Queen Mary I controversies

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Mary I
Historical Controversies
about Mary I

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See also : How Bloody was Mary?

Why was she called "Bloody Mary"?

The works of church historians rarely influence history itself, but John Foxe's Acts and Monuments of Matters Happening to the Church—commonly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs—is the exception that proves the rule.

"It is hard to overemphasize the impact his Acts and Monuments had the 20 years following its 1563 publication," writes one Tudor historian David Loades. "By the second edition (1570), it was part of the national myth … Foxe provided both a history and theology for the triumph of the Reformation."

When Catholic Mary ascended the throne, Foxe fled to the Continent. There he met John Knox and other Protestant refugees, supporting himself as a printer. In 1554 Foxe published his research in a Latin martyrology of 212 pages. Mary's persecution of English Protestants, many of whom were Foxe's friends, forced him to begin a revision immediately.

With Protestant sympathizer Elizabeth's accession to the throne, Foxe returned to England and to the service of one of his former pupils, now the Duke of Norfolk. He worked with printer John Day to produce in 1563 an English version of his masterwork, now about 1,800 pages. It was a striking volume with extensive documentation, stirring narrative, and horrifying woodcut illustrations, including accounts of many of the 300 martyrs of Mary's reign. Foxe wanted to demonstrate to readers how the church, despite all manner of trial and persecution, "hath yet endured and holden its own! What storms and tempests it hath overpast, wondrous it is to behold."

Factual errors and a polemic style, however, made it controversial, especially regarding his treatment of the previous English queen: "We earnestly pray that the annals of no country, Catholic or pagan," Foxe wrote, "may ever be stained with such a repetition of human sacrifices to papal power, and that the detestation in which the character of Mary is holden may be a beacon to succeeding monarchs to avoid the rocks of fanaticism!"
Foxe's writings were one reason the Catholic queen later became known as "Bloody" Mary.

Since the book contained dramatic accounts of so many Protestant martyrs, it worked as a powerful support for Elizabeth's Protestant establishment. The 1570 edition (revised and enlarged to some 2,500 pages, covering the history of persecution from the early church on) was ordered displayed in every church, common hall, and college. Historian Douglass Campbell commented, "When one recollects that until the appearance of Pilgrim's Progress the common people had almost no other reading matter except the Bible and Foxe's Book of Martyrs, we can understand the deep impression that this book produced. Those who could read for themselves learned the full details of all the atrocities performed on the Protestant reformers; the illiterate could see the rude illustrations of the various instruments of torture, the rack, the gridiron, the boiling oil, and then the holy ones breathing out their souls amid the flames."[Source: <a class="external" href="http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/scholarsandscientists/foxe.html" rel="nofollow" target="_blank" title="Christian History.net">Christian History.net</a>]

The Marian Persecutions and Thomas Cranmer in particular :

The steps leading to Cranmer's execution were very exceptional since the Marian Church did let people go if they recanted their Protestantism.

There hasn't been a case where an individual who had recanted was still sent to the stake. His death was unlawful as under church guidelines a repented heretic who embraced the Church was not to be punished with the flames. Why Mary chose to persecute him is a matter of some debate.

Did Mary blame him for her mother's humiliation and the fact that she had been bastardised as it was he who announced the annulment of her parent's marriage?

Was it because she saw him as a figurehead for the Protestant Edwardian Reformation or for political reasons, she saw him as a liability?

Did she believe it was her 'duty' to remove him as she felt he was not being sincere in his recantation?

Despite her reasons, her decision was unwise as she could have exploited Cranmer's recantation. Instead she made him into a martyr and thus strengthened the Protestant cause.

What Happened with the Phantom Pregnancy?
<embed align="left" height="350" src="http://widget.wetpaintserv.us/wiki/thetudorswiki/widget/youtubevideo/c684cee06d20598c85b1975e98cd1c201a31ecda" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="425" wmode="transparent"/>

An interesting clip from the Documentary "Royal Deaths & Diseases" featuring historian John Guy relating the facts about Mary's phantom pregnancy.
There’s Something About Bloody Mary...
Mary I, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s only surviving child, was the first Queen Regnant of England, Ireland, and Wales, acclaimed, crowned, and anointed in spite of an attempt to change the succession after Edward VI’s death. Yet John Foxe indirectly gave her a nickname that has obscured her achievement as Queen Regnant, highlighted in two of the titles listed below, for centuries: “Bloody Mary.”

Three new biographies (<a class="external" href="http://www.amazon.com/First-Queen-England-Myth-Bloody/dp/0312368372?tag=firstthings-20-20" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary”</a> by Linda Porter; <a class="external" href="http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Tudor-Routledge-Historical-Biographies/dp/0415327210?tag=firstthings-20-20" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Mary Tudor </a>by Judith Richards; and <a class="external" href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mary-Tudor-Englands-First-Queen/dp/1408803577?tag=firstthings-20-20" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen</a> by Anna Whitelock) and two new studies of her life and her reign (<a class="external" href="http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Tudor-Old-New-Perspectives/dp/0230004636?tag=firstthings-20-20" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Mary Tudor: Old and New Perspectives</a>, edited by Susan Doran and Thomas S. Freeman; and <a class="external" href="http://www.amazon.com/Fires-Faith-Catholic-England-under/dp/0300152167?tag=firstthings-20-20" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor</a> by Eamon Duffy) offer similar reactions and common themes to the dichotomy between her achievement and her notorious nickname. The biographies recount her struggles growing up while her father denied the validity of his marriage to her mother, making her illegitimate and forcing her to swear an oath that betrayed her mother and her faith, thus presenting some grounds for sympathy with her personal life. All three biographers note the surprise and discouragement of their friends and colleagues when they announced their intention to write about Mary Tudor.

Porter and Whitelock write for a more mainstream audience, setting scenes and imagining Mary’s emotions—but never carrying any conjecture too far—while Richards limits her description of events to documented evidence. Richards addresses how Mary assured her role as Queen of England was not diluted by the presence of her consort, Prince Philip of Spain who was never crowned in England, and Whitelock emphasizes her Spanish background and Catholic loyalty, while Porter highlights her love of fine clothing, jewels, and furs and how they demonstrated her authority and power.

The studies acknowledge previous historical judgments while offering new interpretations, as the title of Susan Doran and Thomas S. Freeman’s book clearly demonstrates. As the publisher’s description states: “Reappraising aspects of her reign that have been misrepresented the book creates a more balanced, objective portrait of England’s last Catholic, and first female, monarch.” The volume features essays by two of the biographers mentioned above, Richards and Whitelock. Eamon Duffy directly addresses common criticisms of the Marian revival of Catholicism by A.G. Dickens, D.M. Loades and others when offering his interpretation of that aspect of Mary’s reign.

Why so much attention now on this queen, whom many historians and common opinion have written off as an anomaly the history of English monacrchy—bigoted, cruel, and foreign? Part of it must be the overall fascination with the Tudor dynasty. Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn, and Henry’s other spouses have been studied enough: It’s just Mary’s turn—and a new interpretation of her old story will provoke interest

I propose that the attention is more securely founded upon the revisionist history of the English Reformation. The work of Eamon Duffy, Christopher Haigh, John Bossy, Alison Shell, and others have demonstrated, at least, that the English Reformation was not the break with the past the Whig historical myth of progress in English history proclaimed. Some English people wanted to remain Catholic; they wanted the Mass, devotion to Mary and the saints, prayer for the dead, and the monasteries to stay open, and they did not like the religious changes Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I legislated and forced on them. The history of rebellion, resistance, and recusancy throughout those reigns represents a clear pattern.

Then what was the role of Mary I’s reign in this history of religious change? Was it just another religious swing back and forth during the Tudor dynasty? Was her re-establishment of Catholicism simply a revival of the Middle Ages without consideration of the efforts of the Council of Trent and the counter-reformation movement?

Eamon Duffy answers that last question with a well documented, cogently argued, “not hardly.” Reginald Cardinal Pole, who came within a few votes of being elected pope in 1549, led the Catholic revival in terms Thomas More, John Fisher, John Colet, and Erasmus would have understood: centered on the sacraments, Sacred Scripture and tradition, homilies and catechesis, humanist learning. Duffy’s book focuses on Pole’s program for reform and renewal that anticipated the Council of Trent: diocesan seminaries, resident bishops, a comprehensive catechism—even tabernacles on altars and an English translation of the Holy Bible.

More controversially, especially to British reviewers, Duffy argues that the regime’s program of arresting, trying, and burning heretics alive at the stake might have been working. Duffy asserts that the regime addressed the propaganda issues with sermons at Smithfield and Oxford, and warns us against taking John Foxe’s <a class="external" href="http://www.amazon.com/Monuments-Containing-History-Sufferings-Martyrs/dp/1417946113?tag=firstthings-20-20" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Acts and Monuments/Book of Martyrs</a> at face value. He points out that the number of heretics and of self-proclaimed Protestants in England was declining, either through conformity or exile. From our perspective that’s not the right way to achieve those goals, but Duffy responds that in the context of that era, this was an accepted method of dealing with heresy as a threat to the common good. He adds that torture and execution by hanging, drawing, and quartering aren’t humane methods of dealing with recusancy and dissent (but we don’t call Mary’s half-sister “Bloody Bess”), even though the later regime called it treason.

Even without the debate about the burnings, was this reign just an interlude in the history of a nation destined to be Protestant? Was the restoration of Catholicism in England doomed from the start—and not just because Mary and Cardinal Pole just didn’t have enough time? That is the harder question to answer.

In the final chapter of Fires of Faith, Duffy summarizes how Pole’s program succeeded in establishing a legacy of bishops and exiles who upheld the Catholic faith. He had selected new bishops and strengthened bishops from the last reign. Just before Elizabeth came to the throne, crowned and anointed in the pattern her sister established, the Convocation of Bishops clearly stated their belief in crucial Catholic doctrines: the Real Presence, the sacrifice of the Mass, transubstantiation, the primacy of the pope, and the unity of the Church. Only one of Pole’s bishops accepted Elizabeth’s supremacy over the Church of England; all but one of William Warham’s had accepted Henry VIII’s (John Fisher, cardinal archbishop of Rochester and martyr). That’s quite a mark of success, turning around the hierarchy. He also inspired Oxford men like William Allen to use their exile to prepare English priests as missionaries to their own people, paving the way for Campion, Southwell, Walpole and so many others, firmly obedient to the pope and ready to die for their faith.

What role did Mary play? Duffy’s focus is on Reginald Pole, but Judith Richards provides some surprising answers—surprising if one has the standard view of “Bloody Mary.” As a young girl, she had received a modern humanist education, supervised by her then-doting father and ever-supportive mother; she was intelligent, adept with languages (translating Erasmus for her step-mother Catherine Parr), a talented musician and dancer. Mary’s practice of her Catholic faith ironically patterned after her father, centered on the Eucharist and the Mass; she did not go on pilgrimages or pray at shrines, two features of late-Medieval Catholicism. She supported the English translation of the Bible and the effective reorganization of the Catholic hierarchy in England—even disobeying the pope when he recalled her archbishop of Canterbury to Rome to face charges of heresy because she needed him in England.

Richards states that Mary was unusually forgiving for a monarch, refusing to have Lady Jane Grey executed immediately upon reclaiming her throne and pardoning many of Thomas Wyatt’s supporters. All three biographers depict her as kind, gentle, and brave, not at all the cruel, repressed and fearful woman John Foxe and others describe. Duffy and Richards agree that Mary’s one great act of vengeance was against Thomas Cranmer who divorced her parents, reduced her to bastardy, and broke her mother’s heart. He could have been beheaded for his support of Lady Jane Grey, but she wanted him punished for his crimes against the Catholic faith. Even though Cranmer recanted, he was sentenced to death by burning so he recanted again to return to the Protestant faith. But none of the biographers can absolve Mary from the ultimate responsibility, as Queen Regnant, for the burnings.

This reevaluation has inspired some historical conjecture of what might have been—an ultimately disappointing exercise, since it wasn’t. Perhaps if Mary and Pole could have lived a little longer and executed all their plans for formation, catechesis, and reform, Elizabeth would have had to accept Catholicism in England and could not have established the via media of the Church of England when she succeeded to the throne. Perhaps this wasn’t just a brief Catholic interlude in England’s history, thwarted just as inevitably as James II’s 130 years later—maybe it really did have a chance. Any chance it had certainly ended when Mary died on November 17, 1558 without a Catholic heir, and it may have burned away with the fires.

These five reevaluations of Mary I and her reign offer not apologies or whitewash but argue for a more dispassionate awareness of her circumstances, efforts, and achievements. Whether or not this new view of Mary I is accepted may depend on open-mindedness and a willingness, for instance, to understand the propaganda of John Foxe and the Black Legend of Catholicism in English History.

The crucial issue for the success or failure of her reign was whether she had a Catholic heir to succeed her. Since she did not, Elizabeth succeeded to the throne and dismissed all of Pole’s bishops save one. As Elizabeth ignored her last will and testament, historians ignored Mary’s circumstances, forgot her efforts and achievements and she gained a nickname she might not deserve. But she and Cardinal Pole left a legacy beyond the fires of Smithfield: an underground counter-reformation Catholicism in England, supporting the faithful and ready for revival again—even if it had to wait almost 300 years.

Stephanie A. Mann

  • Linda Porter, Mary Tudor: The First Queen (London, 2007).
  • Judith M. Richards, Mary Tudor (Oxon, 2008).