Mary I (February 18, 1516 – November 17, 1558), also known as Mary Tudor and “Bloody Mary” by her Protestant opponents, was the Queen of England and Ireland from July 1553 until her death. She is best known for her vigorous attempt to reverse the English Reformation, which had begun during the reign of her father, Henry VIII. Her attempt to restore to the Church the property confiscated in the previous two reigns was largely thwarted by parliament, but during her five-year reign, Mary had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake in the Marian persecutions.
Mary was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, England. She was the only child of King Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon to survive infancy. Her mother had suffered many miscarriages. Before Mary’s birth, four previous pregnancies had resulted in a stillborn daughter and three short-lived or stillborn sons, including Henry, Duke of Cornwall.
Despite his affection for Mary, Henry VIII was deeply disappointed that his marriage had produced no sons. By the time Mary was nine years old, it was apparent that Henry and Catherine would have no more children, leaving Henry without a legitimate male heir. In 1525, Henry sent Mary to the border of Wales to preside, presumably in name only, over the Council of Wales and the Marches.
She was given her own court based at Ludlow Castle and many of the royal prerogatives normally reserved for the Prince of Wales. Vives and others called her the Princess of Wales, although she was never technically invested with the title. She appears to have spent three years in the Welsh Marches, making regular visits to her father’s court, before returning permanently to the home counties around London in mid-1528.
Throughout Mary’s childhood, Henry negotiated potential future marriages for her. When she was only two years old, she was promised to François, the infant son of King François I of France, but the contract was repudiated after three years. In 1522, at the age of six, she was instead contracted to marry her 22-year-old first cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
However, the engagement was broken off within a few years by Charles with Henry’s agreement. Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s chief adviser, then resumed marriage negotiations with the French, and Henry suggested that Mary marry the Dauphin’s father, King François I himself, who was eager for an alliance with England.
A marriage treaty was signed which provided that Mary marry either François I or his second son Henri, Duke of Orleans, but Wolsey secured an alliance with France without the marriage. In 1528 Wolsey’s agent Thomas Magnus discussed the idea of her marriage to James V of Scotland with the Scottish diplomat Adam Otterburn.
On July 6, 1553, at the age of 15, Edward VI died from a lung infection, possibly tuberculosis. He did not want the crown to go to Mary, because he feared she would restore Catholicism and undo his reforms as well as those of Henry VIII, and so he planned to exclude her from the line of succession.
Contradicting the Succession Act, which restored Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession, Edward named Dudley’s daughter-in-law Lady Jane Grey, the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister, Mary, as his successor.
On July 10, 1553, Lady Jane was proclaimed queen by Dudley and his supporters, and on the same day Mary’s letter to the council arrived in London. By July, 12, Mary and her supporters had assembled a military force at Framlingham Castle, Suffolk. Dudley’s support collapsed, and Jane was deposed on July 19. She and Dudley were imprisoned in the Tower of London. Mary rode triumphantly into London on August 3, 1553, on a wave of popular support. She was accompanied by her half-sister Elizabeth and a procession of over 800 nobles and gentlemen.
Mary understood that the young Lady Jane was essentially a pawn in Dudley’s scheme, and Dudley was the only conspirator of rank executed for high treason in the immediate aftermath of the coup. Lady Jane and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, though found guilty, were kept under guard in the Tower rather than immediately executed, while Lady Jane’s father, Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, was released.
At age 37, Mary turned her attention to finding a husband and producing an heir, which would prevent the Protestant Elizabeth (still next-in-line under the terms of Henry VIII’s will and the Act of Succession of 1544) from succeeding to the throne. Edward Courtenay and Reginald Pole were both mentioned as prospective suitors, but her cousin Charles V suggested she marry his only son, Infante Felipe of Spain. Felipe had a son from a previous marriage and was heir apparent to vast territories in Continental Europe and the New World. As part of the marriage negotiations, a portrait of Felipe, by Titian, was sent to her in the latter half of 1553.
When Mary insisted on marrying Felipe , insurrections broke out. Thomas Wyatt the younger led a force from Kent to depose Mary in favour of Elizabeth, as part of a wider conspiracy now known as Wyatt’s rebellion, which also involved the Duke of Suffolk, the father of Lady Jane. Mary declared publicly that she would summon Parliament to discuss the marriage, and if Parliament decided that the marriage was not to the advantage of the kingdom, she would refrain from pursuing it. On reaching London, Wyatt was defeated and captured. Wyatt, the Duke of Suffolk, his daughter Lady Jane, and her husband Guildford Dudley were executed.
Mary was—excluding the brief, disputed reigns of the Empress Matilda and Lady Jane Grey—England’s first queen regnant. Further, under the English common law doctrine of jure uxoris, the property and titles belonging to a woman became her husband’s upon marriage, and it was feared that any man she married would thereby become King of England in fact and in name. While Mary’s grandparents, Fernando and Isabella, had retained sovereignty of their own realms during their marriage, there was no precedent to follow in England.
Under the terms of Queen Mary’s Marriage Act, Felipe was to be styled “King of England”, all official documents (including Acts of Parliament) were to be dated with both their names, and Parliament was to be called under the joint authority of the couple, for Mary’s lifetime only. England would not be obliged to provide military support to Felipe’s father in any war, and Felipe could not act without his wife’s consent or appoint foreigners to office in England.