Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The First Queen of England: The Myth of "Bloody Mary"


Rating: 5 Stars


This is one of the best biographies I have read this year. It is all the better for me personally in that it is a much more balanced look at the first queen of England, Mary I. I have always found is heartbreaking in that she is so overshadowed by Elizabeth and her reputation so blackened by Foxe. It is s though even in death, she has continued to suffer at the hands of others, 500 years on. Mary went from both parents doting on her (as much as parents - especially royal parents - did in the 1500s), to being taken first away from her mother, the incomparable Katherine of Aragon, to slowly but surely having nearly every person who ever mattered to her taken away one after another. It can't be a surprise to anyone that she turned out the way she did/ Time and again she was subjected to terrible psychological torture as her father first separated Mary from her beloved mother, and then continued to force her hand in accepting the divorce of her parents. And you only have to look at the cruel execution of the elderly Countess of Salisbury and what can only be described as her state-sanctioned murder that was botched horribly, to see how this mental torture continued for Mary. However, I do also feel like the saying that references 'how Mary turned out' is not entirely accurate, as I feel like after reading this, a lot of peoples' perceptions of Mary will be quite different. There is no doubt that the religious aspect, the executions that gave her the nickname 'Bloody Mary' later on, had a major impact on her reign. But so often people are then willing to overlook, or do not know about at all, the similar experiences under the reign of Elizabeth.

I feel like this book was very all-encompassing and did not only look at Mary herself, but how the world around her impacted her life. We are privy to her life from birth, through her briefly happy childhood, to the horror of the divorce and being forced to attend Elizabeth, reconciling (so to speak) with her father, being subjected again religious battering from her brother, her triumphant ride into London to take the throne from her cousin Jane Grey, the subsequent terrible marriage to Philip, phantom pregnancies, and finally her death. (As a side note, this book presents quite possibly the saddest line I have ever read in regards to Jane's execution: "Then the axe fell swiftly and cleanly and this hideously manipulated, unloved slip of a girl was gone." UGH! It still gets to me.

Mary's marriage and phantom pregnancies are especially heartbreaking to me. As a young woman she had assumed she would end of not marrying. Then she becomes queen and it never occurs to any of her counselors that she can or should remain unwed. It seems fairly straightforward to me why she clung to Philip and the marriage so tightly, and why she wanted so desperately to be pregnant - from the time her mother passed away (and even before then, really, once they were split up), Mary had no blood family to call her own. Being married and having a child could have been a way for Mary to fill that void that had existed so long within her. I don't know how to describe it but heartbreaking. You can't help but have wanted her to have a child, to overcome everything terrible in her life that had occurred in her earlier years. I can't even imagine how devastated she was.

All in all, this is a superbly written account of a queen who deserves a second look and deserves much more respect than she has gotten in the centuries since her death. Porter gives a much more balanced and unbiased account of Mary's life. It is highly recommended for those interested in the Tudor era. As an additional note, I recently read somewhere that because of the way their tombs are designed, with Elizabeth's on top of Mary's, that Mary's is in danger of being crushed under Elizabeth's. This would be tragic, and yet one more time that Elizabeth gets the one-up on Mary. I hope this can be rectified before it is too late.

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