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Mary I

Updated on September 4, 2014
Queen Mary I
Queen Mary I | Source

Queen Mary I was the eldest daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon.   This meant she was the granddaughter of Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille.   She should have been a very happy person having such a prestigious ancestry, but unfortunately her life was no bed of roses.


Background Information on Mary’s Parents

Mary’s mother – Catherine of Aragon – was married to Arthur, Prince of Wales and older brother of Henry VIII before his death.   When Arthur died Henry became the next in line to the British throne and Catherine’s parents arranged her betrothal to Henry.   The Pope ruled that the marriage was allowed because Catherine’s first marriage couldn’t have been consummated.


Prior to his brother’s death Henry had been preparing for a life in the Church and so was quite well-read.   Catherine had a son who lived for less than two months and then two stillborn sons before giving birth to Mary.   Mary’s birth was followed by a miscarriage and then a baby sister who died within days.   Henry had been reading Leviticus and started to believe that the reason Catherine could not give him a child was because their marriage was ‘ungodly’ and he was being punished.


It didn’t help that Henry also had a new mistress at the time who he had hoped to marry being convinced that she would be able to provide him with a son and heir to the throne.


Henry applied to the Pope for his marriage to be annulled which would make the young Princess Mary a bastard.   Pope Constantine was actually being held captive by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor at this stage.   Charles V just happened to be Catherine of Aragon’s nephew (Catherine wanted to remain married to Henry and still be Queen of England).   He denied Henry’s application for annulment and so Henry made himself the head of the Church of England and granted himself an annulment.


Queen Mary - Quick Bio

  • Born - 18 Feb 1516
  • Parents’ marriage annulled making Mary illegitimate - 1533
  • Crowned - 19 July 1553
  • Married - 25 July1554
  • Phantom pregnancy - 1554
  • Died - 17 Nov 1558


Mary’s Childhood

Mary’s childhood had been a very happy one to start with. She was brought up as a Catholic, her maternal grandparents were known as the Catholic Monarchs, and she was the center of attention in the court.

However, when her parents’ marriage was annulled her mother was sent away and Mary never got to see her again. Instead of being the center of attention Mary was now a ‘bastard.’ She lost the title of Princess Mary and became Lady Mary.

To add salt to her wounds when Anne Boleyn (her new and much hated stepmother) gave birth to a new Princess (Elizabeth) Mary was sent to attend to her.

Mary I of England
Mary I of England | Source

Is it any wonder that Mary would hate the Church of England and long to return England to Catholicism?

Mary’s father Henry would marry again, this time to Jane Seymour and she tried to reconcile the father and daughter. This is how Mary came back to the court, although she was still not given the title of Princess back. Jane Seymour would give Henry VIII his long awaited son – Edward. Mary was made a godmother to her half brother.

Mary got on with two out of the three following stepmothers that she would have – Anne of Cleves and Katherine Parr. Before Henry VIII’s he passed the Third Act of Succession which made his son Edward his heir and placed Mary and Elizabeth in line should Edward die childless.

More Reading on Mary I

Mary and Her Religion

Both of Mary’s half-siblings were brought up as Protestants, but Mary remained a Catholic.   During the reign of her half brother Edward VI the two clashed repeatedly on the matter of religion with Mary flagrantly attending Mass which Edward had abolished in his Act of Uniformity.


Certain powerful Protestant members of the Court were extremely worried that putting Mary on the throne would be bad for England and they sought to have Lady Jane Grey put on the throne instead.


Mary rallied up her Catholic supporters and once she had confirmation of her brother’s death she sent out proclamations that she was now Queen Mary of England.   As Queen Mary approached London she was met by her half sister Elizabeth and they rode into the city together.   The next day was Mary’s coronation and she lost no time in trying to right the wrongs she felt her father and half-brother had done.


Her first act as Queen was to pass an Act proclaiming that her parent’s marriage was legal, her next was to repeal all of the religious acts that had been passed during Edward VI’s reign.


She was surrounded by Catholic zealots as her advisors and they told her that if she wanted England to be brought back into Rome’s fold they had to burn heretics at the stake.   Remember this was the 1500s, burning people at the stake, beheadings and torture were all seen as acceptable acts.   Mary’s belief that these acts were necessary in order to stamp our Protestants led to her nickname Bloody Mary and she was to be painted in a poor light through history.


Mary I of England & Philip II of Spain
Mary I of England & Philip II of Spain | Source

Marriage and Children

Mary knew that an important part of her quest to see England and Rome reunited again under the Catholic religion would be to marry a Catholic and start her own family. If she was unsuccessful in leaving any heirs then her half-sister Elizabeth, a Protestant, would succeed to the throne.

Mary’s cousin Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor proposed that his son Philip II of Spain as Mary’s husband and they married on 25 July 1554. Mary fell in love with Philip, but the feelings weren’t mutual. The marriage was consummated, however, and the Royal physician confirmed that Mary was pregnant by the end of 1554, this turned however this turned out to be a phantom pregnancy. After a second phantom pregnancy Philip returned to Spain and Mary became very depressed.

Some historians believe that Mary in fact had a stomach tumor. Five years after being crowned Mary was dead and England had a new Queen. Mary may have earned the nickname of Bloody Mary due to the enthusiasm she expressed in fulfilling her dream of a Catholic England, but with no children the throne would revert back to the Protestant Elizabeth upon her death.

What if Mary Had Been A Boy?

How different would England have been if Mary had been born a boy?   Henry VIII may never have made himself head of the Church of England and the religious troubles of the next hundred years or so may never have happened.


Mary would have had no hard feelings harbored towards her father, ‘his’ church and the need for her to have children may not have seemed quite so important to her.   Her mother and father worked well together before the lack of an heir caused problems and they may have continued doing so becoming as powerful as her maternal grandparents.



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