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.
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.