Thursday, 14 August 2014

Part 1: Can Mary I's reputation be salvaged?

Mary I of England, English School after Antonis Mor c.1569

This is the first in a series of posts based on a dissertation that I wrote over the course of this year concerned with analysing the dynamic nature of Mary I's reputation and whether it would be possible for her reputation to be salvaged. This first post is just a brief introduction (it seemed better to post it in chunks rather than as a huge block of text!) and I hope that you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

In 1553 Mary Tudor became the first crowned Queen regnant of England and one could be forgiven for thinking that such an achievement would be celebrated in English history. This, however, has not been the case due to Mary’s reputation which has evolved over the centuries to spread a bloody stain over her reign and character.

Born in 1516 as the only surviving child of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, Mary entered into the vibrant era of renaissance and reformation. She was given a rigorous education crafted by the renowned scholar Juan Luis Vives, which gave her fluency in three languages and an unyielding devotion to Catholicism. This devotion was honed throughout Mary’s turbulent life, such as during her parents’ divorce in the 1530s when she was bastardised, forbidden access to her mother and threatened with execution if she did not comply with her father’s religious reforms; and during her brother, Edward VI’s reign when she was again threatened with execution on account of her Catholicism. These events were to haunt Mary for the rest of her life, leading some such as the historian A G Dickens to describe her as ‘the prisoner of a sorrowful past’[1] and others to conclude that she was psychologically scarred. Despite this Mary was triumphantly crowned Queen of England in October 1553, allowing her to reverse the Protestant reforms of Edward VI and restore Catholicism in England. This restoration has been very controversial due to the persecution and burning of 284 Protestants[2] that occurred as part of religious policy in her reign. 

The influence of Mary’s early education is evident because, as queen, Mary took Veritas temporis filia - ‘Truth is the daughter of time’ - as her personal motto, which came from one of Vives’ works.[3] Time, however, has not been kind to Mary. From the moment of her death in 1558 onwards her reputation has been twisted in the hands of time, branding her with the sobriquet ‘Bloody Mary’. It is a reputation that has been 400 years in the making and, while durable, the truth behind it is questionable. Over the years her reputation has been challenged, and more recently there have been several attempts, of varying success, to salvage Mary’s reputation.


[1] Duffy, Eamon Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor p3
[2] Starkey, David ’Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor by Eamon Duffy’ The Sunday Times review (14th July 2009)
[3] Edwards, John Mary Tudor: England’s Catholic Queen p 11


  1. I really love this. Mary I is my favourite Tudor monarch and I have always thought that the reputation she has been given since her death is terribly wrong. Her positive attributes have been hidden away and are not celebrated enough. Her education was one of the best at that time, and is sadly often forgotten when she is compared to her siblings as their education was in the protestant faith, however their education was years later than Mary's and in a very different religious and political climate.
    Can't wait for the next post!

  2. Glad you liked it and thanks for commenting! I completely agree with you, with Mary so much of her life needs to be put in to context to understand her and to compare her more fairly with her siblings. She's my favourite too as she is such an under appreciated and complex character. Let me know what you think of the next post (I should have it up sometime today!).