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'
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|
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|