The Life and Historical Reputation of Mary Tudor

Chapter 6 : Return to the Fold

The most agreeable sustained period of her adult life began in July, 1543, when Henry married for the sixth and last time. Mary’s new stepmother, Katherine Parr, was only four years older than the princess and they shared many interests. A naturally affectionate and warm personality, Katherine brought Mary out of her shell.

If, on the face of it, the friendship between a woman often cast as our first Protestant Queen and ‘Bloody Mary’ seems unlikely, this is only because our tendency to give historical figures convenient labels masks the complexity of the reality in which they actually lived. There was much fluidity in religious ideas at the time and the notion that England somehow turned, miraculously, into a Protestant country during the reign of Henry VIII is simply false. While he lived, Henry attended Mass daily, and so did his sixth wife – though she stopped after his death.

Katherine Parr involved Mary in one of her most important publishing projects, the translation of Erasmus’s Paraphrases of the Gospels. Mary was given the important task of translating from Latin into English the Gospel of St John. She did not complete all of it because of an illness that seems to have been genuine rather than an excuse to wriggle out of something she found uncomfortable, as her critics have suggested. Mary had not approved of the break with Rome but she was not blind to the weaknesses of the Catholic Church and had her own reforming agenda when she became Queen. But by that time much had changed and her own opinions, challenged and belittled during her brother’s reign, had become more forceful.