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Mary I

(1516—1558) queen of England and Ireland


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(1516–58),

queen of England (1553–8). Few lives can have been sadder nor few reigns more disastrous than that of Mary Tudor. From birth she was a pawn in the diplomatic game and in 1518, at the age of 2, was betrothed to the dauphin of France. But two years later there was a marriage treaty with the Emperor Charles V and by 1523 rumours that she was to marry James V of Scotland. By this time the shadow of her father's possible divorce was falling across her.

The effect of the annulment of her parents' marriage in 1533 was shattering. In the hard dynastic world of 16th‐cent. Europe, her matrimonial prospects plummeted. Worse followed. The execution of Anne Boleyn and her father's remarriage to Jane Seymour brought no respite, since the king continued to demand that she acknowledge that her mother's marriage had been invalid. But in June 1537, with the assistance of Thomas Cromwell, she submitted, was granted her own household again, and restored to precarious favour. The birth of a half‐brother Edward in October 1537 appeared to remove any chance that she would ever be queen.

The remaining years of Henry's life were quieter for Mary and she was on good terms with his last wife, Catherine Parr. In 1543 a statute restored Mary to the succession, after Prince Edward and any children Catherine Parr might have. From 1547 Edward VI's reign brought new trials. The king's two chief advisers, Somerset and Northumberland, promoted protestant doctrines and the young king grew up an eager reformer. When the Act of Uniformity of 1549 forbade the use of the mass, Mary continued to hear it and was warned. In March 1551 Edward summoned her before the council, declared that he ‘could not bear it’, and was told in reply that ‘her soul was God's and her faith she would not change’. Her release from this stalemate came with the first signs of the illness that killed Edward on 6 July 1553.

Even then, Mary's succession was by no means certain. Edward had declared Lady Jane Grey his heir and on 9 July she was proclaimed queen. Mary had already fled to Kenninghall in East Anglia and on 10 July proclaimed herself queen. Northumberland's support collapsed within days and on 7 August Mary entered London to begin her reign. She was 37. She had triumphed against all odds and she attributed it to her steadfastness in her faith and to the help she had received from her co‐religionists in Europe.

Mary had, as the imperial ambassador Renard pointed out, no experience of government at all. She turned at once to Renard for advice. The twin objectives of her reign were to restore the catholic faith and to negotiate a marriage which would hold out some hope that the succession would not pass to her half‐sister the Princess Elizabeth.

Healing the breach with Rome was not simple. The mass could be celebrated and certain protestant bishops were soon suspended. But many of the ecclesiastical changes had been introduced by statute and would require a parliament to abrogate them. Mary's first Parliament in the autumn of 1553 made a beginning by declaring her mother's marriage legal and by repealing most of Edward VI's religious legislation. But the gentry and aristocracy showed little enthusiasm for disgorging the monastic estates they had acquired.

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Subjects: British History.


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