Having secured the throne, Mary then had to establish herself as a female monarch. It was an unprecedented position in a deeply patriarchal society – indeed, many questioned whether a woman could wear the crown. The monarch was understood to be God’s representative on Earth, a figure of defence and justice – a role premised on military might. The language, image and expectations of English monarchy and royal majesty were unequivocally male, and the rights of a queen regnant were a matter of great uncertainty.
Mary’s accession had changed the rules of the game, and the nature of this new feminised politics was yet to be defined, yet in many respects Mary proved more than equal to the task. Decisions over the details of the practice and power of a queen regnant became precedents for the future. In April 1554 Mary’s parliament passed the Act for Regal Power, which enshrined in law that queens held power as “fully, wholly and absolutely” as their male predecessors, thereby establishing the gender-free authority of the crown.
Mary’s coronation saw her accepting the full regalia of a male monarch and assuming the sacral role that had hitherto been confined to kings. Previously, it had been precisely the exercise of this semi-priestly power, derived from the coronation, that – it was argued – precluded women from acceding to the throne. By continuing practices undertaken by previous kings – providing the healing touch for the ‘king’s evil’ (scrofula) and blessing rings believed to cure cramp and epilepsy – Mary showed that the office of crowned monarch was not limited by gender.
Mary had stated a preference for remaining single but accepted the need to marry to fulfil her public duty to her faith and her kingdom. Everyone agreed on the need for a husband who could guide her in ruling, and produce a male heir, thereby securing the succession. Though it has traditionally been argued that Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain was unpopular, an alliance with Habsburg Spain was politically expedient. Certainly, the marriage treaty was as “favourable as possible for the interest and security and even the grandeur of England”, with Mary’s legal rights as queen preserved and Spanish influence kept to a minimum.