Within weeks of the collapse of the Wyatt Rebellion, Parliament approved the treaty that laid out the terms under which Mary was to become the wife of Philip of the House of Hapsburg. On July 19 the bridegroom arrived. Aware of the extent to which the marriage was disliked by Mary’s subjects high and low, he conducted himself with care. He made a great display of bringing with him chests supposedly loaded with treasure, was ostentatiously generous with Mary’s council and court, and let it be known that the costs of supporting his princely household would be paid out of his coffers and not the queen’s. Though he spoke no English he used his considerable charm, brought to a high polish in some of the most elegant courts in Europe, to ingratiate himself with England’s elite. “His way with the lords is so winning,” one of the Spanish grandees who had accompanied him to England reported in words that may have been a better reflection of his hopes than of reality, “that they themselves say they have never had a king to whom they so quickly grew attached.”
At the same time Philip was making a dazzling impression upon his wife-to-be. But how much of his bonhomie was a facade? And what might it have cost him to appear more delighted with his situation than he possibly could have been? He had been compelled by duty to move to a damp and chilly northern island, not many of whose inhabitants were at all happy to see him, and now he was obliged to conduct himself impeccably night and day while making preparations to marry an older cousin. He had left behind on the continent an aging father who was sinking into a morbid depression, perhaps even the mental illness that had caused Philip’s grandmother, Catherine of Aragon’s sister Joanna the Mad, to be kept in confinement most of her long life. He had put the Channel between himself and the various nerve centers of the sprawling Hapsburg family business, an empire that was beset with enemies, stumbling endlessly from crisis to crisis, and desperately in need of careful management. England must have felt like exile to Philip, like a distraction from more important matters. Even his displays of generosity—his lavishing of gifts on English courtiers and his pointed refusal to use a penny of Mary’s funds for his own purposes—were a painful pretense. In fact Philip was the financially hard-pressed junior partner in an insolvent international enterprise, and every gold coin that he bestowed on England was needed elsewhere. “If the English find out how hard up we are,” one of his retainers wrote, “I doubt whether we shall escape with our lives.”
Philip did his duty, however, and six days after his arrival he and Mary were wed in a grand public ceremony in which both were robed in cloth of gold. There was no coronation for Philip—Parliament refused to consent to that—but henceforth he was to be addressed as king. The marriage treaty granted him that dignity, and to remove any doubts about his entitlement to it, his father had had him declared king not only of Naples but, rather absurdly, of Jerusalem as well. And in fact he soon found himself functioning as something very like a king. From the start of their life together, Mary gratefully relied on Philip for guidance, support, and even leadership. Members of the council, even those opposed to a foreign marriage, found their dislike for the interloper overridden by their preference for dealing with a male rather than a female monarch. It seemed more natural.
With the wedding celebrated and the marriage presumably consummated, the Crown no longer had any need to keep Reginald Pole out of England. At the urging of the Hapsburgs, Pope Julius signed a bull relinquishing all claim to the English church’s alienated lands, at the same time instructing Pole, in his capacity as legate, to issue a general dispensation to all the current holders of those lands. Pole also absolved of schism a number of the conservative bishops who had accepted the royal supremacy under Henry VIII but lost their posts under Edward VI, so that they could now be restored to the good graces of their Catholic queen. Late in November he set foot on his native ground for the first time in two decades and was escorted from Dover to a barge waiting at Gravesend by eighteen hundred mounted men including court officials, bishops, and representatives of the nobility. These worthies presented him with an act of Parliament that repealed the attainder passed against him in the time of Henry VIII. His arrival at Westminster was made a great occasion, one that in pomp and solemnity almost rivaled Mary’s coronation and wedding. The cardinal was met by Chancellor Gardiner upon disembarking from his barge, by Philip at the gate of the palace, and finally, at the top of the stairs, by the queen. The four of them then set about accomplishing what Mary and Philip had already declared to be the purpose for which the new Parliament had been summoned: reconciliation with Rome.
Pole was at least as burdened as Mary by the religious struggles of the past quarter century, most of his family having been obliterated by Henry VIII, and he brought to his new duties a weighty array of assets and liabilities. On the positive side he was a man of high moral character, blameless in his personal life, a leader in ecclesiastical reform. He had long been a major figure at the papal court, serving (among many other assignments) as one of the pope’s representatives at the first meeting of the reformist Council of Trent in 1545. He probably would have been elected pope in 1549 had he condescended to show any real interest in the office. (He took the lofty view that no one should become pope who actively wished to do so.) Instead he declined an opportunity to be chosen by acclamation, and when the matter came to a vote he fell short by the thinnest of margins. He was committed to correcting the abuses of the Renaissance church generally and in England in particular, and in his pursuit of change he emphasized education for the laity and high standards of conduct and learning for the clergy at all levels.
He would have been a superb leader of the national church in more settled times, but in some ways he was ill suited to the England of the 1550s. He no longer understood his homeland (not appreciating, for example, the extent to which Protestantism had taken root in London), and he misjudged his cousin the queen. Not having been on hand to observe Mary as she faced down Dudley’s attempted coup and then Wyatt’s Rebellion, he underestimated her strength and courage. He looked not to Mary but to her husband for support, counsel, and leadership. In so doing he made it easier for skeptics to regard him less as an Englishman than as part of Philip’s Spanish faction. The effects would be profoundly negative where Pole’s (and Mary’s) aspirations were concerned: many in England and Rome alike would come to think that opposition to Philip, and to Spain, required opposition to Pole as well. Nor would the Catholic cause be helped, in the long term, by the mild-mannered Pole’s increasing determination to find and root out heresy as he and his church defined it. In this he was no different from an overwhelming majority of his contemporaries, his evangelical adversaries included, but he would have been more effective if he had differed.
During Mary’s reign as in the time of her father and brother, much of the population retained its attachment to the old church and was prepared to welcome its return. Thus Mary and her husband and advisers had little difficulty in seeing to it that the House of Commons was dominated by members who supported their agenda. The Parliament that convened in August 1554, two months before Pole’s return, showed no hesitation in cooperating with the new regime—and with the cardinal, too, once he was on the scene. In a great flurry of activity that began at the end of November and continued into 1555, Parliament turned back the calendar to the days when Henry VIII was still a favorite of the pope’s. Its two houses (and the convocation of the clergy as well) asked the Crown to petition Pole for a restoration of the ancient connection to Rome. Yet again great care was taken, first by Parliament in its entreaty and then by the queen and Pole in their response, to make clear that there could be no question of restoring the church’s lost property; obviously this remained an issue of the most extreme sensitivity. Thereafter a committee representing both houses drafted, and the Lords and Commons approved, a kind of omnibus bill reversing every piece of legislation passed since the end of the 1520s for the purpose of destroying the authority of the pope in England. At the same time Parliament restored heresy laws that dated back to the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V and had been nullified by the Edwardian reformers. This would be momentous in its consequences. It opened the way to an attack on Cranmer and other evangelicals that would end by blackening Mary’s name forever.
It was all quite astonishing. The schism, the Reformation, had been reversed with almost no resistance and no shedding of blood. The old faith had been restored, and because people on all sides of the question regarded this as either a profoundly joyous or a profoundly deplorable development, it is worthwhile to recall what, exactly, it entailed. It meant that the bishop of Rome, the pope, once again had the authority to correct heresy; implicit in this was the acknowledgment that the pope (or the papal administrative machinery), rather than the queen, had the right to decide what constituted heresy and who was or was not a heretic. It meant also that the pope had the authority not to choose England’s bishops, but to confirm the Crown’s choices and veto nominees it deemed unacceptable. It meant that the pope could dispense clergymen from the prohibitions against nonresidence and multiple benefices, set aside the canon law’s proscription of certain kinds of marriage, and hear appeals of the decisions of the English ecclesiastical courts. Even when taken together, these powers do not add up to a great deal unless one subscribes to the distinctly modern idea that no one has the right to impose religious uniformity. Certainly the pope’s authority infringed very little on the prerogatives of any monarch who did not claim, as Henry VIII and Edward VI did, to be the highest arbiter of divine truth. Nor did it have much to do with the everyday lives of ordinary people. For Mary, however, the restoration of the old ways was the greatest achievement imaginable. It appeared to justify all her sufferings and losses, to have made everything worthwhile. That her husband and the churchmen he had brought with him from Spain had participated actively in making it happen added to the sweetness of what she had accomplished.
The culmination came that same autumn with the discovery, confirmed by her physicians, that Mary was pregnant. This was announced to the people and publicly celebrated, and when the queen first felt the child move in her womb she ordered Te Deums to be sung in thanksgiving. Every dream she could ever have had for herself or for England had come to pass. She sat on the throne; she had a husband whom she admired, trusted, and loved; the faith that she had struggled so long to maintain was once again the faith of her countrymen; and now—climactic miracle—there was going to be an heir. Surely God had saved her for this transcendent destiny, and surely it was incumbent on Mary to behave magnanimously in response to so much divine bounty. Already in October John Dudley’s widow, after months of begging, cajoling, and bribing anyone who would listen to her and had access to Mary and Philip, had won the release from the Tower of her four surviving sons (one of whom died soon after being freed). Mary even allowed herself, or so it was said, to be dissuaded by Philip from sending Elizabeth to a convent in Spain. The queen continued to look skeptically on her sister’s demonstrations of fidelity to the old religion, and time would show that she was right to do so even if she was acting less on the basis of hard evidence than in response to intuition. Philip, on the other hand, had good reason to want Elizabeth to remain in England and succeed to the throne if Mary died without issue. The most obvious alternative to Elizabeth was the other Mary, the young queen of the Scots, who soon would be marrying the heir to the French throne. The thought that a queen of Scotland and France might also inherit the throne of England was at least as intolerable from the Hapsburg perspective as Mary’s choice of Philip had been to the French.
The period of her pregnancy was the pinnacle of Mary Tudor’s life. It did not last long, and the drumbeat of discord, frustration, disappointment, and loss soon resumed. The first thing that went wrong was that the evangelicals proved far more persistent than the conservatives had ever supposed they would dare to be. Protestant preachers who had not fled to the continent when Mary became queen not only publicly condemned transubstantiation, free will, the restored Latin liturgy, and the sacraments but mocked the Crown and challenged the legitimacy of everything it was doing. There were physical assaults on conservative clergy, and pamphlets attacking Mary and her husband and their church poured into England from Europe, often with the assistance of the king of France. Though the dissenters were a diverse lot, divided among themselves on sometimes arcane points of doctrine and practice, to the queen and council they had the appearance of a monolithic threat. Some of the priests who had come with Philip from Spain, including the friar who was now Mary’s confessor, urged the necessity of suppressing these heretics and stopping the spread of their sedition.
Action was made possible by Parliament’s restoration of the heresy statutes, and targets were available in the form of those evangelicals who had been conspicuous in supporting Jane Grey and preaching against the return to traditional orthodoxy. Several such figures were already in custody, and in January 1555 six of them were brought before a court of bishops with Stephen Gardiner presiding. One of the six recanted, another asked for time to consider his position, and after a day of debate on the all-too-familiar old issues (the mass, justification by faith, and the rest) the remaining four were declared excommunicated. In accordance with traditional practice they were then handed over to the civil authorities for disposition—which meant for killing. The first to die was a preacher named Rogers, who was burned on February 4 and thus became the first of the Protestant martyrs to lose his life to Marian persecution. Within days it was the turn of John Hooper, who had been made bishop first of Gloucester and then of Worcester in the last few years of Edward’s reign and was so Calvinist in his opinions (condemning, for example, the wearing of traditional clerical vestments) that he was often at odds even with Cranmer. All four died heroically, scorning invitations to save themselves by abjuring their beliefs. When another six were brought before the court, found guilty of heresy, and excommunicated, they, too, showed themselves to be unafraid to die.
And so began that sustained policy of killing that is the only thing for which Queen Mary I is generally remembered today—the long series of ugly events that earned for her the ineradicable title Bloody Mary. Exactly how it happened, and who exactly was responsible for starting and continuing it, remains one of the mysteries of the Tudor Age. What is clear is that it was controversial even within the court and council. It has been depicted as a transplanting of the Spanish Inquisition, but in fact it differed from Spanish practice in crucial respects and some of the most prominent Spanish churchmen in Philip’s household regarded it with horror. On the day after the second group of prisoners was convicted and passed on to the government, Philip’s confessor Alfonso de Castro, at a mass attended by the queen and king and other dignitaries, condemned the execution of heretics as contrary to the teachings of Christ and far less likely than patient instruction to keep heretics from attracting followers or suffering damnation. His words (would he have dared to utter them in such a setting without Philip’s knowledge and approval?) led to a suspension of trials and executions alike. But little more than a month later it was discovered that yet another rebellion was being plotted, this time in East Anglia. The capture of another ring of would-be rebels added to the court’s sense of danger and made it easy to dismiss restraint as a contemptible sign of weakness. Magistrates across the kingdom were instructed to be on the alert for heresy, and to hand unrepentant suspects over to their local bishops for examination. The trials and executions resumed.
It was long and widely believed that Gardiner was a driving force, even the driving force, behind the burnings. In fact little evidence supports this notion, and much puts it in doubt. After presiding at the first trial and thereby involving himself in the condemnation of Rogers, Hooper, and their associates, Gardiner handed the direction of the court’s activities over to Edmund Bonner, the restored bishop of London, and took no further part in them. He came to see the executions as unproductive if not inherently wrong. Another figure sometimes singled out as the villain of the story, Cardinal Pole, was indeed fixated on the dangers of heresy, but that he regarded wholesale killing—or any killing—as the answer to those dangers is quite another matter. There is food for doubt in the fact that, when Pole became archbishop of Canterbury, the burnings came to an abrupt and permanent halt in that jurisdiction.
Bonner of London has always been seen as an especially eager killer, but his guilt is no longer so clear as it once seemed. After the resumption of the trials and burnings, the queen’s aged treasurer William Paulet complained to the council that the bishops were not displaying enough zeal in taking action against those suspects brought to their attention. At his urging the council reprimanded Bonner specifically, directing him to be more diligent. Under pressure of this kind not only Bonner but other bishops swallowed whatever reluctance they may have felt to take action against those courageous or cranky enough to stand firmly for their departures from orthodoxy. Ultimately the blame must be left at the feet of the queen, who cannot be excused from a charge of fanaticism in spite of being neither cruel nor vengeful (she was quite the opposite) in other areas of her life and reign. Disappointingly little is known of her role in the campaign of persecution, and even less is known of what she thought of it all. The results in any case were famously repulsive and naturally destructive of Mary’s reputation, her legacy, and the cause that she had put at the center of her life. Something on the order of three hundred individuals were executed before it all ended, an overwhelming majority in the area of southeastern England centered on London. Most were obscure commoners, tradesmen, and craftsmen, incapable of posing a threat to church or state or even the leadership of their home communities.
How aware most people were of the killings, or how deeply or even if they were horrified, is unknown. The burnings were a vile spectacle in any case, and as they went on month after month they fed the evangelicals’ hatred of the regime. It became easy to depict Mary’s church as synonymous with oppression—worse, with oppression from abroad—and difficult to defend it or the queen herself. A darkness descended upon the reign, one that must have been connected in some deep way to the sufferings of Mary’s life—the hatred that she must, at some level, have felt for her father—and would continue to the end. To the extent that Mary thought she was serving Rome, she would soon find herself repaid in strange coin indeed.
At the start of 1555, however, all that lay in the future. For the time being, with her husband at her side and the birth of their child approaching, Mary felt free to think expansively, to pursue new goals in fields not yet explored. She decided to try her hand at peacemaking. The Crown no longer possessed the resources that had permitted Henry VIII and then Somerset to make war on the continent and join in European games of power, but the games went on, wasting lives and treasure as profligately as ever. Perhaps not surprisingly the earnest Mary, devoid of dreams of conquest or personal glory, began to hope that she might be able to bring the adversaries together and help them arrive at a lasting concord. The result was a conference at Gravelines, on France’s Channel coast, where neither France nor Spain proved willing to compromise its territorial claims. The meetings cost England a good deal of money and ended with nothing accomplished. Mary had experienced her first failure as queen.
Worse soon followed. Just weeks after the formal reunion with Rome, the death of Pope Julius set in motion a sequence of events that would magnify to an almost preposterous extent the price that Mary paid for having chosen a Hapsburg spouse. Julius had been a throwback to the most notorious pontiffs of the Renaissance, wallowing in luxury, enriching his relatives, and elevating to the College of Cardinals the adolescent whom he had almost certainly made his lover. The excesses of his reign hardened the determination of reformers to bring such scandals to an end. After a period of confusion, during which a reformist pope was elected but died after three weeks in office and Reginald Pole was twice more a leading candidate despite being far away in England and uninterested, the octogenarian Cardinal Giovanni Pietro Caraffa took office as Paul IV. For the emperor Charles and his son Philip, this was a serious setback. The Caraffas were among the leading families of Naples, one of the most important of the Hapsburg possessions in Italy (the emperor, remember, had made his son king of Naples in preparation for the latter’s marriage to Mary), and this part of his background dominated the new pope’s view of international affairs. Like most Neapolitans he hated the Hapsburgs—a long tour of duty as nuncio in Spain had done nothing to improve his opinion—and though he had no ambition to become pope, he was provoked into accepting election by the efforts of the imperial agents in Rome to defeat him. His supporters saw in him a severely self-denying ascetic, a man whose way of life could not have contrasted more sharply with that of Julius III. One of his most conspicuous characteristics, admired by some cardinals but troubling to others, was a burning hostility to anything that smacked, to him, of heresy, and an inclination to condemn as heresy any idea not clearly rooted in the scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages. It was possible to see him as either a selflessly holy or a disturbingly hard man. Whether out of holiness or hardness, he was unwilling to compromise or curry favor even with his colleagues at the papal court.
The improbable election of such an impolitic man reflected the cardinals’ sense of how desperately necessary it now was to put the church back on the path of reform. In any case it meant trouble for the Hapsburgs and their position in Italy, and Philip and his father knew it. It meant trouble for Pole, too, though in the beginning that must have been less obvious. Both Pole and Caraffa had been prominent in Rome for many years, and both had been active in trying to work out a consistent line of response to the teachings of the Lutherans and evangelicals. In the course of all this, however, the two had become something other than friends. Caraffa, in fact, had come to suspect that the amicable Pole was so willing to arrive at a friendly resolution of such questions as justification by faith as to be flirting with heresy himself. His distrust was compounded, inevitably, by the fact that Pole was now associated with the despised Philip in England. If there was a tinge of fanaticism in Paul’s character, however, he was no maniac. Shortly after his election he issued a general condemnation of the confiscation of church property. But he understood that his position could have unwelcome consequences in England. Therefore he neutralized it by issuing a bull declaring that the religious houses suppressed by Henry VIII no longer existed even in a legalistic sense, that they were and would remain legally distinct from any new houses established under Mary, and that such new houses therefore had no claim to what had been taken from the old. In this way he reinforced Mary’s position on the land question, the position that Pole, too, had been brought around to accepting. On the surface, all remained well between England and Rome. Though the pope was seeking to ally himself with France against the Hapsburgs, he was, for a while, able to keep his efforts concealed.
For a while, therefore, the worst of Mary’s problems had almost nothing to do with pope or church. They were painful problems all the same, and they carried with them painful consequences. By June, after increasingly embarrassing postponements of the date on which her child was likely to be born, it had become clear that she was not expecting at all. There is no way of knowing what her supposed pregnancy was all about—whether she miscarried, or had been swollen by a tumor, or had allowed a desperate longing for an heir to deceive herself and her eager-to-please physicians. Whatever the case, Mary’s hopes fell with a smash, and gone with them was the possibility that some son of Philip’s might make England a Hapsburg kingdom. Philip began to chafe at being kept in England, and he had compelling reasons to depart. His father was in increasingly fragile health and more eager than ever to rid himself of his burdens. The Hapsburg dynasty now had no future in England, the Spaniards continued to be regarded as interlopers, and because Philip was continuing to pay all the expenses of his household the whole enterprise was becoming not only pointless but seriously wasteful. Mary, however, was almost pathetically devoted to Philip, as eager to depend on him as she once had been to have his father’s guidance. When in September he left England, she sank into sorrow. The harvest had failed, turning 1555 into a year of hardship across England and of outright famine in some districts.
Once on the continent, Philip found himself sinking into his family’s quagmire of problems. He had been regent of Spain (strictly speaking, of the still-distinct kingdoms of Aragon and Castile) since before his move to England, and now his father made him regent of the Netherlands as well. To Mary’s appeals that he return to England, he replied that he could do so only if formally crowned as king—something that (as he undoubtedly understood) Parliament would never allow. When Parliament met in the month after Philip’s departure, it showed itself to be less ready than in the past to conform to the Crown’s agenda. The session was marked by almost childish conflicts; at one point Commons was locked inside its chambers because of its refusal to approve one of the queen’s bills, and at another it locked itself in to avoid having to take action it didn’t want to take. At the heart of the squabbling was money. Mary made her first request for a tax levy since becoming queen and was granted only part of what she asked. She had more success in restoring some of the former revenues of the church, winning agreement mainly because the money in question was the approximately £60,000 per year that the government still received from lands seized by Henry VIII and not subsequently sold or given away. In a sense, therefore, the restoration would cost the gentry and the nobility nothing. Even so, Mary was able to win agreement only by arguing that, having repudiated the supremacy, she could not in good conscience keep money that had been diverted to the Crown on the basis of that supremacy. Mary and Gardiner wanted to introduce legislation barring Elizabeth from the succession—they continued to believe her complicit in Wyatt’s Rebellion and possibly other plots as well, and had reason to believe that her sympathies lay with the reformed religion—but were held back by the fear that such a move would be not only doomed to failure but dangerous. Enough ill feeling had been aroused by the October executions of former evangelical bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley to make it obvious that there were limits to how far the government could safely go. Questions of religion aside, Elizabeth was the daughter of a king who had placed her in the line of succession. Her claim to the throne, therefore, was widely seen as incontestable.
November brought a weighty loss. Gardiner, having exhausted himself in the effort to extract from a recalcitrant Parliament the resources needed to keep a virtually bankrupt government afloat and allow a threadbare church to recover some of its strength, fell ill and in a short time died. With his death there passed from the scene, and from the royal service, a man whose experience reached far back into the reign of Henry VIII and whose political skills, if not those of a Wolsey or a Cromwell, were unmatched by any living councilor. There was no one to replace him—no one, at least, in whom the queen was prepared to put her trust. Increasingly, in dealing both with Parliament and with foreign governments, she looked for advice only to that little circle of political neophytes that had formed the nucleus of her household before her brother’s death. And it, too, was being diminished by mortality. An ever more solitary queen assumed Gardiner’s burdens herself and soldiered on, hoping that her husband would return and begging him to do so. Reginald Pole had so completely won Philip’s confidence while the two were together in England that Philip regarded him as a kind of unofficial regent and expected him to look out for the interests of the Crown, and Mary, too, had high confidence in the cardinal. But Pole’s position was still that of legate, and he was so occupied with the needs of a gravely damaged church that when the queen attempted to make him chancellor, both he himself and the pope objected—no doubt for very different reasons. His emphasis, not surprisingly in a man who from the beginning of his career had wanted only a life of scholarship, was on raising the quality of the clergy through education while also improving the education of the laity. He also explored reconciliation with the evangelicals, if not on the most generous terms; “heretics” were welcomed back into the church so long as they repudiated all the ecclesiastical legislation enacted between 1529 and the death of Edward VI, and married priests could retain their posts only if they put away their wives.
During his years in exile Pole had consistently pointed to the grim consequences of clerical misconduct, accusing the clergy of much responsibility for the disruptions that became the Reformation. He now brought those same ideas to bear upon England by convening, in the closing weeks of 1555, a synod of the clergy at Westminster. This gathering, by the time of its adjournment in February, approved an agenda called the Twelve Decrees aimed at rebuilding the church. Every diocese was to establish a seminary for the training of parish clergy, and the laity, too, were to be made more knowledgeable through the dissemination of a new prayer book (one very different from Cranmer’s, of course), new catechisms and books of homilies, and an English translation of the Bible. Bishops were to be held responsible for maintaining high standards of clerical conduct and for seeing to it that income and expenditures were carefully managed. The criteria that Pole set for the selection of bishops were, if anything, unrealistically high under the prevailing circumstances. The candidates that he chose were of impressive moral character and in many cases had the kinds of exceptional scholarly credentials that he found appealing. But candidates of this kind were not abundant after a generation of turmoil, and vacancies were not filled quickly. Undoubtedly Pole’s ideas could have had a major impact if fate had granted him the time required for their implementation. But throughout the kingdom the church was so lacking in resources that only York was able to get a seminary up and running.
And that was not the worst of it. Far away in Rome the new pope was stewing. Determined to drive the Hapsburgs out of Naples, he had continued to pursue an understanding with Henry II of France. Ordinarily Henry would have welcomed the pope’s overtures, and in fact he agreed at one point to enter into an alliance that was for the time being to remain secret. But when Philip offered a five-year truce, the French king, his treasury as empty as Mary’s and Philip’s, grabbed at it eagerly. An exasperated pope was left to fend for himself, and to seethe with anger over reports of Cardinal Pole’s putative willingness to come to an accommodation with the heretics of England. Europe was entering one of those periods when the complexities of its politics matched its instability. Charles V abdicated the crowns of Aragon and Castile in Philip’s favor, at about the same time reluctantly allowing his brother Ferdinand to succeed him as Holy Roman emperor because the princes of Germany rejected Philip as unacceptably Spanish. Philip, free for the moment of war with France but experienced enough to expect Henry II to resume hostilities as soon as he found the means to do so, returned to Spain to attend to his long-neglected duties there. Meanwhile he had to manage at very long distance his possessions in the Netherlands, Italy, and America. To compound his difficulties he was in conflict now with his uncle Ferdinand, who as new emperor had both possessions and ambitions in Italy. It is hardly surprising if England, and his wife the English queen, seemed of less than the highest importance.
Mary’s perspective was of course entirely different. With Gardiner gone, dissenters were becoming increasingly bold in deploring the Spanish marriage, the reunion with Rome, and Mary’s whole regime. They accused the queen of being more Spanish than English in her loyalties and of scheming to deliver England permanently into the hands of the Hapsburgs even if she and Philip failed to produce a child. In March the authorities uncovered a plot—originally encouraged by Henry of France, though he lost interest when discovery might have jeopardized his treaty with Philip—to overthrow Mary and put Elizabeth on the throne. Though a number of the conspirators were captured and executed, their leaders (including Sir Henry Dudley, a freebooting soldier and distant cousin of John Dudley, the late and unlamented Duke of Northumberland) remained at large in France. Efforts to trace the plot down to its roots ended in frustration. Elizabeth, who may or may not have been a party to it, was extricated from danger when Philip sent orders that she was not to be questioned or investigated. As in the aftermath of Wyatt’s Rebellion, he was acting less as the uncrowned king of England than in the interests of the Spanish Crown. Again his concern was that if Elizabeth perished—and Mary would surely have been satisfied to see her die if she could be proved guilty of treason—the next in line to the throne would be Mary, Queen of Scots.
During the investigation of the so-called Henry Dudley conspiracy, with the court feeling itself under threat both from subversives at home and exiles abroad, Thomas Cranmer was burned for heresy. His execution was the most notorious event of Mary’s reign, one that cast no credit on any of the people involved, Cranmer included. From the time when his compeers Latimer and Ridley went bravely to their deaths, Cranmer had begun denying the evangelical beliefs that he had devoted himself to imposing upon all of England. He repeatedly renounced the idea of royal supremacy and took upon himself responsibility for all the religious troubles that England had undergone since his consecration as archbishop of Canterbury. He went so far as to beg the pope for forgiveness, declaring that he deserved not only death but eternal punishment. In doing so he repudiated his own entire career and gave his enemies a propaganda victory of tremendous potential value. But Mary and her advisers snatched from the jaws of that victory an even greater defeat. Instead of being satisfied with Cranmer’s surrender and allowing him to fade away into obscurity, they pushed ahead with plans for his execution. When the hour of his death arrived, seeing that he no longer had anything to gain or lose, Cranmer declared that all his recantations had been lies told in the hope of saving his life and that in fact he recanted nothing. Famously, when the fire was lit, he is supposed to have held his right hand in the flames—can anyone who has ever scorched a finger with a kitchen match believe this story?—while telling onlookers that it must be punished first because it had written the lies. Be that as it may, the drama of his last moments established Cranmer as chief among those martyred in the English Protestant cause. Others were being burned at this time, but few were known to the public. Many of the evangelical clergy had fled abroad—first to Lutheran Germany, where they were unwelcome because of their departures from Lutheran theology, and then to Switzerland, where they were embraced. Those members of the gentry who could not contain their hatred for Philip and Spain went mainly to France, where they received royal support except during those intervals when Henry II found it advantageous to suspend his hostility to the Hapsburgs and therefore to Mary.
The most recent of those intervals came to its inevitable end in July 1556. Paul IV was still hoping to draw France into his ancestral feud with the Hapsburgs, and now at last he found Henry ready to be drawn. An alliance was agreed under the terms of which, once the Spanish had been expelled from Italy, one of Henry’s sons would become king of Naples (evidently the pope was willing to accept foreign rule of his home city so long as it was not Hapsburg domination) and another would become Duke of Milan. Philip retaliated by ordering his viceroy the Duke of Alba to invade the Papal States. When the pope found himself without the means to defend Rome, he offered, unhappily, to make peace. That might have been the end of the trouble, but then Henry II sent an army under the Duke of Guise into Italy with orders to support the pope, and all the adversaries found themselves at sword’s point yet again. Predictably, the pope was enraged with Philip—so enraged that he excommunicated him, declaring him a “son of iniquity” and ordering the eviction of every Spaniard in Rome and the withdrawal of every papal legate from the territories of the Hapsburgs. Having been installed as archbishop of Canterbury just days after Cranmer’s death (he had finally been ordained), Pole was not required to leave England. This fresh rupture, however, gravely compromised his ability to proceed with reform. His work of rejuvenating the church, the Westminster synod included, came shuddering to a halt.
Mary was caught in the middle. She appears to have had little difficulty deciding that, at least in this matter, her loyalty was owed to her spouse. Her inclinations were reinforced in January 1557 when Henry of France opened a new front in his conflict with Philip by attacking the Flemish city of Douai, a Hapsburg possession. Mary had previously warned the French against an action of this kind, reminding them that Douai had been covered by a 1543 mutual defense treaty between Henry VIII and Charles V and asserting that the treaty remained in effect. The French king, who like his father Francis loved to fish in England’s as well as Spain’s most troubled waters, was predictably unimpressed. As far as he was concerned, Mary’s connection to the Hapsburgs meant that she and her kingdom were France’s enemies. It was the pope’s willingness to challenge Hapsburg rule in Italy that had caused him to rush troops to Italy, and it was because those troops were now stymied that he had turned his attention to Flanders, where he could open a new front against the Hapsburgs.
Philip, his resources stretched thin, desperately needed English help, and as Mary’s consort he thought himself entitled to it. In March he crossed the Channel, received a rapturous welcome from his adoring wife, and set about trying to secure the use of English ships, naval bases, and troops. Mary was fully on his side but prudently looked to her council to make the necessary commitment. This presented Philip with a challenge of the first order: most members of the council wanted nothing to do with his war, largely if not entirely because the treasury was so deplorably short of funds. In opposing Philip, they could point to the part of the marriage treaty stating that England was not to be drawn into Spain’s conflicts. Even Pole, despite the trusting relationship that he had formed with Philip, was opposed to helping him against the pope. All his life Pole had demonstrated, and repeatedly proved his willingness to suffer for, a keen sense of obligation to Rome. He was not prepared to change now, but neither did he wish to be disloyal to Mary or her husband. And so he withdrew from politics, declining to attend council meetings or even to meet with Philip. He received scant thanks. On April 29 the pope issued an order for Pole to return to Rome for unexplained reasons that were universally understood to involve accusations of heresy. The absurd process was now under way by which, in the space of not many months, Pope Paul would make himself the implacable enemy of the very people who had restored the Catholic Church in England.
Philip might never have received English help if not for an act of pure folly. Among the young rakehells and soldiers of fortune who had gone into exile in France after Mary won the crown was her twenty-four-year-old relative Thomas Stafford, who had inherited royal blood through both his father and his mother, regarded himself as entitled to the Dukedom of Buckingham (which had belonged to his family until his grandfather was executed by Henry VIII), and was an ardent Protestant in spite of being a nephew of Cardinal Pole. Lured by fantastic visions of glory, and drawing on mysterious sources of support that probably included Henry of France, Stafford came ashore at Scarborough in the north of England on April 25 at the head of a mixed force of English, French, and Scottish followers who numbered at least thirty but no more than a hundred. Taking possession of a poorly defended and half-ruined castle, he issued a proclamation calling upon the people of England to join him in deposing Mary and establishing a protectorate. So far as is known, he failed to attract a single recruit. Stafford was in custody within four days of his landing, and before the end of May he was, to little public notice, executed for treason. At court his adventure was interpreted as the latest French outrage. It brought the council around to supporting Philip and the queen.
As preparations got under way for assembling an army and transporting it to the continent, efforts were made to dissuade the pope from recalling Pole. The English ambassador in Rome begged the pope to reconsider, Mary and Philip sent appeals of their own, and at last even the diffident Pole wrote to say that the feeble state of the church in England required the presence of someone authorized to represent Rome. All of it availed nothing or less than nothing. It appears, rather, to have thrown Pope Paul into a fresh rage. He placed one of Pole’s oldest friends and fellow reformers, Cardinal Giovanni Morone, under arrest on a variety of heresy charges of the kind that probably would have been brought against Pole himself had he been in Rome. Like Pole, Morone had lost the trust of the archconservatives with his willingness to deal with the Lutheran reformers on respectful terms and acknowledge that not all blame for the breakup of the church lay on the Protestant side. The pope made malicious use of Pole’s letter by replacing him as legate with Friar William Peto, the same Observant Franciscan who decades before had denounced Henry VIII to his face for seeking to discard Catherine of Aragon. Peto was now back at his old monastery at Greenwich—Mary herself had restored it—and was serving as confessor to the queen. The situation deteriorated into a ridiculous tangle. Pole, loyal as always, would have traveled to Rome as ordered but was forbidden to do so by Mary, who insisted that he was entitled to defend himself in England. Peto, eighty years old and in bad health, protested that he was neither able nor willing to serve. The nuncio bringing official notification of Peto’s appointment was intercepted at Calais and prevented from crossing the Channel, and his mission was soon rendered pointless by Peto’s death. The pope wanted to declare that Philip was no longer legitimately king of anything but was dissuaded by cooler heads. He contented himself with refusing to transact any business with the English church. Mary’s (and Pole’s) nominations for vacant bishoprics were ignored, and the number of vacancies mounted.
After three consecutive crop failures and widespread hunger, a weakened population was being ravaged by an influenza epidemic that would in a few years claim hundreds of thousands of lives. Nevertheless an army of seven thousand men was somehow pulled together, and by July it was on the continent ready to join Philip’s thirty thousand Spanish, German, and Flemish troops in the war with France. Philip, too, was back on the continent, but neither he nor the English army was on the scene when, in September, the main Hapsburg force inflicted a devastating defeat on the French at St. Quentin. Fully half of the French army was killed or taken prisoner, and upon receiving the news, the pope abandoned his hopes for Italy and signaled his willingness to make peace. Henry II then ordered the army that he had sent to the pope’s assistance to return home and asked its commander, the Duke of Guise, to find some way to avenge the shame of St. Quentin. When around the turn of the year Mary announced that she was once again pregnant, no one including her husband paid serious attention. Philip sent congratulations, but they were little more than a formality. It was, after all, nearly six months since he had last seen her.
January 1558 brought the crowning calamity of Mary’s reign: the loss of Calais, the last of England’s once-vast holdings on the European mainland. The Duke of Guise, having received reports of the sorry state of Calais’s defenses from French ambassadors passing through the town after their expulsion from England, knew that no one would expect a midwinter assault. He positioned his army in such a way as to appear to be preparing a move against St. Quentin, wheeled it around for a surprise advance on Calais, and extracted a surrender from its garrison so quickly that neither Philip nor the English had any chance of responding. Though the loss would prove to be of no strategic importance—the English figured out in time that holding Calais had produced no benefits commensurate with the costs—it came as a shock to England’s nascent national pride and a humiliation for Mary. Philip, inevitably but unfairly, was blamed. He had warned the council in advance of Guise’s offensive and offered to provide Spanish troops for the defense—an offer that was rejected because of groundless suspicions that Philip wanted Calais for himself. Afterward, when he offered to match whatever number of troops England made available to retake Calais, he was again rebuffed. A sense of things coming to an end, a miasma of something like death, was beginning to hang over Mary and her court. A Parliament was called but quickly prorogued after showing itself unwilling to help the government with its financial problems, and by May the queen was no longer talking of an expected child.
Mary was ill that month, and again in August, and yet again in October. In September Charles V died, removing whatever small hope Mary might still have had of Philip’s return to England. Finally, knowing that Reginald Pole, too, was seriously ill, resigned to her own impending death and to the certainty that she would be succeeded by her half-sister, she sent a maid of honor to Elizabeth with a letter in which she asked for three things. First, that upon becoming queen she, Elizabeth, would deal generously with the members of Mary’s household. Second, that she would repay the debts that the Crown had incurred under Mary’s Privy Seal. And third, that she would continue to support the church in the form that Mary had reestablished. Elizabeth had only recently repeated her assurances that she was a believing Roman Catholic, politely complaining of the queen’s difficulty in accepting her word on that score. There was no opportunity for her to do so again. On the morning of November 18, Mary quietly expired while hearing mass from her bed. Pole died hours later. The English Counter-Reformation was dead too.
Mary at the end was worn out and thoroughly defeated. She seemed somehow to have lived for a long time, and her reign, too, seemed to have lasted too long and to have grown sterile. It is startling to realize that at the time of her death she was all of forty-two years old, and had ruled for only five years.