The fifth child of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, but their only one to survive past infancy, Mary Tudor was born on February 16, 1516. Educated with written instructions from the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives, by an English tutor, Mary I excelled in Latin and was an adept musician like her father.
Mary I was betrothed to Charles V, the king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, at age 6. Although Charles ended the engagement after three years, he remained a lifelong ally. Because Henry desperately wanted a son as heir, he sought permission to end his marriage from the papacy. However, Pope Clement VII refused to grant the annulment and Henry proclaimed himself exempt from papal authority, contending that the king of England should be the sole head of its church.
The Princess made Illegitimate
Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn in 1533 and the two had a daughter, Elizabeth I. Demoted from her own household, Mary I was forced to live with her infant half-sister. In 1536, Mary’s mother Catherine died at her castle in Cambridgeshire; Anne Boleyn was executed for treason, and Mary was forced to deny her own legitimacy as well as the pope’s authority.
Before his death in 1547, Henry VIII married four times. He got a male heir in the future Edward VI from his third wife, Jane Seymour. By Henry’s death, the official order of succession was Edward VI, Mary I, followed by Elizabeth.
Mary I: Path to the throne
For his entire six-year reign, Edward VI remained a minor. The lords of Northumberland and Somerset served as his regents, working to grow his father’s ecclesiastical changes. They also changed the order of succession to favour the Protestants, placing Lady Jane Grey – Henry’s niece – next in line to the throne. However, upon Edward’s death in 1553, Mary had her own succession scheme planned: A military force assembled in her Norfolk estates and proclamations were printed. Urged by Edward’s regents, the Privy Council appointed Jane queen but undid it nine days later in light of Mary’s support.
Mary I: Reign as Queen
After ascending to the throne, Mary I swiftly reinstated her parents’ marriage and had Northumberland executed for his role in the Jane Gray affair. Her first ruling council was a mix of Catholics and Protestants, but as her reign progressed she became increasingly fervent in her desire to restore English Catholicism.
In 1554, Mary I announced her intention to marry the son of Charles V, Prince Phillip of Spain. Mary continued with her plan, despite the choice being unpopular among the Protestants, and she convinced Parliament to approve after Charles agreed to leave Mary I in total control and to keep the throne in English hands if the marriage produced no heirs.
However, their marriage was almost as troubled as her father’s unions. She declared she was pregnant twice and went into seclusion, but no child was born. Finding her unattractive, Phillip spent the majority of his time in Europe.
Mary I: The Protestant Martyrs
Mary I soon progressed from just reversing her father’s and Edward’s anti-Catholic policies to actively persecuting Protestants. She revived England’s heresy laws in 1555 and started burning offenders at the stake, beginning with her father’s longtime advisor the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Nearly 300 convicted heretics, majority of which were common citizens, were burned. Several more perished in prison and about 800 fled to Protestant strongholds in Geneva and Germany.
The events of the reign of Mary I – including efforts at currency reform, expanded international trade and a short war against France that lost England its last French enclave in Calais – were eclipsed by the memory of the so called Marian Persecutions. Following her death in 1558, England swiftly rallied behind England’s second reigning queen, Elizabeth I.