The Life and Historical Reputation of Mary Tudor

Chapter 10 : England's Queen

Thus Mary Tudor, at the age of 37, became Queen without a drop of blood being spilt. She was proclaimed in London on 19th July, late in the afternoon, with Archbishop Cranmer and a few other die-hard supporters of the Protestant Jane Grey only agreeing with great reluctance to acknowledge Mary’s title. Jane herself, a clever and strong-willed girl who had not sought the role of Queen but was determined to fulfil it to the best of her ability, was already residing in the Tower of London, a royal residence that now became her prison.

Mary’s triumph was one of the very few successful rebellions of the provinces against the central authority in London in English history. She believed that God had been with her and the vision for England that she would seek to put in place thereafter was always informed by this unwavering certainty. Accompanied by her sister, who had now emerged from the shadows once Mary’s success was clear, the new Queen entered London on 3rd August. In a charming act of generosity typical of Mary, she gave jewels to all her sister’s ladies. At Mary’s coronation, Elizabeth held a prominent position, dressed in cloth of silver and riding with Anne of Cleves, the only Queen of Henry VIII still alive, in an open carriage.The favour she was shown did not, however, last long.

Which brings us to the aspects of her reign for which Mary Tudor is generally remembered – and they are all negative. The relationship between the two sisters might be said to lie at the heart of these criticisms, because it informed many of the key policy decisions that Mary took as Queen. In many respects, Mary was in uncharted waters. Though English law did not bar women from the throne (as Salic Law did in France), there had never been a Queen-regnant of England before. Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, tried to claim the throne during a long and destructive civil war with her cousin, Stephen, in the twelfth century, but she had never really ruled. Jane Grey’s tenure was too short to provide any kind of precedent and, besides, Mary considered her a usurper.

A sole ruler who was female presented considerable problems for the sixteenth century. No one, including Mary, seriously considered that she would rule alone. And, given her advancing years, it was imperative that she marry and produce heirs. Her choice has been much criticised in retrospect but, at the time, it made perfectly good sense.