First things first, to address some of the points in Mary’s life:
- She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon (who was divorced.)
- She was born in 1516 and died in 1558 aged 42.
- She was proclaimed queen in July 1553.
- She was Catholic.
It was the latter point which caused so much trouble for Mary, as after Edward VI’s reign, she was left with a country which identified as Protestant, rather than Catholic.
Another problem she faced was the humiliation that she had suffered as a child through her father’s un-catholic divorce of her mother, but also the fact that she came to power whilst the country was in crippling debt thanks to her father’s extortionate spending and her brother’s young age, and therefore reliance on his Regency which was somewhat corrupted by Seymour, as he declared himself ‘Protector’.
Too, her reign started at the end of Lady Jane Grey’s 9 day rule, so she had an awful lot going against her.
One of the first problems parliament faced when she managed to claim the throne was who she was going to marry, after some debating, she was married to Phillip II of Spain and was utterly besotted by him. Indeed, it was at his insistence that she let Elizabeth I be her successor. However, she always remained Queen and wasn’t required to take his advice (as parliament worried this would give Spain too much power over Britain) but even so, he wasn’t her subject. However, this marriage made people worry about the Spanish Inquisition, who burnt protestants, becoming involved in Britain.
In addition to her struggles with her religion and country, her mental health seemed to be affected in that she had phantom pregnancies multiple times. Too, she believed that the people of her country were secretly Catholic and when they saw her as a Catholic on the throne, would reveal themselves to be so.
This almost makes her seem as the victim to many struggles considering her circumstances, so why is she forever known as Bloody Mary?
In her reign, Mary executed 287 Protestants by burning them, compared to Henry VIII’s about 72,000 executions in his reign. This means that Henry VIII executed roughly 2,000 people per year compared to roughly 57 per year for Mary.
Could this stigma be associated, perhaps, with prejudice because she was a woman? Or was it simply because history has looked back through the eyes of the Protestants and seen her as evil for being Catholic? Either way, there is no doubt that prejudice is heavily involved with Mary’s reputation.
A final point to consider is that she believed that fire cleansed, so therefore by burning the Protestants she was saving them from going to Hell. However, she still burnt Thomas Cranmer who she disliked, so why would she have wanted to save his soul?