Queen Mary I was known by many names during her reign as Queen of England by her many critics.
She was called Bloody Mary for her harsh treatment of Protestants, which earned her a reputation as a cruel and heartless ruler. But why did she deserve this nickname?
Let’s look at the events that led to Mary becoming one of the most infamous queens in English history.
Who Was “Bloody Mary”- Queen Mary’s Early Life
Many names knew Queen Mary during her lifetime: Bloody Mary and the Virgin Queen; history doesn’t remember her fondly. But how did she earn her infamous nickname?
For starters, many believe that “Bloody Mary” comes from a legend of a vile woman that appears in a mirror when someone says her name three times.
However, while this horror story has taken on various TV and movie forms throughout the years, the story behind Queen Mary’s nickname is much more realistic and gruesome.
Queen Mary I was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, born on February 18, 1516.
At the time, no one suspected she would become one of the most reviled queens in English history. x
When Mary was just a child, her father divorced her mother and annulled their marriage to marry Anne Boleyn because he desired a male heir and viewed their marriage as incestuous.
Catherine was previously married to Henry’s brother. In a turn of events, he divorced Catherine and married Anne.
Unfortunately, this turned the would-be princess into a “lady,” she was declared illegitimate, and she separated from her mother. This major event in English history is known as the English Reformation, and it set off a chain of events that would eventually lead to Mary’s nickname.
The English Reformation was a time of religious upheaval in England. King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church to divorce Catherine and married Anne, making him popular among Protestants. He started the Church of England shortly after that.
However, when Anne failed to produce a male heir, Henry executed her and married Jane Seymour. After several failed marriages and executions, he finally had a son: Edward VI, who became king at nine.
After Henry died in 1547, Edward VI took the throne. Before Edward VI died, he wanted to ensure power passed to his Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Gray, but Mary had been biding her time.
She remained a Catholic and was not content to sit idly by and watch the Protestant takeover of her country, so she staged a coup in 1553.
As Queen, she tried to roll back the clock on the Reformation by making England a Catholic country once again.
Because of her support, she succeeded in taking back the crown; this is where Bloody Mary got her name.
How Bloody Mary Got Her Name
Queen Mary I was given her nickname “Bloody Mary” because of the persecution of Protestants during her reign as Queen of England.
She was a Catholic who tried to make England a Catholic country again, and in doing so, she earned a reputation as a heartless and cruel ruler.
The persecution of Protestants began almost immediately after Mary became queen. In 1554, she began executing religious dissenters and burning them at the stake for their beliefs.
She was deemed vicious, but even her half-sister Elizabeth I executed people for their differences in faith.
Among her victims were notable people like Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lady Jane Grey, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley. Her executions had such an effect on people that they were recorded by a Protestant named John Foxe.
In his book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, he describes in detail the executions that took place during Mary’s reign.
Ultimately, Mary would burn over 300 people at the stake, earning her the title “Bloody Mary.”
Despite her claim to the throne, Mary was not a popular queen; it was typical for Queens to reign with a king. Yet, she was more concerned with religion and prioritized that above all else.
Despite her dedication to restoring England as a Catholic country, she took her role seriously, made changes, and started initiatives for policy.
Queen Mary enacted financial reform, worked to improve the economy, and increased trade.
She also improved the navy so England would be better prepared for war. However, people were uncomfortable with her religious policies, and her nicknames reflected that; despite her devotion to England, Mary didn’t do the one thing that was expected of her.
She never produced an heir during her short reign, and her half-sister Elizabeth I took the throne when she died.
Queen Mary died at 42 from an ailment identified as uterine cancer, ovarian cysts, or even influenza.
A Possible Miscarriage or Multiple Ones
When Queen Mary married Philip of Spain, it was said that she was pregnant and they would have a child.
At the time, she appeared pregnant, but when her due date passed, there was no sign of a baby. Some say she had a miscarriage, while others believe she was never pregnant with Philip’s child.
Other rumors that swirled around the French courts claim that she gave birth to bloody flesh due to a molar pregnancy.
It’s here that perhaps the impression of a vengeful spirit that represents her pain and anguish would make sense.
The idea of “Bloody Mary” being vengeful, holding a dead baby, and haunting people is a popular urban legend, and the story has many variations.
But, whatever you believe, the nickname Bloody Mary has stuck with Queen Mary I, and her legacy continues.
Mary Was Nothing Compared to Her Father
While her nickname Bloody Mary is more commonly used, some have argued that it’s not the most accurate representation of her reign.
Yes, she did execute people for their religious beliefs, but it was a tumultuous time for England. The Reformation was a time of religious upheaval, and Mary was not the only one executing people for their beliefs.
Her father, Henry VIII, was notorious for his executions and performed thousands more people than Mary did. Her half-sister Elizabeth was no better; she executed hundreds of people during her reign.
So, it’s odd that Mary got the nickname Bloody Mary when her father and sister were just as guilty, if not more so.
It could be because she was the first queen to rule England, and people were not used to a woman having that much power.
Perhaps it’s because her reign was so short, and the executions happened all at once. It could also be her ruthlessness in implementing executions, and she didn’t shy away from giving the order.
Whatever the reason, Bloody Mary is a nickname that has stuck with Queen Mary I, for better or for worse.