TT: Bloody Mary

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one and find out why “truth” is one of the elements that can make a difference between a flat character and a well-realized one.  Then join me and Alan for a look at the fascinating tragedy that was the life of Bloody Mary.

JANE: I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I didn’t realize there was a difference between Bloody Mary and Mary Queen of Scots until some years ago, when I read a biography of Queen Elizabeth I and learned that these Marys were two different people.

Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary

ALAN: It’s a common mistake. Somehow the passage of time has blurred the two queens together in the popular consciousness. But they were indeed two very different people.

JANE: Bloody Mary came first, so let’s start with her.  She was actually Elizabeth’s half-sister, right?

ALAN: Yes, that’s right. When Henry VIII died, the succession was quite clearly laid out. Henry was succeeded by Edward VI, his son by Jane Seymour. Second in line was Mary, who was his daughter by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, was third in line.

Edward was too young to rule directly and a council of regents ruled for him. They continued his father’s Protestant reforms. Both Edward and the council were afraid that Mary would undo their reforms (she was a devout Catholic), and they attempted to remove her from the line of succession by naming Edward’s cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor, much to Mary’s annoyance.

Edward died of an illness before he reached his majority and Lady Jane inherited the throne. But she reigned for only nine days. Mary had a big army and, despite her Catholicism, was seen by many as the legitimate heir. She was proclaimed Queen on 19 July 1553. Lady Jane was accused of high treason and sent to the Tower. She was executed on 12 February 1554.

JANE: How did Mary get her nickname?  Was there any suspicion that she had something to do with Edward’s death?   Poison maybe?  Surely executing Lady Jane wouldn’t have been enough.

ALAN: Whenever a king died, rumours of poisoning circulated. But there was never any real evidence that Edward died that way, even though the contemporary conspiracy theorists saw his death as evidence of a Catholic plot. A post-mortem found “the disease whereof his majesty died was the disease of the lungs”. The reported symptoms suggest that he probably died of tuberculosis.

JANE: Poor fellow.  So Edward died and Mary took over.  As I recall, she didn’t have a peaceful reign.

ALAN: Mary ruled England for five very turbulent years. She reversed the Protestant reforms of her father and her brother, and declared England to be a Catholic country again. She failed to reverse the dissolution of the monasteries – the new landowners were too influential to allow this – but she was reconciled with Rome.

Mary revived the old Heresy Acts that Henry VIII and Edward VI had repealed and, using them as an excuse, she began to persecute and eventually execute influential Protestants. More than 280 people were burned at the stake. It’s not hard to see how she earned her nickname of Bloody Mary.

JANE: I agree.  How odd that a queen who exercised so much power should be virtually forgotten today.  Maybe we should blame too much drink.  Do you have the Bloody Mary cocktail over there?

 ALAN: Yes – it’s a mixture of vodka and tomato juice with Worcester sauce and a dash of cayenne pepper to give it bite. Pretentious people put a stick of celery in it and sometimes a paper umbrella. Salt, black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon are also occasional ingredients. Since you don’t drink alcohol, you’d probably prefer the Virgin Mary. It’s the same drink, but without the vodka. Perhaps you could have two celery sticks to compensate for the absence of vodka.

JANE: I’ll take two sticks of celery, as long as that doesn’t make you think me pretentious.  I like celery.  Now, while I munch my celery stick, tell me more about Mary’s reign.

ALAN: While all this religious reform and slaughter was going on, Mary was also husband hunting. A husband, and eventually an heir, would effectively remove her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth from the line of succession. She married Prince Philip of Spain. It was not a popular marriage – the Protestants hated him because he was a Catholic and the Catholics hated him because he wasn’t English.

JANE: Poor Mary, she couldn’t win, could she?  I suspect that Philip was also hated because he was Spanish – and I believe Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon was also Spanish.  This would have seemed like too much Spanish influence in the English court.  However, being a princess, Mary couldn’t have wed an English Catholic without marrying beneath her station, so she really didn’t have many choices.

ALAN: Indeed not. And to make matters worse, she couldn’t even get pregnant properly. In September 1554 her periods stopped, she put on a lot of weight and threw up each morning. Clearly she was pregnant! There was much rejoicing at the court. But eleven months later, with no baby yet on the scene, people began to have their doubts. Mary’s tummy receded. There had never been a baby at all. It had been a false pregnancy which Mary interpreted as God’s punishment for having tolerated heretics in her realm. The Protestant burnings increased.

Philip returned to Spain and it was two years before Mary saw him again.

JANE: Well, that wouldn’t make her bearing an heir any easier.  What an ungrateful man!  I mean, she married him to serve as a stud, didn’t she?  Did he ever come back?

ALAN: Philip returned to England in 1557, mainly to try and persuade Mary to support him in some European war or other. Soon after his visit, Mary announced that she was pregnant again. She was due to give birth in March 1558. However, once again there was no baby. Foiled in her attempt to remove Elizabeth from the line of succession, Mary was finally forced to recognise Elizabeth as her lawful successor.

By now she was very weak and ill, and in a lot of pain. She died on 17th November 1558. Her symptoms suggest that she was suffering from uterine cancer or possibly ovarian cysts.

Four hundred or so years later, on 17th November 19 umpty ump, the baby who would grow up to be my wife Robin was born. How’s that for a coincidence?

JANE: Ah, so the queen of your heart is the reincarnation of Bloody Mary?  Watch out for her knitting needles!

I know a bit more about Mary, Queen of Scots, than I do about Blood Mary.  Her history is even more complex.  Let’s move on to her next time.


2 Responses to “TT: Bloody Mary”

  1. Paul Genesse Says:

    Thanks for the post. This history is very interesting.

  2. Paul Says:

    I have to confess having confused the two Marys as well. Now I’m learning (more than I learned in a European history course, obviously).

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