Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, has the misfortune of being remembered as ‘Bloody Mary’. The nickname implies that she was hated throughout the land for the burning of Protestants in her bid to restore Catholicism to England, but this was not the case. The nickname is the result of Protestant propaganda that portrays those burnt as heroes and Mary as an evil Queen.
Mary became Queen in 1553 following the death of her brother Edward and the deposement of Jane Grey. As a devout Catholic, Mary believed that unless Catholicism was restored in England, all her subjects would go to hell.
The Counter Reformation in England – Restoration of Catholicism
Mary’s prime goal from the time of her accession was to restore Catholicism. There were factors both in her favour and against:
In Mary’s Favour:
Protestantism had only been the official religion in England for six years, Catholicism had been the official religion for hundreds of years before.
The Protestants had not received the support of the people when they tried to replace Mary with Jane Grey.
Many Protestant leaders had fled to Europe when she became Queen.
Henry VIII had closed the monasteries and sold the land to nobles and courtiers.
Mary was not married and at the age of 37 was almost beyond childbearing age. Next in line to the throne was her sister Elizabeth, a Protestant.
Although many Protestants had fled to Europe there were still many in England who would protest strongly against a return to Rome.
In 1554, Mary married Philip II of Spain. Spain was a Catholic country and Philip joined Mary in her bid to restore England to Rome. However, the marriage was not popular, the people had no wish to be governed by a foreigner and there was racial tension between the English and Spanish merchants in London. Thomas Wyatt led some 3,000 men from Rochester in Kent to London in protest against the Queen’s marriage and her anti-Protestant policies.
In 1555 Mary announced that she was pregnant and that the baby was due in June 1555. Many believed it to be a phantom pregnancy and they were proved right when no baby arrived. We now know that Mary probably had cancer of the womb.
The Catholic service, Holy Communion, and the elaborate fixtures and fittings of Catholic churches taken away during Edward’s reign were immediately restored. In 1555, Parliament passed a set of Heresy laws that made it a crime to be Protestant in England.
All Protestants who refused to convert to Catholicism were to be burnt. One of the first to go to the stake was John Rogers who had translated Tynedale’s Bible into English. The Bishops, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer followed soon afterwards. In all Mary was responsible for the burnings of 227 men and 56 women, mostly in the South East of England.
The Loss of Calais
In 1557 Philip persuaded Mary to commit England to helping him fight against France. Mary duly declared war on France. However, the move was disastrous for England and for Mary. The French invaded and reclaimed Calais, England’s last possession in France and the people were fed up with paying higher taxes to pay for a war that had only been started to help Spain.