The only surviving child of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor was born on February 18, 1516, at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, England. She was baptized as a Catholic a few months later.
In 1533, Mary’s life took a dramatic turn when Henry VIII declared his marriage to her mother annulled, and married Anne Boleyn. The new Queen feared a challenge to the throne, and successfully pressed for an act of Parliament that declared Mary illegitimate. This act placed Mary outside the succession to the throne she believed she was to inherit on her father’s death.
By 1536 however, Anne Boleyn had been beheaded, and Henry had married his third wife, Jane Seymour. Jane insisted that the king make amends with both Mary, and his other daughter, Elizabeth, who had been declared ‘born out of wedlock.’ In October 1537, Queen Jane gave birth to Edward, Henry’s longed for son. Mary was appointed as the young Prince’s godmother at his christening.
Although Mary re-entered the royal court, her Catholicism made her a target for conflict with the Protestant rule. This tension continued when Henry VIII died in 1547, and throughout the short reign of Mary’s half-brother, Edward VI. Mary had hoped her half-brother would see the errors of Protestantism, and return England to the Church of Rome. However, Edward was determined to keep Catholicism out, and Mary was forced to defy him, openly celebrating Mass, which had been abolished.
In 1552, Edward became ill, and fearing that Mary, as next in line to the throne, would return the country to the Catholic faith, some of the most powerful men in England, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, planned to prevent this.
Dudley married his son to Grey’s daughter, Jane Grey, who was Mary’s cousin, and in line to the throne after Mary and Elizabeth. By placing Jane on the throne in Edward’s wake, the Duke’s thought they would have a woman they could control. Northumberland set out to convince Edward to leave the crown to his cousin Jane.
After Edward’s death, however, Mary swiftly and successfully challenged the new queen, arranged the execution of Lady Jane Grey, and took the throne herself.
Queen at the age of 37, Mary repealed Henry VIII’s religious laws and replaced them with her own, which included a strict heresy law for those who refused to become Catholic. The enforcement of this law resulted in the burning of over 300 Protestants as heretics. Mary’s religious persecutions made her extremely unpopular and earned her the nickname “Bloody Mary.”
To enforce Catholicism on the country, she needed a Catholic heir, and arranged to marry Philip, King of Spain. The marriage was extremely unpopular, and unfruitful, for Mary had no children.
Falling ill in 1558, Mary died at St. James Palace in London on November 17, 1558. She was succeeded by her half sister Elizabeth, who returned the country to Protestantism.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.