1902 Encyclopedia > Mary I

Mary I
Queen of England (from 1553)

MARY I., queen of England (1516-1558), unpleasantly remembered as " the Bloody Mary" on account of the religious persecutions sanctioned under her reign, was a woman whose private history demands no less compassion than her policy as queen (if indeed it was her own) merits the condemnation of a more humane and tolerant age. She 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 she was little more than four years of age, as entertaining some visitors by a performance on the virginals. When she was little over nine she wa3 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" (Gayaugos, iii. pt. 1, 82). Her father, against whom it cannot be said that he depreciated learning, had taken care to give her an excellent education, and 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 con-sulted 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 many other high-born ladies in those days that her prospects of life were made a matter of sordid bargaining from the first. Political alliances to be cemented by marriages between persons who were at the time mere infants—or perhaps, more shameful still, between a child and a superannuated debauchee—are among the most repulsive features of the times. 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 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 the powerful cousin whom she had never seen, 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 n.ecordingly kept her court at Ludlow, while new arrangements were made for the disposal of her hand in connexion with the latest turn in the tortuous game of diplomacy. 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, how-ever, 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. The 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 unpopu-larity of the divorce became apparent. It is not only extremely improbable in itself, but is proved to be untrue by the strongest evidence, for we have pretty full con-temporary records of the whole negotiation. On the con-trary, 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 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 the most of that period mother and daughter seem to have been kept apart, and, though sometimes living at no great distance from each other, were strictly forbidden to see each other. Of the two it may be that Queen Catherine had the hardest 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 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 which seemed to promise some kind of relief. 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, 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, Bichmond, 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 extra-ordinary 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 com-munion in both kinds, the law appeared to her totally void of authority, and she insisted on haviug 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 Hoddesden 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 insurrec-tion. Her conduct, indeed, was in every respect con-ciliatory and pacific, and so far as they depended on her personal character the prospects of the new reign might have appeared altogether favourable. But un-fortunately 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 mem-ber 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 passed upon her birth, so that she might not seem to reign by virtue of a mere parliamentary settle-ment.

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 Leicester-shire, while young Wyatt raised the county of Kent and actually besieged the queen in her own palace at West-minster. 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 for its past disobedience to the Holy See.

But the misgivings of those who had disliked the Spanish match were more than sufficiently justified by the course of events. Mary yielded a loyal and womanly devotion to a husband who did not too greatly esteem the treasure of her person. Her health, which was feeble before, was bad for the remainder of her days, and she fell under a delusion at first that it was owing to an approach-ing confinement. Disappointment and vexation probably added to her helplessness. The resources of the kingdom were at Philip's command, and he even took ships of the English fleet to escort his father the emperor, on his abdication, to Spain. More extraordinary still, he ulti-mately succeeded in committing England to a war against France, when France had made an alliance with the pope against him as king of Spain; so the very marriage which was to confirm England in the old religion led to a war against the occupant of the see of Rome. And it was this war with France which produced the final calamity of the loss of Calais' which sank so deeply into Mary's heart some months before she died.

The cruel persecution of the Protestants, which has cast so much infamy upon her reign, began about six months after her marriage ; audit is not difficult to see that it was greatly due to the triumph of ideas imported from the land of the Inquisition. Rogers, the first of the martyrs, was burnt on the 4th 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 more than three years, numbering among its victims Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer. It seems to have been most 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 computed to have perished at the stake ; and their fate certainly created a revulsion against Rome that nothing else was likely to have effected. How far Mary herself— who during the most part of this time, if not the whole time, was living in the strictest seclusion, sick in body and mind, hysterical and helpless — was personally answerable for these things, it is difficult to say. To her, no doubt, the propagators of heresy were the enemies of mankind, and she had little cause to love them from her own experience. Yet perhaps she hardly realized the full horror of what was done under her sanction. But there can be little doubt what effect it had upon the people ; and when Mary breathed her last, on the 17th November
1558, the event was hailed with joy as a national deliverance, (j. GA.)

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