There's no two ways about it: Queen Mary I of England has a bad reputation. Known as "Bloody Mary," Queen Mary's reign is associated with brutality, murder, and religious fervor. But does she truly deserve the nickname "Bloody Mary"? Especially when you take into account the actions of her father, Henry VIII, and the number of people that died during her brother, Edward VI's, reign? Queen Mary's death toll pales in comparison to the thousands of people Henry VIII was said to have killed - some in the most gruesome ways possible - yet Mary is the one who's called "Bloody." Let's find out why.
Mary Tudor was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She was a girl, which was a bit of a disappointment to her father, but she proved to be an intelligent and skilled child. At the age of 9, Henry VIII made her Princess of Wales and sent her to live along the Welsh border while he tried to find her a husband. She was baptized Catholic at birth and became a fervent believer which, after her father broke from the Church, put her in a difficult position both politically and religiously.
When Henry VIII declared his marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void, Mary was officially deemed a bastard. After Anne Boleyn gave birth to her own daughter, Elizabeth, she had Mary declared illegitimate, knocking her out of the line of succession. This was just one of the many grievances Mary would bear towards her step-mother, reviling her long after she was executed by Henry. Once Anne was dramatically and violently removed from court and her father married Jane Seymour, he reinstated Mary but only after she acknowledged him as head of the Church of England. For Mary, as a devout Catholic, this was a bitter pill to swallow.
Mary Tudor became queen after her brother, Edward VI, died in 1553. Edward VI became king when his father died in 1547 but he was only 10 years old. Regents ruled in his stead, and when he died, a religious power struggle broke out. Catholic factions favored Mary while Protestants called for Elizabeth to be queen. There was a brief interlude during which their royal cousin, Lady Jane Grey, was made queen by Edward VI's former regents, but after nine days, she was arrested - and later executed - and Mary took the throne.
Englishmen and women welcomed Queen Mary with cheers and excitement. According to sources,
"the number of caps that were thrown up at the proclamation are not to be told... Money was thrown out at windows for joy. The bonfires were without number... and ringing of bells... besides banquettings and singing in the streets for joy."
Mary represented a return to order and, from Mary's perspective, a return to Catholicism.