History has portrayed Mary Tudor as “Bloody Mary,” the maligned monarch with a passion for burning heretics and an obsession with restoring England’s relationship with the Catholic Church. Queen Mary’s reign has long been overshadowed by that of her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I, despite Mary being the first woman in England’s history to inherit the throne. Anna Whitelock sets out to redeem Queen Mary’s reputation in Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen, an engrossing account of her tumultuous life and how it impacted her role as monarch.
As the daughter of King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor lived a charmed life for a time. She was well educated, had impeccable manners, and enchanted royals and courtiers alike with her musical and dancing talents. She was adored by her parents. A marriage contract was made for Mary before she was even three. In every way, she was a princess.
Enter Anne Boleyn. As her father’s affection for “the Concubine” grew, Mary found her status diminished. She was shunned from court and from her father’s affections. She was separated from her mother and downgraded from Princess Mary to Lady Mary. She was declared a bastard since her parents’ marriage was deemed illegitimate. She was no longer an heir to the throne. Mary’s Catholic faith –once the faith of England – was even rejected in favor of the new Church of England.
Henry would only allow Mary back into his good graces if she acknowledged that her parents’ marriage was invalid, that she was a bastard, and that her father – and not the pope - was head of the church. Initially, she refused to go against her conscience. Henry couldn’t break her, try as he might. Instead, he would only fuel her defiance. Only under the threat of death would she finally submit, and that was the defining moment of Mary’s life that set the tone for her reign.
Given the tragedies that Mary faced and her troubles as queen – with her phantom pregnancies, a mostly absent husband, and constant plots against her – it’s not difficult to see how Mary Tudor became “Bloody Mary.” Yet Whitelock demonstrates that Mary was a queen who truly loved her subjects and believed that purging England of heresy was for the good of all. Mary Tudor leaves little doubt that Mary’s heart was in the right place, even if history’s lens views her reign as a dark chapter in England’s history.