The citizens of London woke up one morning with terror in their eyes. Troops carrying the banners of the Marian Crusade against Heretics and Enemies of the Catholic Faith surrounded the city. By the Law of Her Majesty Queen Mary I, for the crime of heresy, the penalty was to burn at the stake until death. If you were noble, poor, woman, child, that would not matter. If the person was found guilty, he or she would be sentenced to death and with him or her, the rest of their families. The Queen wanted results as soon as possible, but this was just in the beginning. By her side was also a prominent and fervent Catholic. His name was Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London. This man was thirsty for revenge towards the Protestants and like the Queen, he had a strong desire to return the Real back to the Holy Catholic Faith. He was in charge of the hunt for heretics, and one of the firsts to fall under his wrath was John Rogers. He suffered a painful death on the stake on February 4th 1555.
Soon, the names of Rogers, Sanders, Taylor, Hooper, Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer were call for the hunt. Members of those families started to flee from England. Some were lucky, while others only found their way to the Tower of London. Fear was the key in the initial success of there persecutions. Those who wanted to be spared from the burnings became informants for Gardiner and Bonner so, for those who wanted a path of freedom, sadly only found themselves trapped by traitors.
But while terror was in command of the realm, the Queen was happy inside her Castle Walls, dreaming of the unborn child inside of her. There was not an evidence of her pregnancy but… the Queen showed all the symptoms, and her physicians did not dare to speak against it. To the surprise and joy of her ladies in waiting and servants, Her Majesty was slowly “showing” her delicate condition. Her belly was swollen, she had cravings, gaining of weight, a glow in her presence, and her breasts were producing milk. Everyone was at this moment sure that the Queen was with child, and soon the realm would have a legitimate Catholic Heir to the throne. For Mary this was a blessing, one that she would soon share with her husband. In her mind, the birth of her baby was not only a miracle, but also a sign that her husband would grew to love her as much as she loved him. But while the Queen was dreaming with a happy life, England was in the deep end of darkness.
The streets of England were contaminated with the stench of burnt flesh. It is said that the air was so thick with smoke and putrid odor, that it was almost difficult to breathe outside. The screams of the victims of the fire chilled the blood, and this was just the start of all. Now, it was the turn of two prominent men to face the fire of the Marian Persecutions, their names: Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley.
Hugh Latimer was a man of importance during the reign of Henry the VIII, and once he was Bishop of Worcester. Soon the troops of Queen Mary reached him, and when he was arrested, his words towards the Captain of the Guard were: “My friend, you are a welcome messenger to me; and in passing through Smithfield, where so many of the martyrs of Jesus had been burned alive… Smithfield, hath long groaned for me.” This man suffered a long and cruel imprisonment in the Tower of London. He was stripped from almost all his clothing, and the cold of the night was killing him. It was so unbearable, that he told to his jailors: “I will certainly escape the hands of my enemies, because before I fall in thy hands, I will perish from cold and starvation”.
While this man suffered in his cold cell in the Tower, Queen Mary was ready for her confinement. All preparations were made and now, it was time to wait and see. But time passed, and nothing happened. Her physicians started to think that the child inside the Queen’s belly was death but they wanted to wait, since there was still some days before the due time to be completed. The time for the birth arrived, and nothing happened. The Queen however was willing to wait, and wait, but all came to nothing. Rumors of the birth of a healthy son filled the city but, when no royal delegation came from Hampton Court to affirm it, it was clear that it was just a lie. A few days later, the queen slowly recovered her tiny waist, and all her dreams were once again dead.
She wept for a long time. She cursed the heretics and blamed them for her tragedy. In her sorrow, she accused them of poisoning her and her baby with their abominable practices and wishes to see her death. Her phantom pregnancy became a national joke, and even in the corners of Hampton Court the courtiers mocked about it. The Queen was alone, sad, angry, and very frustrated. But once again, she used all that and concentrated it only in her goal to destroy the heretics. It was now the turn of Nicholas Ridley to know her rage.
Ridley was locked in the Tower shortly after Mary was crowned. He was aware that poor Latimer was his neighbor, and this kept him in calm even with his difficult circumstances. But suddenly he was removed from the Tower and transported to a common prison in Oxford. There, he was interrogated and strongly bullied by the Queen’s delegates and some papists. They wanted to force him to renounce to his Faith and Embrace the Catholic Faith. But the promises of pardon and mercy did not make him change his mind. This treatment was only a tactic from the Catholic Church and especially the Pope, to find an example for the heretics, someone willing to renounce to the Heresy and return to the Catholic Faith so other could follow this and make the conquer easier. Sadly for the Pope and the Catholic Faction, with Nicholas Ridley, this was not working at all.
When he was insulted, he made strong remarks: “The Lord being my helper, I will to maintain so long as is my tongue shall wag, and breath is within my body, and in confirmation thereof seal the same with my blood.” When he was finally told that he would not receive the Queen’s mercy, he replied: “Do therein as it shall please you. I am well contented with that, and more than that the servant is not above his Master. If they dealt so cruelly with our Saviour Christ, as the Scripture maketh mention, and he endured the same patently, how much more doth it become us, his servants?”
His words reached the ears of Queen Mary. In her rage she ordered the total humiliation of Ridley. He was forced to go to the Catholic Mass, and being among the priests wearing the official trinkets and clothes of a Catholic Man of God. But he was a fervent Protestant, and was determined to go against this. He vehemently spoke against the Bishop of Rome, calling him anti-Christ, and the apparel foolish and abominable. Because of this, he was hold and forced to hear and witness the rest of the mass, his words while this was happening were: “O Lord God, forgive them this their wickedness.” This only increased the rage of the priests, papists and delegates of the Queen, and unfortunately, sealed his fate earlier than it was expect it.
On the following day, October 16th, 1555, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were brought to the stake, which was prepared in a hollow, near Baliol College, on the north side of the city of Oxford. According to a witness, Latimer was the first to be tied, and here is a description of how he looked after all the time in prison: “A remarkable change was observed in his appearance; for whereas he had hitherto seemed a withered, decrepit, and even a deformed old man, he now stood perfectly upright, a straight and comely person”.
Then it was the turn of Ridley to be tied on the stake beside Latimer, once he was chained to it, he said: “O heavenly Father, I give unto thee most hearty thanks, for that thou hast called me to be a professor of thee, even unto death: I beseech thee, Lord God, take mercy upon this realm of England, and deliver the same from all her enemies.”
Finally, the executioner started the fire, as the flames rose, Ridley with great courage cried out loud:“Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit,” and often he repeated in English, “Lord, receive my spirit!” Latimer on the other cried: “O Father of heaven, receive my soul!” Perhaps by vengeance, lack of care or simply the mere intention to show the English people the terrible consequences of being away from the Catholic flock and the domain of Queen Mary, the fire that was consuming the bodies of Ridley and Latimer was kept very low. This was increasing the agony of these poor souls in a very cruel and barbaric way.
These kind of actions started to make the people think about if their Queen was a woman of justice and Faith or if she was a twisted soul in seek of revenge and blood. The commoners started to call her “Bloody Mary” and her right hand in all these persecutions shared her motto, because he was also called: “Bloody Bonner”. Edmund Bonner had no pity, and under his command in the hunt of heretics, women, children, nobles and commoners were burnt with no possibilities of pardon or mercy from Her Majesty. They were guilty as charge, with no defense. For a long, long time, Latimer and Ridley suffered the painful touch of the ill flames, until a guard, mercifully increased the fire, ending their torture once and for all.
The Queen never witnessed the executions, and the reports given to her were not always complete in details. It is believed that she was not totally aware of the cruel ways of those in charge of the burnings in her name. Even with this little lack of information given to her, Queen Mary was satisfied with the outcome. She was sure that England was little by little be cleaned of enemies, and her faith would be secure forever. Her Majesty continued with her task, but now she had more reasons to be content, her husband, the King, was back in England, and now it was time to join him and start again with her plans of motherhood.
Phillip showed great respect and kindness towards Mary, of course, she was expecting more than that from her husband but at least, she felt happy with his return. She refused to believe in the rumors that he had mistresses, and that he had even set eyes upon many of her ladies in waiting. But that fact that she refused to believe that did not mean she was willing to allow him to take a mistress under her roof. She changed all of her ladies wardrobes and ordered them to wear black. Their gowns were modest but proper to show their status as companions of the Queen. But while the Queen was taking measures to preserve her marriage, the Marian Persecutions continued. Now it was the turn of one of the Queen’s highest enemy in England, Thomas Cranmer — the man in charge of dissolving the marriage of Mary’s parents, the one she always believed responsible for her downfall as Princess of England, (alongside Anne Boleyn of course), the man who helped to change all the once loved and cherished.
Between the end of January and mid February 1556, Thomas Cranmer made four recantations, submitting himself to the authority of Queen Mary and recognizing the Pope as the head of the church. On the 14th February his priesthood was taken from him and his execution was set for the 7th March because Edmund Bonner was not satisfied with Cranmer’s admissions. Cranmer then made a fifth recantation, fully accepting Catholic theology, repudiating Reformist theology, stating that there was no salvation outside of the Catholic Church and announcing that he was happy to return to the Catholic fold. He participated in the mass and asked for sacramental absolution, and he received it. With this alone he was supposed to be absolved of all charges, but the Queen had an immense dark grudge against him, and she had no intention to let him live.
Mary has in her mouth the sweet taste of revenge, and she was enjoying it. The Queen made clear to the Council Members that his execution would go ahead. On the 18th March, he made his final recantation but his execution date was set for the 21st. On the date of his execution, he was given the opportunity to publicly recant at the University Church, Oxford. But Thomas Cranmer decided to do something different of what was expected from him. Instead of recanting, Thomas Cranmer opened with the expected prayer and exhortation to obey the King and Queen, and then, to the surprise of everyone, he renounced his recantations, saying that the hand he had used to sign them would be the hand that would be punished first.
Thomas Cranmer went even farther and said: “And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine, and as for the Sacrament, I believe as I have taught in my book against the bishop of Winchester, the which my book teacheth so true a doctrine of the Sacrament, that it shall stand at the last day before the judgment of God, when the papistical doctrine, contrary thereto, shall be ashamed to show her face.”
Thomas Cranmer had no chance to say anything else. He was taken away to suffer his painful execution. Thomas Cranmer was quickly hurried to the stake, prepared on the spot where Latimer and Ridley had suffered five months before. After a short prayer, he put off his clothes with a cheerful countenance and willing mind, and stood upright in his shirt, which came down to his feet. His feet were bare. His head, when both his caps were off, appeared perfectly bald, but his beard was long and thick, and his countenance so venerable, that it moved even his enemies to compassion. Two Spanish friars, who worked hard in obtaining his recantation, continued to exhort him; till, perceiving that their efforts were vain, one of them said, ‘Let us leave him, for the devil is with him!
It is said that Thomas Cranmer endured the painful touch of the flames with great determination and composure. He blamed his right hand for the signing of something that it went against his beliefs and because of this feeling, as soon as the flame arose, he held his hand out to meet it, and retained it there steadfastly, so that all the people saw it sensibly burning before the fire reached any other part of his body, and often he repeated with a loud and firm voice, “This Hand Hath Offended! This Unworthy Right Hand.” Thomas Cranmer stood immoveable as the stake to which he was bound, and it is said that his heart was found intact and unburned among the ashes.
The Queen had her revenge on the man she hated for a long, long time. It is expected that at this point, Queen Mary is a satisfied woman with her Crusade against the Protestants. Well, she was not. There is still no heir, and her marriage and her lack of action towards the prosperity of the Kingdom was killing the trust and devotion of her subjects. Everyone now was seeing her as a cold, cruel and dark figure. And while she was once again rejected and unloved, her half sister Elizabeth was gaining admiration and followers. In 1554 Queen Mary sent her to the Tower of London on suspicion of treason. For Mary, this was a lesson of fear for her little sister, she wanted to experience the terror of being there, she wanted to make Elizabeth think about her mother’s bloody fate, more than a tactic of self protection against a powerful and potential claimer to her crown, Mary wanted to make Elizabeth feel terror and respect towards her.
But now, things were different. She could not prove anything against her sister, and yet, she was still a silent shadow covering the light she shortly enjoyed as Queen. Mary Tudor was many things, but she was not stupid and much less deaf. She was well aware about the rumors about her sister, she knew she was strong, bright and wise. Elizabeth inherited the charms of her mother, those charms that were powerful enough to capture a King and change the world under her command. Once again Mary felt diminished. She needed an heir soon or all would be lost for her. If she died without an heir the Kingdom would fall in the hands of Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, the raven that destroyed her mother and her entire youth. The Marian Persecutions continued, but the people of England started to show their disgust towards it and towards the Queen. Hundreds of lives were lost on the stakes of fire. Here is a list of those who died during the Marian Persecutions, by the order of Queen Mary I:
*John Rogers – preacher, biblical translator, lecturer at St. Paul’s Cathedral
*Lawrence Saunders– preacher, rector of London church of All Hallows –
*John Hooper– King Edward-era bishop of Gloucester and Worcester
*Rowland Taylor– rector of Hadleigh in Suffolk –
John Newman, burnt August 31, Saffron Walden
John Philpot, burnt
Joan Waste, 1 August, burnt at Derby
William Morant, burnt at end of May, St. George’s Field, Southwark Blanchard (1844), p.272
Stephen Gratwick, burnt at end of May, St. George’s Field, Southwark
(unknown) King, burnt at end of May, St. George’s Field, Southwark
This list is incomplete. According to the accounts of John Foxe, almost 300 people were executed for their faith under the Rule of Queen Mary I. But there is a fact that is not often showed about Queen Mary and her Marian Persecutions. Indeed she did something before the full development of the persecutions, that for once could placed her as a figure of forgiveness when it was justified under her conscience. Between February 22 and 23 1554, before the Marian Persecutions were totally planned and unleashed, Queen Mary pardoned 400 rebels that raised against her. A large number of rebels, brought to Whitehall bound with nooses around their necks, were pardoned as they knelt before the Queen. This was an effort from her part to show that she could be lenient on this matter, and perhaps it was also an attempt to bring back the Catholic Faith by peaceful means.
For those closer to Mary during her youth and time before she became Queen, it was certain that she despised brutality and as it was presented in this article before. Most of the details of the executions never reached her eyes. We can not know with certainty if she allowed the ill fires, slow burnings and long tortures at the stake or if these cruel acts were done behind her back, even when her signature approved them. It is said that pregnant women were burnt at the stake, and they sometimes went in to labor while burning. Stories of how children were burnt beside their parents. These stories marked her as Bloody Mary.
Under all this carnage for the protection of her crown and her Faith in England, the Queen was losing precious moments and people she loved. Her King abandoned her, and returned to Spain. Even when she was convinced once again that she was pregnant, this did not stopped him from leaving her. Phillip was tired of Mary. He did not love her, and she became intolerable. By this point she was paranoid. Mary feared for her life, and everyone around her seemed a potential assassin in her eyes. Besides, her rage, frustration and hysterics attacks were consuming her to the point she was less attractive to him more and more.
Mary’s fear towards Elizabeth became an obsession. Gardiner constantly reminded her of the dangers for the realm if Elizabeth became Queen. But Mary was sure of her pregnancy, and she ordered that the news were spread in all England. Every bell on every Church and Tower rang announcing the happy news. The Queen genuinely believed she was pregnant, to the point that once again the symptoms appeared. She was overjoyed, and everyone around her followed her lead but… to everyone it was clear that it was a false alarm again. Her ladies in waiting knew every single detail of the Queen’s life and natural courses. The King stopped visiting her bedchamber months before he left England, so to them, it was impossible for the Queen to be with child.
This happy news however, did not erase another failure in the records of Mary as Queen of England. Just before the departure of her husband back to Spain, England lost the City of Calais, a trophy that shined in the hands of England since 1347. Here is the story of that huge loss: In August 1556 Philip left England on business in the Netherlands, returning in March 1557. England declared war on France shortly after his return with Philip heading up forces into France and taking the town of St. Quentin and its surrounding lands. But in a turn around, France won the city of Calais, England’s last holding on the Continent. In any case, the Queen filled the minds of everyone with her pregnancy, but as was expected, slowly the symptoms started to fade away, and the Queen found herself again with an empty womb and a lonely life.
Mary stopped feeling as a Queen after this second failure in her extreme desire to become a mother. For her Chancellors, her desire was in the name of the realm, but for Mary, motherhood was something she wished for herself, just as much as her mother wanted to fill the Kingdom’s nursery with many Princes and Princesses. But like her mother, she failed on that. But what really happened to Mary? Why she was unable to have a child? Well, from the start, Mary showed many menstrual problems. She was very irregular, and her periods were sometimes heavy and very painful. She was used to fast a lot, and that weakens the body of a woman in the beginning of puberty. Besides, the Tudor line suffered from a lot of weaknesses in the ranks of fertility and the survival of children. Some people dared to say that the Queen said she was pregnant only to keep the King with her and for political advancement but, to those who knew her on daily basis were clear: “She really believed in her condition, neither deceit nor malice in the matter, but mere error.” And this was true, because many of her ladies in waiting described openly of how they saw her sitting on the floor with her knees drawn up to her chin, weeping inconsolably.
Some historians believe that Queen Mary suffered from Ovarian Cancer. Women with this condition sometimes present symptoms that are similar to a pregnancy, but it is highly improbable that this could be the reason for her phantom pregnancies, since is impossible that Mary would survive all those years with a condition as lethal as this, and more during that era. Another suggestion points towards ovarian dropsy, a condition that occurs when an ovary fills with fluids. It is very uncomfortable, but not generally fatal. Ovarian dropsy would account for Mary’s distended belly, but there is no way to explain why it vanished, leaving her as slim as ever. It is rumored that Queen Mary miscarried her first child during the first weeks of the pregnancy, and that she wanted to conceal it and kept it as a secret. Others created the rumor that the Queen gave birth to a full term stillborn child, and that she made it disappear. But this is just impossible, since the Queen was surrounded by physicians, midwives and ladies that for sure would not keep that as a secret, and less hide it.
The most accepted theory in the tragedy of Mary’s imaginary pregnancies is the pseudocyesis, or phantom pregnancy. This condition occurs when a woman wants a child so badly, she actually creates the symptoms of pregnancy with her mind. Mary probably stopped her menses because she was at the onset of menopause. Unable to face this explanation, she convinced herself that she was pregnant. But whatever the reasons, the result was only one: Queen Mary was devastated. She dreamed all her life with the crown, but she also wanted a life. She wanted love and children. She desired to recover the love of her people, the respect of her relatives in Spain, the land of the roots of her beloved mother. She wished to restore England to the time when she was happy, beautiful and full of life — but all that was vanished. It died with her last chance of being a mother. All the will she had to live and endure, was also fading away.
Queen Mary became a reclusive, and she barely went out of her chamber. A reduced number of her ladies in waiting stayed with her. She spent hours praying, and hiding her tears from the eyes around her. The Queen, rather than a figure of highness, became a symbol of sadness and weakness. But her pride was still alive, and she refused to receive comfort from her ladies. They knew that a mere look of pity towards her would for sure send them to their deaths. Her servants respected her pain, and just waited for her to ask for them. Queen Mary’s health began to decline from that point on. In August 1558, Mary contracted a fever, and although she was able to fight that off, she was reported to be suffering from“dropsy” at the end of September. At the end of October she made an addition to her will, and although she did not name Elizabeth, her half-sister, she did confirm that the throne would go to the next lawful heir, and that was Elizabeth. The Duke of Feria arrived at the English court on the 9th November and reported to his master, Mary’s husband Philip II of Spain, on the 14th November:
“There is… no hope of her life, but on the contrary each hour I think that they will come to inform me of her death, so rapidly does her condition deteriorate from one day to the next.”
In the last days of her life, Queen Mary spoke of visions of angels, and the word Calais came out of her mouth many times. This word was also found written in her chest, close to her heart after her death. The Queen received the Viaticum, the special Holy Communion for the dying on November 17th. She was able to make the proper responses to the ceremony and after that, she fall unconscious and never opened her eyes again. Her death was not even noticed, and the time was never recorded. Her life was stormy, hard, sad and tragic, but death was kind to her, and took her in a peaceful sleep. She was only 42 years old.
Her husband was not there with her. In death she was also alone, no blood relatives were with her, and for sure only a few would cry for her with true sorrow. Later the same day, Reginald Pole, maybe one of her few true friends, also died, probably from influenza. At her funeral service, John White (the 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.”
Mary Tudor, the first Queen who ruled England in her own right, daughter of great Kings, with ancestors that created their own glory. All this and she never had a chance to show how good she could have been as Queen. She suffered much, especially in the years when affection, support and security are important in the life of a human being. She was born to be a princess, and suddenly was reduced to a servant. The father she loved and admired neglected her, and she was separated from her mother, the only figure that always gave her strength.
This cruel treatment erased all her kindness, all her brightness. She enjoyed only small moments of happiness in her adulthood, and then again, the fear, the rejection and the jealousy took over her heart and twisted it. We must think before we call her Bloody Mary. Yes, she allowed many acts of cruelty against her own people. She sent them to their deaths because they had different believes and that is cruel and abominable. But she acted according to her new nature, a cold nature that was built upon her by those who were supposed to love her and protect her. Even Catherine of Aragon was to blame in her daughter’s sorrowful life. Her pride and her stubbornness sent Mary to the darkness, because if she as mother would have placed her daughter’s interests and inheritance above her own pride as Queen and wife, for sure King Henry would have kept her as Princess, and maybe Anne Boleyn would have even treated her better.
John Knox attacked Queen Mary in The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, published in 1558, and she was prominently featured and vilified in Acts and Monuments, published by John Foxe in 1563, five years after her death. Subsequent editions of the book remained popular with Protestants throughout the following centuries and helped shape enduring perceptions of Mary as a bloodthirsty tyrant.
Personally, I think Mary Tudor was a woman shaped by sadness, and ruled by her beliefs. She acted wrongly many times, but I think that she was not in control of her life and mind when the crown was placed upon her head. Even with her failures, Mary Tudor is well remembered. Sadly not for her triumphs as Queen of England but for her dark actions in the name of her own sorrows, bitterness and desires of personal retribution. Mary never learned from the mistakes of her parents. She made her own based on the devastation that those mistakes caused in her life. All the glorious potential she carried inside of her was diminished and erased in those twisted phased of her life. She was a tormented soul, and she ruled in the same way.