Furthering the Tudor conquest of Ireland, under Mary and Felipe’s reign English colonists were settled in the Irish Midlands. Queen’s and King’s Counties (now Counties Laois and Offaly) were founded, and their plantation began. Their principal towns were respectively named Maryborough (now Portlaoise) and Philipstown (now Daingean).
In January 1556, Mary’s father-in-law the Emperor abdicated. Mary and Felipe were still apart; he was declared King of Spain in Brussels, but she stayed in England. King Felipe II negotiated an unsteady truce with the French in February 1556. The following month, the French ambassador in England, Antoine de Noailles, was implicated in a plot against Mary when Sir Henry Dudley, a second cousin of the executed Duke of Northumberland, attempted to assemble an invasion force in France. The plot, known as the Dudley conspiracy, was betrayed, and the conspirators in England were rounded up. Dudley remained in exile in France, and Noailles prudently left Britain.
Felipe II returned to England from March to July 1557 to persuade Mary to support Spain in a renewed war against France. Mary was in favour of declaring war, but her councillors opposed it because French trade would be jeopardised, it contravened the foreign war provisions of the marriage treaty, and a bad economic legacy from Edward VI’s reign and a series of poor harvests meant England lacked supplies and finances.
War was only declared in June 1557 after Reginald Pole’s nephew, Thomas Stafford, invaded England and seized Scarborough Castle with French help, in a failed attempt to depose Mary. As a result of the war, relations between England and the Papacy became strained, since Pope Paul IV was allied with Henri II of France.
In August, English forces were victorious in the aftermath of the Battle of Saint Quentin, with one eyewitness stating “Both sides fought most choicely, and the English best of all.” Celebrations however, were brief, as in January 1558 French forces took Calais, England’s sole remaining possession on the European mainland. Although the territory was financially burdensome, its loss was a mortifying blow to the queen’s prestige. According to Holinshed’s Chronicles, Mary later lamented, “When I am dead and opened, you shall find ‘Calais’ lying in my heart”, although this may be apocryphal.
After her husband Felipe II’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. However, 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 the life of Reginald Pole later the same day. She was succeeded by Elizabeth. Felipe II, 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 would eventually share with Elizabeth. The Latin inscription on their tomb, Regno consortes et urna, hic obdormimus Elizabetha et Maria sorores, in spe resurrectionis (affixed there by James I when he succeeded Elizabeth), translates to: “Consorts in realm and tomb, we sisters Elizabeth and Mary here lie down to sleep in hope of the resurrection.”
At her funeral service, John White, bishop of Winchester, praised Mary: “She was a king’s daughter; she was a king’s sister; she was a king’s wife. She was a queen, and by the same title a king also.” She was the first woman to successfully claim the throne of England, despite competing claims and determined opposition, and enjoyed popular support and sympathy during the earliest parts of her reign, especially from the Roman Catholics of England.
Mary’s attempts to undo the national religious reforms of her brother’s reign faced major obstacles. Despite her belief in the papal supremacy, she ruled constitutionally as the Supreme Head of the English Church, a contradiction under which she bridled.
Protestant writers at the time, and since, have often condemned Mary’s reign. By the 17th century, the memory of her religious persecutions had led to the adoption of her sobriquet “Bloody Mary”. John Knox attacked her in his First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558), and she was prominently vilified in Actes and Monuments (1563), by John Foxe. Foxe’s book remained popular throughout the following centuries and helped shape enduring perceptions of Mary as a bloodthirsty tyrant.
Mary is remembered in the 21st century for her vigorous efforts to restore the primacy of Roman Catholicism in England after the rise of Protestant influence during the previous reigns. Protestant historians have long deplored her reign, emphasizing that in just five years she burned several hundred Protestants at the stake. In the mid-20th century, H. F. M. Prescott attempted to redress the tradition that Mary was intolerant and authoritarian, and scholarship since then has tended to view the older, simpler assessments of Mary with increasing reservations.
A historiographical revisionism since the 1980s has to some degree improved her reputation among scholars. Christopher Haigh argued that her revival of religious festivities and Catholic practices was generally welcomed. Haigh concluded that the “last years of Mary’s reign were not a gruesome preparation for Protestant victory, but a continuing consolidation of Catholic strength.”
Catholic historians, such as John Lingard, thought Mary’s policies failed not because they were wrong but because she had too short a reign to establish them and because of natural disasters beyond her control. In other countries, the Catholic Counter-Reformation was spearheaded by Jesuit missionaries, but Mary’s chief religious advisor, Cardinal Reginald Pole, refused to allow the Jesuits into England.
Her marriage to King Felipe II of Spain was unpopular among her subjects and her religious policies resulted in deep-seated resentment. The military loss of Calais to France was a bitter humiliation to English pride. Failed harvests increased public discontent. Philip spent most of his time abroad, while his wife remained in England, leaving her depressed at his absence and undermined by their inability to have children.
After Mary’s death, Felipe II sought to marry Queen Elizabeth but she refused him. Although Mary’s rule was ultimately ineffectual and unpopular, the policies of fiscal reform, naval expansion, and colonial exploration that were later lauded as Elizabethan accomplishments were started in Mary’s reign.