The Bloodiest Queen with a Lasting Impact

by Ashlyn Haught

Detail of portrait of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon attributed to Jan Gossaert.

Mary Tudor took the throne in 1553, becoming the first female ruler of England. [1] She is better known by the nickname Bloody Mary because of the large number of deaths that occurred at her hand during her reign. Over 300 protestants were killed during her short reign of only a few years, giving her that nickname that would follow her for the remainder of her life and be carried with her throughout the future. [2] Mary Tudor however, was also well educated and a devoted Catholic. Although what she is most known for throughout her reign was the death of many Protestants, Mary Tudor had many positive impacts on her country. Mary Tudor had both negatives during her reign, like the cruelty against the Protestants that shaped the path towards Christianity for America, as well as positives that strengthened the economy of England in a way that increased revenue of the crown. Mary Tudor had a lasting impact on the world as a whole. An important figure like her should be looked at from all sides and the impact she specifically had on religion, although probably not to her liking, should be noted.

The first step Mary Tudor took when coming to the throne was to push the country back to Roman Catholicism. Mary Tudor had been outraged at the policies set into place by her father and her brother before her because she was a woman of devoted faith. During the reign of Henry VIII, much of his own personal life had influenced his political choices. Since Henry did not produce any male heirs with Catherine of Aragon, he was quickly decided to divorce her, in order to marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn.[3] Henry’s answer to divorce Catherine, because it was not allowed under the papacy, was to make the ruling king head of the church. This quick decision allowed him to annul his wife, as well as many others after Anne, but also put him in control over the church property. With this control, Henry closed down the monasteries and sold the properties, which then led to the funding in a war against France.[4] To begin this conversion back from an anti-Catholicism reformation, Mary Tudor restored Catholic Mass and banned Holy Communion. This change meant that England was going back to the catholic belief of communion. With a Catholic Mass, the bread and wine of communion was no longer just a symbol of Jesus, but it literally became the physical body and blood of Christ. Even though Parliament refused to repeal the Act of Supremacy passed by King Henry VIII, the Act of Repeal voided the previous reformation, called the English Reformation. This is what enabled Mary Tudor to reinstate mass. Despite the fact that the act of Supremacy failed to be repealed, Mary Tudor still stuck with her beliefs and rejected the title of head of the English church. The physical features of the church were also reversed, replacing the plain furniture and adding color and art. Mary Tudor was politically reversing that Protestant ways, but also reversing the look of the Protestant religion that was left behind in the churches. Protestants believed in a plain look to the church, as to not take away from the service itself, but Catholics embrace art and music within their faith. This was the point when Mary Tudor banned the English prayer book, which also lead to the author, Thomas Cranmer’s death. The Archbishop of Canterbury was a big supporter of Lady Jane Grey, who succeeded Mary Tudor in the thrown for nine days. Lady Jane Grey was married to John Dudley, who attempted to remain in power after Kind Edward had died.[5] Mary Tudor fought for her crown during these nine days and eventually imprisoned Lady Jane Grey in the Tower of London, taking her thrown. Due to Cranmer’s writings and support of Lady Jane Grey, Mary Tudor tried him for treason immediately. This trial lead to his public execution at the end of Mary Tudor’s life in 1556. [6] Cranmer was one of the 300 people that were burned at the stake for heresy during Mary Tudor’s reign because of another policy change that she made to reinstate heresy laws. Parliament reinstated these heresy laws, which made these horrible deaths legal and allowed for the crown to take over the property of the dead heretics.[7] Mary Tudor believed that the Protestants were like a toxin to her society and that they needed to be removed. This force for change by Mary Tudor caused a once popular family and Queen to quickly become unpopular with her people. Her half-sister, Elizabeth, would proceed Mary Tudor and eventually help to stabilize the tragedy done before her. The second mistake Mary Tudor made during her rule was marrying Philip of Spain. Philip was a foreigner and ruler of another country, creating tension over England. Many of Mary Tudor’s council, as well as her people, did not want a foreigner being involved in the policies being made and reformed.[8] Mary Tudor also relied too heavily on Philip of Spain’s advisors who were more focused on bettering Spain’s position rather than England’s. These mistakes Mary Tudor made during her rule impacted England during her reign and caused a cascade of effects in other countries.

These reformations, however did not necessarily prove to her favor. After Mary Tudor’s reign, more people converted to Protestants than before. Although Mary Tudor instilled fear into Protestants and heretics, the burnings produced more questions about those who were burning the Protestants. The character of Catholics as a whole was questioned by those who witnessed the burnings, causing a great deal of conversions.[9] The persecution of Cranmer proved to be a significant mistake in her drive to reform. At his execution, Cranmer denied his recantations, a rumor that circled through both the Protestant and the Catholic communities. A second rumor also roamed the community that Philip of Spain had forged his recantations in the first place. This gave more of a reason for the public to disprove of the marriage between him and Mary Tudor.[10] This marriage also complicated Mary Tudor’s goal and objective to reform religion. Since it created such conflict, especially within her council, a second issue arrived, besides just religion, and clouded their other goal. Elizabeth would follow Mary Tudor after her death and again restore Protestantism, but also fix more errors made by King Henry. The rise in the Protestant faith would eventually lead to the Christian denomination, which has a large impact on the world today. If Mary Tudor would have succeeded in her goal to wipe out Protestants, the migration of Protestants to America would have never occurred. A group of Protestants in the early 1600s, called the Pilgrim Fathers, fled to the colonies from England and cultivated what would be the United States with a primary religion being Protestants. [11] Since Protestants survived Mary Tudor’s wrath, America has prominent Christianity. Without Mary Tudor and her heresy laws, this may not be a largely denominated religion all over the world.

Not very often are the achievements of Mary Tudor acknowledged. To start, Mary Tudor was the first female ruler of England. This paved the way for five more female rulers after her. It began a huge push for female equality, especially because Mary Tudor’s rule was not passive and proved that females could rule, not just men. When Mary Tudor began her rule, she made it clear that her council would not manipulate her decisions.[12] Although Mary’s decisions may not have always been the most beneficial for her country, she made them independently. Even when she planned to marry Philip of Spain, who her speaker of the House of Commons suggested against, she told him that she would not marry another who made her “position inferior”. [13] . At every turn, Mary Tudor was faced with the difficult gender role issue. This is also seen when being opposed by John Knox, who also opposed her sister Elizabeth when she came to rule. John Knox wrote The First Blast of The Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. This polemic specifically targeted women in power because he believed that it was not right for women to rule over men. John Knox stated that this rule of Mary Tudor was “unnatural” and “monstrous” and that women should be in charge of child bearing and domestic work only. [14] Again, Mary Tudor stood her ground as a female ruler and ignored such opinions. Mary Tudor did not rule in a sea of men however; her court was formed with an array of intelligent women. Mary Tudor’s court consisted of well educated women such as Susan Clarencius, Mary Finch, and Frances Waldegrave.[15] By doing this, Mary Tudor gave other women a chance to have an influence on policies and defy gender roles. This rule of a female also proved to be an example to other countries. America is a country where a female President has not yet occurred. The fact that England has had multiple women rulers should prove the point that our country may be far behind on female equality. Mary Tudor not only made reforms of religious laws, but also political. She came to the thrown that was increasing in debt and began to turn it around. Reconstruction of the economy started with new markets in Guinea, Baltic and Russia, resulting in the formation of the Muscovy Company. These new transformations increased the crown’s revenue just within her five-year reign. Policies for recoinage also began during Mary’s reign, although they were not fulfilled until the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Mary and her council took action against coin forgers in an attempt to recoin, but war put this action on pause.[16] Mary Tudor also ruled, maybe ironically, with faith leading her. She was baptized shortly after birth as Catholic, a denomination that would stick with her throughout her life. While growing up Mary Tudor was always taught to represent the image of God when she ruled. As queen, Mary Tudor clearly thought that she was the one who was supposed to lead her people in the direction of correct faith by all means necessary. Although her means were not justified, the thought process to try and lead her people through faith was a good start.[17] Mary Tudor proved to attempt to lead her people in the best way she knew how. Throughout her reign she showed to be an example in some forms, as well as the fact that she laid down a foundation for her half-sister Elizabeth to continue down when she was to take over and become the next ruling queen.

Mary Tudor’s positive influences had a huge impact on the nation after her reign and death. By being the second woman to rule, Elizabeth was able to learn from Mary Tudor’s successes and failures. Mary Tudor had laid a foundation for Elizabeth to build off and create and even bigger success for her country. One of the foundations Elizabeth was able to build off of was the policies Mary Tudor had attempted to put into place before the war began during her reign. Mary Tudor had planned to deal with the problems of coinage in England to help produce revenue with the crown but was stopped in her tracks. Coinage in England was an issue derived from Henry VIII and an issue of counterfeit. [18]As stated previously, this had to be put on hold because of war, yet Elizabeth was able to continue this push and increase the revenue of the crown. Coinage became Elizabeth’s primary goal during her reign because of the way that counterfeit was hurting England’s economy. Counterfeit was dragging the revenue of the crown down and harming England’s reputation[19]. After Mary Tudor’s death, Elizabeth built onto the foundation already laid down by her sister and former queen. Although Elizabeth was building onto her sister’s plan, this does not discredit the work Elizabeth had to put into following through on this objective.

Mary Tudor was an influential leader from both to positive and the negative side. Her short reign caused a religion, even though not of her choosing, to eventually flourish elsewhere in the world, a start for female rulers, revenue of the crown, and relationships with other countries. Mary Tudor fought for her crown to start with, and fought for her beliefs throughout the rule. England and the rest of the world would not be the same if she had not been in power despite it only lasting a few years and being cut short by a quick death. She also kept the Tudor family in the line of the thrown, naming Elizabeth as her successor. It may not be the way Mary Tudor would have wanted it to be, but it has changed the world nonetheless.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Brigden, Susan. New Worlds, Lost Worlds the Rule of the Tudors, 1485-1603. Burnaby, B.C.: Simon Fraser University, 2007.

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Brown, I. D. Some Notes on the Coinage of Elizabeth I with Special Reference to Her Hammered Silver.

Duffy, Eamon. Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 2010.

Evenden, Elizabeth. Catholic Renewal and Protestant Resistance in Marian England. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.

“History – Thomas Cranmer.” BBC. Accessed April 23, 2018. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/cranmer_thomas.shtml.

History.com Staff. “Mary I.” History.com. 2009. Accessed April 23, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/british-history/mary-i.

“John Knox and the Monstrous Regiment of Women.” Presbyterian Historical Society. October 15, 2014. Accessed April 25, 2018. https://www.history.pcusa.org/blog/2014/10/john-knox-and-monstrous-regiment-women.

Knox, John. The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstruous Regiment of Women. Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1972.

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“Mary I of England.” Wikipedia. April 25, 2018. Accessed April 26, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_I_of_England.

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“Naughty Money: Clippers and Coiners in 16th-century England.” University of Cambridge. April 12, 2014. Accessed April 26, 2018. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/naughty-money-clippers-and-coiners-in-16th-century-england.

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“Queens of England.” The Albion2, no. 15 (1840): 124.

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NOTES

[1] “Mary Tudor.” Biography.com. October 17, 2017. Accessed April 23, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/mary-tudor-9401296.
[2] History.com Staff. “Mary I.” History.com. 2009. Accessed April 23, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/british-history/mary-i.
[3] Pettegree, Professor Andrew. “History – The English Reformation.” BBC. February 17, 2011. Accessed April 23, 2018. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/english_reformation_01.shtml.
[4] Robinson, Bruce. “History – An Overview of the Reformation.” BBC. February 17, 2011. Accessed April 23, 2018. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/reformation_overview_01.shtml.
[5] “Lady Jane Grey – Facts, Biography, Information & Portraits.” English History. April 21, 2017. Accessed April 23, 2018. https://englishhistory.net/tudor/relative/lady-jane-grey/.
[6] “History – Thomas Cranmer.” BBC. Accessed April 23, 2018. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/cranmer_thomas.shtml.
[7] “Mary Tudor.” The Good, the Bad and the Monstrous. October 26, 2011. Accessed April 23, 2018. https://powerstudy.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/mary-tudor/.
[8] Simkin, John. “Mary I.” Spartacus Educational. Accessed April 23, 2018. http://spartacus-educational.com/TUDmary1.htm.
[9] Trim, David J.B. “Reformation and Counter Reformation.” Liberty Magazine, May 2009.
[10] Simkin, “Mary I.” Spartacus Educational.
[11] Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Pilgrim Fathers.” Encyclopædia Britannica. September 01, 2017. Accessed April 25, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pilgrim-Fathers.
[12] Simkin, John. “Mary I.” Spartacus Educational.
[13] Simkin, John. “Mary I.” Spartacus Educational.
[14] “John Knox and the Monstrous Regiment of Women.” Presbyterian Historical Society. October 15, 2014. Accessed April 25, 2018. https://www.history.pcusa.org/blog/2014/10/john-knox-and-monstrous-regiment-women.
[15] “Mary I (1516–1558), Queen of England and Ireland | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.” (1516–1558), Queen of England and Ireland | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. November 09, 2017. Accessed April 23, 2018. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-18245;jsessionid=F61DF439AA6267DED09AD88AC8BAF887?back=,557.
[16] “Mary I (1516–1558), Queen of England and Ireland | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.”
[17] “Mary Tudor.” Biography.com. October 17, 2017. Accessed April 26, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/mary-tudor-9401296.
[18] “Naughty Money: Clippers and Coiners in 16th-century England.” University of Cambridge. April 12, 2014. Accessed April 26, 2018. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/naughty-money-clippers-and-coiners-in-16th-century-england.
[19] “Naughty Money: Clippers and Coiners in 16th-century England.” University of Cambridge. April 12, 2014. Accessed April 26, 2018. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/naughty-money-clippers-and-coiners-in-16th-century-england.