The below mentioned article provides a short review on Queen Mary’s Life (1553-1558). After reading this article you will learn about: 1. Queen Mary’s Difficulties 2. Counter-Reformation: Its Impact on England under Queen Mary.


  1. Queen Mary’s Difficulties
  2. Counter-Reformation: Its Impact on England under Queen Mary

1. Queen Mary’s Difficulties:

Self-seeking Duke of Northumberland had impressed upon Edward VI the need for a Protestant succession and persuaded him to leave the Crown to Lady Jane Grey, grand­daughter of Henry VII, who was married to North­umberland’s son. Northumberland proclaimed Lady Jane Grey Queen on the death of Edward VI.

Mary had to gather round her followers to get the throne for herself as per Henry VIII’s will. North­umberland marched against Mary who was then in the eastern countries, famous for Ket’s rebellion. The Council, in absence of Northumberland, de­clared Mary Queen.


As Mary entered London, there was much rejoicing and her accession (1553) was very popular. Her popularity was all the greater because the violence of the Reformers had roused great opposition and most of the nations were glad to accept Roman Catholicism as England had in the last years of Henry VIII’s reign.

Mary was the first woman to rule England and was thirty-six years old. One of her first acts was the execution of North­umberland and sending Lady Jane and her husband to the Tower.

Mary was a staunch Catholic. She was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon and she looked back upon her past life from her girlhood, in a bitter sense of humiliation. The cruel treatment of her mother by her father Henry and the persecution that she herself had suffered at the hands of her father and later from Duke of Northumberland, regent of Edward VI, were memories that burnt deep into her soul.

She possessed her father’s stub­bornness and his courage. She was, in fact, a kind-hearted, generous woman, with love of music and dancing. It was the failure of her marriage and the obstinate Protestantism of her subjects that made her sad and sour.


Mary, being a fervent Roman Catholic, was determined to re-establish papal power in her kingdom. She also dreamt of restoring Church pro­perty, but she little knew the character of the men who grew rich out of Church properties under Henry VIII and Edward VI.

For implementing her policy she needed the support of a husband, and the obvious choice, in her eyes, was Philip son of Emperor Charles V, the greatest of the Catholic princes in the world.

But her choice was far from popular in England, for the nation was proud of their indepen­dence and did not take kindly to the prospect of a foreign king, particularly one who was renowned for the persecution of heretics.

Mary was, however, firm in her choice and when a Parliamentary depu­tation protested against her choice, she bluntly told them that she would choose as God inspired her. Mary hoped, this marriage would remove the dan­ger of the accession of Mary Stuart in Scotland.


The nation saw in the queen’s choice the prospect of England’s becoming a Spanish dependency, introduction of Inquisition as in Spain, restoration of papal authority, crushing of Reformation, and the eventual position of toeing the line of Spanish war against France.

The proposed Spanish marriage led to Sir Thomas Wyatt’s insurrection in 1554, the object of which was to dethrone Mary in favour of her sister Elizabeth, who was to be married to Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire. But it was Courtenay himself who divulged the plot to Mary. Wyatt’s insurrection was suppressed, many executions followed. Among the victims were Lady Jane Grey and her husband.

Mary had already released Gardiner and made him her Chancellor. The Prayer Books were sup­pressed, the Acts passed under Edward VI were re­pealed and Bishops Latimer, Ridley, and others were deposed, and married clergy were expelled from their sees.

The Mass was restored. These steps virtually brought England back to the position where she had been under Henry VIII in matters of religion. These steps were not unpopular. But the question of Spanish marriage roused a spate of opposition.

The suppression with success of Wyatt’s insurrec­tion was practically a turning point in the reign of Mary and as leniency was considered no longer safe, a determined policy of restoration of Catholicism and completion of the marriage was taken up.

In two successive Parliaments Mary could not persuade the members to carry out her wishes and repeal the Act of Supremacy. A new Parliament was summoned and instructions were sent out to Sheriffs and Lord-Lieutenants to see that people chose members ‘as old laws require, and of wise, grave and Catholic sort’. The third Parliament was more submissive to the queen.

In the meantime, the same year (1554) Mary was married to Philip of Spain and the presence of latter in England perhaps overawed the members of the Parliament. Cardinal Pole who was attainted and sent into exile was freed by the Parliament which now reversed the attainder. Cardinal Pole granted absolution to the Parliament.

The Parliament also restored the Six Articles’ Act and re-introduced Latin Mass. Lollard statutes passed under Henry IV and Henry V were revived. The Parliament then repealed the Act of Supremacy which re-united England to Rome. But the Parliament could not be persuaded to restore the abbey lands or to repeal the statute of Praemunire.

It restored annates to the Pope after a severe struggle. This same Parliament re-enacted the statute De Heretico Cumburendo which Somerset had repealed (1555).

The next year (1555) persecution of the Protes­tants began. With the re-enactment of the law of heresy, there began the burning of Protestant mar­tyrs which gave Mary’s reign an evil reputation.

Embittered by the neglect of her by Philip who had returned to the Continent when he found that there was no chance of his getting any real power in England, disappointed by the lack of any heir and incensed by her jealousy of Elizabeth, Queen Mary began persecution of the Protestants in the thought that they would recant or at least the burning of their bodies would save their souls from perdition.

Marian persecution went on unabated during the years 1555-58. First to suffer was John Rogers. Three hundred persons of both sexes were burnt to death.

The Protestant bishops Hooper, Taylor, Sanders, Bradford, Latimer, Ridley were put to death. Latimer and Ridley were put to death in presence of the Vice-Chancellor at Oxford. Thomas Cranmer, the former Archbishop of Canterbury who recanted his Protestant faith was burnt at Oxford, for the queen refused to spare his life.

So perished the Protestant martyrs, in the same spirit in which More and Fisher and other nameless many, had died for the Catholic faith. Charles V, Emperor and father- in-law of Mary, bearing the temper of the people, advised moderation. But Mary was relentless.

Gardi­ner and Bonner at first supported the policy of persecution but soon became tired of it and viewed with suspicion the action of the Spaniards who were the real instigators of Marian persecution. But Mary honestly believed that she was serving the cause of Christ in persecuting the heretics and in her letters to the Council tried to stir up the bishops to even greater zeal.

Such was the pitilessness of persecution that in Guernsey where a pregnant woman was brought to the stake and in her terror gave birth to a child, which a compassionate spectator attempted to save, was snatched by others and thrown into the flames with the assent of the royal officers supervi­sing burning of the heretics, for the child was infected with the poison of heresy.

But in spite of the burning of the Protestants Mary could not stamp out Reformation in Eng­land. Religion, after all, is a matter of conscience and persecution did never succeed in sweeping out any religion. Reformation in England was regarded with mixed feelings before Mary had actually come to power, but her persecution sealed it with the blood of the martyrs.

A peasant woman was prophetic when she remarked that the burning of the Arch­bishop had burned the Pope out of England for ever. The imperial and French ambassadors, Catholics though they were, were shocked by the burnings. Even Philip warned Mary that she was proceeding at too great a pace.

The complaint of Spanish instigation by a section of writers, is not borne out by evi­dence. But nothing would check the fanatical zeal of the woman. Consciousness of the failure of her policy, disappointment in life and the lack of an heir, and all that made her lose her balance and her policy earned her the appellation Bloody Mary.

Towards the end of her life, Philip who had in the meantime become the king of Spain, came to England on a short visit, the purpose of which was to embroil England in a Spanish war against France. The war began under peculiar circumstances and at the instance of eighty year old Pope Paul IV.

The Spaniards had subdued Italy and conquered Naples, the native city of Pope Paul who called upon the French king to expel the Spaniards from Italy. Pope also declared Philip an excommunicate. By joining this war on her husband’s side, Mary was fighting against the head of the Catholic Church to which she had reconciled England.

Further, she was thereby taking side of her excommunicate husband. These were as contrary to her policy and belief as unpopular with the English nation. The result of the war was the loss of Calais the only remaining continental possession of England.

Failure of her policy and work, and lastly the loss of Calais came as serious disappointments to the queen. She became conscious that her life’s work would all be swept away by a Protestant successor. Worry and disappointment prematurely aged her and by the time she reached her middle forties she was completely exhausted.

Taken ill in August, 1558 she lingered for several weeks and the end came on November 17. ‘The Catholic reaction was over, since Mary, for all her good qualities, never understood the feelings of her people. By trying to burn out heresy in her kingdom she had lost her subjects’ love, and driven Protestantism deep into the foundations of English society.’

‘Honest but mis­guided, courageous but unfortunate, the first Tudor queen had failed to solve the problems of a new age’.

2. Counter-Reformation: Its Impact on England under Queen Mary:

Counter-Reformation also called Catholic Reformation was nothing counter to Reformation as such, but it was a counter move­ment to bring back those who had left the Catholic fold. It was intended to arrest the progress of the Reformation movement by reforming the Catholic Church itself.

The Council of Trent, in its various sittings, between 1545 and 1563 defined the Catholic doctrine more clearly and recognised the need for reform. Through reform it sought to revitalise the Catholic Church and thereby win back the wavering allegiance of many who had leaned for the time to the Reformed doctrines.

The Popes like Pius V or Sixtus V were men entirely different from the easy-going popes of the Renaissance. They placed the interest of the Church above art, literature or even temporal power. There was almost a revival of the great days of the medieval papacy.

This change was accompanied by drastic reforms in the discipline of the Church. Reformed clergy, Jesuit order, Inquisition and the Council of Trent were the factors that made Counter-Reformation a terrible force in Europe and it gradually spread into England.

The clergy were reformed from within. Much of their worldliness, scandalous living, greed and selfishness were removed and sincerity and devoutness restored. Sale of office and indulgence, was prohibited. The clergy were not to be absent from their dioceses and must be away from worldly pur­suits.

The society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius Loyola, became the vanguard of the Catholic cru­sade against the heretics and infidels all the world over. The elaborate system of education and training of the Jesuits enabled them to train and prepare the young to a life specially devoted to the papal service.

There had been no such enthusiastic preachers and teachers since the days of St. Dominic. They also devoted themselves to the task of recover­ing what had been lost to the Catholic Church. Their discipline, and obedience to superiors were soldier like.

They spread themselves all over Europe and England and succeeded in arresting the progress of Protestantism in countries like Spain, France, Poland, Italy and parts of the Netherlands. They were rightly regarded as the soldiers of the Counter- Reformation.

The Court of Inquisition—an eccles­iastical court punished the guilty clergy and sup­pressed heresy. The Court of Inquisition carried on a ruthless torture of the Non-Catholics in Spain and earned a great notoriety. Inquisition in other Catholic countries did not succeed to the extent it did in Spain, where none who had stepped into it came out without a sentence of-Execution.

The Inquisition was the sword of the Counter-Reforma­tion. The Council of Trent, a great convocation of the bishops held its sittings during the period 1545- 63 and clearly defined the Catholic doctrines. It emphasised that Church was the only authority to interpret the Holy Scriptures. Besides the Bible, the long standing customs of the Catholic Church formed the basis of the Catholic Christianity.

It reaffirmed with great emphasis the indispensability of the Seven Sacraments and confirmed the miraculous character of the Eucharist, i.e. the doctrine of Transubstantiation. If the Jesuit missionaries were the soldiers of the Counter-Reformation, Inquisition its sword, the Council of Trent was its shield.

The champion of the Counter-Reformation movement was Philip II. He was devoted to the cause of the papacy and took it as his mission of life to reconvert the countries that had gone out of the Catholic fold, with the help of arms if necessary. Yet it must be said that whereas the waverers could be forced back to the Catholic fold, sincere and honest Protestants could not be reconverted.

The peculiarity of religious persecution at all times, is that, it succeeds to a degree but never succeeds enough to liquidate the religion it persecutes. The Counter-Reformation, likewise succeeded partially. Where it succeeded well, was in bringing about a spirit of honesty an sincerity, morality and piety among the Christians, the Catholics in particular.

The Counter-Reformation cast its shadow in England during the reign of Mary who was zealous Catholic and married to Philip II, the champion of the movement itself. But more terrible storms had broken out on the Continent.

True that she derived her inspiration from the Counter-Reformation movement in Europe, but her neglect by Philip, her lack of an heir and her bitter memory of the cruel treatment of her mother by Henry VIII—all these made her sour and sad and she grew into a cruel fanatic.

To try to find Spanish instigation behind her policy of Protestant persecution is to go against facts. For, Charles V had advised her moderation, Philip, her husband warned her against proceeding in too great a pace. Mary’s single ambition was to restore England to the papal obedience and to save, as she saw it, her country from the moral sin, as also, to restore Catholic faith in England.

By a series of measures she reversed what had been done under Edward VI for Reformation. Restoration of the Six Articles’ Act, re-introduction of the Latin Mass, repeal of the Act of Supremacy, re-enactment of the law of heresy had while brought back Catholicism as it was at the death of Henry VIII, re-united England to Rome accepting the Pope as the supreme head of the English Church.

All this might have been tolerated by the nation, for these measures were passed by the Parliament which represented the nation, although subservient to the queen.

But Counter-Reformation in its cruel aspect began to show itself in the policy of persecution Mary began to follow from 1555 till the end of her rule. The burning of Protestant martyrs like Hooper, Taylor, Sanders, Bradford, Latimer, Ridley, and others were put to death. Thomas Cranmer, Archbi­shop of Canterbury was asked to recant which he did, but the queen would not spare his life.

He was also burnt to death. Persecution of heretics was Jin accepted principle of the Counter-Reformation, but burning of the sincere Protestants numbering more than three hundred had sealed the fate of Catholicism in England. As a peasant woman remarked with the burning of the Archbishop, the Pope was burnt in England.

It is true that at the initial stage Mary’s steps against ultra-Protestantism of Edward’s reign were more or less popular. But when she herself launched upon a similar career of extreme Catholicism, the people moved away from the Catholic Church. This had the effect of placing Protestantism on strong foundations in England.

It became clear, that the English nation was conservative in their religious belief and would not tolerate any extremism in this regard. England had so far little sympathy for Protestantism on the Edwardian model, yet the antipapal and anti-clerical nationalism which Henry VIII had so successfully exploited continued to be as strong as ever.

Her rule, besides that of Edward VI, the rule of a devout Spaniard had well-nigh ruined the achievements of the first two Tudors, and by trying to burn out heresy in her kingdom she had lost her subject’s love and driven Protestantism deep into the foundations of English society.

In another sphere Marian persecution brought about a profound change. Her cruel persecution, more cruelly perpetrated by her officers, led to the dawning of humanitarianism out of which emerged a general attitude of toleration of other’s faith and burning of heretics.