In September 1533, Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn, gave birth to a daughter named Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I).


Henry's other daughter, Mary Tudor, had effectively been bastardised when the king divorced her mother, Catherine of Aragon. Following the birth of Elizabeth, an Act of Parliament declared the 17-year-old Mary illegitimate.

Both Elizabeth and Mary ended up reigning as queen of England, but what did the half-sisters think of each other? As historian Tracy Borman reveals, the two daughters of Henry VIII were not necessarily fearsome rivals...

Mary Tudor facts

Mary I, aka Mary Tudor or 'Bloody Mary', was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. 

Born: 18 February 1516

Death: 17 November 1558

Reigned: 1553–58 

Read more about her life and reign – from her phantom pregnancy to her military accomplishments

Elizabeth I facts

Elizabeth I, also known as 'Gloriana' or the 'Virgin Queen', was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. 

Born: 7 September 1533

Death: 24 March 1603

Reigned: 1558–1603 

Think you know Elizabeth I? Discover seven surprising facts about her life

Historian Tracy Borman explains...

"They should have been enemies from the get-go, but in fact they were very close when Elizabeth was a child. This was because Mary – who was 17 years older than her half-sister – took pity on Elizabeth.

"When Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed, Elizabeth was ousted from favour. She didn't really have anything to do with her father, Henry VIII. It was thanks to Mary – who was quite a maternal and kind woman (we don't often see that side of her) – that Elizabeth was rehabilitated with their father.

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They should have been enemies from the get-go, but in fact they were very close when Elizabeth was a child

"Elizabeth also learnt from Mary. She learnt what not to do, actually. Mary married a foreigner, Philip of Spain, which was an anathema to her English subjects, who tended to hate foreigners. As a queen, she'd also been very dogmatic in matters of religion and that had alienated more people.

"Elizabeth, when she became queen, decided not to marry. Because who would you choose? She also sought a more moderate religion, and not famously to make 'windows into men's hearts'."

Tracy Borman was talking to Rachel Dinning at BBC History Magazine's 2017 History Weekend


Think you know Elizabeth I? Test your knowledge with our Elizabeth I quiz


Rachel Dinning, Premium Content Editor at HistoryExtra
Rachel DinningPremium Content Editor

Rachel Dinning is the Premium Content Editor at HistoryExtra, website of BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed.