Mary I (Bloody Mary): 25 Interesting Facts

Mary I of England

Bloody Mary facts

Here are 25 very important facts about Mary I of England (1516-1558), the cold-blooded, fanatic queen of England who spent her 5-year reign burning Protestants at the stake.

  1. Owing to the numerous miscarriages and stillbirths her mother, Catherine of Aragon, had, Mary grew up as the only child of her mother. Growing up, she was not the most dashing of princesses in England. However, her intellect and singing abilities made her extremely popular across Europe. Her rocky teenage years and the tag of bastard were some of the reasons why she failed to get married at an early age.
  2. She received a very a good education. As a result, she became a very sharp and refined English woman. Juan Luis Vives specifically wrote De Institutione Feminae Christianae (treatise on the education of girls) for Princess Mary. Much of her training as a child was in preparation for her future as queen of England. Before she hit her teens, she was already fluent in Latin, French, and Spanish.

    Catherine of Aragon was Mary’s mother

  3. After she was invested with the title of Princess of Wales, she made her court at Ludlow Castle in Wales.
  4. Up until her 9th/10th birthday, Mary was seen as the jewel of Henry VIII’s court. Her parents showered her with a lot of attention and care. She was given all the titles befitting a heir apparent to Henry VIII. Everything changed after cracks started to appear in her parents’ marriage. Henry was rumored to have been having several affairs. The king was also in the process of looking for a new wife who could give him a male heir. The reason for his infidelity was because his wife, Catherine of Aragon, was on the brink of passing her child-bearing age. Mary’s life turned upside down the moment her father cast her mother away and proceeded to marry Anne Boleyn.
  5. Mary’s father tried to use her to gain leverage over other more powerful nations in Europe. On several occasions, attempts were made to marry her off to powerful princes and kings in France and Spain. Had it not been for a hefty dowry demanded by Charles V (Holy Roman emperor), she would have been given in marriage to the powerful Spanish monarch.
  6. Upon her father’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, Mary was stripped off all her royal titles and relegated to the status of the king’s bastard daughter. Henry had maintained that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was illegitimate and incestuous; hence he forcefully divorced Catherine and sent her out of his royal court.
  7. Anne Boleyn made sure that Mary had no contact with her exiled mother. She also prevented Mary from having any interaction with Henry. To add insult to injury, Mary was made to serve as the lady-in-waiting for Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I).

    Mary’s father – Henry VIII of England

  8. There were rumors that her stepmother Anne Boleyn went as far as trying to convince Henry VIII to execute Mary. This happened around the time Mary stubbornly refused to renounce her Catholic faith. Again, Mary had refused to admit that her mother’s marriage to Henry was illegitimate. This fueled Anne’s hatred towards her.
  9. In a bid to bastardize her, Henry VIII and his courtiers claimed that Mary was never officially invested with the title of Princess of Wales.
  10. After a bit of persuasion from Holy Roman emperor Charles V, Mary capitulated and accepted her father as the head of the Church of England. As part of the deal with her father, she also had to admit that her mother’s marriage to him was anything but legitimate.
  11. With her relationship with her father back on track, Mary was made the godmother of her half-brother Edward (later Edward VI).
  12. Henry’s fourth wife, Catherine Howard, played a role in mending the relationship between Mary and her father. After she entered her father’s good books, Mary was reinstated into the line of succession to the English throne (after Edward)
  13. As a result of her younger half-brother Edward VI’s attempt to turn England into a Protestant nation, Edward made English the official language for the Church of England. Previously, church services were conducted in Latin, a language preferred by the Roman Catholic Church.
  14. In a brave act of defiance of the Protestant King Edward VI, Mary remained loyal to her Catholic faith. She even held Catholic mass at her private church.
  15. King Edward VI’s dying wish was that his cousin Lady Jane Grey succeeds him to the throne. Edward and his advisors were afraid that were Mary to succeed him, she would reverse all the Protestant gains made during his reign.
  16. It has been estimated that Lady Jane Grey lasted just a few days on the throne before she was overthrown by Mary. To permanently nip the power struggle in the bud, Mary executed Lady Jane Grey. As a result, her ascension to the throne remained relatively unchallenged.
  17. Her triumphant march to London was welcomed by the majority of people. Mary’s first few months on the throne were relatively peaceful. She tried her best to tow a different path from her predecessors. She is believed to have abhorred capital punishments. However, lurking deep in her heart was the desire to bring England into the arms of the Catholic Church. To do this, she would have to embark on the arduous task of reestablishing Catholic Church services and mass across the nation.
  18. After an enduring desire to be a wife, Mary arranged for a marriage to Philip II of Spain. The Spanish monarch, who was about eleven years younger than her, was the son of her maternal cousin Charles V (1500-1558), Holy Roman Emperor, Archduke of Austria, King of Spain (Castile and Aragon). The marriage, aside from being one of political alliance, was primarily aimed at bringing Catholicism back to England. Although Mary had some amount affection for her husband, Philip was anything but loving toward his new bride. There were rumors that the Spaniard considered her well past her youth and very unattractive. The royal couple had a four-year childless marriage.
  19. As a result of her efforts to restore Catholicism, Mary became a fierce enemy of many English noblemen and members of Parliament. The latter were even against her marriage to Philip II of Spain, as that would threaten the benefits that came with being Protestants.
  20. The most vocal critic of her marriage to Philip II was Sir Thomas Wyatt. The Protestant nobleman feared that Mary’s marriage would cement England as a Catholic nation. As a result, he led a rebellion in 1554, hoping to overthrow the Catholic queen. Mary then appealed to her subjects to defend the English crown from traitors like Wyatt. Ultimately, Wyatt’s rebellion was crushed and the leaders executed.
  21. Following Wyatt’s execution, Mary modified the heresy laws, as she tried to snuff out the Protestant faith out of her country. During her final years on the throne, more than 300 people were burnt alive because of their Protestant faith. Years after her reign, Mary became infamously known as “Bloody Mary” due to her unrelenting persecution of Protestants in England.

    Mary and her husband Phillip II of Spain

  22. Some historians have argued that it was Philip II who was the driving force behind these cruel persecutions of Protestants in England. Back then, Spain had the reputation of being a country that frequently used burning as a form of execution.
  23. In her later years, she allied England to Spain and fought against the French. The war proved to be bad decision for Mary, as England lost its only remaining territory in mainland Europe – Calais – to France.
  24. Unable to conceive, Mary most likely fell into what historians describe as phantom pregnancy. The term refers to a situation where the sufferer’s body begins to mimic signs of pregnancy even though she is not pregnant. Alternatively, what Mary considered pregnancy was perhaps a malignant tumor growing in her womb. Her illness and depression were worsened by her husband’s absence in her final years. And with all certainty, her subjects too detested her, as she had become bloodthirsty tyrant.
  25. On November 17, 1558, Mary I of England died at St James’s Palace, London. The 42-year-old crazed, fanatic queen died of what was most likely an ovarian cancer. Because she was childless, her crown passed on to her younger half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.
Family tree of Queen Mary I of England

Queen Mary I of England’s paternal side

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