Mary I: a highly impressive queen cut off in her prime

'Bloody Mary' Tudor was long branded a religious bigot and a military failure. Yet as Anna Whitelock explains, the first woman to wear the crown of England was a political pioneer who redefined the monarchy

Portrait of Mary I of England, from the collection of the Museo del Prado, Madrid. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the Christmas 2014 issue of BBC History Magazine

​Bloody Mary was a Catholic bigot, a half-Spanish tyrant who burned nearly 300 Protestant men, women and children in one of the most ferocious periods of persecution in Reformation Europe. At least that’s how subsequent (Protestant) writers painted her. John Foxe’s classic martyrology, Actes and Monuments (popularly known as the Book of Martyrs), first published in 1563, graphically depicted “the horrible and bloudy time of Queene Mary” and dominated accounts of Mary’s reign for nearly 500 years.

In his First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, written on the eve of Mary’s death, John Knox condemned Mary both as a woman ruler and a Catholic: she was a “horrible monster Jezebel” who “compelled [Englishmen] to bow their necks under the yoke of Satan”. Traditionally viewed through the prism of her religion, Mary’s five-year reign has been described as disastrous, unimaginative and ineffective, with no positive achievements.

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