Portrait of Mary I of England, Queen of England.

Portrait of Mary I of England, Queen of England.

The first woman to rule and the most unpopular. How much do you know about Mary Tudor?

She was the first woman monarch to rule in her own right, and also one of the most unpopular, but what did Mary I achieve and why is she known as Bloody Mary?

She was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

Mary was born in 1516 to Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, she was their only child to survive past infancy. As we know Henry VIII became enraged that Catherine of Aragon couldn't give him a male heir, and so decided to end their marriage. He went on to have six wives in total, which means that Mary had Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr as stepmothers. 

Her succession to the throne was a difficult one

After her father divorced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn, Mary was declared illegitimate and removed from the line of succession. When Henry had Boleyn executed he had their daughter and Mary's half-sister Elizabeth also removed from the line of succession. However, in 1544 Henry reinstated both daughters to the line of succession behind their half-brother Edward (who was born to Henry and his third wife Jane Seymour).

When Henry died in 1547, King Edward VI ascended to the throne. During his reign, Protestantism was established in England making Edward's relationship with Catholic Mary very strained. In other to prevent her from succeeding him and reinstating Catholicism, Edward had both sisters removed from the line of succession. Instead, and at the advice of the Duke of Northumberland, Edward arranged for the throne to pass to his Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey. 

When Edward VI died in 1553, Northumberland set out with forces to capture Mary and have her imprisoned. However, Mary responded by rallying her own supporters, forcing the royal government to switch its allegiance to her instead of Jane. Jane reigned for just nine days before she was imprisoned in the Tower of London and later executed. Northumberland, who was Jane's father-in-law, was executed.

She was known as Bloody Mary 

Once in power, Mary returned England to Catholicism, restoring papal authority and undoing several changes Edward VI had made to the English church. As such, she resurrected the laws against heresy, and as a result, ordered nearly 300 Protestants to be burned at the stake. 

Mary ultimately failed at her attempts to return England to Catholicism as her successor Queen Elizabeth I returned the nation to Protestantism. 

Her reign was overshadowed by that of her sister, Queen Elizabeth I

Mary reigned for just five years before dying in 1558 aged 42. She was succeeded by her sister Queen Elizabeth I who went to reign until 1603. During her time on the throne, the empire achieved a great many things, including the voyages of discovery by Francis Drake and William Raleigh, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and a flourishing of the arts with Shakespeare stepping up. 

Even in death Mary was overshadowed by her sister, with James I (who succeeded Elizabeth) ordering that Elizabeth's coffin be placed on top of Mary’s in a vault at Westminster Abbey and had a large monument to Elizabeth erected at the site, while Mary only warranted a mention in an inscription on the monument.

* Originally published in Oct 2019.