on her pleasing appearance, good health, and precocious behaviour. In February 1518 Sebastian Giustinian, the Venetian ambassador, reported the famous occasion at court when Henry carried the two-year-old Mary in his arms and she, recognizing Friar Dionisio Memo, the organist of St Mark's, Venice, called out ‘priest’ until he played for her. The incident, which charmed the ambassador, was later interpreted as a harbinger of her staunch Catholicism, but was in fact no more than the action of a happy, confident child.

While Mary was not the desired male heir, she was still a valuable asset in the dynastic marriage and diplomatic power game that Henry played with the Valois and Habsburgs. Henry and Wolsey used the two-year-old child to seal the new alliance with France and general European peace embodied in the treaty of London of 1518. Mary's espousal to the infant François, dauphin of France (1518–1536), took place with great ceremony and celebration at Greenwich on 5 October 1518. Dressed in cloth of gold with a heavily jewelled cap on her head, she received a diamond ring from the dauphin's proxy. However, as the treaty of London began to unravel in the following three years, and as Charles V came into his own as Holy Roman emperor, Henry used Mary to seal a new alliance. The unpublished treaty of Bruges (1521) provided for the future marriage of Mary and Charles, a man sixteen years her senior. The emperor's six-week visit to England in 1522 afforded him some opportunity to observe his six-year-old cousin. At one court occasion Mary demonstrated her social skills by dancing for him. In spite of this successful trip, Henry and Wolsey, wishing in 1524 to neutralize Scotland, now entertained a proposed alliance which included Mary's marriage to the youthful James V. Although no betrothal resulted, this marriage prospect remained a valuable negotiating tool for a year, until Charles V changed the whole European diplomatic configuration by capturing the French king, François I, at Pavia.

When Charles subsequently announced he would marry Isabella, the daughter of the king of Portugal, the English and French responded with a proposed universal peace reinforced by Mary's marriage to either François I or his second son, Henri, duc d'Orléans. Many problems arose during subsequent negotiations in 1527, not the least of them Henry's refusal to allow Mary to leave the realm because she was only eleven. To impress the French envoys Mary again demonstrated her skills in language, music, and dancing, but her small stature made them hesitate about the viability of an immediate marriage. They found her ‘admirable by reason of her great and uncommon mental endowments; but so thin, sparse, and small as to render it impossible for her to be married for the next three years’ (CSP Venice, 1527–33, 105).


While all these diplomatic manoeuvres and marriage negotiations provided Henry with a chance to present Mary at elaborate court occasions and gave her high expectations for her future life as a royal consort, they barely interfered with the course of her young life, which revolved around her household. The early records do not show who first taught her to read and write English and Latin, or the other skills compatible with her station such as playing the lute and virginals, singing, dancing, and riding. However, when in 1525 Henry ordered the establishment of a household for her at Ludlow, the schoolmaster he appointed was a noted scholar, Richard Fetherston, who was executed in 1540 for denying the royal supremacy. In 1526 Henry ordered her council to consult on Mary's health and ‘virtuous education’ at least once a month (LP Henry VIII, 4/1, no. 2331). As she matured, music played an increasing role in her life and she developed her skill on the lute, virginals, and spinet with the aid of Philip Van Wilder and Paston. However, it was Queen Katherine, who had received a humanist education from her mother, Isabella of Castile, who really took an active interest in her daughter's training and intellectual development. At certain points Katherine herself probably instructed her daughter in Latin, and when they were separated in 1525, she asked to see Mary's Latin exercises. The queen's well-known interest in education inspired Thomas Linacre to write a Latin grammar, Rudimenta grammatices, for Mary's use in 1523, and the princess's French tutor Giles Duwes to produce a similar work for that language.

The celebrated Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives came to England at Katherine's invitation in 1523, and she commissioned him to write a treatise on the general education of women, De institutione feminae Christianae, and an outline of studies for Mary, De ratione studii puerilis. Vives delivered a mixed message, for while he advocated the education of women, an advanced idea at that time, he still saw women as the inferior sex. The list of acceptable reading included scripture, the church fathers, but only a few pagan classics, and no medieval romances, because he believed women could be led astray all too easily. Nevertheless, in De ratione studii Vives recommended that Mary read the dialogues of Plato, works that endow women with the same virtues as men and develop a notion of women as guardians or governors. More's Utopia and Erasmus's Institutio Christiani principis rounded out her educational programme. Thus while Mary received an exceptional humanist education for a woman of her era, marriage negotiations and court appearances reinforced the conventional belief that her true destiny was to be a royal wife and mother, not a ruler in her own right.

The impact of the divorce, 1527–1536

During these early years Mary remained a loved, confident child, but the cloud of the succession gradually overshadowed her life. While it is difficult to date Henry VIII's decision to set Katherine aside, he undoubtedly turned to other women. A year after Katherine's last failed pregnancy in 1518, Henry's mistress Elizabeth Blount gave birth to a healthy boy whom Henry immediately recognized as Henry Fitzroy, but even his elevation to the dukedom of Richmond in 1525 could not solve the question of succession. Katherine's forceful objections to Henry's favourable treatment of his illegitimate son may have forced him to send Mary to govern Wales, the traditional role for the legitimate heir to the throne. Although some contemporaries referred to her as princess of Wales, there is no evidence that Henry formally invested Mary with the office. Nevertheless her father had enhanced her position as heir to the throne while she learned more about her future royal duties, even if these were largely ceremonial.

Her nineteen-month sojourn at Ludlow and other places in the marches initially insulated Mary from court gossip as Anne Boleyn, who refused to be just another royal mistress, captured Henry's heart. By the time Mary returned to court in 1527, her parents' relationship had altered, and Anne threatened Mary's own status. If the situation at court had not penetrated Mary's consciousness earlier, the increasing tension at court could hardly have escaped the notice of this precocious teenager when she visited her parents on several occasions during the stressful period leading to Katherine's banishment in 1531. While Henry found himself caught between two powerful women, Mary sided with her mother from the beginning and found a rationale for maintaining her devotion to both parents by viewing Anne as a Jezebel, the creator of all her distress. Indeed, Henry saw Mary less and less, as Anne did her best to keep father and daughter apart until she could secure her own position by marrying the king and producing the all-important male heir. At this juncture the psychological toll on Mary began to manifest itself in various physical ailments. After a week's visit with Katherine in May 1531, she could not keep food down for three weeks, and after she was forbidden to see her mother in July, reports of her various illnesses increased. As the separation of mother and daughter continued, Mary's health deteriorated to the point that Henry sent his own physician to her and moved Mary closer to her mother so that Katherine's physician could attend her, but even then she was never allowed the comfort of seeing her mother.

What Mary endured psychologically and physically before Katherine's banishment from court in 1531 was trivial compared with what followed Henry's marriage to Anne and the birth of their daughter Elizabeth on 7 September 1533. While Henry had risked his throne for yet another girl, he could still hope for a male heir; but Mary, who defied her father and fought the succession of humiliations that followed, risked all with little hope for the future. She had acquired a firm identity as a princess from her early years at court, and when denied that status she acted every inch the Tudor. From the outset she refused to relinquish the dignity of princess, of which she was deprived after Henry announced his marriage to Anne in April 1533. Her very serious illness that summer demonstrated the personal cost of defying her father. After Elizabeth's birth, the council again ordered Mary to stop calling herself princess. She continued to refuse her demotion to the status of ‘lady’. Henry, enraged by what he repeatedly called her Spanish stubbornness, failed to recognize that she was as obstinate as he. In December, intent on being obeyed at any cost, Henry sent the duke of Norfolk to Newhall to break up Mary's household and transfer her to Hatfield, where the hated Boleyns had charge of Princess Elizabeth. Mary stoutly defended the validity of her title to Norfolk, but complied after drafting a written protest to her father.

Mary as queen. The jewel around her neck was a gift from her husband, Philip of Spain.
Mary as queen. The jewel around her neck was a gift from her husband, Philip of Spain.

At Hatfield the situation was intolerable not only because she had been deprived of all but two servants, but also because Lady Shelton, Anne's aunt who governed the household, had been given permission to treat her harshly, even beat her, if she continued to resist the king's commands. Henry tried to increase the pressure when he visited Hatfield in early 1534, making his seeing Mary conditional on her renunciation of her title. Mary again resisted, but counting correctly on her father's love, the eighteen-year-old dramatically presented herself ‘on a terrace at the top of the house’ on her knees with her hands joined (LP Henry VIII, 7, no. 83). Henry acknowledged her and his train followed suit. Nevertheless, although Mary could still exploit her father's affection, she could not alter the course of events caused by Henry's marriage to Anne. The Succession Act of March 1534 formally declared Mary illegitimate, elevated Anne's children as the king's heirs, and demanded an oath to that succession. While there is no evidence that either Katherine or Mary was asked to swear the oath at this stage, they were formally presented with the statute and their answer requested, so both courted danger by further defiance.

No matter the psychological or physical cost to herself, Mary maintained her principles as long as possible, showing remarkable courage in the face of tremendous pressure as she refused to swear the oath of supremacy and continued to defend her title and precedence over Elizabeth. Caught between her mother's advice to obey Henry while maintaining her titles, and her father's use of isolation to break her resolve, she learned the art of resistance. Although Mary occasionally glimpsed the support that she and her mother commanded when she was moved from one residence to another, Henry increasingly deprived her of friendly visitors and consolation. The danger to Mary increased as she was gradually separated from her mother, friends, and trusted servants until the emperor's ambassador, Eustache Chapuys, became her only adviser and intercessor at court. Even his access was curtailed. In the absence of decisive action from Charles V, Chapuys urged caution and painted a graphic picture of the dangers of resistance.

Such a situation required considerable political wisdom on the part of an isolated young woman and Mary did her best to play on court sympathies when she could. At one time she forced Elizabeth's servants to remove her from a litter, and another time she arrived at Greenwich before her sister. But, when rumours circulated in 1535 that Anne meant to have Mary murdered, an emotionally exhausted Mary begged Chapuys to arrange her escape to the continent. Before any viable escape plan could be developed she fell ill at Greenwich. She was seriously ill at least twice more that year, and court physicians acknowledged the emotional component of her physical problems when they attributed her state to grief and despair. The effect of these events on Mary's further development as an adult is impossible to calculate. She had learned valuable lessons of resistance, but this education did not provide her with the critical skills she would later need to be an astute political leader.

Defeat and recovery, 1536–1547

The year 1536 began with the most painful events of Mary's young life, but ended with a reversal of fortune. Her mother's death on 7 January 1536 was an incalculable loss and Mary's grief was profound. Katherine's death exposed Mary to even greater danger, but by April Anne Boleyn's life was at risk and her execution on 19 May opened the way for Mary's reconciliation with her father. Henry demanded a very high price for that reconciliation: nothing less than complete submission, the destruction of Mary's conscience and will. She held out for as long as possible, telling Henry she would submit to him ‘in all things next to God’, and playing on her gender and Henry's affection asked her father to consider that ‘I am but a woman, and your child’ (LP Henry VIII, 10, no. 1022). Finally Cromwell and Henry convinced Chapuys, and through him Mary, that she either had to accept the invalidity of her mother's marriage and the supremacy or she would follow others to the scaffold. Deprived of her mother's support, faced with the arrest of her friends at court (Sir Anthony Browne, Sir Francis Bryan, and Lady Hussey), and under the cruel pressure exerted by her father, Mary capitulated on 22 June. About two weeks later Henry and his new queen, Jane Seymour, visited her at Hunsdon. The subsequent re-establishment of Mary's household and new talk of her marriage prospects signalled her rehabilitation. While her household was not as large and grand as before, some of her loyal servants were restored to her side. As the year drew to a close Mary spent more time at court. Her relationship with Queen Jane was amicable, and as she became reacquainted with her father she probably acquired a better understanding of him. He did nothing, however, to alter the Succession Act and nothing could erase her memories and psychological scars.

Mary reacted with relief to the birth of Edward-VI Prince Edward in autumn 1537. As the long-desired male heir naturally occupied the centre of attention, Mary happily accepted the decline in her political importance. She served as godmother at Edward's baptism, and then settled into a life as a member of the royal family. Her privy purse expenses show she now moved freely about the countryside and court. Jane the fool, music, minstrels, greyhounds, betting on card games, and purchases of jewellery became a normal part of her entertainment. While fewer illnesses were reported, her childhood health never returned. From her rehabilitation in 1536 until the end of Henry's reign marriage proposals and negotiations continued. Some proposals were serious adjuncts to Valois–Habsburg diplomacy, while some were court rumours about a woman whose unwed status was somewhat anomalous.

Henry's refusal to legitimate Mary or to determine her place in the succession until 1543 precluded any serious negotiations. No one dared advance any internal candidate for her hand, and in 1542 Mary described herself as the ‘unhappiest woman in Christendom’, indicating her understanding of her rightful destiny as a royal consort (LP Henry VIII, 17, no. 371).

Even though Mary now lived a life more in keeping with her status as the king's unmarried daughter, danger and sadness were never far away. Jane Seymour's death represented another blow as Mary entered her twenties. Her relations with the king's third wife had always been good and Mary's grief prevented the full performance of her duties as chief mourner at the late queen's obsequies. Then late in 1538 Mary's closeness to the Pole family proved risky. Goaded by his dislike of Cardinal Reginald Pole, Henry attacked the whole family, including the countess of Salisbury, who had contributed so much to Mary's happy childhood years and who had staunchly supported Mary and her mother in the Boleyn era. Cromwell ominously warned Mary not to allow strangers in her household. Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves was too brief to alter Mary's circumstances, but after Henry married Katherine Howard in 1540, Mary frequently resided on the queen's side of court, even though the two women were not particularly friendly. When Katherine was arrested and her household dissolved late in 1541, Henry dispatched Mary to Prince Edward's household. She had another serious illness in May 1542 with a strange fever and heart palpitations, but by Christmas she was back at court ‘with a great number of ladies’ and there she remained for a number of months (LP Henry VIII, 17, no. 1212). One of those ladies, a new addition to Mary's household, Katherine Parr, attracted Henry's attention, and in the following July of 1543 Mary with only seventeen others witnessed Henry's last marriage ceremony.

The next three years were the most tranquil and enjoyable of Mary's adult life. Her portrait, painted by Master John in 1544, shows a sombre but serene woman who is still young and attractive. She and Katherine became close and for the remainder of her father's reign Mary seems to have been based at court. Separated in age by only four years, the two women enjoyed a love of fashion, and having both received humanist educations, they shared intellectual interests as well. When Katherine commissioned a new translation of Erasmus's Paraphrases on the New Testament, Mary worked on the ‘Book of St John’ until illness forced her to turn it over to Francis Mallet, who had recently left Katherine's employ to become one of Mary's chaplains. Friendship and a shared interest in humanist studies also bridged the gap between their divergent religious views. Mary had accepted her father's ecclesiastical settlement in 1536, but her attachment to the Catholic faith, while strong, was a conventional one tempered by humanist criticism. She practised her faith privately and although she gave alms generously, she had never indulged in public exercises of piety such as the visitation of shrines and pilgrimage sites. Her open, even frivolous, enjoyment of court life attracted her young brother's critical comment in a letter to Katherine. He asked that Mary ‘attend no longer to foreign dances and merriments’ because it was not becoming a ‘Christian princess’ (LP Henry VIII, 21/1, no. 802). Although this comment was probably only a schoolboy's exercise, it foreshadowed the more sombre life that awaited Mary when her brother became king.

Catholic magnate, 1547–1550

When Henry VIII died, on 28 January 1547, the men at court kept Mary and Katherine in the dark as the new king's uncle, Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford but soon to be duke of Somerset, and his allies took political control. Mary's relationship with the Seymours had been cordial, and even though the Habsburgs considered Mary the only legitimate heir, Somerset had little fear on that score because Mary genuinely loved her brother, and since 1537 had expressed her relief that there was a male heir to the throne. She continued to live in the dowager queen's household until April 1547, and only gradually learned that Henry's will had reaffirmed her place in the order of succession and endowed her with substantial estates in East Anglia. She was given some of her own favourite residences such as Hunsdon and Newhall, as well as substantial properties recently forfeited by the Howards, along with that family's politically important affinity in East Anglia. Mary was now able to develop her own following for the first time, and she used the opportunity to sustain resistance to further religious change. As Edward's government shifted its focus from the Henrician concentration on papal power, purgatory, and relics to central theological ideas like the nature of the mass, Mary increasingly defended her father's settlement and made her religious observance more obvious. Throughout Edward's reign she held fast to the position that her father's religious settlement should stand until her brother reached his majority and in so doing she became the focus of hope for religious conservatives.

Mary initially protested against religious change in autumn 1547 when she wrote to Somerset about the first set of royal injunctions. Somerset boldly reminded her that she had seen the light about papal authority in 1536, and suggested that she needed further instruction now. Mary responded with silence until 1549, when the Act of Uniformity drew a line which she refused to cross and prompted her to resist Somerset's religious policy. By having mass celebrated with great ceremony at Kenninghall, Mary not only signalled her opposition to religious legislation during Edward's minority but also defied his authority as king. The council advised her to conform. Mary, however, answered ‘I have offended no law unless it be a late law of your own making for altering of matters of religion, which in my conscience, is not worthy to have the name of law’ (Acts and Monuments, 6.7). The council, naturally disturbed by this attitude toward the king and parliament, summoned three of Mary's household servants, Robert Rochester, Sir Francis Englefield, and her chaplain John Hopton, in an effort to influence her. Mary's assertion of conscience was similar to her claims in 1536, but in this case Mary was no longer a mere girl of twenty, she was a 33-year-old landed magnate with a following of her own and the support of Charles V, who promptly asked the council to provide a written statement of her exemption from the Act of Uniformity. A public dispensation such as Charles desired was out of the question during the rebellious summer of 1549, so the council offered a compromise: Mary could hear mass privately until the king came of age. This compromise on the eucharist failed to work, because Mary persisted in ignoring the difference between public and private affairs, and in any case the political situation changed in the autumn of 1549.

In September and October 1549 John Dudley, earl of Warwick, skilfully allied with conservative councillors and others to oust Somerset. Although there is evidence that Mary was approached about the possibility of a regency, she played no part in this political coup, and Warwick, having secured his position, turned on the conservatives. He then promoted further religious change, setting the stage for a showdown with Mary. By providing mass in the ‘very public privacy’ of her household for anyone who came, the princess was clearly abusing the council's spirit of compromise (Loades, Mary Tudor, 152). Consequently by spring 1550 Mary's position resembled that in her stand-off with Henry VIII. As before she had three relatively distasteful alternatives: she could submit to the king and council, press Edward for a foreign marriage, or flee the realm. She decided to flee and urged Van der Delft, the imperial ambassador, to devise an escape plan. On 30 June 1550 two imperial ships appeared off Maldon ready to spirit Mary out of England. Following her reportedly hysterical last-minute indecision, given a farcical colouring in the account by Jehan Dubois, the ambassador's secretary, Robert Rochester, her comptroller, persuaded Mary to stay by citing the dangers involved and arguing that she would forfeit any right to the throne if she left. Her hesitancy not only reflected her awareness of the substantial risk involved, but also shows her responding to conflicting advice from the Spanish and her trusted household officer, foreshadowing a situation that recurred during her reign. In 1550 Mary listened to her household men and made the right decision.

Defiance, 1551–1553

In December 1550 the uneasy truce over Mary's nonconformity collapsed. As the council and the princess exchanged letters about who could attend her services, their disagreement intensified. In January 1551 Edward intervened, asserting his authority as king: ‘in our state it shall malcontent us to permit you, so great a subject, not to keep our laws’ (Acts and Monuments, 6.11–12). Even if Warwick instigated the January letter, as has been claimed, Edward was now old enough to understand his rights as king and his growing evangelicalism made him eager to bring his sister around to the true faith. The council now insisted that only a few personal servants could hear mass with her. In March 1551 Edward summoned his sister to court. Mary's entry into London accompanied by 130 supporters each holding a rosary leaves no doubt that she knew how to make a theatrical demonstration of her religious conservatism when she chose to do so. At the meeting with her brother and the council she stressed her faith and conscience while Edward emphasized her disobedience. The council added to the pressure on her by having Sir Anthony Browne arrested for hearing mass at Newhall and ordering Rochester to appear before the council, but nothing was resolved.

As the council came to view Mary as the focus of opposition to change by religious conservatives at home and Charles V abroad, it determined to eliminate mass in Mary's household no matter how private. On 14 August 1551 the council ordered Rochester, Englefield, and Edward Waldegrave to convey the decision over their strenuous objection to Mary. When Mary refused to comply, the council responded by imprisoning her servants for contempt and sending Lord Chancellor Rich, Sir Anthony Wingfield, and Sir William Petre to deliver the order to Mary again. She treated their authority with contempt, saying they should show more favour to her for her father's sake who ‘for the most part made [you] of nothing’. When the councillors conveyed Edward's desire to replace Rochester, Mary replied she was ‘old enough to appoint her own officers’; and, even though she was doing her own accounts, ‘her mother and father had not brought her up with baking and brewing’ (CSP dom., 1547–53, no. 534). It was a performance worthy of her heritage and it worked, for a new truce followed, albeit a fragile one. Although Mary's servants remained in custody until May 1552, and although the ban on the mass continued, no attempt was made to enforce it. Mary made a state visit to court in June 1552 without apparent reference to her continued defiance.

In autumn 1552 parliament passed another Act of Uniformity, one even more objectionable to religious conservatives, but within months Edward's health began to fail. In February 1553 he was too ill to see Mary for several days when she came to court and he never recovered from this pulmonary infection. Warwick (created duke of Northumberland in October 1551) began to make overtures to Mary, suggesting a recognition of her position as heir to the throne. However, that attitude changed some time in April after parliament had ended. Fearing the destruction of true religion, Northumberland and Edward decided to alter the succession. Mary's well-known attachment to the old religion was probably consistent with the outlook of most of her future subjects and therefore no reason to exclude her, but her well-established habit of relying on Charles V for guidance was more alarming to the current political leaders. Consequently Edward and Northumberland produced a ‘Devise for the succession’ which excluded both Mary and Elizabeth in favour of the male heirs of Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary, even though no such heirs existed at the time. Then, after Henry's great-niece Lady Jane Grey had married Northumberland's youngest son, Guildford, the document was altered to vest the succession in Jane and her male heirs. As Edward continued to decline physically, Northumberland took the lead in bullying councillors and judges into approving the altered succession. While some hesitated to sign and some called for a parliamentary confirmation of the alteration, most of the judges and councillors signed the letters patent and swore to uphold Jane's succession. Meanwhile the government did its best to conceal first Edward's critical condition and then his death on 6 July 1553.

Securing the crown, 1553

Edward's death precipitated a succession crisis which called on all Mary's powers of resistance. Although she was the legal heir to the throne according to the Act of Succession of 1543, she appeared isolated at first, and with Northumberland in power in London, her cause seemed hopeless. Yet within two weeks the powerful councillors who had supported Jane were proclaiming Mary as queen amid bonfires and great rejoicing. This reversal in fortune occurred because Mary had been warned that Edward's death was imminent, the Catholic gentlemen of her household were ready and able to rally their co-religionists in East Anglia, and the provincial gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and the Thames valley, supported her. Mary fled to Kenninghall in Norfolk via Sir John Huddleston's manor at Sawston and the countess of Bath's estate at Hengrave near Bury St Edmunds. Both the earl of Bath and Huddleston joined Mary while others rallied the conservative gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk. Men like Sir Henry Bedingfield arrived with troops or money as soon as they heard the news, and as she moved to the more secure fortress at Framlingham, Suffolk, local magnates like Sir Thomas Cornwallis, who had hesitated at first, also joined her forces.

Although Edward's ‘Devise’ had mentioned the danger that his half-sisters might marry a foreigner who would take over the government, he nevertheless named Jane to succeed him, and she, although protestant, was certain to be dominated by her father-in-law Northumberland, a relatively new member of the nobility. As the days went by and prominent men rallied to Mary's side, through respect either for her legitimacy or for her religious conservatism, her support surprised those at the centre of politics. The Spanish ambassadors, the council, and especially Northumberland all seriously miscalculated the shrewdness and boldness of Mary's household officers, her own willingness to take a stand, and her popularity with the provincial aristocracy as well as the common people. When Northumberland left London with troops to capture Mary, the increasingly nervous councillors in the Tower began to divide, and on 19 July a substantial number led by the earls of Shrewsbury, Bedford, Pembroke, and Arundel proclaimed Mary as queen in London to general rejoicing with ‘everie strett full of bon-fyres’ (Diary of Henry Machyn, 37). The plot to alter the succession had collapsed. On 3 August, dressed in a gown of purple velvet and a kirtle of purple satin ‘all thicke sett with gouldsmiths worke and great pearle’ Mary triumphantly entered London with a large and magnificent retinue, which the populace greeted with joy and traditional festivities. As she entered the Tower there was ‘a terrible and great shott of guns’ which had never been heard before ‘lyk to an earthquake’ (Wriothesley, 2.93–4). The size of Mary's retinue, her dress, and the cannonade at the Tower left no doubt about her regal position.

Establishing a regime

Now Mary had to rule, a burden she had not desired and a task for which she had had little training or preparation. Up to this point in her life she had been resolute in the face of serious challenges to her principles, surviving several crises which tested her political mettle. But she had learned the lessons of resistance, not the skills of leadership. From the beginning she indicated she would take an active part in governance. This she did throughout her short reign, working long hours in trying to solve problems that would have tested the most skilled of England's rulers. As she assumed the throne Mary, an unmarried woman of thirty-seven, small in stature and near-sighted, appeared older than her years and often tired, because of her generally poor health. For the past seventeen years Mary had settled for life as a royal magnate, and she held the views about marriage and the hierarchical order of society conventionally espoused by the early-sixteenth-century aristocracy. Since Mary was the first woman to rule England in her own right issues of gender dominated and complicated the early days of her reign. On the legal level, a suggestion that parliament meet before the coronation to confirm her title seemed to threaten her regal powers, but that danger was quickly recognized and the coronation preceded the opening of parliament. Her first parliament then reinforced the Act of Succession of 1543 by declaring the validity of the marriage of Henry and Katherine so that the issue of Mary's legitimacy could not be associated with the abolition of the royal supremacy and the restoration of papal authority. At a personal level her advisers assumed that her marriage was as important a consideration as her coronation and the first parliament. Rumours about her marriage circulated at the court in August and September as Mary concentrated on forming her government and looking for a political adviser she could trust implicitly.

Although she had the nucleus of her council and court from her days as princess, and although she had chosen a council at Kenninghall to direct her military effort, Mary now had to create a government out of two groups who naturally distrusted each other, at least at first: her faithful inner circle of servants and the supporters of Jane Grey, powerful men experienced in government. Critics of the size and operation of this council have neither understood how it was formed nor have they separated the tensions of its early days from the working body that soon developed. Mary retained her emergency military council and rewarded her trusted household servants. Members of the old Howard affinity remained on the council, because Mary had to rely on these local gentry to stabilize East Anglia, an area that had spawned rebellion in 1549 and now suffered from unrest and food shortages, making the region appear particularly volatile in July and August 1553. Meanwhile those councillors who had supported Northumberland's attempted coup besieged Mary with apologies.

Mary now had to weigh these men's fine words of apology against their actions in order to select as councillors either seasoned professionals or powerful, conservative nobles, who would be loyal and put their knowledge of royal administration at her service, thereby compensating for the inexperience in national affairs of her trusted household servants. She also added a few men who had suffered under the previous regime, notably the old duke of Norfolk and Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, whom she named lord chancellor. This combination of the experienced Henricians and Edwardians, her household officers, and emergency councillors produced a council larger than those of the recent past. Although their different experience and roles before August 1553 inevitably gave rise to tensions, the men Mary chose shared a loyalty to the Tudor regime. They might differ on policy at times and they might have old personal quarrels to settle, but they were above all servants of the crown. The council was neither hopelessly faction-ridden nor too large to operate efficiently and effectively, since an inner working group quickly emerged. The imperial ambassador, Simon Renard, reported in September that for many the title of councillor was honorary. Subsequent criticism of the council's size had more to do with Paget's objections to those who constituted the regular working body than numbers. The circumstance that made it most difficult for Mary to govern during her critical first year was not the number of men on the council, but the absence of one single person she could trust implicitly and whose concepts of policy matched her own. Gardiner and Mary shared a common religious ideal, and he bore the burden of restoring Catholicism until late 1554, but the chancellor vigorously opposed her marriage to Philip; Paget, an experienced councillor since the 1540s, who actively supported her choice of husband, obstructed her religious programme, causing her relationship with him to be permanently strained after the spring of 1554. Mary's distant cousin Cardinal Reginald Pole might have filled the void, but his intransigence on the politically explosive issue of returning church lands meant that Mary with the aid of Charles V had to delay his return to England until November 1554.

With the obvious exception of the privy chamber, where the queen's gender dictated a complete change of personnel, considerable continuity characterized the organization of her royal household. The household officers who had served her as princess, men like Rochester, Waldegrave, and Sir Henry Jerningham, were rewarded with equivalent responsibilities at court, while her long-standing female servants such as Susan Clarencius, Jane Dormer, Mary Finch, Frances Waldegrave, and Frances Jerningham formed the nucleus of the privy chamber and ladies at court. In the absence of trusted family members, Mary added religiously conservative women, wives and daughters of privy councillors, and the conservative aristocracy to her chamber and court. Close personal contact with the novice queen gave these women a measure of influence, especially in the first year of her reign, before the personnel of government had become settled and Mary had found an adviser on policy with views to match her own. In particular they could facilitate access to the queen: thus Anne Bacon, wife of Nicholas, helped her husband and her brother-in-law, Sir William Cecil, to gain admission to Mary, while Mary Finch interceded for her half-sister, the wife of Sir Thomas Wyatt, after the latter's rising in 1554. Renard voiced his fear of their influence until Mary announced her marital choice, and they protected her during her false pregnancies.

The subdued court Mary created at the beginning of her reign reflected the quiet life she had enjoyed since 1536. A lively, glamorous court like her father's would have been extraordinary given the queen's matronly age, the circumstances of her accession, and the insecurity of the early months. Her court was not short of talented women, as a contemporary poem noted: Anne Bacon was ‘cumly’ and ‘in bookes sets all her care in lerninge’, Catherine ‘Briges prayeth with harte and voise’ while Baynum was noted for her ‘stedfasteness’ and ‘chastity’, and Dorothy Mancell was ‘a merye one’ (Loades, Tudor Court, 212–13). But as Mary, the first English queen regnant, sought to project an image of sobriety and maturity, so her court reflected her public serious side, her mission to fulfil God's plan by ruling well and restoring Catholicism, rather than the private woman who enjoyed music, fine jewels, fashion, dancing, and gambling at cards.

Symbols and ceremonies

Two important ceremonies, Edward's funeral and Mary's coronation, set a symbolical tone for the new regime, while two important issues requiring immediate resolution, religion and the queen's marriage, initially divided her council and court. Mary wanted a Catholic funeral for Edward, but some of the council feared that would inflame religious passions. Mary's acceptance of a compromise that provided a public protestant ceremony while she attended a private mass demonstrated the sensitivity to popular sentiment that made the Tudors generally successful rulers. The grandeur of Mary's coronation on 1 October spoke for itself, sweeping away the initial conciliar bickering and fears about her safety. Her procession from the Tower to Westminster dazzled the London crowd as she passed through the streets dressed in her magnificent gown of blue velvet trimmed with powdered ermine. A gold trellis-work cap and a gold garland, both studded with jewels and pearls, were too heavy for the head of a small woman, and she had to hold them up with her hands as she rode in a chariot covered with cloth of gold beneath the canopy of state. Knights, judges, bishops, councillors, and peers preceded her as the parade passed by elaborate pageants accompanied by the sound of trumpets and church bells.

On the morning of the coronation, wearing a mantle of crimson velvet, Mary entered Westminster Abbey where Gardiner, in the absence of the schismatic archbishops of Canterbury and York, presided over an otherwise traditional coronation ceremony. He anointed Mary with holy oil which she had secretly obtained from the continent (thereby avoiding the use of oil tainted by consecration during her brother's reign), while she had previously examined the wording of her coronation oath to ensure that in swearing to uphold the laws she was not committing herself to the religious changes instigated by her father and brother. Historians have criticized Mary for missing a golden opportunity to define the nature of her rule during the celebrations surrounding her entry into London and the coronation. But although Mary's entry into London on 3 August attested to her capacity for a dramatic gesture when necessary, no guidance for the coronation of a woman as a ruler in her own right existed. The only precedents were those for the coronation of a queen consort. Mary's ceremony, which followed the tradition as it had developed for male rulers, invested her with all the power exercised by her ancestors. She had restored the rightful order of succession, and she also saw herself as an instrument of God's will for the restoration of the religion of her childhood, giving symbolic expression to her vision by adopting the motto ‘Truth the daughter of time’, a motto that first appeared on her great seal in 1553. Mary now expanded the concept of herself as a potential royal consort, which she had developed in childhood, to embrace her new duties as a ruler, and she further articulated this idea in her Guildhall speech during Wyatt's rebellion in 1554 by saying she was married to the realm first.

The Spanish match

No matter how well these rites and ceremonies served to establish Mary's rule in the minds of her subjects, contemporaries soon criticized the proposed Catholic restoration and her decision to marry Philip II of Spain. The religious settlement came as no surprise, but her choice of Philip, no matter how understandable, astonished many and complicated the implementation of her religious programme. Although gender had not been an issue during the succession crisis, since both contenders were female, prevailing opinions on the issue resurfaced quickly afterwards. Mary shared the contemporary opinion that a woman could not rule alone. At the age of thirty-seven she privately preferred to remain single, but she accepted the danger of childbirth in order to fulfil her public duty to her faith and her kingdom. The realm expected that personal sacrifice, but not the husband she chose.

Although Mary found herself in a unique position for a woman of royal birth, because she had complete freedom to choose her husband, in fact there were few candidates and Mary further restricted herself by turning to Charles V for advice. Charles, with little concern for Mary, seized the opportunity to increase his influence over England by proposing his son Philip. He entrusted the delicate but not difficult task of proposing Philip's name to his ambassador, Renard, who readily exploited Mary's habitual reliance on imperial ambassadors and who also had the benefit of Paget's expert advice and assistance. No other candidate could match Philip's appeal, for he was not only Spanish but also an intelligent, experienced ruler far superior to foreign candidates proposed for her in years past. The only plausible English candidate was Edward Courtenay, newly created earl of Devon, whose lineage as a great-grandson of Edward IV made him eminently eligible. However, Courtenay's dissolute behaviour following his release in August after years in the Tower demonstrated his inability to be the serious helpmate Mary sought.

As rumours about Mary's choice spread about the court in October, councillors, courtiers, and the women of the privy chamber all disagreed on the issue. Gardiner, Rochester, and other long-time servants favoured Courtenay. After Mary announced her choice both Rochester and Waldegrave considered leaving her service. Renard worried about the influence of her ladies, but unnecessarily, it seems. Two of Mary's longest-serving and closest confidantes, Susan Clarencius, who had ties to Courtenay, and Frideswide Strelly, supported Philip, though Mary Finch, another trusted servant, voiced her concern about the eleven-year age difference. In making her decision Mary, aware that Gardiner and her old faithful household servants supported Courtenay, did not consult the council as she pondered the pros and cons of Philip's marriage proposal, which was delivered on 10 October. She waited until the end of the month to announce her decision to twenty-eight councillors, the largest gathering of that body during the reign.

In deciding to marry Philip, Mary made her first and most serious political error. She either failed to comprehend or chose to disregard the depth of an English xenophobic sentiment which was made all the more powerful for being combined with anxiety about the potential power of a male consort. The prospect of a foreign ruler created considerable opposition in parliament and throughout the realm; on 16 November a delegation from parliament went to the queen to try to dissuade her. Although Mary accepted conventional ideas of the inferiority of women where her private affairs were concerned, she reacted forcefully to parliament's unprecedented action. When the speaker of the Commons suggested she marry an English subject, not a foreign prince, Mary angrily swept Lord Chancellor Gardiner aside to tell the delegation she would not subject herself in marriage to an individual whom her position made her inferior. She then repudiated the notion that parliament could dictate her marriage partner, declaring indignantly that they would not have behaved thus in her father's reign.

Nevertheless Gardiner, Rochester, and Paget exploited the opposition expressed by parliament to hammer out a remarkably favourable marriage treaty, designed to preserve all Mary's legal rights as queen as well as to keep Spanish influence and power to a minimum. The eldest son of the union would inherit England and Philip's lands in southern Germany and Burgundy, while his own son from his first marriage, Don Carlos, would inherit Spain and the Habsburg lands in Italy, which would come under English control only if Philip and Mary had issue but Don Carlos had none. The children and the queen herself could not be taken from England without parliamentary approval. If Mary remained childless and predeceased Philip, he would have no right of succession; in fact he was forbidden to influence it. Although Philip could style himself king of England, the treaty denied him regal power while requiring his assistance to the queen in the administration of her realm in so far as the ‘rights, laws, privileges and customs’ of both kingdoms permitted. Finally England was not to be involved in Habsburg wars. In spite of the favourable terms obtained by her councillors, however, the treaty failed to calm fears of foreign domination and privately Philip repudiated it.

Religious stalemate

In contrast to Mary's determined action in regard to her marriage, she demonstrated her flexibility and political sensitivity when she accepted changes in her religious legislation during her first parliament. Although most English people had neither absorbed nor fully accepted the reforms of Edward's reign, Mary's view that a small political cabal had imposed religious change proved mistaken. She had at first signalled a cautious approach to religious change, issuing a proclamation on 18 August 1553 saying she would not coerce any of her subjects into Catholicism until parliament could be called. Consequently the scope of the legislation designed to turn the clock back to 1529 surprised the political nation, and threatened the titles to ecclesiastical lands of those who had acquired them since Henry's first monastic dissolution in 1536. As resistance to the legislative package emerged in October, Mary had the sense to accept Gardiner's judgement that connecting a restoration of church land with a return to Rome would be fatal to the Catholic cause, and ultimately she accepted a compromise that simply abolished the Edwardian legislation. Unfortunately the announcement of Mary's intention to marry Philip obscured her willingness to moderate this first attempt to restore Catholicism in England.

Wyatt's rebellion

Wyatt's rebellion in January 1554 demonstrated that the queen's marriage and religious change had already been conflated in the public mind. Alarmed by the Spanish marriage and unaware of the favourable treaty accompanying it, some members of parliament plotted to prevent the match by co-ordinating four separate risings in Kent, Hereford, Devon, and Leicestershire in March 1554. However, when the conspiracy began to come to light in January, the council acted promptly: the Devon conspirators fled; the Hereford revolt never materialized; and only a few men joined Jane Grey's father, the duke of Suffolk, in Leicestershire. Kent, where Sir Thomas Wyatt raised between 2500 and 3000 men, was the only area where the conspirators had any success. Wyatt himself clearly feared foreign domination; others joined him for reasons both religious and political. The rebellion became dangerous when the trained bands of London led by the aged duke of Norfolk deserted before a possible engagement with Wyatt at Rochester on 28 February. With London and Westminster exposed, Mary and her council handled the critical situation as best they could.

Mary refused to flee; she refused imperial aid, which would only have exacerbated resentment against foreigners; and while her councillors raised troops, she put her faith in the City of London. The queen's instincts proved correct. When she went to the Guildhall to rally the City she rose to the occasion, demonstrating all the courage and eloquence of a Tudor as she declared Wyatt a traitor and defended her religious programme as well as her proposed marriage. She declared herself ‘already married to this Common Weal and the faithful members of the same’, and she vowed she would stay to shed her royal blood to defend them (Proctor, 239–40). The combination of Mary's speech, correct tactical decisions, and Wyatt's fatal hesitation defeated the rebellion. In its aftermath the government rejected a policy of vengeance, and in spite of Charles V's advice to treat political opponents harshly, the queen and her council punished only the leaders. The two women who had the potential to be the focus for future rebellions suffered as well: Jane Grey lost her life, because of her father's treason, and Elizabeth went to the Tower. But despite the varied motives of leaders and followers, the government chose to emphasize the religious component of the revolt and ignore the opposition to Philip. Thus queen and council equated protestantism with treason, a tactic Elizabeth would later adopt in her effort to crush English Catholicism.

By the time parliament met in April 1554 Wyatt's rebellion had imparted a sense of urgency to the supporters of Catholic restoration. Gardiner's attempt to restore the heresy laws, which resulted in an unseemly political battle in the Lords with Paget, demonstrated that much more needed to be done, but also that further measures to reduce heresy and revive the old faith would have to wait for Pole's arrival and England's formal reconciliation with Rome. The implications of Mary's impending marriage also provided work for parliament, which ratified the marriage treaty with all its clauses, in an act reaffirming the queen's power in relation to a foreign consort. The reasons for another act dealing with the queen's royal power remain unclear, but whether due to Wyatt's rebellion or to the prospective Spanish marriage, its extent was manifestly felt to need clarifying.

Philip and Mary

As soon as Mary dissolved parliament, her attention turned to her marriage. After lengthy delays Philip arrived in England on 19 July. Their first meeting turned out well in spite of the obvious age difference. On the feast of St James, 25 July, dressed in a golden robe, Mary arrived at Winchester Cathedral with a large company of councillors and ladies to meet Philip, who was also dressed in gold. Having no close male relatives, Mary was given away by four councillors, the marquess of Winchester, and the earls of Derby, Bedford, and Pembroke. After a nuptial mass the king and queen walked slowly under the canopy of state to the bishop's palace, which had been hung in gold and silver for the wedding banquet. Following a few more days in Winchester the couple moved at a leisurely pace to Windsor and then to London so that Mary's subjects could view her husband. For Mary the wedding should have brought relief, giving her the fellowship of a ruler who could help her manage the myriad problems England faced.

The joy of the wedding was soon enhanced by a doctor's assurance in the autumn that Mary showed all the signs of pregnancy. Unfortunately for Mary's hopes and plans both she and the doctor were deluded, but that did not become obvious until June 1555. She publicly celebrated her pregnancy with a procession and Te Deum at St Paul's just as her second parliament convened in late November 1554. But although the ambassadors reported the obvious signs of pregnancy, her physical condition was the result of a combination of long-standing menstrual problems and a great deal of wishful thinking. Her subsequent failure to produce an heir represented the ultimate failure for a sixteenth-century woman. However, until disillusionment set in the time between the wedding and Philip's departure in September 1555 has always been considered the high point of Mary's reign and presumably the happiest part of it for her.

Two portraits painted between June and December 1554 depict Mary during this period. They not only reflect the different views of the English and Habsburg courts but cast doubt on this so-called idyllic time. Hans Eworth's picture, though lacking the complicated symbolism of later portraits of Elizabeth, displays a somewhat idealized, ageless, good-looking woman. This portrait makes a simple statement of Mary's life and goals shortly before her marriage, showing her wearing a pearl given to her by Philip and a cross at her neck, while she holds the Tudor rose in her hand. The more famous and most frequently reproduced portrait, painted by Anthonis Mor, probably in November or December 1554, does not reflect the happiness Mary is usually presumed to have experienced after her marriage, her assumed pregnancy, and England's reconciliation with Rome. She looks uncomfortable as she sits stiffly on her throne holding the Tudor rose and wearing Philip's pearl, but without a cross. Moro's portrait is more realistic than most court portraits, and though it may reflect a Habsburg view of royalty (Philip commissioned it), it clearly depicts a face that was beginning to suffer the ravages of illness and age.

Although Philip took his position in England seriously, the nature and extent of his influence on English affairs has been debated from the sixteenth century onwards, thanks to conflicting sources: the Spanish ambassadors assigned him a significant role in public affairs, while the Venetian ambassador thought his political contribution negligible. Mary and her councillors certainly expected Philip to assist the queen forcefully if necessary. His arrival with a complete household, only to find an English one established for him, caused some friction, but initially at least Mary's government did all it could to help him understand English political problems. But although the council ordered the secretaries to translate the minutes into Latin so that he could read them, he could only communicate with some individuals through an interpreter, which constituted a considerable handicap. When Philip left England in 1555, he and Mary appointed a small group of councillors to correspond with him and act on his behalf. The few surviving letters from Philip to this ‘council of state’, as he called it, attest his famous attention to detail, but cannot be interpreted as constituting government from afar, or reform of the council. As the months passed England receded from the centre of Philip's attention, and Mary's unsuccessful attempt to secure legislation making him king, followed early in 1556 by Henry Dudley's anti-Spanish conspiracy, confirmed Philip's sense that his influence in England had decided limitations.

There is little doubt, however, that Philip's arrival broke the religious stalemate. To facilitate England's reunion with Rome and the revitalization of Catholicism, he initially employed Dominican friars: Father Pedro de Soto, who later received a chair at Oxford, helped negotiate the return of Pole to England in November; Juan de Villagarcia, who also received a chair of divinity at Oxford, was instrumental in obtaining Cranmer's recantations. These two were so effective at Oxford that John Jewel later commented, ‘one could scarce believe that so much mischief could have been done in such a short time’ (CSP for., 1558–9, 269–70). A third Dominican, Bartolomé Carranza, became Mary's confessor. Alfonso de Castro, a Franciscan who was an authority on heresy, remained a member of Philip's household; he argued for a more determined campaign against dissent, while expressing misgivings about the use of the death penalty to punish it.

Catholic restoration

Cardinal Reginald Pole, the man Mary relied upon to direct her kingdom's return to orthodoxy, did not arrive in England until November 1554. His intransigence on the issue of returning church lands caused Charles V to delay his journey to England so that the marriage to Philip could proceed with as little trouble as possible and without being unduly associated with that political quagmire. Pole had considerable experience and talent to bring to the revitalization of the faith. He had developed a solid reputation as a humanist, and was an advocate for reform at the early sessions of the Council of Trent. Mary arranged the ceremonial restoration of the Roman primacy so that it would have a maximum effect on MPs, who would then return home with news of Pole's conciliatory tone and impressions of the beauty of pre-Reformation ceremony. Pole's speech, delivered on 30 November before Mary, Philip, and the assembled parliament, offered reconciliation in exchange for the revocation of all ecclesiastical legislation after 1529 with the notable exception of laws pertaining to ecclesiastical lands. With carefully chosen words he assured the audience that he came ‘to reconcyle, not to condemne, … not to destroy but to build, … not to compel but to call agayne’. He also advanced the idea of Mary's marriage to the kingdom when he emphasized how God had ‘miraculously’ preserved the queen, ‘a virgin, helples, naked and unarmed’ who had prevailed over tyranny (Nichols, Chronicle of Queen Jane, 157, 159).

With Mary's approval and support, Pole, at first as papal legate and later as archbishop of Canterbury, was free to pursue his humanist vision of a reformed Catholic church in England. However, his twenty-year absence had not prepared him for the extent of damage to the ecclesiastical structure and finance, and ultimately these issues absorbed most of his time and energy. The programme which he developed concentrated on the education of the clergy and through them the laity, and he rejected one more rapid, based on missionary work by the Jesuits. Most of Pole's programme was outlined in his London synod of 1555–6. He gave particular emphasis to episcopal and clerical leadership and to training: bishops had to hold regular diocesan visits to detect disorder and audit finances, and priests had to be resident, while his decrees provided a plan for clerical education that later became a model on the continent. The ranks of the clergy had been reduced over the years of religious change and recently by Mary's deprivation of married clergy before her second parliament. Although Pole generally pardoned those who abandoned their wives, his high standards guaranteed that it would take time to provide adequately trained men for all the benefices in England. Only then could those born in the last twenty years be instructed properly and participate in the ancient liturgy in all its fullness.

Pole's appointments to the episcopate reflect both his own and Mary's intellectual interests. Many of the new bishops were highly regarded scholars who began to produce solid defences of the Catholic faith. The Marian regime was well aware of the educational value of the printing press, and promoted a number of religious treatises, sermons, and catechisms. Thomas Watson, bishop of Lincoln, wrote Holsome and Catholic Doctrine Concerning the Seven Sacraments while Edmund Bonner, the restored bishop of London, produced a book of homilies entitled A Profitable and Necessarye Doctryne and a children's catechism which Pole endorsed for use throughout the realm. Mary and Pole also emphasized the beauty of the pre-Reformation church by ordering the restoration of rood screens and other forms of church decoration, while the royal chapel encouraged the recovery of liturgical music. Most of what Pole achieved was carried out without papal help after the election of Pope Paul IV in summer 1555. A hardline traditionalist, the new pope later revoked Pole's legatine authority and demanded his return to Rome to answer charges of heresy; he also delayed the confirmation of bishops, leaving Elizabeth in the happy position of having several important ecclesiastical vacancies to fill at her accession.

Pole's programme of Catholic restoration was generally positive, as he had promised, but it had one negative side, the pursuit of heresy, and attitudes towards this have coloured all subsequent evaluations of Mary's religious policy, and indeed of her entire reign. The question of responsibility for the active pursuit of heretics remains difficult to resolve, both because conclusive evidence is lacking and also because, quite naturally, the biographers of the critical players tend to deflect blame from their subject. Most sixteenth-century people agreed that heresy was a cancer that must be excised for the health of society; Pole and Mary believed that the country had been misled by a small group, whose elimination would speed the restoration of Catholic worship. That they were mistaken became clear following the reinstatement of the fourteenth-century heresy laws in 1555, which resulted in the burning of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley in 1555 and Thomas Cranmer in 1556, as well as of the popular preachers John Rogers and Rowland Taylor, but which failed to discredit protestantism. After executing the leaders, the government expanded its pursuit of heretics until about 290 individuals, largely from the lower classes in south-east England, had been executed by the end of the reign. The Venetian ambassador noted the unpopularity of the London burnings and Mary's advisers divided on the issue. Pole attempted to restrain Bonner's energetic pursuit of heretics in London, only to have the council sternly order Bonner to continue. Gardiner, who initially saw eliminating heretics as an effective policy, quickly recognized that prosecutions had become counter-productive, but others like Sir John Baker, another privy councillor, continued to encourage the prosecutions in Kent. Apart from Mary's determination to execute Cranmer, there is little explicit evidence for her continuing involvement, except for the obvious fact that as queen she could have halted the process at any moment.

The prejudice against Mary and her religion which developed in Elizabeth's reign has continued to obscure the positive aspects of the former's reign. She laboured mightily to cope with a series of highly complex problems inherited from her brother and father. Debt plagued the regime from the outset, with government finance proving particularly intractable. The marquess of Winchester, Sir John Baker, and Sir Walter Mildmay, all men skilled in the arcane workings of the exchequer, started to restore the supremacy of that office, though their policies took time to implement and even longer for their effects to be felt. The currency too was problematic, the result of years of debasement. The council took vigorous action against forgers of domestic and foreign coins, but while the queen's financial advisers discussed a major recoinage, dearth and the disruption of war in Mary's last two years prevented action. Still, these advisers had laid the foundation for the Elizabethan recoinage. Mary's commercial policy was forward-looking and earned the support of the merchant community. Shrinking markets and dependence on the Calais staple led to a search for new markets in Guinea, the Baltic, and Russia. The latter resulted in the formation of the Muscovy Company in 1555. When the government overhauled the book of rates in 1558, adding substantially to its revenue, the merchants registered only a mild protest. During her last two years Mary and her council also tried to provide relief to localities afflicted by a series of poor harvests and the epidemics that followed.

War and the loss of Calais: Mary's death

From the beginning of the reign Mary and most of her council had understood that any involvement in continental hostilities would place England's fiscal resources under intolerable strain, any reforms notwithstanding. Mary saw herself as an advocate for peace and she succeeded in bringing the two antagonists, the Habsburgs and Valois, to the table in 1555 at Gravelines. But in spite of the efforts of Pole and his colleagues neither side was willing to make the necessary territorial concessions and the talks collapsed. Worse, although they signed a peace at Vaucelles in February 1556 without English participation, it lasted only long enough for the combatants to regain their fighting strength. When Philip invaded the Papal States in September 1556, Mary and her council, with the exception of Paget, watched events with considerable dismay because they realized it was probably only a matter of time before England became involved. There were many good reasons for remaining on the sidelines: in particular, plans for fiscal solvency would be compromised and popular support for the government and its religious reform would be damaged.

Mary I
Mary I

The advocates of peace, Mary's trusted household servants, constituted a majority on the council until Philip returned to England in March 1557 to plead his case for English support before her sceptical advisers. Even then the council repeated their concerns about crown finance, the possibility of a Scottish invasion, the predictable decline in England's trade with France, and the effect of bad harvests on the realm. While Philip and Mary were doing their best to persuade individual councillors, the English protestant exile Thomas Stafford sailed from France to invade England. Local forces easily dealt with his troops when he landed at Scarborough, but when the ‘invasion’ news reached the council those against the war had lost the political battle. Militarily England was better prepared to meet the challenge than she had been since Henry's reign. Mary's government had overhauled the administration and finances of the navy and her ships were in good repair. Having realized the inadequacy of the old feudal and national levies, the council had also begun to reorganize England's land forces. In 1558 parliament passed a Militia Act which gave responsibility for raising troops and to muster commissions in the counties to the lord lieutenants. Mary's council and competent military leaders together achieved a number of successes at first. In summer 1557 the navy aided Philip by clearing French shipping from the channel and successfully ferried English forces to the continent. Land forces under the earl of Pembroke participated in the capture of St Quentin in August 1557, while another army defended the northern border against a threatened Scottish attack. Nevertheless, the war has been viewed as foolish because Calais and its associated forts fell to the French in January 1558. As the last remnant of the English claim to continental monarchy, Calais had a symbolic value which arguably outweighed its economic and military importance. Its loss was certainly felt as a humiliation.

Mary received the news of Calais stoically, perhaps encouraged by the belief that she was pregnant (the story that she declared that the word ‘Calais’ would be found engraved on her heart appears to be apocryphal). Her profound desire to produce an heir resulted in another disappointment, and she appeared depressed in the spring. Over the years her general health had deteriorated as severe headaches and dysmenorrhoea took their toll. As summer ended Mary had an unusual bout of fever, probably induced by the influenza that carried away so many in 1558. Although she rallied in September, by the end of October another serious fever signalled the end. Mary's gradual decline in autumn 1558 allowed Elizabeth to plan for her succession even though Mary postponed the inevitable naming of her half-sister until the last minute. Although their relations were not always overtly hostile, Mary had long disliked and distrusted Elizabeth. She had resented her at first as the child of her own mother's supplanter, more recently as her increasingly likely successor. She took exception both to Elizabeth's religion and to her personal popularity, and the fact that first Wyatt's and then Dudley's risings aimed to install the princess in her place did not make Mary love her any more. But although she was several times pressed to send Elizabeth to the block, Mary held back, perhaps dissuaded by considerations of her half-sister's popularity, compounded by her own childlessness, perhaps by instincts of mercy. On 6 November she acknowledged Elizabeth as her heir. Feria, the Spanish ambassador, devoted his last dispatches of the reign largely to an analysis of the princess and her plans for the realm.

Mary died on 17 November 1558, before many of her policies could come to fruition. She was buried in Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey. Her early death at forty-two thus left an incomplete programme and a country at war, one that was also suffering from two years of poor harvests, famine, and a flu epidemic, but her successor had the decided advantage of being the second woman to rule and of having had the opportunity to learn from her sister's successes and failures.


The shift in religious policy which came in 1559 brought with it increased criticism both of Mary's Catholic restoration and of her achievements. The vehement anti-Catholicism fostered by John Foxe and by Elizabeth's advisers merged in the sixteenth century with England's sense of national identity and in the nineteenth century with notions of predestined English greatness, a potent combination that has made it difficult even for Mary's most sympathetic defenders to escape the bonds of a history written by the political and religious victors. In the mid-twentieth century, as the work of A. G. Dickens shifted the focus of discussion and research from the level of the political and ecclesiastical élite to that of the man and woman in the pew, he opened a debate about the nature of religious change, on the strengths and weaknesses of Catholicism, and on the numbers and influence of protestants, which has yet to be resolved. By then historians were also beginning to challenge the black and white picture painted by religious polemic and hagiography. J. A. Muller produced a biography of Gardiner in 1926 which started to free him from the venom of Foxe's portrayal, E. H. Harbison looked at Mary's reign from the perspective of the rival ambassadors at her court, and in 1953 H. F. M. Prescott tried to present an objective biography. A collection of essays on the mid-Tudor period edited by J. Loach and R. Tittler in 1980, and authoritative studies of Mary's reign by D. M. Loades, heralded new interpretations of such issues as parliament, the council, and the military, reinforced between 1990 and 2000 by biographies of Gardiner, Pole, and Cranmer. A growing interest in women's history has led to a fruitful discussion about female succession and the presentation of a woman as ruler, although most of this writing has centred on the evolution of Elizabeth's image, which took a long time to develop, and not on the short reign of Mary and her very different sense of herself. Thus Mary still stands condemned by ideology, no longer for her religious faith but for her failure to challenge the place of women in a patriarchal society.

There is no question that while Mary's choice of husband made sense in terms of her personal history, with its long-standing reliance on her Spanish relatives, it was a political mistake because it exacerbated English xenophobia and complicated the implementation of her main objective, the restoration of the Catholic church. This marital alliance, with the aid of expert Elizabethan propaganda, stamped Catholicism as an alien presence in England, and has consequently prevented ‘a just assessment of the aims and achievements of the Marian Church’ (Duffy, 524). In fact the revived Catholicism that Mary left to her sister took a considerable effort over more than five years for Elizabeth to reverse.

In the political arena, although Mary was a conscientious and hard-working ruler, she lacked the personal charisma needed to lead the realm through a difficult period. There was much more continuity than change in Mary's administration, and co-operation largely characterized her work with parliament and the council. There were moments of tension: members of parliament wanted to protect the ecclesiastical lands they had acquired before they were ready to consider sweeping religious change; and they refused to crown Philip. However, Mary was generally willing to compromise or wait for a more auspicious time to enact her religious programme because she realized the value of the support of the political nation. The personal rivalry between Gardiner and Paget as well as their differences over policy initially deprived Mary of an adviser she could trust completely, but the council was still able to carry out its many functions effectively. Indeed, it did a remarkable job in leading a reluctant nation during the war of 1557–8. Circumstances beyond her control such as bad weather and the flu epidemic exacerbated Mary's problems, but above all she was not given the time she needed to consolidate her initiatives in religion and finance, which were predicated on a longer reign and her hopes for a child who would carry on her policies. Consequently the economic, naval, and administrative reforms enacted by parliament benefited Elizabeth more than they did Mary.

In the final analysis, it seems more profitable for historians to compare Mary's five years as queen with the first five years, not the whole forty-five, of her sister's reign. Mary demonstrated that a woman could rule the kingdom in her own right. Her marital choice, by revealing the problems that a foreign marriage could create, gave her sister good reason to resist pressure to marry. In forming her government Elizabeth retained some of Mary's experienced councillors, who continued to work toward fiscal reform. Both queens had to make compromises in their initial religious legislation, and both had to deal with a body of dissent, but Elizabeth had learned the futility of religious persecution, and was more adept in applying Mary's equation of religious dissent with treason. Given a fair chronological comparison, and the perspective provided by the secularized culture of the late twentieth century, Mary emerges as a much more sympathetic person and conscientious ruler than was previously allowed, one who belies the simplistic bloody tyrant of protestant mythology.

Ann Weikel

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License