Sunday, 7 September 2014

Conclusion: Can Mary I's reputation be salvaged?

This is the final installment of my series of posts investigating the development of Mary I's reputation. In it I offer my thoughts as to whether or not I believe Mary's reputation could ultimately be salvaged.


It has been said that ‘history is written by the victors’ and this certainly seems to have been the case for Mary I’s reputation. Over the past four hundred years Mary’s reputation has developed under the influence of successive Protestant writers who built on John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. At the heart of this reputation it has not been Mary herself but the persecution of Protestants that occurred in her reign, making attempts to salvage her reputation difficult as the burning alive of individuals on account of their religious beliefs is in no way excusable.

Despite the attempts of some early writers, including Foxe, to absolve Mary of responsibility for the burnings there can be no denying that she believed in and encouraged the persecutions as a part of her religious policy. So ultimately responsibility lies with her. However this does not provide justification for her bloody reputation because as a person Mary was caring, courageous and pious; in sanctioning the burnings she was merely acting in accordance with her times.

The tomb in Westminster Abbey where both Mary I and her
half-sister Elizabeth I are buried. There is no monument to Mary
and the magnificent effigy of Elizabeth that adorns the tomb means
that many are unaware of Mary's presence. The tomb was erected in
the reign of James I  who had Elizabeth's remains moved to lie next
to Mary's.
To a great extent the sustained effort of revisionist writers has salvaged Mary’s reputation, dispelling the myth of bloody Mary and acknowledging her achievements as England’s first queen regnant. Aspects of her reign such as the persecutions and her marriage remain controversial, with conservative historians remaining loyal to the traditional perception of these events. However this controversy has served to stimulate further interest and debate about Mary and her reign, which has in turn allowed for revaluation of Mary as a capable and compassionate monarch.

This Latin inscription on the side of the tomb is the only outward
indication of Mary's presence, it reads "Partners both in throne and
grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of
one resurrection". The pairing of the sisters in death is perhaps a
little strange given the disintegration of relations between them and
it is sad as it ignores Mary's wishes expressed in her will that her
mother's remains be brought from Peterborough and interred with
her own.
This is progress and demonstrates that aspects of Mary’s reputation have been salvaged in recent years. The next stage in the salvaging of Mary’s reputation would be for the academic revaluation of Mary to penetrate into popular culture. This would, of course, take time given the four hundred years that Mary’s bloody reputation has been in the public consciousness. However the five hundredth anniversary of her birth in 2016 will provide a significant opportunity for her reputation to be salvaged on a wider level. Therefore while Mary’s reformation was the cause of her bloody reputation it now seems as though her reputation is entering a reformation of its own so it could ultimately be salvaged. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Part 4: Can Mary I's reputation be salvaged?

This section considers the work and varying success of 20th and 21st century historians in revising academic perception of Mary as a failure and a bloody tyrant.

20th and 21st century rise of the revisionists:
The lack of success of 19th century attempts to salvage Mary’s reputation was followed by a surge of revisionist works addressing the issue from the late 20th century to present day. Mary has become something of a fashionable topic in recent years with twenty books focusing on her life and reign being published since the 1990s; significantly more than there have been on her more famous father. The most controversial aspects of Mary’s reputation, such as her personality, religious policy, marriage and loss of Calais, have been tackled by successive historians in recent years influencing a turn in the tide of academic opinion towards Mary.

In recent years several historians have reassessed Mary’s character and have found it almost irreconcilable with the hysterical queen documented by early writers. Froude’s argument purporting Mary’s hysteria and madness has been dealt a significant blow by the discovery that a nineteenth century historian had mistranslated and therefore misinterpreted a letter written in 1531 which described Mary’s illness. The translation read that she had something “the physicians call hysteria”, allowing subsequent historians to present Mary as a hysterical and mad figure, when in fact the letter said that Mary was suffering from a ‘malfunction of the womb’.[1] The mistake occurred due to the Greek word for womb being the source of the word ‘hysteria’. This ‘malfunction’ was an affliction that Mary suffered throughout her life particularly at the time of her parents’ divorce and later phantom pregnancies; giving nineteenth century historians more material with which to portray Mary as mad. This revelation has refuted the argument that Mary was hysterical and it has cast doubt over the ‘little woman’ argument that stemmed from this.

Portrait of Thomas Wyatt the Younger c.1540-42 (son of
Sir Thomas Wyatt the poet) who led a rebellion against
Mary's rule in  1554. He mustered a force of 4,000 rebels
who marched on London from Kent and came within
 half a mile of Mary herself. However the rebellion was
overcome after Mary made a rousing speech at the Guildhall
which rallied the people to her cause leading to the capture and
execution of the rebel leaders, including Wyatt.
The ‘little woman’ argument has been attacked by several historians on the grounds that Mary’s character is simply not compatible with the weak figure supported by nineteenth and twentieth century historians. Throughout her turbulent life Mary displayed extraordinary courage, such as during Wyatt’s rebellion in 1554 when she delivered a phenomenal speech, which rallied the people to her cause and “she even asked to go and fight herself...however [that] was not permitted to her”.[2] A further example of her strength is when she emerged from her confinement in 1555 after her first phantom pregnancy despite the humiliation and malicious rumours to rule the country once again. So while her personal tragedies contributed to the formation of the ‘little woman’ approach, the way that Mary dealt with these tragedies undermines it. Mary’s strength of character meant that she was no ‘little woman’ and as said by Linda Porter “to dismiss her life as nothing more than a personal tragedy is both mistaken and patronising.”[3] 

The Marian burnings have fuelled the development of Mary’s reputation for the past four hundred years so revisionist arguments that Marian religious policy was successful have been highly controversial. It is undeniable that the burnings were horrific and they are in no way excusable or negligible, but this was not the view amongst contemporaries so revisionists have argued that to understand the burnings presentism must be avoided. Richards has argued that rather than being inordinately zealous in the persecutions Mary was just being “a thoroughly conventional person”[4] and that there was, by the laws of the times, a secular justification for the burnings. Mary had restored the heresy laws by act of parliament in November 1554; this had been approved by both Houses and the Privy Council, indicating that there was widespread support for the burning of heretics within Marian government. This also demonstrates how heresy was perceived as both a religious and secular crime because a heretic would be disobeying both God and English law. In agreement with this Christopher Haigh suggests that there was also support for the punishment of heretics amongst the common people because they feared heretics and had little sympathy for them. At the burning of Christopher Wade in 1555 cherries were sold to the spectators and in response to his last speech they threw faggots at him to fuel the fire and silence him[5]; hardly the actions of a sympathetic or horrified crowd. Therefore in Mary’s England “Protestants were horrified [by the burnings], many committed Catholics approved [and] the rest watched curiously as the law took its course”,[6] demonstrating how the burnings did not cause people to perceive Mary as bloody in her lifetime. 

The Martyrs' Memorial which stands in Oxford
outside Balliol College. It was built in 1843 to
commemorate the lives of those who were martyred
under Mary's rule and it stands testament to the fact
that the horrific burnings of Mary's reign will not
be forgotten.
 In addition to the events and consequences of the burnings, the success of the persecutions has also caused much debate. Haigh argues that they were unsuccessful as Protestants were not intimidated, with burnings continuing into the final weeks of Mary’s reign. However this has been challenged by Eamon Duffy who suggests that the burnings were successful within the bigger picture of the Marian Catholic restoration. The burnings had little chance of fully eradicating Protestantism in England but Duffy argues that they served to frighten many Protestants into exile or outward conformity, which led to a significant reduction in the number of burnings by 1558. This can be viewed as a success because it allowed for the re-Catholicisation of England to continue without being undermined by open displays of Protestant defiance. Duffy has been criticised for this stance with some suggesting that his adherence to Catholicism influenced his more positive perception of the persecutions; however Duffy’s interpretation is not new with John Stuart Mill making a similar argument in his 1859 essay, ‘On Liberty’. Mill observed that “the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of those pleasant falsehoods...In Spain, Italy, Flanders, the Austrian empire, Protestantism was rooted out; and, most likely, would have England, had Queen Mary lived...Persecution has always succeeded.”[7]  So over the course of Mary’s reign the persecutions can be seen as having had a degree of success in repressing opposition to the re-Catholicisation of England. 

While the burnings have been the focus of the debate surrounding Mary’s reputation it must be stressed that they were only a minor part of Marian religious policy. Persecution was merely a method of enforcement, the policy as a whole included a range of measures, such as education and preaching. Education was particularly favoured by the queen who was generous to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, leaving them each £500 in her will[8], to ensure that they produced erudite Catholic scholars and priests. The success of this is clear from the resistance that Elizabeth I faced from Mary’s Catholic bishops after her accession. Mary also favoured education through the publication of religious texts, with Bishop Bonner being instructed to produce a catechism for children and printers receiving royal licenses for the production of primers and homilies. Despite traditional assertions that preaching was neglected by the Marian clergy there is evidence to suggest that preaching was used with success, particularly in the case of what Duffy calls ‘preaching tours’ where Catholic preachers were sent to Protestant hotspots, such as Essex and East Anglia. To prepare priests for this Cardinal Pole established seminaries which further educated the clergy on self-discipline and theology. Duffy argues that through this use of education and preaching the Marian reformation set an example for the Counter-Reformation with aspects of the English reforms inspiring the measures outlined at the 1563 Council of Trent.[9]  Marian religious policy comprised of more than persecutions and to a large extent it successfully restored Catholicism in England. 

Detail of Philip and Mary from the Tudor allegorical
portrait c.1572. The whole portrait also features Henry
VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I. You can see the whole
portrait here.
Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain is another controversial aspect of her reign and traditionally it has been viewed as the greatest mistake of her reign. David Loades maintained a form of the ‘little woman’ approach towards Mary in arguing that she saw her gender as a liability so married to gain an emotional prop and male co-ruler[10]. This interpretation has been countered by several historians who argue that the marriage was purely political and that Mary maintained her autonomy as queen. Marriage was considered as a high priority at the beginning of Mary’s reign, primarily for dynastic reasons. There was no viable Catholic heir to succeed Mary so she married in the hope of producing one. Philip of Spain was chosen on account of his impeccable royal lineage and because their child would have become the most powerful ruler in Europe, inheriting England, Burgundy and the Netherlands. So it was a marriage of political expedience. In the sixteenth century a married woman had little independence, as upon marriage her property and rights were subsumed by her husband. So, as was feared at the time of Mary’s marriage and suggested by Strickland, there was the risk of Philip seizing power and Mary’s kingdom being subsumed into his growing empire upon their marriage. However this did not happen because Mary and her council devised a stringent marriage treaty, which bound Philip to uphold English laws and prevented him from installing Spaniards to English offices, thereby protecting Mary’s position as queen. Thus Loades’ argument has been challenged by the assertion that the marriage was politically motivated and did not interfere with Mary’s independence as queen. 

The loss of Calais is a further component of Mary’s bloody reputation which has been used to demonstrate her ineptitude. However, recently several historians have suggested that while it wounded England’s pride it was not a significant loss. Judith Richards has questioned the extent to which Calais’ loss was felt by the English, arguing that there was not a unanimous sense of despair. Some individuals were accepting of the loss, with parliamentarians in February 1558 arguing that the French “took nothing from the English but recovered what was their own”[11]; however the majority of the population, including the queen, were distraught at its loss. Perhaps the parliamentarians with their political experience were able to see the potential benefits of losing Calais. Loades has argued that there were several benefits as the loss of Calais was a positive development financially and diplomatically. The Calais garrison had been very expensive to maintain, costing £5000 more than the revenues of the town[12], making it an economic liability and increasing the strain on the crown, which was in £200,000 of debt.[13] Losing Calais alleviated some of the financial pressure on the crown and enabled it to make some progress towards achieving solvency. It has also been argued that the loss of Calais enabled England to progress diplomatically because it served to shift England’s focus away from France. Without a foothold there England had less cause for policy centred on France and this allowed for further development of the Muscovy Company, which formed an enduring trade relationship with Russia, and paved the way for the Elizabethan exploration of the Americas. Therefore the loss of Calais drew a line under the dominance that France had held in English foreign policy since the Hundred Years’ War and allowed England to progress into a golden age of exploration. This view of the loss of Calais has now been accepted by many historians leading to the loss of “another useful rod with which to beat [Mary’s] reputation”.[14]

Thus far the work of revisionists has served to salvage Mary’s reputation to a large extent in academic circles with the majority of historians accepting that Mary was not bloody and that her reign was not a complete failure. Certain issues such as the loss of Calais and Mary’s character are now largely resolved with Calais’ loss being seen as beneficial to England and Mary being considered the most warm hearted and courageous of the Tudor monarchs. Marian religious policy and the Spanish marriage have proved to be more controversial with some historians still doubting the success of both and considering them detrimental. However the debate generated from this has unveiled a wealth of different interpretations, many of which are more positive and consider the Marian regime to have been more effective in its aims than previously thought.

[1] Richards, Judith M Mary Tudor p 51-52
[2] Whitelock, Anna ‘Woman, Warrior; Queen?’ in Tudor Queenship: the Reigns of Mary and Elizabeth ed. Hunt, Alice and Whitelock, Anna p 177
[3] Porter, Linda Mary Tudor: The First Queen p 418
[4] Richards, Judith M Mary Tudor p 193
[5] Haigh, Christopher English Reformations: Religion, Politics and Society under the Tudors p 233
[6] Haigh, Christopher English Reformations: Religion, Politics and Society under the Tudors p 234
[7] Mill, John Stuart On Liberty p 23-24
[8] Richards, Judith M Mary Tudor p 191
[9] Duffy, Eamon Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor p 8
[10] Loades, David Mary Tudor p 265
[11] Richards, Judith M ‘Reassessing Mary Tudor: Some Concluding Points’ in Mary Tudor: Old and New Perspectives ed. Doran, Susan and Freeman, Thomas S p 212
[12] Loades, David The Life and Career of William Paulet (c.1475-1572): Lord Treasurer and First Marquis of Winchester p 103
[13] Miller, Merton H and Upton, Charles W Macroeconomics: A Neoclassical Introduction p 164
[14] Richards, Judith M ‘Reassessing Mary Tudor: Some Concluding Points’ in Mary Tudor: Old and New Perspectives ed. Doran, Susan and Freeman, Thomas S p 212

Friday, 29 August 2014

Part 3: Can Mary I's reputation be salvaged?

This section examines the development of Mary's reputation in the 19th century at the hands of various historians and how her bloodiness came to be cemented in public perception of her.

19th Century Development:
Mary’s bloody reputation was well developed by the nineteenth century, and it seemed immovable in Victorian society where Englishness and Protestantism went hand in hand. However her reputation was addressed by Frederic Madden, a palaeographer, and two notable historians, Agnes Strickland and James Froude, who sought to revaluate the traditional perception of Mary.

Illustration of Mary touching a woman to
cure scrofula (a disease also known as the King's
Evil).This is from 'Queen Mary's manual for
blessing  cramp-rings and touching for the evil'
As a palaeographer with access to a wealth of manuscripts from the sixteenth century Madden was able to compile and publish the pre-accession Privy Purse accounts of Mary in 1831. These are of particular significance as they were the first new sources published on Mary since the sixteenth century  and they provide objective evidence that can be used to form a picture of Mary’s character. Alongside the expenditure that one might expect to find in a Princess’ accounts there are also several instances of money being given to the poor or being spent on the care of individuals. In March 1538 Mary gave 26 shillings to the midwife of Lord Cobham’s child,  in May 1538 five shillings were “geven to a pore mayde in marriage”  and in September 1538 alone there are five instances of Mary giving alms to the poor.  So the idea of ‘Bloody Mary’ seems inconsistent with the picture that the accounts create of a woman who was charitable and caring. The accounts also provide evidence of Mary’s intelligence and administrative experience because several pages contain notes in the margin in her hand where she had corrected mistakes made by her clerks. Therefore due to Mary’s charitable nature and administrative diligence prior to her accession, which contradicts the nature of ‘Bloody Mary’, it seems as though the Privy Purse accounts laid the foundations for Mary’s reputation to be salvaged. This was certainly the aim of Madden, who in his introductory memoir of Mary expressed the hope that: “what is here supplied may induce a single person to judge of her more leniently, or to cause the vulgar appellation of ‘bloody Queen’ to be replaced by one of more truth”.  The ‘truth’ that Madden wanted was for Mary to be remembered as a charitable and pious individual whose burning of religious dissidents was an unpleasant, yet commonplace, aspect of sixteenth century religious policy carried out by both Protestants and Catholics.

The material provided by Madden’s publication of Mary’s Privy Purse Expenses was also used by later writers who tried to salvage Mary’s reputation. These later writers included Agnes and Elizabeth Strickland who included a sympathetic biography of Mary in the third volume of their ‘Lives of the Queens of England’, published 1840-48. The Stricklands wrote more favourably of Mary due to the sources that they used, such as Madden’s work and records held by the ancient Catholic families of England. In the 1800s the centralisation of the national archives was incomplete so many records were retained by the great families of England and prior to the Stricklands, who were able to use their personal connections, few historians had used the records held by Catholic families. The Stricklands acknowledged that these documents were “in direct opposition to the popular ideas of the character of our first queen-regnant”  and from these they constructed their own, unique, interpretation of Mary. This interpretation was more positive as the Stricklands found that Mary fitted Victorian ideals of womanhood more closely than their other subjects due to her modest, charitable and pious nature. So they, somewhat anachronistically, presented Mary as though she were a respectable Victorian woman. This then led the Stricklands to exempt Mary from responsibility for the burnings - circumventing the root of her bloody reputation. They argued that because Mary was a good submissive wife, her husband, Philip seized power and initiated the burnings. Therefore the Strickland sisters’ work attempted to salvage Mary’s reputation because it presented her as a figure that their contemporaries could relate to and Philip as responsible for the burnings.

Portrait of Agnes Strickland by John Hayes
c. 1846
However the fact that the Stricklands were female writers in an age of inequality marred their success. While their work was hugely popular with many readers in the Victorian era and gained the respect of some historians, such as Fran├žois Guizot, it was criticised by several male writers who were unwilling to take female writers seriously. The Stricklands faced much hostility and condescending criticism with one male writer describing her “in the...British Museum...carrying her notes in a little bag like any ordinary womankind...instead of a slow succession of elaborate volumes full of...accuracy and importance, it is a shower of pretty books...dainty  and personal, that fall from her hands. In short, it is not Edward Gibbon [a notable historian and MP], but Agnes Strickland, who introduces to our households the reduced pretension of the historic muse.”  Attitudes such as these meant that the Stricklands’ work did not have a significant impact on Mary’s reputation, particularly in academia, because it was not taken seriously by several of the period’s notable historians.

James Froude was another historian who wrote about Mary; volume six of his ‘History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada’, published in 1860, documented her reign. However, ultimately this was to the detriment of her reputation. Froude acknowledged that Mary was not naturally vindictive but he takes the ‘little woman’ approach  in arguing that the burnings of her reign occurred due to an unstable woman afflicted by a series of personal tragedies being thrust into a position of power. He suggests that Mary became self-deluded after her miraculous accession, believing that she had a divine purpose to restore Catholicism and overcome heresy. He illustrates this point by focusing on the phantom pregnancies that Mary suffered as he sees them as accelerating her descent into hysteria. Froude describes a pitiful figure who “would sit upon the floor, with her knees drawn up to her face, in an agony of doubt”.  He concludes that this doubt led her to believe that God was punishing her for not eradicating heresy in her kingdom so the burnings were renewed with vigour on her orders. Mary’s hysteria is also seen as the cause of the loss of Calais in 1558 as her indecisiveness allowed the French to seize the city. Calais had been the pinnacle of English pride because it was England’s last remaining French possession from the Plantagenet conquests of the Hundred Years’ War. The loss of Calais severely wounded English pride and fuelled the development of Mary’s reputation as it was used to demonstrate her ineptitude. It has also been used to demonstrate her lack of compassion as, famously, on her deathbed she supposedly expressed regret at the loss of Calais, saying that “When I am dead and opened you shall find Calais lying in my heart”.  So critics have marvelled at her apparent regret for a material possession but lack of remorse over the burnings. However there is no evidence that she actually uttered these words.  Therefore in the nineteenth century Mary’s personal tragedies and resulting hysteria were seen as the cause of her losing Calais and sanctioning the burnings, which Froude concluded “swathed her name in the horrid epithet which will cling to it forever.”

Chalk portrait of Froude by John Edward
Goodall c.1890
It is clear that Froude believed that Mary’s reputation could not be salvaged and his damning verdict of her as a hysterical bigot gave her reputation a tragic cast. Froude’s work was criticised by some academics, but it became a best-seller as it tapped into public feeling through its portrayal of Protestant England emerging from the shadow of Catholic Europe.  Its popularity influenced two further works which served to cement Mary’s reputation for the next century. One of these works was Tennyson’s play ‘Queen Mary: A Drama’, written in 1875, which portrayed Mary as hysterical and responsible for the burnings. The play ran for 23 performances with Philip II played by Henry Irving, whose fame drew large crowds to the early performances. The play reinforced people’s perception of Mary because the figure wailing and weeping on the stage before them corresponded strongly to historical works of the time. The strength of its impact is evident from the way that Froude told Tennyson that the play “hit a more fatal blow than a thousand pamphleteers”,  however Froude is hardly an impartial observer as in complementing the play he was also flattering himself. A twentieth century work of a very different nature was also heavily influenced by Froude; this was Arthur Dickens’ textbook on the reformation published in 1964. This book was very influential as it was used extensively in English schools and universities between the 1960s and 1990s, so several generations of students were taught ideas about Mary that were similar to Froude’s from the 1800s. Therefore Froude’s work influenced people’s perceptions of Mary from 1860 to the 1990s, ensuring the survival of Mary’s bloody reputation.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Part 2: Can Mary I's reputation be salvaged?

As promised here is the next section of my work on Mary I's reputation. This section considers the origins of Mary's reputation and its descent from Tudor queen to bloody tyrant.

Origins of Mary I's reputation: 

Protestant scholar and clergyman, John Foxe.
Line engraving by George Glover c.1641
The origins of Mary’s reputation can be traced back to the Elizabethan era and the publication of John Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’, which was completed in 1559. The Book of Martyrs was originally written by Foxe as a historical work of martyrology that documented the sufferings of Protestant martyrs and set out to detail the historical legitimacy of the Protestant Church[1], which Catholics derided for its youth and lack of distinct origins. Foxe places emphasis on the martyrdoms of Mary’s reign - the Marian martyrdoms - with three of the twelve volumes covering the burnings of 1554-58. These have served as key tools in the formation of Mary’s bloody reputation because they detail the gruesome deaths of the martyrs and the brutality of the Marian government; leading to Mary being portrayed as the figurehead of a period of extreme cruelty. A particularly horrific and emotive account of the Marian burnings is the case of Perotine Massey on Guernsey. Massey was charged with “forsaking the mass and ordinances of the same, against the will of...the Queen”[2] and condemned as a heretic to be burnt. However during her execution there was a further twist as Massey gave birth at the stake. The child was pulled to safety by an onlooker, but the officiating bailiff in an extreme act of cruelty ordered that the child be thrown back into the flames to perish with its mother. Even for the sixteenth century where religious persecution and execution was commonplace this was an unprecedented act of brutality so it served to shock people and associate severe cruelty with Mary and her government. Therefore the meticulous documentation of the martyrdoms associated Mary with cruelty, and contributed to the formation of her bloody reputation because she was seen to have permitted and encouraged the horrific persecutions of her reign.

Statue of John Knox outside New College,
Edinburgh University's School of Divinity
Interestingly throughout the work Foxe does not depict Mary herself as bloody, rather he bemoans “the horrible and bloudye tyme of Queene Marye”[3]. He argued that Mary’s Catholicism left her vulnerable to manipulation by her clergy who were “pests...who pervert[ed] the minds of princes, and encourage[d] cruelty for their own purposes”[4]; so Foxe holds her advisors responsible. While Foxe absolved Mary other Protestant writers did not. John Knox in ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’, a misogynist work that argued that female rule goes against God, was particularly critical. He furthered the traditional argument that women were incapable of ruling because God made them inferior to men so if given power they would become cruel, sexually predatory tyrants. He used Mary as an example throughout, claiming that the burnings were caused by “the inordinate appetites of that cruel monster Mary (unworthy, by reason of her bloody tyranny, of the name of a woman)”[5]. This is one of the earliest references to Mary as bloody and Knox is clearly suggesting that Mary initiated the burnings due to her personal vindictiveness, which links to his argument that power unleashes cruelty in women. To an extent this work represents the commonplace sixteenth century view of women as weak and inferior to men so it seems likely that others would have agreed with Knox; although Knox’s views are particularly extreme. Therefore to an extent attitudes towards women meant that Mary was blamed for the persecutions documented in The Book of Martyrs, despite Foxe’s absolution of her.

Unlike The Book of Martyrs, which was supported by the Privy Council who declared in 1569 that every parish should have a copy, The First Blast was less popular due to the death of Mary and accession of Protestant Elizabeth shortly after its publication in 1558. The Elizabethan regime banned it, and its author[6], from England due to it denigrating female rulers and therefore being an insult to the queen. On the other hand The Book of Martyrs was supported by the government because it condemned the previous Catholic regime and emphasised the legitimacy of Protestantism, which Mary’s successor was beginning to re-establish. It was often used as a tool by the Elizabethan regime, and later regimes, as a way of stirring up anti-Catholicism and therefore animosity towards Mary. Its use for this purpose was further refined after the publication of Timothy Bright’s abridgement in 1589, which transformed the work into a piece of Protestant nationalist propaganda with a preface entitled ‘The Special Note of England’ that celebrated the English Reformation[7]. This abridgement was published shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada so it tapped into the growing feeling of English nationalism. Similarly new editions of the original work were published after religious conflicts to emphasise the dangers of Catholicism, such as the eighth edition of The Book of Martyrs published in 1641after the Irish Rebellion where Irish Catholics had violently rebelled against the Protestant English administration. Therefore successive Protestant governments used The Book of Martyrs to emphasise their legitimacy and the dangers of Catholicism, leading to the Marian martyrdoms being kept in the public consciousness and the continued vilification of Mary. 

Bloody Mary? Image used in the
London Dungeon's adverts for their
2010 'Bloody Mary' exhibit
The Book of Martyrs’ success is also connected to the fact that to a large extent it is historically accurate. Despite Foxe writing it in exile many of his sources were from eyewitnesses and the families of martyrs in England so the tales of martyrdoms are often detailed as well as accurate. In the face of this powerful work Catholic writers, such as Nicholas Harpsfield, tried to defend Mary’s reputation by highlighting errors in the work in an attempt to undermine Foxe’s credibility. However these attempts were relatively unsuccessful as Foxe went on to include the corrections in later editions, preserving its accuracy. This undeniable degree of accuracy in Foxe’s work has led to it being an invaluable source for historians and writers from the sixteenth century to the present day. In the seventeenth century it was used as the basis for popular plays, such as Thomas Dekker’s ‘The Whore of Babylon’ which was written shortly after the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and was strongly anti-Catholic[8] and Thomas Heywood’s ‘If you know not me’, published in 1604, which presented Mary as dogmatic and uncaring.[9] Theatre was a powerful medium in an age of mass illiteracy so these plays served to colour people’s opinion of Mary as a bloody, Catholic tyrant. The tide of seventeenth century Protestant works against Mary then laid the foundations for later historians to further develop her bloody reputation, with David Hume in the eighteenth century listing her traits as “Obstinacy, bigotry, cruelty, malignity, revenge [and] tyranny”.[10] This demonstrates how within two hundred years of her death Mary’s reputation as a cruel tyrant had formed and become accepted by academics and individuals, and how ultimately this reputation stemmed from The Book of Martyrs and the religious/political climate following her death in 1558.

[1] ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’ In Our Time BBC Radio 4 (18th November 2010)
[2] Letter from the Bailiff’s Lieutenant and Curates of St Peter’s Port to the Dean and Curates of Guernsey in Vol 12 of The Book of Martyrs 1576
[3] Foxe, John The Book of Martyrs 1563 p 889
[4] Letter from Foxe to the House of Lords in 1554 in John Strype Memorials of...Thomas Cranmer p 937
[5] Knox, John The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, edited by Edward Arber p 67
[6] Knox, John The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women
[7] Devereux, Janice ‘The Internet Connection: Claiming John Foxe as their Own. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs on the World Wide Web’ p 272 in John Foxe at Home and Abroad ed. David Loades
[8] Krantz, Susan E Thomas Dekker’s Political Commentary in The Whore of Babylon on JSTOR
[9] Heywood, Thomas ‘If you know not me you know nobody’ in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Heywood
[10] Hume, David The History of the Revolution of 1688 Vol.3 p 19

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Part 1: Can Mary I's reputation be salvaged?

Mary I of England, English School after Antonis Mor c.1569

This is the first in a series of posts based on a dissertation that I wrote over the course of this year concerned with analysing the dynamic nature of Mary I's reputation and whether it would be possible for her reputation to be salvaged. This first post is just a brief introduction (it seemed better to post it in chunks rather than as a huge block of text!) and I hope that you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

In 1553 Mary Tudor became the first crowned Queen regnant of England and one could be forgiven for thinking that such an achievement would be celebrated in English history. This, however, has not been the case due to Mary’s reputation which has evolved over the centuries to spread a bloody stain over her reign and character.

Born in 1516 as the only surviving child of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, Mary entered into the vibrant era of renaissance and reformation. She was given a rigorous education crafted by the renowned scholar Juan Luis Vives, which gave her fluency in three languages and an unyielding devotion to Catholicism. This devotion was honed throughout Mary’s turbulent life, such as during her parents’ divorce in the 1530s when she was bastardised, forbidden access to her mother and threatened with execution if she did not comply with her father’s religious reforms; and during her brother, Edward VI’s reign when she was again threatened with execution on account of her Catholicism. These events were to haunt Mary for the rest of her life, leading some such as the historian A G Dickens to describe her as ‘the prisoner of a sorrowful past’[1] and others to conclude that she was psychologically scarred. Despite this Mary was triumphantly crowned Queen of England in October 1553, allowing her to reverse the Protestant reforms of Edward VI and restore Catholicism in England. This restoration has been very controversial due to the persecution and burning of 284 Protestants[2] that occurred as part of religious policy in her reign. 

The influence of Mary’s early education is evident because, as queen, Mary took Veritas temporis filia - ‘Truth is the daughter of time’ - as her personal motto, which came from one of Vives’ works.[3] Time, however, has not been kind to Mary. From the moment of her death in 1558 onwards her reputation has been twisted in the hands of time, branding her with the sobriquet ‘Bloody Mary’. It is a reputation that has been 400 years in the making and, while durable, the truth behind it is questionable. Over the years her reputation has been challenged, and more recently there have been several attempts, of varying success, to salvage Mary’s reputation.


[1] Duffy, Eamon Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor p3
[2] Starkey, David ’Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor by Eamon Duffy’ The Sunday Times review (14th July 2009)
[3] Edwards, John Mary Tudor: England’s Catholic Queen p 11

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Burial of Katherine of Aragon

Portrait of Katherine c.1520 by an unknown artist
Having breathed her last on the 7th January in banishment at Kimbolton Castle in the Cambridgeshire fens Katherine of Aragon was laid to rest on this day in 1536. Her body had been treated by an embalmer who "found all the internal organs as healthy and normal as possible, with the exception of the heart, which was quite black and hideous to behold". Investigating this further he dissected her heart, washed it through and examined the black growth clinging to its outside. Its strange appearance led some contemporaries to conclude that she had been poisoned, although modern medical opinions have indicated that a secondary melanotic sarcoma is a more likely cause. So it seems as though Katherine died of a broken heart.

Peterborough Cathedral
Katherine had wished to be buried in the Chapel of the Observant Friars with appropriate respect paid to her position as Queen of England, which she had died staunchly professing herself to be despite Cranmer's pronouncement on her marriage. Sadly her wishes were not respected and Henry VIII ordered that she be interred in Peterborough Abbey (as it was then known) as Dowager Princess of Wales. The funeral was an elaborate and solemn affair with the royal banners of both England and Spain being displayed and Francis Brandon, daughter of the Duke of Suffolk, acting as chief mourner. Katherine's daughter Mary was not allowed to attend and her close friend Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, refused to attend due to her not being buried as Queen.

In 1541 after the Dissolution of the Monasteries Peterborough was deprived of its status as an abbey but it was made the Cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Peterborough, allowing it to survive and prosper. Some say that Henry VIII chose to save Peterborough out of lingering respect and affection for the woman that he spent over twenty years of his life with.

Katherine's tomb lies in the North Presbytery Aisle, to the left of the altar and in place of any grand monument or effigy she lies beneath a plain granite slab. In the early 20th century Mary of Teck ordered the royal arms of England and Spain to be displayed above her tomb, and they are there to this day, proudly declaring her pedigree. The railings behind her tomb are decorated with large gold letters declaring that it is the resting place of 'Katherine the Queen', defying Henry VIII's desperate attempts to deny her the title of queen. Affection for this neglected Queen has passed down through the centuries with Englishwomen also named Katherine raising money in the 19th century to replace the stone on her tomb and to hang a wooden plaque which declares her to be "A queen cherished by the English people for her loyalty, piety, courage and compassion". Evidence of her being 'cherished' is further shown through the Katherine of Aragon Festival which is held in Peterborough ever year in late January (for more information click here) and the way that her tomb is usually surrounded by floral tributes and pomegranates.

Further reading:
- Sister Queens by Julia Fox
- Catherine of Aragon by Giles Tremlett
- Catherine of Aragon by Garret Mattingly
Katherine's tomb in Peterborough Cathedral

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

15 Facts about Mary I

Portrait of Mary aged 9
1) Mary was born on the 18th February 1516 and was the only surviving child of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.

2) She was named after Henry VIII's favourite sister.

3) She was fluent in Latin, French, Spanish and could read/write in Italian.

4) Despite often being considered as a bitter old spinster Mary had over 11 suitors throughout her life including: Francis, Dauphin of France; Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor; James V, King of Scotland; Charles, Duke of Orleans; Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon; Reginald Pole; Thomas Seymour; Philip, Duke of Bavaria; Dom Luis of Portugal; William, Duke of Cleves and Philip II, King of Spain (who she actually married).
The chair that Mary is said to
have sat on at her wedding in 1554
(in a collection at Winchester Cathedral)

5) She seems to have been the virtuoso of the Tudor family; excelling at the spinet, lute and virginals. She first performed at the virginals aged four for the French ambassadors to great acclaim and is thought to have taught her younger sister Elizabeth.

6) In 1523 the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives wrote his book 'The Education of a Christian Woman' as a guide for constructing a curriculum for Mary's education.

7) She was the first crowned Queen regnant of England.

Portrait of Mary aged 28
8) She was very charitable. In the memoirs of her close friend Jane Dormer, Jane describes how Mary would go into poor areas of her kingdom to visit the people in their homes and give alms while dressed as a lady of the court in order to conceal her identity.

9) While visiting the royal court, aged two, Mary ran after Dionysius Memo, a Venetian organist, shouting "Priest! Priest!" to get him to play for her.

10) Mary was a keen gambler (though not always a good one) at one point she was spending almost a third of her income on gambling and in 1540 she had to bet the next day's breakfast after she lost her money.

Woodcut from Foxes' Book of
Martyrs showing the burning of
Bishop Farrar in 1555
11) Her favourite foods were wild boar and strawberries, with people often sending them to her as gifts.

12) She was a very devout Catholic who would hear mass several times a day and over the course of her brief reign 283 Protestants were burned at the stake for heresy leading to her becoming known as 'Bloody Mary'.

13) Despite her devotion to Catholicism she was close friends with several notable Protestants, such as Anne Stanhope. Anne was the wife of Edward Seymour and a keen reformer who gave patronage to several Protestant writers but she had a reputation for being incredibly proud, arrogant and snobbish which put her at odds with many people including Katheryn Parr who referred to Anne as "that Hell" ('Hell' being Tudor slang for the vagina...) Despite their differing religious views and personalities Mary and Anne were close friends with Mary affectionately referring to Anne in letters as her "good gossip Nan".

Stunning replica of Mary's wedding dress which was
made for the 450th anniversary of her marriage at a cost
of £3,000.
14)  She became very short-sighted in later life so she had to squint/stare to see things properly. This led to the Venetian ambassador reporting that "her eyes are so piercing that they inspire not only respect, but fear in those on whom she fixes them".

15) She was a bit of a fashionista. Mary adored sumptuous fabrics and jewels with her accounts demonstrating the huge sums of money she spent on clothes cut in the latest European styles. After her death her collection of jewelry and clothes was passed on to Elizabeth who reused some of the gowns, such as Mary's coronation robes.