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Mary and her husband Felipe

In September 1554, Mary stopped menstruating. She gained weight, and felt nauseated in the mornings. For these reasons, almost the entirety of her court, including her physicians, believed she was pregnant. Parliament passed an act making Felipe regent in the event of Mary’s death in childbirth.

In the last week of April 1555, Elizabeth was released from house arrest, and called to court as a witness to the birth, which was expected imminently. According to Giovanni Michieli, the Venetian ambassador, Felipe may have planned to marry Elizabeth in the event of Mary’s death in childbirth, but in a letter to his brother-in-law Maximilian of Austria, Felipe expressed uncertainty as to whether Mary was pregnant.

Thanksgiving services in the diocese of London were held at the end of April after false rumours that Mary had given birth to a son spread across Europe. Through May and June, the apparent delay in delivery fed gossip that Mary was not pregnant. Susan Clarencieux revealed her doubts to the French ambassador, Antoine de Noailles.

Mary continued to exhibit signs of pregnancy until July 1555, when her abdomen receded. Michieli dismissively ridiculed the pregnancy as more likely to “end in wind rather than anything else”. It was most likely a false pregnancy, perhaps induced by Mary’s overwhelming desire to have a child.

In August, soon after the disgrace of the false pregnancy, which Mary considered “God’s punishment” for her having “tolerated heretics” in her realm, Felipe left England to command his armies against France in Flanders. Mary was heartbroken and fell into a deep depression. Michieli was touched by the queen’s grief; he wrote she was “extraordinarily in love” with her husband and disconsolate at his departure.

In the month following her accession, Mary issued a proclamation that she would not compel any of her subjects to follow her religion, but by the end of September 1553, leading Protestant churchmen—including Thomas Cranmer, John Bradford, John Rogers, John Hooper, and Hugh Latimer—were imprisoned.

Mary’s first Parliament, which assembled in early October, declared her parents’ marriage valid and abolished Edward’s religious laws. Church doctrine was restored to the form it had taken in the 1539 Six Articles of Henry VIII, which (among other things) reaffirmed clerical celibacy. Married priests were deprived of their benefices.

Mary rejected the break with Rome her father instituted and the establishment of Protestantism by her brother’s regents. Felipe persuaded Parliament to repeal Henry’s religious laws, returning the English church to Roman jurisdiction.

Reaching an agreement took many months and Mary and Pope Julius III had to make a major concession: the confiscated monastery lands were not returned to the church but remained in the hands of their influential new owners. By the end of 1554, the pope had approved the deal, and the Heresy Acts were revived.

Around 800 rich Protestants, including John Foxe, fled into exile. Those who stayed and persisted in publicly proclaiming their beliefs became targets of heresy laws. The first executions occurred over five days in February 1555: John Rogers on February 4, Laurence Saunders on February 8, and Rowland Taylor and John Hooper on February 9.

Thomas Cranmer, the imprisoned archbishop of Canterbury, was forced to watch Bishops Ridley and Latimer being burned at the stake. He recanted, repudiated Protestant theology, and rejoined the Catholic faith. Under the normal process of the law, he should have been absolved as a repentant, but Mary refused to reprieve him.

On the day of his burning, he dramatically withdrew his recantation. In total, 283 were executed, most by burning. The burnings proved so unpopular that even Alfonso de Castro, one of Felipe’s own ecclesiastical staff, condemned them and another adviser, Simon Renard, warned him that such “cruel enforcement” could “cause a revolt”. Mary persevered with the policy, which continued until her death and exacerbated anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish feeling among the English people. The victims became lauded as martyrs.

Reginald Pole, the son of Mary’s executed governess, arrived as papal legate in November 1554. He was ordained a priest and appointed Archbishop of Canterbury immediately after Cranmer’s execution in March 1556.

After Felipe’s visit in 1557, Mary again thought she was pregnant, with a baby due in March 1558. She decreed in her will that her husband would be the regent during the minority of their child. But no child was born, and Mary was forced to accept that her half-sister Elizabeth would be her lawful successor.

Mary was weak and ill from May 1558. In pain, possibly from ovarian cysts or uterine cancer, she died on November 17, 1558, aged 42, at St James’s Palace, during an influenza epidemic that also claimed Archbishop Pole’s life later that day. She was succeeded by Elizabeth. Felipe, who was in Brussels, wrote to his sister Joan: “I felt a reasonable regret for her death.”

Although Mary’s will stated that she wished to be buried next to her mother, she was interred in Westminster Abbey on December 14, in a tomb she eventually shared with Elizabeth. The inscription on their tomb, affixed there by James I-VI when he succeeded Elizabeth, is Regno consortes et urna, hic obdormimus Elizabetha et Maria sorores, in spe resurrectionis (“Consorts in realm and tomb, we sisters Elizabeth and Mary here lie down to sleep in hope of the resurrection”).

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