Follow TV Tropes


Useful Notes / Mary Tudor

Go To
"My soul is God's and my faith I will not change."

"I say to you, on the word of a prince, I cannot tell how naturally the mother loveth the child, for I was never the mother of any; but certainly, if a prince and governor may as naturally and earnestly love her subjects as the mother doth love the child, then assure yourselves that I, being your lady and mistress, do as earnestly and tenderly love and favor you."
Mary I, rallying Londoners to oppose the Wyatt Rebellion against her marriage to Philip of Spain, 1 February 1554

It's not every monarch who has a drink named after her nickname. Then again, not every monarch gets the nickname "Bloody".

England's very first undisputed queen regnantnote , Mary I of England (18 February 1516 — 17 November 1558; reigning July 1553 — her death) was Henry VIII's elder daughter and his only surviving child by Catherine of Aragon. As a little girl, she was doted on by her parents, but that changed when Anne Boleyn became queen. With her parents' marriage declared invalid, Mary was declared a bastard, struck from the succession, stripped of her title as "princess", separated from her mother, and eventually forced into her baby half-sister's service as a lady-in-waiting. She was eventually restored to the succession after her younger brother Edward, although she remained legally illegitimate and was styled "the Lady Mary," rather than "princess."


Like the rest of the Tudors, Mary was very intelligent and well-educated, but she never showed the same zeal for learning as Elizabeth or Edward. While she lacked the charisma that characterized her father and sister, she was capable of inspiring great loyalty, especially among her friends and servants. A very generous, motherly woman, Mary was often asked by friends to stand godmother to their children, and also acted as a substitute mother figure to her much younger siblings (neither of whom ever knew their own actual mothers).

Her path to the throne did not run smoothly. Edward unexpectedly changed the succession in a will drafted shortly before his death that excluded both Mary and Elizabeth from the throne in favour of the Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary Tudor and daughter-in-law of the Duke of Northumberland, the regent.note  Queen Jane took the throne on Edward's death, but Mary's overwhelming popularity with the commoners and nobles made Jane's position untenable, and Jane was deposed by Mary nine days later. Mary was greeted by crowds of thousands of cheering subjects as she rode into London and took her rightful throne.


Her original intent was to punish only those she saw as responsible for the near-usurpation of the throne - mainly the Duke of Northumberland and his cronies - and release the comparatively innocent Jane and her husband Guildford Dudley as soon as the situation had stabilized; she wasn't stupid enough to truly consider either of them as the leaders of the coup - Jane was a sixteen year old bookworm, after all! Unfortunately for Jane and Guildford, a rebellion led by Thomas Wyatt with the intention of restoring Jane to the throne forced Mary's hand and led both of them to the block.note 

As a devout Roman Catholic, Mary was determined to bring England back into the arms of Rome. She chose a Catholic husband - Philip, King of Naples and the heir to the throne of Spain - and brought her cousin Reginald Cardinal Pole back to England as Archbishop of Canterbury. Philip was named King of England and Mary's co-monarchnote , and as such worked with Parliament to repeal the Protestant laws passed in the time of Henry and Edward and reinstate the Heresy Acts. Mary ordered the burning of many Protestant recusants pursuant to these Acts, including bishops Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer. These men and women became known as the "Protestant Martyrs". There were 283 of them in all, and it is for their deaths that she's known as Bloody Mary (a term coined well after her death).note 

She might have succeeded in returning England to Catholicism had she borne a child to carry on her works, but that was not to be. She is thought to have become pregnant once, but although her abdomen swelled she never delivered a child. The most likely explanation is a molar pregnancy proceeding to choriocarcinoma, but some medical historians believe it was ovarian cancer. It was once suggested that she might have suffered a "phantom pregnancy",note  but modern historians are confident that her condition was primarily physical in nature, as phantom pregnancy is far rarer in real life than doctors of the 1930s realized. Also it isn't fatal.

By the time Mary died in 1558, the crowds who cheered her five years earlier were heaving sighs of relief at her passing. She died unmourned, unloved, and unrepentant to the last. Her great ally Cardinal Pole survived her by only twelve hours; with the two of them dead, any chance of a restoration of the Catholic faith. She was succeeded by her younger half-sister, Elizabeth.

Tropes associated with Mary Tudor in fiction:

  • Abusive Parents: In several portrayals, especially The Tudors. In this adaptation, Mary's father first bastardizes her, then forces her to work as a servant for her new half-sister Princess Elizabeth as a punishment for refusing to accept her parents' divorce. She is not allowed to see or even write to her mother, even on her deathbed. Similarly, her stepmother Anne Boleyn campaigns for her execution. Truth in Television too.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Philip of Spain is usually portrayed as having only married her for her title, and the fact that he spent more time in Spain during their marriage lends credence to this notion.
  • Bastard Bastard: Many if not most portrayals of Mary present her bitterness at being made illegitimate as the main reason she became so tyrannical.
  • Break the Cutie: In The Tudors, Mary goes from a sweet and caring Princess to a bitter, cynical fanatic as a result of her father's cruel and neglectful treatment of her after he divorces her mother.
  • Freudian Excuse: The Tudors explores Mary's life from early childhood right up until the death of her father Henry VIII, her whole arc more or less being an explanation of how she became so fanatical in her beliefs and hatefulness towards Protestants.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Due to the brutality of her reign and her nickname 'Bloody Mary', England often gets portrayed as a Crapsack World in works set while she's on the throne.
  • Historical Beauty Update: This one is subject to inversions. Mary is often portrayed as old and ugly at the time of her reign, and most portrayals before The Tudors came along forgot that she was reportedly very pretty in her youth.
  • Hufflepuff House: Mary gets considerably less adaptations love than her father or Elizabeth. Whenever she appears in Historical Fiction, it's usually in relation to either Henry or Elizabeth.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Her failed attempts at providing England with an heir is explored in Elizabeth and Carlos Rey Emperador.
  • Modest Royalty: Mary reportedly didn't like wearing too many ornaments or finery, so her gowns were usually quite simple. Mary, Bloody Mary shows her using this to her advantage - eavesdropping on some Gossipy Hens who assume the plainly dressed young woman in the room is a servant rather than the princess.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Her eyebrows were arranged in such a way that she appeared to be frowning all the time. As she is in the famous portrait of her.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Her reign is portrayed as this happening to England.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Reports of her describe her as a precocious child, and adaptations that feature her show her past self being nice and slowly getting corrupted by the trauma going on around her.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Some works present Mary this way. When she's not being depicted as outright evil and wicked, she's usually treated as someone who genuinely thinks she's doing the right thing, however terrible the reality is.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Mary doted on Elizabeth in her youth, but their relationship soured as they got older, and Mary saw Elizabeth as a rival to the throne. Elizabeth depicts Mary as being incredibly reluctant to sign Elizabeth's death warrant, in a Pet the Dog moment.

Portrayals of Mary Tudor in fiction:

  • Anne of the Thousand Days falsely shows Mary being at her mother's deathbed - when in reality she lived far away attending to Elizabeth and had not seen her mother in years. Henry VIII featured this too.
  • Kathy Burke plays Mary at the beginning of Elizabeth. She's shown as a rather maniacal ruler and yet pitiable at the same time, seemingly unable to go through with executing her own sister.
  • Carolyn Meyer wrote two books, Mary Bloody Mary and Beware, Princess Elizabeth, about Mary and Elizabeth respectively. The first book covers Mary's childhood from a fictitious betrothal to King Francisnote  up until the months after Anne's execution. The second starts at Henry's death and ends when Elizabeth is crowned queen.
  • Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl wrote a more sympathetic take on her rise to power - The Queen's Fool. The POV is from a young girl called Hannah who acts as Mary's servant and remains loyal to her despite the horror going on around her. This version uniquely portrays Elizabeth harsher - depicting her as a Fille Fatale.
  • Mary cameos in the film version of The Other Boleyn Girl in a scene where her mother gives birth to a stillborn baby, played by Constance Stride.
  • Sarah Bolger plays her in The Tudors. This was another unusually positive portrayal of Mary. Blathnaid McKeown plays her as a child.
  • Lisa plays Mary in an episode of The Simpsons where Marge narrates the story of Henry VIII and his wives.
  • An attraction based on Mary is in the London Dungeon, where the guests are told about the burnings of Protestants. A guest is usually invited on stage to be burnt at the stake.
  • The Sixth Doctor meets Mary in the Big Finish Doctor Who serial "The Marian Conspiracy". The Doctor realises that he and Mary are not so different in some ways, and how there's not much he can do to help anyone in a religious conflict where everyone is convinced they're justified.
  • Lady Jane has Mary as the chief antagonist and Anti-Villain. Played by Jane Lapotaire, Mary tries to save her cousin from execution several times, but eventually bows to pressure and seems deeply remorseful as she sends Jane to the scaffold.
  • The historical fictional book Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir presents Mary through the eyes of her adoring mother Katherine. Here, Mary is seen as a long-suffering victim of Anne Boleyn when she rises to power. By contrast, the book's follow-up Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession portrays her through the eyes of her stepmother, who sees her initially as a smart-mouthed, disobedient brat and continuously advocates for her father to punish or execute her... up until the end, where, herself about to be executed, Anne openly repents over her treatment of Mary and begs one of her ladies-in-waiting to send her apologies.
  • Much like the above, Wolf Hall portrays Mary as a terrorised young girl whose life has been turned upside down by the king's divorce to her mother. She's shown to be sickly, vulnerable, and deeply pitiable.
  • On Good Eats, she appears in the "Good Eats Bar" enjoying the beverage that was named after her, which Alton feels has been ruined by the modern bar industry.
  • Like Alison Weir, Norah Lofts wrote books about both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. In The King's Pleasure, Katherine sees Mary as loyal and precocious, and is alarmed by her grasp of affairs. The Concubine also depicts the scene of Anne begging her lady to go before Mary and apologize for her, hoping to soften her heart towards Elizabeth, since Mary will be the only one in any real position to protect her in the future.
  • Mary appears briefly Lucy Worsley's Six Wives docudrama (2016). Here, she is shown awkwardly adjusting to being back in her father's graces after he bastardized her and banished her following his divorce from his mother.
  • Another surprisingly positive portrayal of Mary is in the Spanish series Carlos Rey Emperador, which documents the unrequited love she felt for her husband and her tragic failed pregnancies, whilst barely mentioning the burnings that took place during her reign.
  • She briefly appears in The Prince and the Pauper, where she's portrayed as a glum and cruel woman, who is disliked by Prince Edward. This is a case of Historical Villain Upgrade, as Edward and Mary actually had a close relationship before he became king.
  • Appears in The Royal Diaries book Elizabeth: Red Rose of the House of Tudor, set during the last few weeks of Henry VIII's reign and the first week of Edward VI's. Here, she's portrayed as openly antagonistic toward Elizabeth and possibly scheming with the Spanish Ambassador to steal the throne from Edward, or barring that, marrying the Earl of Arran and helping him usurp the Scottish throne from Mary Queen of Scotsnote , despite the fact that in real life she didn't start hating Elizabeth until during Edward's reign and always acknowledged Edward's right to the throne prior to her own.
  • In the The Tudors fanfic Handmaid, because Anne Boleyn is serving as Henry and Katherine's handmaid, bearing Henry's children on Katherine's behalf, Henry never divorces Katherine and Mary is never declared illegitimate. Mary was initially distrustful of Anne, seeing her as a usurper, but after Katherine explained that Anne becoming a handmaid was her idea and she did it specifically to safeguard Mary's life and legitimacy, Mary warms up to Anne and adores her half-siblings. She eventually falls in love with and marries the Duke of Bavaria (after Katherine extracts a promise from him that he won't force Mary to change her religion) and has two children, Katherine and Phillip, briefly returning to England to attend her half-brother King Edmund's wedding (and meeting youngest sibling Owen for the first time).
  • In the Puella Magi Madoka Magica fic A History of Magic Mary had contracted to become a Puella Magi, her wish being to bring England back to the Catholic Church. She ends up fighting Lady Jane Grey about a week before Jane's execution to see who was the moral victor (a fight Mary ends up winning). Mary dies (or possibly becomes a witch), knowing her wish only lasted five years. She's hated by her people, and Elizabeth (who notably doesn't contract with Kyubey) mocks her, saying Mary would have been better off wishing for a son or for Phillip's love. Mary concludes that Jane Grey had the happier life because she died so young.