Queen Mary Tudor, Was She Out for Revenge? (Thomas Cranmer: Martyred 21 March 1556)

March 21, 2017 in Queens of World History, The Tudor Thomases by Beth von Staats

by Beth von Staats

Queen Mary Tudor — Was She Out for Revenge?



Editor’s Note: This article includes an excerpt from Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell, by Beth von Staats (MadeGlobal Publishing).


Thomas Cranmer, England’s first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, has a tainted and complicated legacy. One of world history’s most morally and emotionally conflicted historical figures, Cranmer’s professional life, combined with his wholehearted belief in the scriptural truth of the royal supremacy, left him continuously weighing his religious beliefs, moral centre, family values, and conscience with those of the monarchs he steadfastly served, King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and Queen Jane Dudley – and most tragically for Cranmer and those who loved him, also those of the monarch he ardently betrayed, Queen Mary Tudor.

When discussing Thomas Cranmer’s 21 March 1556 tragic martyrdom, sadly commemorated by the Church of England and the Worldwide Anglican Communion today, people often ask for my thoughts of Queen Mary Tudor. Did she orchestrate Cranmer’s downfall, imprisonment, and martyrdom due to her steadfast Roman Catholic belief system? Did she hate Cranmer? Was she out for revenge?

Queen Mary Tudor

Most people assume the answers to these questions to be, “yes, yes, and yes”. After all, Queen Mary Tudor was a devout Roman Catholic. In contrast, Thomas Cranmer believed the Pope to be the antichrist. Queen Mary Tudor believed her mother, Queen Catherine of Aragon, to have been the anointed Queen Consort of England from her marriage to King Henry VIII to the day she died. Thomas Cranmer instead declared Queen Catherine of Aragon’s marriage to the king to be “null and void from the start”, a decision that for all intents and purposes bastardized Mary. In short, at the time of Queen Mary Tudor’s ascension to the throne, beyond King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, both dead and gone, there was one man left alive thought responsible for Queen Mary’s tragic childhood — her separation from her mother, her loss of her father’s affection, her loss of royal status and succession rights, her life at times at risk of execution. That man was Thomas Cranmer.

Given all we know of Queen Mary Tudor’s life before her ascension, if we are to look solely at her actions taken against Thomas Cranmer in isolation, setting aside the hundreds of others martyred by burning during her reign, would we really find her choice all that surprising? Would we even question it? I hazard to think we would not — but, I also believe it is important to point out in fairness to Queen Mary Tudor’s legacy — and also Thomas Cranmer’s — that there was far more behind Cranmer’s martyrdom than the simple desire by the reigning monarch to exact hate-filled revenge. The fact of the matter is this. Once it became clear that King Edward VI would die without an heir, Thomas Cranmer and Mary Tudor literally fought one another for survival — and through extension, the survival of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in England. In a valiant struggle of one against the other, Mary Tudor knowingly won the battle. Thomas Cranmer unknowingly won the war.

As all Tudor History enthusiasts know, when it became clear that King Edward VI would not survive to adulthood, the realm faced a huge succession crisis. History teaches us that the young king’s solution from that established by his father King Henry VIII was to change the succession to one more acceptable to his staunch Protestant beliefs. In his own hand, King Edward VI drafted “My devise of the succession”. In doing so, King Edward VI passed over both of his sisters Mary and Elizabeth Tudor and, like his father, his Scottish relatives, and settled upon the progeny of his paternal aunt, Mary, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk.

King Edward VI

Although Thomas Cranmer testified at his heresy hearing in 1555 that he was allowed no private access to King Edward VI during the final months of his reign to hear first-hand in a confidential forum what the king’s wishes actually were, he accepted them just the same. After all, King Edward VI’s commands were in original form in his own hand and further articulated to Cranmer in a group forum. Thus, steadfastly loyal to the two kings he served, Thomas Cranmer not only signed the bond of allegiance supporting the devise, he signed it FIRST — “unfeignedly and without dissimulation” — in an oversized signature, “T. CANT.”

King Edward VI’s death on 6 July 1553 came more swiftly than most anticipated. This created two major complications that would come back to haunt Thomas Cranmer. First, King Edward VI’s “My devise of the succession” had not yet passed through Parliament. Far more ominous, Mary Tudor, with advance warning of her brother’s impending doom, was able to flee. Without securing the person of the Lady Mary, Cranmer and John Dudley — who for the previous two years were at odds with one another — needed to immediately ally and work together. They did just that.

The first order of business was to crown a queen. The original heir to the throne Lady Frances Grey by prearrangement renounced her claim. Thus, the first intended regnant Queen of England would be Lady Jane Dudley (nee: Grey), who had married the Duke of Northumberland’s son Guildford just six weeks previously. The proclamation of Jane Dudley as Queen of England went smoothly, spreading throughout the realm. As was customary, she was initially housed at the Tower of London. Unfortunately for Cranmer, however, within two days of the king’s death, Mary Tudor was safe in East Anglia.

A wave of popular support for the Mary Tudor enabled her to safely venture on to Framlingham Castle in Suffolk. Wisely avoiding any debate of the religion question, Mary Tudor pressed her claim to the throne as the rightful heir as King Henry VIII’s eldest daughter. The strategy worked, and support for her ground-swelled. John Dudley’s hastily formed London forces, partially armed with men, armour, weapons and horses provided by Thomas Cranmer, intended to cut the Mary off from the Midlands. Unnerved by the resistance he was encountering, Dudley retreated to Cambridge, proclaiming for Mary Tudor as Queen of England himself. Cranmer stood alone.

John Dudley

While Dudley led his expeditionary forces, Thomas Cranmer composed a letter on 11 July in which he formally rejected Mary Tudor’s claim to the throne. Cranmer wrote that the divorce of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon “was necessary to be had both by the everlasting laws of God, and also by the ecclesiastical laws, and by the most part of the noble and learned universities of Christendom…”  Then, Cranmer’s name again led a list of Privy Councillors ordering sheriffs throughout the kingdom to pull together forces to retrieve the “bastard Mary”, because she was “plotting to bring papists, Spaniards and other strangers into the realm at the great peril and danger of the utter subversion of God’s holy word.” While Mary Tudor pointedly focused on her succession rights, Cranmer attempted desperately to bring religion back into the discussion.

One week into the reign of Queen Jane, news of revolts throughout the realm reached London, resulting in several Privy Councillors slipping away to join Mary Tudor’s cause. In contrast, Thomas Cranmer dug his heels in, again leading a now shortened list of signatures in a desperate attempt to secure the support of Sir Richard Rich and his influence in Essex on Queen Jane’s behalf. By then the cause was hopeless, his words wasted on Tudor History’s most notorious “flip-flopper”. Most Councillors signing the letter slipped away the same day, proclaiming Mary Tudor Queen of England.

Although resistance to her cause continued through the entire month of July in Cranmer’s home diocese of Cambridgeshire and also the Fens, Mary Tudor, accompanied by her younger sister Elizabeth, rode into London triumphant. The daughter of Queen Catherine of Aragon, granddaughter of Queen Isabella of Castile, was Queen of England. Thomas Cranmer instead was a traitor, the last man left not to proclaim for her.

Treason charges lodged against Thomas Cranmer were inevitable. With thirty suits of Cranmer’s armour found abandoned by the Duke of Northumberland’s troops and his bold signature leading several damning documents, his arrest was a fait-accompli. The Dudleys and Bishop Nicholas Ridley already in the Tower of London by the end of July, Cranmer walked free until mid- September. Evidently, Queen Mary was cautious not to show her religious cards too soon, also treading lightly with evangelical protesters.

Thomas Cranmer

With the luxury of time this afforded, Thomas Cranmer could have easily escaped to Europe as many other Protestants had, such as Peter Martyr, Francis Walsingham and Katherine Willoughby. Instead, Cranmer stayed in England, residing in plain sight in his private estates, carrying out his typical duties. Was Cranmer making arrangements to protect his wife and two children? Was he intent through duty and loyalty to preside over the funeral of his godson King Edward VI? Historians have yet to solve the mystery, but his decision to remain in England certainly had tragic consequences.

Commanded by Queen Mary Tudor to call together Convocation and appear at the Court of Richmond, Thomas Cranmer complied. Fearful of placing his contemporaries and friends in danger, he refused to speak with them publicly, most notably Sir William Cecil. As others around him, such as Secretary Cheke and Lord Russell were questioned and arrested, he refrained from his typical habit of writing letters of support on their behalf. From the point Queen Mary Tudor took power, she refused to see or speak with Cranmer, this quite obvious at functions where both were in attendance. In short, knowing his arrest and condemnation were forthcoming, Cranmer went about the business of preparing himself for the inevitable, careful to do so in a way that no one else was dragged alongside.

By August, Queen Mary Tudor no longer showed tolerance for open evangelical services. Rather than banning them altogether, she cleverly opened the possibility of the Eucharist mass being worshiped in all parishes instead. The tide swiftly turned, Eucharist masses swiftly overwhelming those clergies still willing to preach evangelical services. Cranmer was shocked by the Roman Catholic conversions of the imprisoned John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and Sir John Gates, Marquess of Northampton. A wonderful turnabout in Queen Mary’s favour, the lay leadership neutralized and religious tides turning her way, she took the opportunity to purge the Protestant clergy. Though careful not to involve others, Thomas Cranmer was still not of a mind to capitulate. Civil disobedience for him still reigned.

His arrest imminent, commissioners working on behalf of Queen Mary delivered to the archbishop a list of questions he was compelled to answer, along with a command to prepare a complete listing of his possessions. While Thomas Cranmer went along with the commissioners’ directives, he concurrently refused to bend to the Marian regime’s religious policies. Cranmer sent a letter to a friend condemning a Eucharist mass celebrated at his own Canterbury Cathedral, along with a draft of a proclamation condemning the celebration of mass as “devil devising”, further denying all rumours that he would ever celebrate any Eucharist mass before the Queen of England. Somehow this draft proclamation was promulgated. Thomas Cranmer was frustrated, to say the least. His intention was to edit the draft into a public manifesto that “a la Martin Luther” would be affixed to every church door in London with his official seal. Obviously, the ruling regime considered his action sedation, Cranmer proudly admitting to it himself when finally questioned and subsequently arrested after an appearance at Star Chamber.

Thomas Cranmer

In spite of Thomas Cranmer’s steadfast support of and scriptural belief in the royal supremacy, he engaged in active high treason. Although his signature on King Edward VI’s “Devise of the succession” was boldly signed while Edward was still king, it was never approved by Parliamentary decree. Once the king died, Cranmer engaged in overt activities to prevent Queen Mary’s succession, thirty suits of armour at the very least provided to John Dudley’s troops, documents written and signed ordering additional troops from all local sheriffs, and composition of written declarations of her illegitimacy and of heresy. Once Queen Mary Tudor ascended to the throne, Thomas Cranmer failed to proclaim her, engaged in activities in opposition to her religious agenda, and publicly shamed her belief in Roman Catholicism. Thus, after being paraded through the city of London in disgrace, Thomas Cranmer was found guilty of high treason on 13 November 1553 at the same trial that also condemned England’s shortest-reigning monarch Jane (Grey) Dudley, her husband Guildford and others.

Though Lady Jane Dudley and Guildford Dudley bravely faced inevitable beheadings, Queen Mary Tudor’s plans for Thomas Cranmer took a far different path. The first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury would be charged and convicted of heresy, like many “heretics” before him — some condemned by him — burned at the stake. From Queen Mary Tudor’s 16th-century mindset, heresy was the greater crime, Cranmer’s burning death a needed step towards England’s return to Roman Catholicism, and with it, the ultimate salvation of her subjects.


A Video Tribute to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer by Mercy Rivera

Mercy owns none of the contents.



Beth von Staats

Beth von Staats

Beth von Staats is a history writer of both fiction and non-fiction short works. A life-long history enthusiast, Beth holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in Sociology from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. She is the owner and administrator of Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers website, QueenAnneBoleyn.com.

Beth’s interest in British History grew through the profound influence of her Welsh grandparents, both of whom desired she learn of her family cultural heritage. Her most pronounced interest lies with the men and women who drove the course of events and/or who were most poignantly impacted by the English Henrician and Protestant Reformations, as well as the Tudor Dynasty of English and Welsh History in general.


"Thomas Cranmer In a Nutshell" Final Blog Stop

Thomas Cranmer -mini-bio



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Tudor Life Magazine Excerpt!!! “She is My Death and I Am Hers,” by Kyra Cornelius Kramer

April 26, 2015 in 2015 Tribute to Queen Anne Boelyn, Guest Writers, Queens of World History by Beth von Staats

By Kyra Cornelius Kramer




Our delightful friends at The Tudor Society  have graciously shared with QueenAnneBoleyn.com an example article from their June edition of Tudor Life Magazine. This magazine has a huge 106 pages with 57 pages dedicated to Anne Boleyn. Many QAB members absolutely LOVE our active members of the Tudor Society, so once you’ve enjoyed the magazine sample, why not head over to see what bonuses you’ll get when you join? Click here –> Tudor Society Membership Priviledges and Pricing


Lady Mary Tudor, age 28 Artist: John of Samakov

Lady Mary Tudor, age 28
Artist: John of Samakov


The true nature of Anne Boleyn is reflected in her relationship with one of her greatest enemies, her erstwhile step-daughter Mary. Like in many other facets of history, Anne is remembered as a great sinner against Mary when in reality she was more sinned against.

Mary hated Anne with a white-hot intensity. Anne was the woman who had (from Mary’s point of view) broken up her happy family and caused her beloved mother to be driven away. Anne was a threat not only to Mary’s family, but to Mary herself. If Anne were truly married to the king it would mean that Mary was actually a bastard, the result of an incestuous relationship, and cut out of the line of succession. Anne, with her Protestant leanings, was also a heretic in Mary’s eyes and a source of evil that could undo Christianity itself.

Queen Anne Boleyn Artist: Kirsten Marie Christensen

Queen Anne Boleyn
Artist: Kirsten Marie Christensen

While it is easy for a modern reader to sympathize with Mary’s dislike of the woman supplanting her mother in her father’s affections, it was less understandable in the Tudor Era. A child, especially a female child, was to obey her parents – period. Disobedient children weren’t seen as a rebellious teens; they were seen as ungodly sinners flaunting the will of heaven by not honoring their mother and father. In the patriarchal society of the time, the father’s authority was paramount to the mothers so one’s father had the last say. It didn’t matter what Mary felt or her justifications. She was socioculturally and religiously duty bound to do Henry VIII’s bidding and accept his authority, both as father and as king.

This put Mary in a terrible bind. To be a good Catholic and daughter she needed to obey Henry, but to be a good Catholic and daughter she needed to defend and affirm the legality of her parent’s marriage. She couldn’t openly defy her father without being a traitor to her country and the Ten Commandments, yet neither could she accept his dictates without being a traitor to her mother, the Ten Commandments, and the Church.

Mary and her supporters excused her nearly open rebellion against her father by putting all the blame for Henry’s behavior on Anne Boleyn. Mary could hate and defy Anne with no black marks on her conscience. The worse her father’s behavior, the more Mary blamed Anne. For Mary, her father had not turned into a despot and become cruel toward his daughter; he was ensnared by a blasphemous witch. In Mary’s mind she was not transgressing against parental authority; she was battling that evil Nan Bullen for her father’s soul!

Queen Mary (1516-58) from 'Illustrations of English and Scottish History'

Queen Mary (1516-58) from ‘Illustrations of English and Scottish History’

Anne famously said of Mary that, “She is my death and I am hers”. That seems quite harsh, particularly since Mary was only eleven or so when the wider world became aware of Henry’s infatuation with Anne. However, by the time Anne was reported to have said this Mary was seventeen and thought of as a young adult. The Catholic Church considered the age of reason to be seven and the nobility often began assuming the mantle of adult responsibility at age twelve. Anne was, in essence, fighting an adult nemesis rather than a recalcitrant stepchild.

Nonetheless, Anne was (in spite of rumor and legend) not cruel to Mary. In fact, several times Anne tried to give Mary an opening to mend fences with her father. Mary was unrelentingly rude and disrespectful to Anne, which inspired Anne to rant about Mary but not to go out of her way to make Mary’s life harder. Things that Mary detested – such as her mother’s banishment and being forced to serve in baby Elizabeth’s household as a lady in waiting and being separated from her godmother Margaret Pole – were Henry’s decisions. Like so many of Henry’s vicious actions, these have been historically laid on Anne’s doorstep without cause.

When Katherina of Argon passed away in January 1536, Anne made yet another attempt to bring Mary into the family fold. Anne was, of course, heartily rebuffed. Even then Anne tried one more time to get through to the king’s eldest daughter. In a letter that was conveniently left for Mary to find, Anne wrote to Lady Shelton:

Katherina of Aragon Artist Unknown

Katherina of Aragon
Artist Unknown

“My pleasure is that you seek to go no further to move the Lady Mary towards the King’s grace, other than as he himself directed in his own words to her. What I have done myself has been more for charity than because the king or I care what course she takes, or whether she will change or not change her purpose. When I shall have a son, as soon I look to have, I know what then will come to her. Remembering the word of God, that we should do good to our enemies, I have wished to give her notice before the time, because by my daily experience I know the wisdom of the king to be such that he will not value her repentance or the cessation of her madness and unnatural obstinacy when she has no longer power to choose. She would acknowledge her errors and evil conscience by the law of God and the king if blind affection had not so sealed her eyes that she will not see but what she pleases. Mrs. Shelton, I beseech you, trouble not yourself to turn her from any of her wilful ways, for to me she can do neither good nor ill. Do your own duty towards her, following the King’s commandment, as I am assured that you do and will do, and you shall find me your good lady, whatever comes.”

Shortly afterwards, Anne miscarried a male fetus. Nevertheless, her marriage to Henry by all accounts remained solid. As late as March 30, 1536 Thomas Cromwell was confiding to Ambassador Chapuys that the king was still committed to his marriage to Anne, even though he was prone to flirtations and mistresses. Even in April the king was still referring to Anne as his dear and entirely beloved wife. It was only after Anne accused Henry Norris of looking for ‘dead men’s shoes’ did the king turn on her and become serious about Jane Seymour.

Execution of Anne Boleyn Victorian Era Engraving

Execution of Anne Boleyn
Victorian Era Engraving

Mary was jubilant about Anne’s death on May 19, 1536. Anne’s happiness when Katherina of Aragon died pales in comparison. Anne, in reflection, is reported to have grieved and even wept for the former queen. Mary was never anything but exultant about Anne’s execution. In jaunty spirits over her stepmothers beheading, Mary wrote an affectionate letter to her father under the assumption that all snakes had been driven from her personal garden. She was badly mistaken, as she would find out. It was always Henry, not Anne, who was determined to break Mary’s resistance and spirit. This is yet another case where the atrocities of Henry VIII have been scapegoated onto Anne Boleyn. Ultimately it was Henry, not Anne, who was willing to crush Mary in order to force her to acknowledge the nullity of the relationship that produced her.

What Anne’s relationship with Mary shows us is that Anne seems to have been a woman of sharp retort but soft deeds. She may have had spiteful things to say about Mary when she was vexed, but Anne’s actions were kinder than Mary’s behavior warranted. Anne was far more aware than Mary as to how far Henry was willing to push his daughter. Anne, regardless of Mary’s insults and flagrant disrespect, tried to warn the teenager about her peril from her father’s wrath. Anne, in direct contrast to her reputation as a scheming and vengeful harpy, tried repeatedly to make peace with Mary and never took drastic measures against her or egged the king on in his ire.
As in many things, Anne Boleyn’s relationship with Mary demonstrates that she was much kinder and more forgiving than she is ever given credit for.


Kyra Cornelius Kramer

Kyra Cornelius Kramer

Editor’s note: Kyra’s biography is provided by her website, Krya Cornelius Kramer and is provided to us in her own words.

Kyra Cornelius Kramer is an author and freelance medical anthropologist. She holds BS degrees in both biology and anthropology from the University of Kentucky, as well as a MA in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University. She  and her beloved husband live in Bloomington, Indiana, USA with their three young daughters.

Kyra is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Kyra is high-functioning, meaning that most of the time Kyra can pass for “quirky” with a dash of “gauche”. As a function of being an “Aspy”, she has a deep and abiding love for facts, which she stuffs into her writings like chestnuts in a Christmas goose. Seriously, you will knee-deep in facts by the time you are three paragraphs into her work. Moreover, she has a sardonic sense of humor that flavors her writings, no matter how academic they are in nature. Her editors appreciate this, but the review board usually makes her take any humor out before publishing in a peer reviewed journal. Kyra hopes that the academic reviewers were at least amused before they crossed the sentence out with heavy red pencil marks. She suspects not.

Editor’s note: For more information about the remarkable accomplishments of Kyra Cornelius Kramer, do visit her website linked above. Queenanneboleyn.com will be publishing a review of Kyra’s newly released book The Jezebel Effect: Why Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters in the coming days.


The Jezebel Effect

To Purchase The Jezebel Effect: Why Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters




Time to Reassess and Value Mary Tudor, England’s First Queen Regnant

February 26, 2015 in Queens of World History, The Anne Boleyn Society by James Peacock


Lady Mary Tudor

Lady Mary Tudor


Days before her coronation, Mary called together her council for an impromptu and improvised ceremony. Kneeling before them, Mary spoke of how she came to the throne and what she considered to be her duties as queen. It was her solemn intention to carry out the task God had given her to His greater glory and service and to the public’s good so that all her subjects benefit. Mary entrusted ‘her affairs and person’ to her council, urging them to be faithful to the oaths they had sworn to — and to be loyal to her as their queen. Mary remained on her knees throughout. So ‘deeply moved’ were her councilors that ‘not a single one refrained from tears’. No one knew how to answer, amazed as they all were by this humble and lowly sight — nothing ever before seen in England. It was astonishing and extraordinary times, as a woman was to wear England’s crown.

When Mary ascended to the throne of England in 1553, she was the “not so young” age of 37. She was small, slightly built, with large bright eyes, a round face, reddish hair, and a love of fine clothes. Mary cut a striking figure, though she was wearied with ill health and misfortune. Mary suffered bouts of illness, heart palpitations and headaches, was exceedingly short-sighted and prone to melancholy. Throughout her adult life, Mary knew neither security nor happiness, but nonetheless, she was regarded as ‘great-hearted, proud and magnanimous’. She had secured the throne against all odds, a victory described as ‘more of Herculean then womanly daring’.

Queen Katherine of Aragon

Queen Katherine of Aragon

Mary’s life up until this was an extraordinary roller coaster, like that usually confined to a character in either a soap opera or fairy tale — a princess born to loving parents. Feted and adored, she was the jewel in their eyes. Mary had her own court, received a great education, and endless marriage betrothals. Then, when her father decided his marriage to her mother, Queen Catherine of Aragon, was unlawful, he tried to annul the marriage, declare his daughter a bastard, and marry a new and prettier women. Banished from ever seeing her mother again, Mary was stripped of her household, declared a bastard, and forced to wait upon her half-sister. Then, when her stepmother  Anne Boleyn was executed on trumped up charges, a new stepmother arrived. It looked like all would be well.

Unfortunately, this was no fairy tale. This was reality. The tragic story of Mary Tudor, the first woman to ever be crowned Queen Regnant of England, was not to get better, but instead worse, much worse. Bullied by her father and his councilors, threatened by the later into acknowledging herself a bastard and her parents’ marriage unlawful- the mother which she had stuck by all this time, it is no wonder Mary was as damaged as she became. She never forgave herself for submitting to these terms and accepting her father as Head of the Supreme Church of England – going against her faith. Mary became more determined than ever to right the wrongs that she believed she had committed. Her new stepmother, Jane Seymour, died after giving birth to a long-awaited son, leaving Mary heartbroken. Mary was like a mother to her much younger half-siblings, even interceding on her half-sister Elizabeth’s behalf after her mother’s execution. Elizabeth like Mary was declared a bastard and ignored by their father.

Three more stepmothers came and went, one marriage annulled, one ending in execution, and the last ending with the death of her father, when Mary was nearly 31. Each woman either brought kindness or hostility. More marriage negotiations came and went. Beyond this, Mary had to live through the execution of her childhood governess and Godmother, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. By the time her father died, Mary and her half-sister were reinstated in the Act of Succession (though not legitimised). If their brother Edward died without heirs than Mary would inherit, and if she died without heirs, Elizabeth would inherit. It must have felt strange for Mary to be back in the succession again- though it was still considered unlikely that she would ever inherit the throne.

Prince Edward, later King Edward VI

Prince Edward, later King Edward VI

Her half-brother King Edward VI ascended the throne aged 9, and a regency ruled in his name. He was however, a bright boy. Where Mary was a staunch Catholic, Edward was a staunch Protestant. His regency council was largely dominated by Protestants. In 1549, the Act of Uniformity was passed, prescribing Protestant rites for Church services, such as the use of the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer’s new Book of Common Prayer. Mary defied this act, celebrating the traditional mass in the chapel on her own estates, much to the young king’s fury. Many arguments took place between Mary and the king, with Mary unwisely telling him that he was not old enough to be making decisions. She believed he was governed by his councilors, some of whom where her enemies.

Things got worse for Mary after Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour (brother of Jane), Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector, fell from favour and was executed in 1552. Although they disagreed on religion, Mary got on relatively well with Somerset. It was to be a different case with the new leader of the council, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Dudley put pressure on Mary to stop the misuse of her privilege of celebrating the Eucharist, as she allowed her entire household and flocks of visitors to attend. Once again Mary refused. After a disastrous meeting with the king and council, some members of her household where arrested. Mary began to consider fleeing the country, but after a threat of war from her cousin King Charles V came, a silent compromise was grudgingly reached.


King Edward VI fell ill in early 1553. Within months it became clear he would not live much longer. According to their father’s Act of Succession, Mary was next in line to inherit the throne – which would reverse the English Reformation. Edward composed a draft document entitled “my devise for the succession” passing over both his sisters, due to their illegitimacy, and settling the Crown upon his first cousin once removed, Lady Jane Grey – who coincidentally around this time married Northumberland’s son Guildford Dudley. Edward died on the 6th July, three months short of turning 16.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

Mary was kept apprised of her brother’s health. Aware of his imminent death, Mary left her residence Hunsdon House, near London, and sped to Kenninghall in Norfolk. Meanwhile, Northumberland delayed news of the king’s death so he could gather his forces. Jane Dudley was taken to the Tower to secure the ancient fortress. The Armoury, Treasury and the Great Seal where all under the control of Northumberland. Even Ambassadors sent by Mary’s cousin the Emperor where pessimistic about her safety, believing her chances ‘well-nigh impossible’. Troops were stationed everywhere to prevent people rising in arms or causing any disorder. Ships where dispatched to the Norfolk coast to prevent her escape, and Northumberland led an army of over six thousand men to capture Mary. Things looked very bleak.

Undaunted, Mary was determined to claim what was hers by right.


History is so often judged backwards – and with Mary, it is often forgotten how she was prepared to go to battle for her Crown. It is also all too often forgotten — or rather popularly ignored — that the public was on Mary’s side. When Jane Dudley was publicly proclaimed queen, hardly anyone cried “Long Live the Queen!!”, except the herald who proclaimed it — and a few others who followed along with him. One young man, Gilbert Potter, shouted out that Mary was the rightful queen and was subsequently taken to Cheapside where his ears where nailed to the pillory and then cut off.

Meanwhile, the East Anglian gentry and commoners rallied to Mary’s side. The Earl of Sussex brought her money, provisions and armed men, which greatly expanded her meagre forces. The arrival of Southwell, a knight and wealthiest of his rank in Norfolk, did much to raise the morale of Mary and her supporters. On the 12th July, with her forces growing, Mary moved southeast to Framlingham Castle, one of her principal houses. Framlingham was far larger than Kenninghall. It was the strongest castle in the area, the ideal place to defend against or indeed engage against an enemy. Here Mary’s standard was displayed over the gate tower. Once again she sent a desperate plea to her cousin the Emperor for help, but once again he sent nothing — believing her chances to be to slim.

Over the next few days, more and more people began to declare for Mary – even if they had previously declared for Jane. For example, Sir Thomas Cornwallis, Sheriff of Nottingham, seeing where the people’s sympathies lay and the great outcry against Northumberland, was quick to change sides. The town authorities in Norwich, who had first refused to open the gates for Mary’s messengers, not only proclaimed her Queen, they also sent men and arms. The ships sent to capture Mary had been forced into safety at Orwell harbour due to bad weather. Here, the crew mutinied against their officers for disowning Mary and put themselves under her ardent supporter Henry Jerningham. Many more nobles and gentry flocked to her side with cohorts of horsemen, foot soldiers and knights.

Farmlingham Castle

Farmlingham Castle

With Northumberland getting closer to Mary, she stayed determined and resolute. She summoned her household council, ordered her field commanders to prepare for battle, then issued a proclamation asserting her authority to make clear her defiance. With Mary’s army mustered, she condemned Northumberland, stating that he ‘most traitorously by long-continued treason sought and seeketh, the destruction of her royal person, the nobility and common weal of this realm’. On the 20th, Mary rode from the castle to review her troops, where they threw their helmets high in the air to shouts of “Long Live Queen Mary!” and “Death to the Traitors!”.

Without Northumberland to guide them, the council began to waver in support for Jane Dudley. With the ships’ crews of Yarmouth deserted and rumours that Sir Edmund Peckham, Treasurer of the Mint and Keeper of the King’s Privy Purse, had fled with the monies to Framlingham, their resolve crumbled. Now a proclamation was drawn up offering a reward for the arrest of Northumberland. The following days saw a dozen or so Privy Councillors break out of the Tower to Baynard’s Castle, home to the Earl of Pembroke, where the Earl of Arundel declared for Queen Mary. The streets of London where full of heralds announcing that Mary was queen. For two days the bells rang and banquets and bonfires where held in the streets. The Imperial Ambassador reported, “From a distance the earth must have looked like Mount Etna. The people are mad with joy, feasting and singing, and the streets crowded all night long. I am unable to describe to you, nor would you believe, the exultation of all men. I will only tell you that not a soul imagined the possibility of such a thing”.

Upon hearing the news, Northumberland, then at Cambridge, was forced to admit defeat and threw his cap in the air, acknowledging Mary as queen. He had failed, and that evening, the Earl of Arundel arrived to arrest him in the queen’s name.


Queen Mary, Regina

Queen Mary, Regina



Having put a stop to the plot by Northumberland, Mary could now finally celebrate. Both the Emperor and the French king looked to ingratiate themselves with the new Queen of England. The French, having previously conspired with Northumberland, were now forced to declare their belief in Mary’s legitimacy and deny their part in the coup. Many believed France was set to invade England to support Northumberland. As Noailles, the French Ambassador reported, ‘You could not believe the foul and filthy words which the nation cries out everyday against our own’. The French king feared that England would join with the Emperor against France.

Only Northumberland was executed for his role in the plot. Lady Jane and her husband where found guilty, but spared. At first Mary assured her subjects she would not compel them to follow her religion. By 1555 however, the infamous burnings of which Mary is so well known for had begun. During her reign, over 280 burnings or executions of religious dissenters ensued, including the burnings of Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and Laurence Saunders. It is all too easy for us to judge with modern eyes, as we do so often, the horror of these burnings. But in those days Mary and her councillors did what they thought was right. Those that where burned in Mary’s reign were really no different to other reigns. In fact, by contemporary Continental standards it was mild. It has to be remembered that in the eyes of the government Protestantism had, with justification, become synonymous with sedition, treason and open rebellion.



When Mary decided to marry her first cousin once removed, Philip of Spain, rebellion broke out. People feared being ruled by Spain, with Philip being the sole ruler. (It must be remembered that a queen would submit rule to the king in those days.) Mary, however, had no intention of turning the country over to Philip. Mary did not immediately plan to marry him and did not always follow his advice unless at times it agreed with her own. At the end of her life, the Spanish where known to grumble that their king had poured money into England and received little in return. A rebellion against the marriage led by Thomas Wyatt and Lady Jane Grey’s father Henry Grey broke out. With the people divided and the mood unstable, Mary managed to sway her subjects in her favour by giving a rousing speech at the Guildhall.

‘I am your Queen, to whom at my coronation, when I was wedded to the realm and laws of the same (the spousal ring whereof I have on my finger, which never hitherto was, not hereafter shall be, left off), you promised your allegiance and obedience to me…. And I say to you, on the word of a Prince, I cannot tell how naturally the mother loveth the child, for I was never the mother of any; but certainly, if a Prince and Governor may as naturally and earnestly love her subjects as the mother doth love the child, then assure yourselves that I, being your lady and mistress, do as earnestly and tenderly love and favour you. And I, thus loving you, cannot but think that ye as heartily and faithfully love me; and then I doubt not but we shall give these rebels a short and speedy overthrow’.

Once again Mary had swung the tide in her favour. The rebellion was crushed. Wyatt and Henry Grey were executed – as was Lady Jane and her husband, something which Mary tried to avoid even up until Jane went to the block.

Mary married Philip on 25th July 1554 at Winchester Cathedral. Under the terms of Queen Mary’s Marriage Act, Philip was styled “King of England”. All official documents (including Acts of Parliament) were to be dated with both their names, and Parliament was to be called under the joint authority of the couple for Mary’s lifetime only. Emperor Charles V ceded the crown of Naples, as well as his claim to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, to Philip. Therefore, Mary became Queen of Naples and titular Queen of Jerusalem upon marriage.

Sadly the marriage was not to be a happy one. Philip spent just over a year in England — in which time Mary experienced a humiliating phantom pregnancy. She may have actually been pregnant at some point, but miscarried or the child, which ultimately was not properly expelled. Whatever the case, it became quite clear that the queen was not going to give birth since it was now nearly a year after she was first reported to be with child.



Pope Julius III

Pope Julius III

Mary always rejected the break with Rome instituted by her father and the establishment of Protestantism by her brother’s regents. Philip persuaded Parliament to repeal Henry’s religious laws, thus returning the English Church to Roman jurisdiction. Reaching an agreement took many months. Mary and Pope Julius III had to make a major concession. The monastery lands confiscated under Henry were not returned to the church, but remained in the hands of their influential new owners. By the end of 1554, the Pope approved the deal, and the Heresy Acts were revived.

Foreign Policy

Furthering the Tudor conquest of Ireland, under Mary’s reign English colonists were settled in the Irish Midlands to reduce the attacks on the Pale (the area around Dublin controlled by the English). 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).

Philip 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 councilors opposed it because French trade would be jeopardised. It would also contravene the marriage treaty, and leave a bad economic legacy from Edward VI’s reign. 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.

King Henry II of France

King Henry II of France

As a result of the war, relations between England and the Papacy became strained, since Pope Paul IV was allied with Henry II of France. In January 1558, French forces took Calais, England’s sole remaining possession on the European mainland. Although the territory was financially burdensome, it was an ideological loss that damaged Mary’s prestige. According to Holinshed’s Chronicles, Mary later lamented, “When I am dead and opened, you shall find ‘Calais’ lying in my heart”. This commentary, however, may be apocryphal.

Commerce and Revenue

In an attempt to increase trade and rescue the English economy, Mary’s counselors continued Northumberland’s policy of seeking out new commercial opportunities. She granted a royal charter to the Muscovy Company, whose first governor was Sebastian Cabot, and commissioned a world atlas from Diogo Homem. Adventurers like John Lok and William Towerson sailed south in an attempt to develop links with the coast of Africa. English coinage was debased under both Henry VIII and Edward VI. Mary drafted plans for currency reform, but they were not implemented until after her death.


Before Mary, only two women since the Norman conquest of 1066 had come close to wearing the Crown. Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, battled for years against her cousin Stephen for the Crown of England in a period known as ‘The Anarchy’. When she came close to receiving it, the Londoners revolted against her arrogant attitude and refusal to lower taxes. The other woman of course was the teenage Lady Jane Dudley, an innocent victim, drawn into Northumberland’s ambitions.

Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer

Mary had no mandate to follow. She was the first ever woman to be ‘officially’ crowned Queen of England, setting the path for her sister Elizabeth I and all future queens. Mary has all to often been unfairly dismissed as a ‘weak ruler’, ‘failure’, ‘tyrant’, also labeled by popular legend “Bloody Mary”. In fact, Mary’s reign was not the bloody terror of popular myth. Naturally, the burnings for our modern eyes seem horrific. In fact, when you look at what else was going on over the channel on the continent at the time, such as The Inquisition, the burnings were tame in comparison. More were executed in the Cornish rebellion during her brother’s reign. Her father and her sister executed far more people in their reigns.

Coat of Arms: Philip and Mary

Coat of Arms: Philip and Mary

When we really examine Mary’s reign, we don’t get the ‘weak ruler’, but a woman who, when times where bad, stood by her beliefs. At the age of 37, with ill health, she prepared to fight for her Crown and country. When her subjects where unsure of her marriage choice, Mary spoke to them as a mother would to her children, assuring them of her love and protection. It’s easy to judge history backwards by focusing on the war with France, the loss of Calais and England’s plunge into debt, but this was at the end of her reign. Mary hoped her marriage and returning the Church to Catholicism would be to England’s benefit. Her life was one of tragedy, triumph, insecurities, turbulence and at times- terror.

It is time we reassessed the way Queen Mary I of England is viewed, and it is time we gave Mary more of the credit she deserves. That is why next year, in 2016, the 500th anniversary of her birth, it is time England’s first ever Queen Regnant is honoured properly.

Trivia Fun

After her marriage, Mary Tudor was styled as Queen of England, Spain, France, both the Sicily’s, Jerusalem, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Archduchess of Austria, Duchess of Milan, Burgundy and Brabant, Countess of Habsburg, Flanders and Tyrol.

David Loades, Mary Tudor A Life
Anna Whitelock: Mary Tudor, England’s First Queen

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