Queen Mary: the myth and a somewhat more balanced reality

July 16, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: history, journalism.

In a newsletter earlier this year, I had an entry on the phrase “Bloody Mary” and mentioned that the drink to which it refers was named after Queen Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, who persecuted Protestants in an attempt to return England to Catholicism.

A newsletter reader, Frank C., wrote to say that this “persecution” was a matter of interpretation, especially when Mary’s reign is compared to that of her father or her half-sister, Elizabeth I, who came after her.

I have always suspected that Mary 1 (we tend to forget there were two regnant queen marys) got a raw deal in being branded bloody mary. How many executions for religous reasons occured in her reign compared to that of Henry viii or Edward vi or Queen Elizabeth or even Charles II? I have not researched it but I keep an open mind on it. I would not regard the execution of Archbishop Cranmer as religous persecution but as fair retaliation for his part in branding her a bastard and her mother a liar. She was initially forgiving to the Northumberlands and Lady Grey and executed them only after a further rebellion broke out. She did not execute her half sister (who managed to execute Queen Mary of Scotland while denying it). maybe it all depends on who gets to write the histories?

Good points, all.

I did a little more research on her. While most histories and biographies do brand her as intolerant of Protestants — even though she began as a tolerant and even indulgent queen — she had a number of other accomplishments (and failures) during her five-year reign. This from the History Extra, the official website for BBC History Magazine and BBC World Histories Magazine:

She restored the navy, renewed the coinage and increased crown revenue, and also established new hospitals, improved the education of the clergy and increased the authority of local government. Despite this, many of her achievements have been overlooked. In 1557, England was dragged into a war with Spain against France. This was a disastrous campaign for Mary’s troops and England officially lost possession of Calais in January 1558, which was its last stakehold in France. Source: Life of the Week: Queen Mary I – History Extra

So, stick all that in your next Bloody Mary and stir it up.

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