MARY I., queen of England (1516–1558), unpleasantly remembered as “the Bloody Mary” on account of the religious persecutions which prevailed during her reign, was the daughter of Henry VIII. and Catherine of Aragon, born in the earlier years of their married life, when as yet no cloud had darkened the prospect of Henry’s reign. Her birth occurred at Greenwich, on Monday, the 18th February 1516, and she was baptized on the following Wednesday, Cardinal Wolsey standing as her godfather. She seems to have been a singularly precocious child, and is reported in July 1520, when scarcely four and a half years old, as entertaining some visitors by a performance on the virginals. When she was little over nine she was addressed in a complimentary Latin oration by commissioners sent over from Flanders on commercial matters, and replied to them in the same language “with as much assurance and facility as if she had been twelve years old” (Gayangos, iii. pt. 1, 82). Her father was proud of her achievements. About the same time that she replied to the commissioners in Latin he was arranging that she should learn Spanish, Italian and French. A great part, however, of the credit of her early education was undoubtedly due to her mother, who not only consulted the Spanish scholar Vives upon the subject, but was herself Mary’s first teacher in Latin. She was also well instructed in music, and among her principal recreations as she grew up was that of playing on the virginals and lute.
It was a misfortune that she shared with high-born ladies generally in those days that her prospects in life were made a matter of sordid bargaining from the first. Mary was little more than two years old when she was proposed in marriage to the dauphin, son of Francis I. Three years afterwards the French alliance was broken off, and in 1522 she was affianced to her cousin the young emperor Charles V. by the Treaty of Windsor. No one, perhaps, seriously expected either of these arrangements to endure; and, though we read in grave state papers of some curious compliments and love tokens (really the mere counters of diplomacy) professedly sent by the girl of nine to her powerful cousin, not many years passed away before Charles released himself from this engagement and made a more convenient match. In 1526 a rearrangement was made of the royal household, and it was thought right to give Mary an establishment of her own along with a council on the borders of Wales, for the better government of the Marches. For some years she accordingly kept her court at Ludlow, while new arrangements were made for the disposal of her hand. She was now proposed as a wife, not for the dauphin as before, but for his father Francis I., who had just been redeemed from captivity at Madrid, and who was only too glad of an alliance with England to mitigate the severe conditions imposed on him by the emperor. Wolsey, however, on this occasion, only made use of the princess as a bait to enhance the terms of the compact, and left Francis free in the end to marry the emperor’s sister.
It was during this negotiation, as Henry afterwards pretended, that the question was first raised whether Henry’s own marriage with Catherine was a lawful one. Grammont, bishop of Tarbes, who was one of the ambassadors sent over by Francis to ask the princess in marriage, had, it was said, started an objection that she might possibly be considered illegitimate on account of her mother having been once the wife of her father’s brother. The statement was a mere pretence to shield the king when the unpopularity of the divorce became apparent. It is proved to be untrue by the strongest evidence, for we have pretty full contemporary records of the whole negotiation. On the contrary, it is quite clear that Henry, who had already for some time conceived the project of a divorce, kept the matter a dead secret, and was particularly anxious that the French ambassadors should not know it, while he used his daughter’s hand as a bait for a new alliance. The alliance itself, however, was actually concluded by a treaty dated Westminster, the 30th of April 1527, in which it was provided, as regards the Princess Mary, that she should be married either to Francis himself or to his second son Henry duke of Orleans. But the real object was only to lay the foundation of a perfect mutual understanding between the two kings, which Wolsey soon after went into France to confirm.
During the next nine years the life of Mary, as well as that of her mother, was rendered miserable by the conduct of Henry VIII. in seeking a divorce. During most of that period mother and daughter seem to have been kept apart. Possibly Queen Catherine had the harder trial; but Mary’s was scarcely less severe. Removed from court and treated as a bastard, she was, on the birth of Anne Boleyn’s daughter, required to give up the dignity of princess and acknowledge the illegitimacy of her own birth. On her refusal her household was broken up, and she was sent to Hatfield to act as lady-in-waiting to her own infant half-sister. Nor was even this the worst of her trials; her very life was in danger from the hatred of Anne Boleyn. Her health, moreover, was indifferent, and even when she was seriously ill, although Henry sent his own physician, Dr Buttes, to attend her, he declined to let her mother visit her. So also at her mother’s death, in January 1536, she was forbidden to take a last farewell of her. But in May following another change occurred. Anne Boleyn, the real cause of all her miseries, fell under the king’s displeasure and was put to death. Mary was then urged to make a humble submission to her father as the means of recovering his favour, and after a good deal of correspondence with the king’s secretary, Cromwell, she actually did so. The terms exacted of her were bitter in the extreme, but there was no chance of making life tolerable otherwise, if indeed she was permitted to live at all; and the poor friendless girl, absolutely at the mercy of a father who could brook no contradiction, at length subscribed an act of submission, acknowledging the king as “Supreme Head of the Church of England under Christ,” repudiating the pope’s authority, and confessing that the marriage between her father and mother “was by God’s law and man’s law incestuous and unlawful.”
No act, perhaps, in the whole of Henry’s reign gives us a more painful idea of his revolting despotism. Mary was a high-spirited girl, and undoubtedly popular. All Europe looked upon her at that time as the only legitimate child of her father, but her father himself compelled her to disown the title and pass an unjust stigma on her own birth and her mother’s good name. Nevertheless Henry was now reconciled to her, and gave her a household in some degree suitable to her rank. During the rest of the reign we hear little about her except in connexion with a number of new marriage projects taken up and abandoned successively, one of which, to the count palatine Philip, duke of Bavaria, was specially repugnant to her in the matter of religion. Her privy purse expenses for nearly the whole of this period have been published, and show that Hatfield, Beaulieu or Newhall in Essex, Richmond and Hunsdon were among her principal places of residence. Although she was still treated as of illegitimate birth, it was believed that the king, having obtained from parliament the extraordinary power to dispose of the crown by will, would restore her to her place in the succession, and three years before his death she was so restored by statute, but still under conditions to be regulated by her father’s will.
Under the reign of her brother, Edward VI. she was again subjected to severe trials, which at one time made her seriously meditate taking flight and escaping abroad. Edward himself indeed seems to have been personally not unkind to her, but the religious revolution in his reign assumed proportions such as it had not done before, and Mary, who had done sufficient violence to her own convictions in submitting to a despotic father, was not disposed to yield an equally tame obedience to authority exercised by a factious council in the name of a younger brother not yet come to years of discretion. Besides, the cause of the pope was naturally her own. In spite of the forced declaration formerly wrung from herself, no one really regarded her as a bastard, and the full recognition of her rights depended on the recognition of the pope as head of the Church. Hence, when Edward’s parliament passed an Act of Uniformity enjoining services in English and communion in both kinds, the law appeared to her totally void of authority, and she insisted on having Mass in her own private chapel under the old form. When ordered to desist, she appealed for protection to the emperor Charles V., who, being her cousin, intervened for some time not ineffectually, threatening war with England if her religious liberty was interfered with. But Edward’s court was composed of factions of which the most violent eventually carried the day. Lord Seymour, the admiral, was attainted of treason and beheaded in 1549. His brother, the Protector Somerset, met with the same fate in 1552. Dudley, duke of Northumberland, then became paramount in the privy council, and easily obtained the sanction of the young king to those schemes for altering the succession which led immediately after his death to the usurpation of Lady Jane Grey. Dudley had, in fact, overawed all the rest of the privy council, and when the event occurred he took such energetic measures to give effect to the scheme that Lady Jane was actually recognized as queen for some days, and Mary had even to fly from Hunsdon into Norfolk. But the country was really devoted to her cause, as indeed her right in law was unquestionable, and before many days she was royally received in London, and took up her abode within the Tower.
Her first acts at the beginning of her reign displayed a character very different from that which she still holds in popular estimation. Her clemency towards those who had taken up arms against her was altogether remarkable. She released from prison Lady Jane’s father, Suffolk, and had difficulty even in signing the warrant for the execution of Northumberland. Lady Jane herself she fully meant to spare, and did spare till after Wyatt’s formidable insurrection. Her conduct, indeed, was in every respect conciliatory and pacific, and so far as they depended on her personal character the prospects of the new reign might have appeared altogether favourable. But unfortunately her position was one of peculiar difficulty, and the policy on which she determined was far from judicious. Inexperienced in the art of governing, she had no trusty councillor but Gardiner; every other member of the council had been more or less implicated in the conspiracy against her. And though she valued Gardiner’s advice she was naturally led to rely even more on that of her cousin, the emperor, who had been her mother’s friend in adversity, and had done such material service to herself in the preceding reign. Following the emperor’s guidance she determined almost from the first to make his son Philip her husband, though she was eleven years his senior. She was also strongly desirous of restoring the old religion and wiping out the stigma of illegitimacy upon her birth, so that she might not seem to reign by virtue of a mere parliamentary settlement.
Each of these different objects was attended by difficulties or objections peculiar to itself; but the marriage was the most unpopular of all. A restoration of the old religion threatened to deprive the new owners of abbey lands of their easy and comfortable acquisitions; and it was only with an express reservation of their interests that the thing was actually accomplished. A declaration of her own legitimacy necessarily cast a slur on that of her sister Elizabeth, and cut her off from the succession. But the marriage promised to throw England into the arms of Spain and place the resources of the kingdom at the command of the emperor’s son. The Commons sent her a deputation to entreat that she would not marry a foreigner, and when her resolution was known insurrections broke out in different parts of the country. Suffolk, whose first rebellion had been pardoned, proclaimed Lady Jane Grey again in Leicestershire, while young Wyatt raised the county of Kent and, though denied access by London Bridge, led his men round by Kingston to the very gates of London before he was repulsed. In the midst of the danger Mary showed great intrepidity, and the rebellion was presently quelled; after which, unhappily, she got leave to pursue her own course unchecked. She married Philip, restored the old religion, and got Cardinal Pole to come over and absolve the kingdom from its past disobedience to the Holy See.
It was a more than questionable policy thus to ally England with Spain—a power then actually at war with France. By the treaty, indeed, England was to remain neutral; but the force of events, in the end, compelled her, as might have been expected, to take part in the quarrel. Meanwhile the country was full of faction, and seditious pamphlets of Protestant origin inflamed the people with hatred against the Spaniards. Philip’s Spanish followers met with positive ill-usage everywhere, and violent outbreaks occurred. A year after his marriage Philip went over to Brussels to receive from his father the government of the Low Countries and afterwards the kingdom of Spain. Much to Mary’s distress, his absence was prolonged for a year and a half, and when he returned in March 1557 it was only to commit England completely to the war; after which he went back to Brussels in July, to return no more to England.
Hostilities with France were inevitable, because France had encouraged disaffection among Mary’s subjects, even during the brief truce of Vaucelles. Conspiracies had been hatched by English refugees in Paris, and an attempt to seize Scarborough had been made with the aid of vessels from the Seine. But perhaps the strangest thing about the situation was that the pope took part with France against Spain; and so the very marriage which Mary had contracted to bring England back to the Holy See made her the wife of the pope’s enemy. It was, moreover, this war with France that occasioned the final calamity of the loss of Calais, which sank so deeply into Mary’s heart some time before she died.
The cruel persecution of the Protestants, which has cast so much infamy upon her reign, was not due, as commonly supposed, to inhumanity on her part. When the kingdom was reconciled to Rome and absolved by Cardinal Pole, it followed, almost as a matter of necessity, that the old heresy laws should be revived, as they were then by Act of Parliament. They had been abolished by the Protector Somerset for the express purpose of promoting changes of doctrine which did violence to what was still the prevailing religious sentiment; and now the old religion required to be protected from insult and fanatical outrages. Doubts were felt as to the result even from the first; but the law having been once passed could not be relaxed merely because the victims were so numerous; for that would only have encouraged the irreverence which it was intended to check. No doubt there were milder men among the heretics, but as a class their stern fanaticism and ill-will to the old religion made them dangerous, even to the public peace. Rogers, the first of the martyrs, was burnt on the 4th of February 1555. Hooper, bishop of Gloucester, had been condemned six days before, and suffered the same fate upon the 9th. From this time the persecution went on uninterrupted for three years and three quarters, numbering among its victims Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer. It came to an end at last on the death of Mary. It seems to have been more severe in the eastern and southern parts of England, and the largest number of sufferers was naturally in the diocese of Bonner, bishop of London. From first to last nearly three hundred victims are known to have perished at the stake; and their fate certainly created a revulsion against Rome that nothing else was likely to have effected.
Mary was of weak constitution and subject to frequent illnesses, both before and after her accession. One special infirmity caused her to believe a few months after her marriage that she was with child, and thanksgiving services were ordered throughout the diocese of London in November 1554. The same delusion recurred in March 1558, when though she did not make her expectation public, she drew up a will in anticipation of the dangers of childbirth, constituting her husband regent during the minority of her prospective heir. To this she added a codicil on the 28th of October following, when the illness that was to be her last had set in, showing that she had ceased to have much expectation of maternity, and earnestly entreating her “next heir and successor by the laws” (whom she did not name) to allow execution of the instrument. She died on the 17th of November.
Her name deserved better treatment than it has generally met with; for she was far from cruel. Her kindness to poor people is undoubted, and the severe execution of her laws seemed only a necessity. Even in this matter, moreover, she was alive to the injustice with which the law was usually strained in behalf of the prerogative; and in appointing Sir Richard Morgan chief justice of the Common Pleas she charged him “not to sit in judgment otherwise for her highness than for her subjects,” and to avoid the old error of refusing to admit witnesses against the Crown (Holinshed III. 1112). Her conduct as queen was certainly governed by the best possible intentions; and it is evident that her very zeal for goodness caused most of the trouble she brought upon herself. Her subjects were entirely released, even by papal authority, from any obligation to restore the confiscated lands of the Church. But she herself made it an object, at her own expense, to restore several of the monasteries; and courtiers who did not like to follow her example, encouraged the fanatics to spread an alarm that it would even yet be made compulsory. So the worldly minded joined hands with the godly heretics in stirring up enmity against her. (J. Ga.)