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Mary I of England - a tragic victim?

Mary I of England, the less charismatic of the Tudor half-sisters, is remembered more for her fanatical religious zeal and persecution of protestants than for the fact that she was England's first crowned female monarch. But was her personality and character a result of her suffering at the hands of her father, Henry VIII?

Events of the 1530's, brought about by Henry VIII's determination to right the wrong for which God was punishing him with no male heirs, caused irreparable psychological injury to his only child.Henry succeeded in divorcing Mary's mother. Katherine of Aragon, and remarrying. Soon Mary was no longer an only child, she had a new baby half-sister, Elizabeth.

Princess Mary was 17 years old when she found herself displaced in her father's affections.

Mary's fortunes changed quickly and irreversibly for the worst and she never recovered! At a poInt where she should have been expecting to be married as a powerful pawn in the European political game she suddenly found herself disinherited, declared illegitimate and next to worthless in the marriage market.

For her entire childhood and adolescence Mary had been Princess of England, her mother Queen. In what must have felt like an unfathomable series of humiliating and stressful events she found herself illegitimate, unmarriable, out of favour with her father and, most heartbreaking of all, ripped from her mother. The separation from her mother was permanent, access refused even when Katherine was on her deathbed (reformist paranoia overruling humanity). Her status had been reduced to the Lady Mary and soon further humiliation was served when she was appointed a Lady-in-Waiting to the infant Princess Elizabeth.

Mary was expected to accept all that had turned her life, and everything she had known, upside-down; the annulment of her parent's marriage (which her mother did not accept), her demoted status and severe challenges to her religious beliefs. For her whole life she had followed thte catholic faith and looked to the Pope but now she was expected to accept her own father as God's representative on Earth. Favour with the King was reliant on her toeing the line but she struggled to keep a lid on her real feelings and kicked against her new status.

Mary, as a young adult, was fully aware of the implications of all that was going on around her and it left her with a strong and inflexible will which showed itself fully when she became queen in 1553. The actions of her father, so humiliating and serious for Mary, had a significant and lasting impact on her personality and emotional stability.

Who knows what Mary may have been like if her life had turned out differently? How would she have been remembered? We can't know. But what we can, and should, recognise is the emotional and psychological turmoil which she went through as a young adult and consider this when assessing her later character.


- Philippa Brewell

History Writer and History Tour Creator


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