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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > February 2017 > Who Was The Bloodiest Tudor?

Who Was The Bloodiest Tudor?

It is perhaps the most infamous dynasty in English history; one that ordered the executions of thousands. But who was its most murderous monarch? Tracy Borman puts Henry, Mary and Elizabeth on trial
HONOUR & HERESY Both Catholics and Protestants su ered at the hands of their Tudor monarchs
ILLUSTRATION: JEAN-MICHEL GIRARD/WWW.THE-ART-AGENCY.CO.UK, GETTY X1

Mary I is not the best known of the Tudors. Her brief reign, and that of her brother Edward, tend to be overshadowed by the looming presence of her father, Henry VIII, and his more famous daughter, Elizabeth I. If Mary is referred to at all, then it is as ‘Bloody’. It is certainly true that her obsession with returning England to the Roman Catholic faith led her to send hundreds of Protestants to the flames. But was she really as bloody as her nickname suggests, especially when compared to the other Tudors? Was there more to her than the serious and intensely pious woman who has attracted little attention or sympathy? Scratching beneath the surface of this stereotypical version reveals a very different queen - and woman - to the traditional pantomime villain of history.

At 4am on 18 February 1516, Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, was delivered of a daughter, Mary. The child might not have been the son that the King so craved, but she was at least healthy - and given Catherine’s experience of childbirth, that was something to be thankful for.

BLOOD ON HER HANDS Hundreds died due to Mary’s obsession with returning England to the Roman Catholic faith

37 The age at which Mary became queen, making her the oldest Tudor monarch to take the throne

If Henry had known that Mary would be the only child to survive from his first marriage, he might have dispatched with Catherine sooner. As it was, although he delighted in his newborn daughter, his thoughts were firmly focused upon begetting a son, and quickly. One child was not enough to show for seven years of marriage, and Henry needed a son to pass his crown to.

Although her sex had been a disappointment, Mary was raised with all of the care and luxury expected for a royal princess. She learned the typical courtly skills of music, dancing and riding, and was tutored by the celebrated humanist, Juan Luis Vives. Mary, then Henry’s cherished only child, grew into an attractive and accomplished young girl and Henry proudly showed her off to visiting ambassadors, who all praised her virtues. Gasparo Spinelli, the Venetian Secretary in London, described her long red hair “as beautiful as ever seen on a human head”, with a “well proportioned” figure and “pretty face... with a very beautiful complexion”. He also told of how the young princess “much beloved of her father” had danced with the French ambassador, “who considered her very handsome, and admirable by reason of her great and uncommon mental endowments”.

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February 2017
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