She’s been feared throughout history, the subject of children’s horror tales and even has a blood-coloured cocktail named after her. But I’ve always thought Mary I (‘Bloody Mary’) has been unfairly maligned in the history books. And I was convinced of this after reading more about her and visiting her tomb at Westminster Abbey. Mary I, the first daughter of Henry VIII with his first wife Catherine of Aragon, was shunned by her Father and taken out of the line of succession and declared illegitimate once he had divorced her mother and married Anne Boleyn. She was then demoted to ‘Lady Mary’ rather than ‘Princess Mary’. She was sent to live with and help take care of her new half sister Elizabeth and she was banned from seeing her Mother ever again. When her Mother died, she was banned from attending her funeral.
Mary was in her early adolescence when her world was turned upside down like this. She had gone from being a beloved and spoiled child of her parents to being completely separated from them and abandoned by her Father, and usurped by first, her half sister Elizabeth, and then later, her half brother Edward. When Edward became King upon her Father’s death, he would tease and mock Mary for her Catholic beliefs.
It is little wonder that she started suffering from health problems from that point on. Her marriage to King Philip of Spain was not a happy one and she suffered from frequent phantom pregnancies. Philip did not marry her for love, although she was very much in love with him. She died at the age of 42, after many years of pain. Probably of uterine cancer.
She is famous for executing heretics during her reign. But the truth is, Henry VIII, her father, and Elizabeth I, her sister, executed just as many heretics. Why are they not known as ‘Bloody Henry’ or ‘Bloody Elizabeth’? Yes they ruled for longer, and achieved huge changes in their realms and attained wealth that have affected us to this day. but I think the truth is - they were Protestant monarchs. Mary was a Catholic. Had Britain stayed a Catholic country, I suspect things would be quite different.
The saddest thing I find about Mary is that even in death she wasn’t respected. She wanted to be buried with her Mother. But she wasn’t. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, was not given an effigy, and her sister Elizabeth was eventually put into the same tomb with her upon her death. Now, if you visit the tomb, you will see Elizabeth’s effigy, and just a marker to inform you that Mary is also there. A photo of it I took on my visit is posted above.
Although her reputation has improved amongst historians and scholars over the years, I think it’s high time Mary got the respect she deserves. She was the first ever English Queen regnant. Many of Elizabeth's accomplishments during her reign were actually started during Mary's reign. Even in television and film representations, she is often portrayed as bitter and vengeful. But Bloody Mary had a reason to be 'bloody' if indeed she can be called that…and we should acknowledge that.