Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Leanda de Lisle on Mary I

From The Catholic Herald:

There will be no ‘Mary I and her People’ exhibitions to match that of Elizabeth I currently showing at the National Gallery. While Elizabeth I is regularly voted our most popular ever monarch her Catholic elder half sister remains associated with her late seventeenth century sobriquet, ‘Bloody Mary’. It is assumed she was hated in her lifetime. In fact she was a popular queen, and one from whom Elizabeth learned much.

Mary’s accession to the throne in 1553 was not a smooth one. Her half brother, Edward VI, was a passionate Protestant, and when, aged fifteen, he fell gravely ill he wrote a will that excluded Mary from the throne. Instead it was left to his Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey. The majority of the political elite signed up to Edward’s will, and the Imperial ambassadors, reporting to Mary’s most powerful ally, her cousin the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, advised him to accept the situation as a fait accompli. But Mary proved to be made of sterner stuff than the Imperial ambassadors,
launching a successful coup against Jane with the support of large numbers of the ‘common people’.

England was not then a predominately Protestant country. The fact Mary was a Catholic did not, therefore, greatly trouble her subjects. More important to them was Mary’s impeccable royal heritage. Each of her four grandparents was the head of their royal house, and, of course, her father was Henry VIII.

And she goes on to note the congruence between Mary's metaphor of the queen regnant's marriage to the kingdom and motherhood to her people and Elizabeth I's imagery:

Although it is often claimed that Mary did not have Elizabeth’s personal charisma, she too possessed qualities in this regard. They had been demonstrated most clearly in 1554, when a speech at the Guildhall had roused London in her defence against the most dangerous revolt of her reign. Mary had said then that she was married to her kingdom, describing her coronation ring as a wedding band, and her love of her subjects as that of a mother for her children.

These were phrases and motifs that Elizabeth would use repeatedly and would become absolutely central to her queenship. But while the dark side of Gloriana is forgotten, Mary is remembered predominately as a figure of gothic horror.

Read the rest here.

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