Mary's ascendence to power was the only successful rebellion of Tudor England, and her reign one of the shortest. Reviled afterwards by Protestant historians as 'Bloody Mary', she was about as popular in her own time as she is in the annals of history. Disinherited and declared illegitimate by her father Henry VIII as part of his lengthy divorce case against her mother, Catherine of Aragon, she staunchly defended her right to practice the Catholic faith of her mother for twenty years against the injuries inflicted against her by Henry VII and the government of Edward VI (Protector Somerset and the Duke of Northumberland).
During her period of hardship, Mary greatly resented the disgrace of her mother and clung closely to her powerful Habsburg cousin, Charles V. Charles V was the most powerful man in Europe and it was partly his influence that stopped the men of the English Reformation from taking too drastic action against Mary.
Although she had been declared illegitimate by Acts of Parliament, it seems that the people of England respected the legitimate succession by birth, whatever acts Henry VIII had passed to the contrary. After the death of Edward VI, the Duke of Northumberland took measures to put one Lady Jane Grey on the throne of the country, because she would have proved easily pliable and allowed him to maintain his power from behind the scenes. However, Mary declared herself Queen and marched to London. Northumberland's army deserted him, the Privy Council quickly changed sides, and Mary was met with great joy in the streets of the capital. On the advice of the learned Charles V she showed leniency to her foes, executing only Northumberland and two of his closest aides. This was the pinnacle of Mary's popularity, and over the next five years it would steadily decline due to her general political ineptitude and stubbornness. She showed these attributes in the first major issue to face her in her reign, that of her marriage.
The Spanish marriage
Mary had no love for her half-sister, Elizabeth. Not only was she Protestant, but she was by all accounts prettier and knew better how to have a good time than Mary. Thus she was determined to bear an heir that could carry on her Catholic tradition and stop Elizabeth from seizing the throne. The problem of a Queen looking for a King was not one the English people had faced before, and it was not one they gazed upon with zeal: if the Queen were to take a husband from abroad, there was fear he would monopolize control of English affairs, that England would become a mere province of some foreign land. And when Mary proposed marrying the greatest imperialist of them all, Philip II of Spain, there was uproar.
Her closest aides and Parliament beseeched her to take a husband within the country, and suggested Edward Courtenay, newly created the Earl of Devon, who was a descendent of the Plantagenet Kings. However, Courtenay had spent much of his life in prison after the execution of his father, the Marquis of Exeter, in 1538. However, since his release from prison Courtenay had begun to make up for lost time, and had
"embarked on a career of debauchery abhorrent to the Queen's strict mind."
So, as a man without religious credentials and a rather uncivilized character, Courtenay was rejected as a possible suitor. Mary had really made her mind up on the rather handsome Philip II anyway - he was Catholic and Spanish, two things which Mary found to be secure and good. The English people had many reservations about this enigmatic foreign figure, however, and a number of assurances of their sovereignty had to be built into the marriage treaty for them to accept it. Foremost among these was that no Spaniard be appointed to the Privy Council, or to a position in the Church. Secondly that England should not be involved in Philip's wars. Thirdly, if Mary died without issue, the throne was to pass to Elizabeth, not any child of Philip's. While the Spaniards were known to be wily and it was suspected that Philip might go back on his word, these provisions were at least sufficient for the marriage to gain the approval of the House of Commons and the Privy Council.
It was not, however, sufficient for the people of England and Sir Thomas Wyatt.
Sir Thomas Wyatt led men in rebellion almost as soon as the marriage treaty was concluded in January 1554. The rallying cry was hate of the Spanish and fear of the Inquisition, and the purpose seemed to be to force a marriage to Courtenay, or to place Elizabeth on the throne. A desire to protect Protestantism seemed to also motivate Wyatt - because after twenty years of suffering for refusing to recant her religion, few doubted that Mary would take every step to reimpose communion with Rome on her Kingdom.
Sir Thomas Wyatt was forced to rise early because the Crown had learnt of his treason - because of his sudden action, his three sets of co-conspirers across the country failed to rise simultaneously. Hence his planned four-pronged attack was reduced to a single "prong", which at least made speedy progress towards London. A force was sent under the Duke of Norfolk, now in his eighth decade, but the majority of it deserted to join Wyatt with the cry "We are all Englishmen." English nationalism and xenophobia had won out, and Norfolk could do little but slink back to London.
"London" declared the rebels "is sore for our coming." But, in one of the great successes of her reign, Mary made it otherwise. She rallyed the people of London behind her with great skill and flattery, and they decided to stay loyal to their rightful Queen and guard the gates of London and London Bridge against the rebels. After arriving at the gates of the capital and finding them locked, Wyatt could do little but surrender.
On the advice of Charles V, Mary was merciful to the rebels. She executed under a hundred, which reassured the English people that they had not thrown in their lot with a monarch who cared not for them. Mary had plenty of time to ferment that particular thought on their minds with the commencement of the burnings.
The persecution of Protestants
The burning of heretics was something that had been going on for centuries - in the 150 years before Mary's reign, heretics had been burnt at roughly once a year. Not even the Protestants denied that burning a heretic would save his soul - they just disagreed on the definition of "heresy"! The persecutions were started after the heresy laws of old were passed into parliament as part of the process of restoring the Catholic Church to England - but their original advocates soon realized that they were not being successful. 274 people were burnt during Mary's reign, most around London and the South East. All the burnings really did was harden the resistance of the remaining Protestants and the tenacity of the exile communities abroad. The exile communities were groupings of Englishmen abroad, mostly highly-intelligent scholars who spent their time promoting heretical doctrines.
The injuries inflicted against the Protestants during this period were recorded by the Protestant historian John Foxe in a work that became known as the Book of Martyrs. I quote here a typical entry detailing the execution of Dr. Rowland Taylor. A faggot was a package of wood bound with twine that was used to burn the heretics to death. -
"Then they bound him with chains, and the sheriff called on Donginham, a butcher, and commanded him to set up faggots; but he refused to do it and said, 'I am lame, sir, and not able to lift a faggot'. The sheriff threatened to send him to prison; notwithstanding he would not do it. Then appointed he Mulleine of Carsey, a man for his virtues fit to be a hangman; Soyce, a drunkard; and Warwick, who in King Edward's days lost one of his ears for seditious talk; also one Robert King, a deviser of interludes, who had doings with the gunpowder. These four were appointed to set up the faggots and make the fire, which they most dilligently did; and Warwick cruelly cast a faggot at him, which broke his face, that the blood did run down his visage. Then said Taylor, 'Oh friend, I have harm enough; what needed that?' Furthermore Sir John Shelton standing by as Taylor was saying the psalm Misrere in English, struck him on the lips. 'Ye knave', he said, 'speak Latin: I will make thee.' At last they set to fire; and Taylor holding up both hands, said, 'Merciful Father of heaven, for Jesus Christ my Saviour's sake, receive my soul into thy hands.' So stood he still without crying or moving, his hands folded, till Soyce with an halberd struck him on the head that the brains fell out, and the dead corpse fell into the fire."
This account is typical. The calmness and pious qualities of the executed was stressed not only by Foxe's admittedly biased account, but by all onlookers. Foxe's book was so influencial that it was a bestseller in the reign of Elizabeth I and remained on the shelves of all good religious households next to the Bible for centuries to come once England had again been removed from communion with Rome.
In all, the repression is seen as a bad thing, not just for humanitarian reasons but for the effect it had on Mary's popularity. It only strengthened the xenophobia of the people, and they felt they were being oppressed by Mary and her half-foreign government. As it happens, Philip II was constantly advising Mary to take another course of action, as he has himself a much more astute politician.
Mary died At St James' Palace on 17 November, 1558. She died without issue - although she believed herself pregnant twice, these were either 'phantom pregnancies' or stomach tumors. It may eventually have been a stomach tumor that killed her, although other accounts think maybe it was influenza. Either way, before she died she acknowledged Elizabeth, who followed her to the throne. She received a bad press due to the Book of Martyrs and Elizabethan propaganda. Despite the increase of xenophobia and religious intolerance under her, she actually achieved modest goals in the fields of financial administration and the application of justice. She had a firm grip of her Council and managed to withstand a dangerous rebellion. 'Bloody Mary' may have been short-sighted and a-political in the field of religion, one which her deeply-held biases influenced her hugely in, but she never actually faced a rebellion after Wyatt.
As for her beloved husband, he showed little interest to her towards the end of her reign - Mary was an old woman (37 when she took the throne), and it became increasingly obvious she would not produce him an heir. He also seems to have regarded her as rather bland and unattractive - indeed, the Imperial ambassador congratulated his master in putting up with a woman who could "afford him little in the way of physical pleasure."
Thank you, The Debutante.
The Tudor Years, Edited by John Lotherington (Hodder & Stoughton, 1994)
Edward VI and Mary: A Mid-Tudor crisis? by Nigel Heard (Hodder & Stoughton, 1990)
Peace, Print & Protestantism: 1450-1558 by C. S. L. Davies (Paladin, 1976)
England and Wales under the Tudors by Sinclair Atkins (Hodder & Stoughton, 1975)
Disorder and Rebellion in Tudor England by Nicholas Fellows (Hodder & Stoughton, 2001)
Tudor Rebellions by Anthony Fletcher (Longman, 1968). For those interested in the topic of disorder in Tudor England, this is perhaps the best general work.