Sunday, 7 September 2014

Conclusion: Can Mary I's reputation be salvaged?

This is the final installment of my series of posts investigating the development of Mary I's reputation. In it I offer my thoughts as to whether or not I believe Mary's reputation could ultimately be salvaged.


It has been said that ‘history is written by the victors’ and this certainly seems to have been the case for Mary I’s reputation. Over the past four hundred years Mary’s reputation has developed under the influence of successive Protestant writers who built on John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. At the heart of this reputation it has not been Mary herself but the persecution of Protestants that occurred in her reign, making attempts to salvage her reputation difficult as the burning alive of individuals on account of their religious beliefs is in no way excusable.

Despite the attempts of some early writers, including Foxe, to absolve Mary of responsibility for the burnings there can be no denying that she believed in and encouraged the persecutions as a part of her religious policy. So ultimately responsibility lies with her. However this does not provide justification for her bloody reputation because as a person Mary was caring, courageous and pious; in sanctioning the burnings she was merely acting in accordance with her times.

The tomb in Westminster Abbey where both Mary I and her
half-sister Elizabeth I are buried. There is no monument to Mary
and the magnificent effigy of Elizabeth that adorns the tomb means
that many are unaware of Mary's presence. The tomb was erected in
the reign of James I  who had Elizabeth's remains moved to lie next
to Mary's.
To a great extent the sustained effort of revisionist writers has salvaged Mary’s reputation, dispelling the myth of bloody Mary and acknowledging her achievements as England’s first queen regnant. Aspects of her reign such as the persecutions and her marriage remain controversial, with conservative historians remaining loyal to the traditional perception of these events. However this controversy has served to stimulate further interest and debate about Mary and her reign, which has in turn allowed for revaluation of Mary as a capable and compassionate monarch.

This Latin inscription on the side of the tomb is the only outward
indication of Mary's presence, it reads "Partners both in throne and
grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of
one resurrection". The pairing of the sisters in death is perhaps a
little strange given the disintegration of relations between them and
it is sad as it ignores Mary's wishes expressed in her will that her
mother's remains be brought from Peterborough and interred with
her own.
This is progress and demonstrates that aspects of Mary’s reputation have been salvaged in recent years. The next stage in the salvaging of Mary’s reputation would be for the academic revaluation of Mary to penetrate into popular culture. This would, of course, take time given the four hundred years that Mary’s bloody reputation has been in the public consciousness. However the five hundredth anniversary of her birth in 2016 will provide a significant opportunity for her reputation to be salvaged on a wider level. Therefore while Mary’s reformation was the cause of her bloody reputation it now seems as though her reputation is entering a reformation of its own so it could ultimately be salvaged. 

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