Mary I of England

Portrait of Mary I by Hans Eworth (c. 1555-58). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Mary I was born on 18 February 1516 to Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII. She was their only surviving child and was spoiled during her happy childhood. As her parents’ marriage crumbled, though, Mary fell out of favour with her father and was forced to serve in the young Princess Elizabeth’s (the future Elizabeth I’s) household. Despite Elizabeth being the child of Anne Boleyn – who had replaced Mary’s mother Katherine of Aragon as Henry’s wife and England’s queen – Mary was loving to Elizabeth, whom Mary saw as another victim of circumstance. By 1536, Mary was once again in favour with her father and remained his ‘precious pearl’ for the rest of his life.

Throughout her brother Edward VI’s reign (1547-1553), Mary remained staunchly Catholic to the point that Edward VI on his deathbed changed the succession and left the throne to his cousin Lady Jane Grey. When Mary heard this news, she raised her troops at Framlingham Castle and forced the Duke of Northumberland – the main influence behind the scenes – to accept her title as Queen. Mary thus became the first crowned queen regnant of England, with her coronation at Westminster Abbey on 1 October 1553.

Her first mission as queen was to re-institute Catholicism as England’s official religion, though she hesitated to re-introduce papal supremacy, the idea that the Pope had ultimate authority over the Catholic Church in England. As part of this re-introduction of Catholicism, many were executed by burning for heresy, a legacy which continues to mar Mary’s memory in the historical record.

Mary married Philip II of Spain on 25 July 1554 and they enjoyed a happy – though sometimes distant – marriage until Mary’s death on 17 November 1558. Mary was succeeded by her sister, Elizabeth I. Mary’s reign is defined by its stability despite years of famine and flu, including reforming the coinage and returning England officially to Catholicism.

Recommended Reading

Johanna Strong. “Winchester and Westminster: How did these Churches Forget Mary?”. 30 December 2020.

Johanna Strong. “Continuing Our Quest to Discovery Mary I’s Connection to Winchester and Beyond”. 6 January 2021.

Johanna Strong. “Remembering Mary I: The Role of Memory in the Creation of Mary’s Legacy”. 13 January 2021.

Sarah Duncan, Mary I: Gender, Power, and Ceremony in the Reign of England’s First Queen (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

Sarah Doran and Thomas S. Freeman, eds., Mary Tudor: Old and New Perspectives (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

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