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Who Was Mary Tudor?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Mary Tudor ruled as Queen of England from 1553 until her death in 1558. She is probably best remembered for attempting to restore the Catholic faith to England through a series of proclamations and brutal punishments for heretics. During her reign, she also managed to lose control of Calais in an ill-fated war with France. Upon her death, she was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth.

Mary was born in 1516 to Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. While the king was disappointed at the birth of a daughter, he assumed that he would father a son to take the British throne at some point, so it was unlikely that Mary would ever take the throne of England. In her youth, Mary received the benefit of an excellent education, becoming a talented musician as well as a well-read women who spoke and wrote in multiple languages. Unfortunately for Mary, however, she fell from favor when her father divorced Catherine of Aragon in favor of Anne Boleyn.

Mary Tudor was declared illegitimate, thanks to the new marriage, and she was banished from court. As her father married and divorced or beheaded a series of wives, Mary's fortunes waxed and waned, until the birth of Edward, who was declared the rightful successor to the throne of England. However, Edward VI's rule was brief; he died in 1553 of tuberculosis, and the followers of Lady Jane Grey attempted to proclaim her queen, blatantly ignoring Mary Tudor's right to the throne. Jane ruled for nine days before Mary Tudor managed to depose her, taking control of the throne.

During her reign, Mary Tudor attempted to lead England away from the Protestant faith, encouraging the British people to return to Catholicism and marrying Phillip II of Spain to cement alliances with the Catholic community. Both of these measures met with considerable opposition from the Protestant community, and Mary's reign was marked by uprisings and minor revolts, many of which were savagely suppressed.

Mary I came to be known as “Bloody Mary,” thanks to her attempts to eliminate Protestantism in England. She burned at least 300 heretics at the stake, including several prominent members of the Protestant community, and spearheaded an effort to drive out heretics and non-Catholics. These efforts came to be known as the Marian Persecutions among the Protestant community.

Mary's Catholic and pro-Spanish stance made her unpopular with many people in England, and this paired with an unhappy marriage to lead to a life which was undoubtedly not very enjoyable. Although Mary Tudor and Phillip II initially got along well, her failure to produce an heir caused friction, as did the steadfast refusal of the Parliament to declare Phillip king. He ultimately ended up returning to Spain, leaving Mary I to attempt to hold her own in England, where she ultimately became sick and died. The disease which caused Mary's death is not known, although she was plagued by stomach pains and the loss of her eyesight, leading some historians to suspect that she had a tumor of some form.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon292954 — On Sep 23, 2012

Does anyone have any evidence of her not deserving to be called Bloody Mary?

By LilDub — On May 13, 2011

Showtime's series, "The Tudors," is a fun, though not completely accurate, chronicle of the Henry VIII time period. Mary Tudor is a prominent character in many episodes and generates a great amount of sympathy, in my opinion. The series stops once Henry dies, so the "Bloody Mary" period is not seen. But as a young woman she was quite intelligent and well-intentioned.

For some reason the series doesn't use Henry's younger sister Mary Tudor (the above Mary Tudor's namesake), possibly for the sake of confusion. They instead place Henry's older sister, Margaret, in the context of Mary's life. She marries the people Mary was betrothed to in real life, therefore Margaret's actual story is never told.

By MsSears — On May 12, 2011

Interestingly enough, the namesake for the Mary Tudor in this article, was Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary Tudor. She was briefly the Queen of France through her marriage to Louis XII. After he died, she secretly married Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk and a friend of King Henry VIII. They produced several children, including the mother of the Lady Jane Grey, the "Nine Days Queen," whom "Bloody Mary" Tudor deposed. Quite a complicated family!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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