When ever I think of Mary “Bloody” Tudor, I think of the opening line to that Philip Larkin poem This Be The Verse:
They f*ck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
By why I hear you cry, well I feel that Queen Mary I, Tudor and heir of Henry VIII, was the Queen she was, due in part to her childhood, her parents and how that effected her.
Let’s look at the evidence. To start with Mary is born, 18th February 496 years ago today, to a mother and father happy in marriage and secure in faith and although born the wrong gender, is loved and seen as hope for male heir. Her mother, Catherine of Aragon, endure pregnancy after pregnancy, miscarriage, still births and weak siblings for little Mary, none of whom survive. Her mother a Spanish woman of strong faith prays to the saints and for help but as the years slip by, Catherine and her daughter, sees, the King of England, grow impatient and falls out of love with Queen Catherine and into lust with another, Anne Boleyn.
She watches as her mother fights to remain married to the man she has tried to be faithful to, tried to give heirs too, for whom she fought hard to win after the death of her first husband, his brother Prince Arthur. She Fought and fought refused to give up until she was forced to.
Mary then is separated from her mother despite the fact that Catherine is dying, by a spiteful father angry at a woman for not releasing him from marriage or giving him heirs and hurting a girl, intentionally or unintentionally in return. When her mother dies her father remarries and has turned her world upside down further by splitting from the Pope and Catholicism in order to get what he wishes. Catholicism is a comfort that her mother and she had come to rely on.
Then when things go very wrong with her first step mother, Mary and her step sister Elizabeth, are no longer royal princesses but royal bastards and she is rejected and hurt by her father again.
Next we see she has to fight for her throne upon the death of her step brother and although she wanted to show mercy to, Lady Jane Grey, was advised that if she was going to be able to secure the throne and stop any more Wyatt plots, she would have to execute a 15 year old wronged and used by her family, follow through with her Catholic marriage and alliance with Spain and keep her younger half sister under close watch. She was after all the grand daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, they were the Catholic crusading Monarchs of Spain that drove the Moors after centuries of rule in Andalusia.
These traumas and events in any child and adolencent’s life help form the person that they become the views they hold and their personality. Mary held dear to the one comfort that brought her close to her wronged mother, Catholicism and would try and destroy the harmful and dangerous religious path that her father introduced to England, the Anglican church. She lived in a tough cruel Tudor world, and to survive as a woman you had to show you had the pluck of a man and then some, Mary I believe fulfilled this and proved she was her fathers daughter through her actions.
The only problem is once you educate the masses and open their minds up the way in which the protestant reformation did along with the humanist movement, its impossible for people to reverse it. In a world were there is no explanation for the world around you and the fate of ones soul is central, to an often short hard life, religion becomes important and worth fighting to the death for. Mary was not just avenging her mother, she was saving the immortal souls of her nation dragging them back to the mother church in Rome.
Was Mary so bloody? Well she did burn 283 people alive at the stake for there religious conviction. Was it the fact that she was executing people on religious grounds rather than crimes that we find so appalling or the fact that it was a woman doing it? Her father Henry VIII allowed innocent monks, friars, nuns and priests to be robbed, thrown out of their homes, be tormented for there religious beliefs, executed and in the case of nuns some of them were raped in the dissolution of the monasteries. Yet we don’t vilify him as much as we do Mary his daughter, were more inclined to vilify him for marrying 6 women, executing 2 and treating them all appallingly.
Mary had a wayward husband who spent more time in Spain than England, he had no heirs as it seems her mother’s gynaecological problems were hereditary, she was under threat from Protestants plotting to put her step sister on the throne. All she wanted to do was protect the mortal souls of her nation.
Mary is one of my least favourite English monarchs, but a large part of me feels that she has been wronged through history that people forget that she was a woman in a mans world unsupported, with no family, born into a role that she probably would not have chosen for herself. I feel had she have been given a choice she would have probably chosen a life in cloisters as a nun in contemplation and prayer. Yes she did wrong but so did her predecessors and successors, her half sister executed an anointed Queen for treason (and because her Catholicism was a treat to her) surely a crime as great as making 283 protestant martyrs?
So the next time you hear the name Bloody Mary in a non drink context, remember that she was just a queen trying to do her best for the souls of her nation and all she had to go on was a Catholic wronged mother and a homicidal womanizing father hell bent on male heirs – I think its fair to say “They F*cked her up her mum and dad.”