Queen Mary I
Be the first to vote…
gstecyk's picture


Master John shows us the softer side of “Bloody Mary.”  

He painted Mary as a glamorous princess in her twenties, with the alabaster skin and strawberry-bronze hair prized by Tudor women...even pretty by the standards of her time. Mary was a sensitive girl with a natural maternal instinct, but the Henry VIII school of hard knocks made her bitter.

Henry rejoiced when Mary (his first child) was born, but soon he was itching for a son. He started the Church of England just to divorce her mother Catherine of Aragon, declare Mary a bastard, and marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. He later repeated the process, beheading Anne for adultery and incest, and declaring their daughter Elizabeth a bastard in order to marry his next mistress Jane Seymour. Jane produced the long-awaited son, but died, leaving Henry free to marry three more times and murder yet another wife. They didn’t have therapy in those days, so Mary turned to her fanatical Catholic faith to deal with this royally screwed up family dynamic.

Her ascent to the throne was violent, and her reign brief.  Her half-brother Edward VI (Henry’s son by Seymour) inherited the throne, but died at 15. He named their Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey his successor, bypassing the Catholic Mary. 16-year-old Jane was Queen for just 9 days until Mary overthrew and beheaded her.’ Mary imprisoned her half-sister Elizabeth, fearing her Protestant sympathies and rivalry for the throne. Mary was the first undisputed Queen Regent of England.

In her 5 years as Queen, Mary restored England to Catholicism and burned over 280 people at the stake for their religious beliefs, earning the nickname “Bloody Mary.” She married the handsome young Philip II of Spain, but he spent most of their marriage abroad, and a hoped-for pregnancy may have turned out to be undiagnosed ovarian cysts or uterine cancer. She died at 42, childless and alone. Her worst horror came true when Elizabeth succeeded her to the throne, restoring the Church of England.

“Bloody” Mary Tudor bears only a nominal relation to the demonic Bloody Mary who haunts children’s nightmares, frequently summoned for slumber party pranks. However, variations of the urban legend in which the summoners chant “Bloody Mary, I killed your baby!” appear to be derived from the historic Queen Mary’s unfulfilled longing to have children. Evil murderous witch? Religious fanatic who set people on fire? Personally, I wouldn’t want to catch sight of either Bloody Mary in a dark mirror. I prefer my Bloody Marys at brunch.



  1. Alison Weir, The Children of Henry VIII (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996), 2-7.
  2. Linda Porter, Mary Tudor: The First Queen (London: Little Brown, 2007), 311-313.
  3. Eamon Duffy, Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 104.
  4. Queen Mary Dies at Age 42,” The Tudor Enthusiast, November 17, 2012,
  5. “ Bloody Mary,” last modified October 27, 2005,