QUEEN MARY I OF ENGLAND AND IRELAND (18 February 1516-17 November 1558)
Mary was the only child born to King Henry VIII of England and his first wife Katherine of Aragon. Through her mother, she was a granddaughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. She was born at the Palace of Greenwich in London, and was baptised three days later at the Church of the Observant Friars where her parents were married. Her godparents included her great-aunt the Countess of Devon, Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, and the Duchess of Norfolk. The King's cousin once removed Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury, stood sponsor for Mary's confirmation, which was held immediately after the baptism. The following year, Mary became a godmother herself when she was named as one of the sponsors of her cousin Frances Brandon. In 1520, the Countess of Salisbury was appointed as Mary's governess. Sir John Hussey, later Lord Hussey, was her chamberlain, and his wife, Lady Anne, daughter of George Grey, 2nd Earl of Kent, was one of Mary's attendants.
Mary I reigned for five years as Queen from July 1553 through her death on 17 November 1558. Under the Heresy Acts, numerous Protestants were executed; the first executions occurring over a five day period in February 1555 including: John Rogers on 4 February, Laurence Saunders on 8 February, Rowland Taylor and John Hooper on 9 February. The imprisoned Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer was forced to watch Bishops Ridley and Latimer being burned at the stake. Cranmer recanted, repudiated Protestant theology, and rejoined the Catholic faith. Under the normal process of the law, he should have been absolved as a repentant. Mary, however, refused to reprieve him. On the day of his burning, he dramatically withdrew his recantation. A total of 283 people were executed, most by burning. The burnings proved so unpopular, that even Alfonso de Castro condemned them, and Philip's advisor, Simon Renard, warned him that such "cruel enforcement" could "cause a revolt". Mary persevered with the policy, which continued until her death and exacerbated anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish feeling among the English people. The victims of the persecutions became lauded as martyrs and Mary I became forever known as ‘BLOODY MARY’.
By the end of April, in the year of her death,1558 Mary I was 42 years old and resigned herself to the fact that she was not pregnant; she was mistaken. These false symptoms of pregnancy began to fade, leaving her weak, ill and unable to sleep. By the summer, Mary had bouts of fever, something new for her. It has been said often that by now she was suffering from cancer, probably from an ovarian tumor, but her symptoms make this unlikely. The latest medical opinion suggests that she had contracted either tuberculosis (which seems to have killed both her half-brothers Edward and the Duke of Richmond), influenza or some other generalized infection. Soon she was wracked by violent paroxysms of an unspecified nature. These would fit in with this diagnosis and would presumably have been either high fevers or even epileptic seizures.
Becoming progressively weaker, she had a lucid interval on 28 October 1558 and made a codicil to her will. ‘Forasmuch as God hath hitherto sent me no fruit nor heir of my body,’ and ‘feeling myself presently sick and weak in body and yet of whole and perfect rememberance, Our Lord be thanked’, she thought it best to add a few paragraphs to her former will. If she did indeed die childless, she asked her lawful successor to allow her executors to carry out the provisions of that will. Although, ‘my said most Dear Lord and Husband shall for default of heir of my body have no further government, order and rule within this realm and the dominions belonging thereto’, she asked him to remain the father, brother and friend of England and its next monarch. She did not, however, say who that monarch should be.
Phillip knew by now that she was gravely ill, ‘You may imagine what a state I am in,’ he wrote to his sister, Joanna. ‘It seems to me that everything is being taken from me at once…The Queen my wife has been ill and although she has recovered somewhat her infirmities are such that grave fears must be entertained on her score.’ He had retired to a monastery on hearing of his father’s death,and he could not possibly leave the country before the Emperor’s memorial service. Instead, he sent the Count de Feria back to England, with one of his own physicians.
By the time the Count arrived in London, Mary was far gone. ‘The infection had probably spread to cause meningitis, for she had been drifting in and out of consciousness for some days past, telling her ladies dreamily that she was seeing many little children like angels playing before her, singing pleasing notes. On 16 November 1558, Lord Chancellor Heath and her Privy Councillors went into her chamber to perform a solemn ceremony. In keeping with custom, they had to read out her will.
The Queen had lapsed into unconsciousness again, and she did not know that they were there. Next morning, when Mass was celebrated in her chamber, she roused herself. For the last time she made her responses, clearly and distinctly. She lay quietly after that, watching the priest take the sacred elements, and then she closed her eyes and died. Many years later, married to the Count de Feria, favorite lady in waiting to the Queen, Jane Dormer described her mistress’s last moments to a friend, and the tears poured down her cheeks.
Cardinal Pole had been unable to comfort Mary in her final illness, for all that autumn he had himself been suffering from a recurrent fever. His servants tried to keep the news of Mary’s death from him, but he could see from their faces that something was amiss, and they had to tell him. He died that same evening.
While the Privy Councillors rode down to Hatfield to let Elizabeth know that she was Queen, Viscount Montague set out for the Low Countries to inform Phillip. ‘May God have received her in his glory,’ the King wrote in a postscript to his letter to his sister. He went on, ‘I felt a reasonable regret for her death,’ and he added, ‘I shall miss her…’
In her will she had left him, ‘to keep for a memory of me’, the diamond Charles V had sent her on her betrothal, the diamond Phillip had given the marquis de Las Navas for her, a gold collar set with nine diamonds which he had presented to her on the first Epiphany after their wedding, and another of his gifts, a ruby ring sent to her with the Count de Feria. She had made numerous other bequests to convents and monasteries, councillors, servants and friends.
Phillip did not receive the jewels, nor were her other instructions carried out, but Elizabeth did accord her a funeral befitting a Queen. Mary’s body was opened and embalmed by her surgeons and physicians. Her heart was placed in a silver and purple velvet box, and buried in the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace. Her lead coffin was draped with purple velvet and lace, and placed in her black-hung Privy Chamber on two trestle tables covered in cloth of gold. There she lay in state, watched over by her praying ladies.
Mary I by Rosalind K. Marshall (Published in association with the National Portrait Gallery) London, 1993
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