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