The Rise of “Bloody Mary”

Mary I

It’s easy to feel sympathy for Katherine of Aragon and her daughter, Mary I, when you know how they fared during Henry VIII’s reign – and I do. Katherine, the loyal and loving wife, was discarded after 24 years of marriage and left to die alone, separated from her only child. And Mary, the helpless daughter, saw a half-sister supplant her at age 17, had her mother die at age 20 and was then forced to watch five stepmothers pass through thanks to divorce and execution.

The tricky part about the casting Katherine and Mary as “good” where, say, Anne Boleyn was “bad” is that it dehumanizes women who were in fact very human and people utterly reflective of their times. Anne was a champion for the English Reformation, learned and incredibly powerful – yet by her own admission she showed cruelty to her husband’s adolescent daughter. Katherine was the abandoned first wife, but one whose religious extremism allowed her to think the expulsion of Muslim and Jewish populations was for the greater good. And finally Mary, who was absolutely victimized – in a truly horrifying way – by her father, went on to oversee the persecution and death of hundreds of Protestants during her reign.

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The English Reformation: 1534 – 1536

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We wrapped up “the King’s Great Matter” several days ago now, but I do think it’s worth one more post that closes out the three years that followed. These are, of course, the years during which Anne Boleyn was queen of England, but even more, they are the years in which the Reformation built the Church of England and the maneuverings that Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer orchestrated in the final years of the divorce proceedings took effect. The end result was that the last decade or so of Henry VIII’s reign look markedly different from the first two and his consorts, who now usually take center stage, were often just a domestic sideshow to an increasingly powerful and unpredictable king and government.

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The King’s Great Matter: 1527

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Over the next couple of weeks and months we’re going to dig into Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon, moving through the laborious process year by year. We have covered in the past when it was that Henry fell in love with Anne Boleyn, and we have also covered the six-month period between Anne’s private wedding with Henry at the end of 1532 and her presentation at court as queen in the spring of 1533. These posts will essentially cover the years in-between, taking a look at the legal, theological and diplomatic issues prompted by, well, Henry’s personal life.

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After Mary: Charles Brandon & Katherine Willoughby

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We’ve covered before how Henry VIII’s younger and favorite sister, Princess Mary, married his best friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, shortly after the death of her first husband, King Louis XII of France, without her brother’s permission. Henry was livid, but was eventually brought around after levying a hefty fine on the couple. The marriage was cut short by Mary’s premature death in 1533 at the age of 37, and just three months later, Charles married again, this time to his adolescent ward, Katherine Willoughby.

Katherine could very well have faded into oblivion – after all, Charles’s two wives prior to Mary certainly have. Instead, Katherine is a fascinating figure from the Tudor court. Like Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, her name was put forth as a possible seventh wife for Henry, she had strong opinions on the reformation and her longevity positioned her as consistently relevant well into the reign of Elizabeth I.

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Elizabeth & Robin

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Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. It felt appropriate to mark the holiday here with a post on one of the most famous – if debatable – love stories from royal history: Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Fans of the 1998 film and/or readers of any of dozens of historical novels on the subject may well have a sense for the general trajectory, but while the real story is certainly bittersweet, it is decidedly less neat and tidy.

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Henry VIII’s Last Execution & His Daughter-in-Law

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About a year ago we covered the early Howards, including John, 1st Duke of Norfolk who saw his rise through the Yorkist kings, and his son, Thomas, Earl of Surrey, who managed to work his way into the favor of Henry VII. The family’s ascent was solidified by the 1495 marriage of Thomas’s eldest son and heir to Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister, Anne. Unfortunately the only product of the marriage was a short-lived son who passed away around the age of 10. Anne herself died of unknown causes in 1511 and her widower found himself in need of another wife.

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The Last Plantagenet: Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

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The life of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury is likely familiar to those who enjoy studying the Tudors, but for those who haven’t heard of her, it is a story that perfectly exemplifies several realities of life outside the very center of the Royal Family. Margaret was born a niece of a king and ended up the daughter of a traitor, the wife of an unknown entity and the mother of a papist in the middle of the reformation. She managed to survive until the third act of Henry VIII’s reign, but by then she stood for something else entirely as one of the last Plantagenets to have made it that far in Tudor England.

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The Death of Mary I & the Accession of Elizabeth I

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Finally, we get back to some history! The last few weeks have been a little heavy on William, Kate and Harry, I know, but I’ve decided to treat it as a balancing act for August when news was sparse and there was plenty of time for back-to-back historical posts. I prefer a balance, so before more engagements are scheduled, I’m going to try and fit in a bit more about, you know, the Plantagenets and the Tudors.

So, let’s get to it: back in July we covered the unfortunate marriage of Mary I and Philip II of Spain, which took us to Mary’s final months as a disenchanted wife and thwarted would-be mother. In April of 1558, Mary once again held out hope that she was pregnant, but unfortunately the symptoms were only signs that her health was on the decline. By the end of spring, it was widely understood that her 25-year-old half-sister, Elizabeth, was her heir, a young woman whose religion was up in the air and whose politics were untested.

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The Catholic Alliance: Mary I & Philip II

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Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard may have lost their heads to Henry VIII, but a part of me has always had the most sympathy for his daughter, Mary I. After all, she truly didn’t have a say in her association with the Tudors and it’s a particular kind of heartbreaking that her adversary was her father.

The question comes up now and again as to when England would have broken from Catholicism had Henry VIII not forced the issue in the 1530s and the answer usually landed on is that while it might have been delayed, the Reformation would still have swept the country in the 16th century. But it’s a tricky scenario to tackle, because it’s impossible to separate out the English brand of religious reform from Henry’s marital history, if for no other reason than it dictated both the succession and those with political power. Without Anne Boleyn it’s hard to accept Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer would have held the same sway, and without Anne there is no Elizabeth I and possibly no Edward VI.

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