IV. “BLOODY MARY”: 1554–58

Her advisers had often condemned her policy of pardon. The Emperor and his ambassador had censured her for allowing life, even liberty, to persons who had conspired against her and would be free to do so again. How, she was asked, could Philip trust himself in a land where his enemies were left unhindered to plot his assassination? Bishop Gardiner argued that mercy to the nation required that traitors should be put to death. The Queen, in a panic of fright, veered to the views of her counselors. She ordered the execution of Lady Jane Grey, who had never wanted to be queen, and of Jane’s husband, who had so wanted to be king. Jane, still but seventeen, went to her death stoically, without protest or tears (February 12, 1554). Suffolk, her father, was beheaded, and a hundred lesser rebels were hanged. Some conspirators were spared for a while in the hope of eliciting useful confessions. Wyatt at first incriminated Elizabeth as privy to the plan, but on the scaffold (April 11, 1554) he exonerated her of all cognizance. Courtenay, after a year’s imprisonment, was let off with banishment. Charles advised Mary to put Courtenay and Elizabeth to death as perpetual threats to her life. Mary sent for Elizabeth, kept her in the palace of St. James for a month, then for two months imprisoned her in the Tower. Renard urged her immediate execution, but Mary objected that Elizabeth’s complicity had not been proved.40 During these fateful months Elizabeth’s life hung in the balance, and this terror helped to form her character to suspicion and insecurity, and was echoed in the severity of her later reign, when she had the same worry about Mary Stuart that Mary Tudor now had about Elizabeth. On May 18 the future queen was moved to Woodstock, where she lived in loose confinement but under watch. Fear that another plot mightraise Elizabeth to the throne urged Mary on to marriage in the hope of motherhood.

Philip was not so eager. Through a proxy in England he married Mary on March 6, 1554, but he did not reach England till July 20. The English were pleasantly surprised to find him physically and socially tolerable: a rather strange triangular face sloping from broad forehead to narrow chin, adorned with yellow hair and beard; but also a gracious manner, a ready wit, gifts for all, and no hint that he and his retinue considered the English to be barbarians. Even for Elizabeth he had a kind word, perhaps foreseeing that Mary might prove childless, that Elizabeth would someday be queen, and that this would be a lesser evil than the accession of Mary Queen of Scotslong since bound to France—to the throne of England. Mary, though so much older than Philip, looked up to him with girlish admiration. Starved for affection through so many years, she rejoiced now to have won so charming and mighty a prince, and she gave herself to him with such unquestioning devotion that her court wondered whether England was not already subject to Spain. To Charles V she wrote humbly that she was now “happier than I can say, as I daily discover in the King my husband so many virtues and perfections that I constantly pray God to grant me grace to please him.”41

Her desire to give Philip a son and England an heir was so absorbing that she soon conceived herself pregnant. Her amenorrhea was now welcomed as a royal sign, and hope silenced the thought that that condition had often come to her before. Digestive disturbances were accepted as additional proofs of motherhood, and the Venetian ambassador reported that the Queen’s “paps” had swollen and given milk. For a long time Mary rejoiced in the thought that she too, like the poorest woman in her realm, could bear a child; and we cannot imagine her desolation when her doctors finally convinced her that her swelling was dropsy. Meanwhile the rumor of her pregnancy had swept through England; prayers and processions were arranged for her happy delivery; soon gossip said that she had borne a boy. Shops closed for a holiday, men and women feasted in the streets, church bells rang, and a clergyman announced that the child was “fair and beautiful” as became a prince.42 Broken with frustration and shame, Mary hid herself for months from the public view.

She was in a measure consoled by the return of Cardinal Pole to England. Charles had detained him at Brussels because Pole had opposed the Spanish marriage; but now that this had been consummated the Imperial objections subsided; the Cardinal, as papal legate, crossed the Channel (November 20, 1554) to the land he had left twenty-two years before; and the warm welcome given him by officials, clergy, and people attested the general satisfaction over renewal of relations with the panacy. He greeted Mary withalmost the choicest phrase in his vocabulary: Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus, and he trusted that he might soon add, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” 43 When Parliament learned that Pole brought papal consent to the retention of confiscated Church property by the present holders, all went merry as a wedding should. Parliament, on its knees, expressed repentance for its offenses against the Church, and Bishop Gardiner, having confessed his own vacillation, gave the penitents absolution. The ecclesiastical supremacy of the pope was acknowledged, his right to annates and “first fruits” was reaffirmed, episcopal courts were re-established, and parish tithes were restored to the clergy. The old statutes against Lollardry were renewed, and censorship of publications was returned from state to Church authorities. After the turmoil of twenty years everything seemed as before.

Philip stayed with Mary thirteen months, hoping with her for a child; when no sure sign of it appeared he begged her to let him go to Brussels, where the planned abdication of his father required his presence. She consented sadly, went with him to the barge that was to take him down the Thames, and watched from a window till the barge disappeared (August 28, 1555). Philip felt that he had done his duty through an arduous year of making love to a sick woman, and he rewarded himself with the full-blooded ladies of Brussels.

Pole was now the most influential man in England. He busied himself with the reorganization and reform of the English Church. With Mary’s help he restored some monasteries and a nunnery. Mary was happy to see the old religious customs live again, to see crucifixes and holy pictures again in the churches, to join in pious processions of priests, children, or guilds, to sit or kneel through long Masses for the quick and the dead. On Maundy Thursday, 1556, she washed and kissed the feet of forty-one old women, shuffling from one to the next on her knees, and gave alms to all.44 Now that hope of motherhood had gone, religion was her sustaining solace.

But she could not quite resurrect the past. The new ideas had aroused an exciting ferment in city minds; there were still a dozen sects clandestinely publishing their literature and their creeds. Mary was pained to hear of groups that denied the divinity of Christ, the existence of the Holy Ghost, the transmission of original sin. To her simple faith these heresies seemed mortal crimes, far worse than treason. Could the heretics know better than her beloved Cardinal how to deal with the human soul? Word came to her that one preacher had prayed aloud, before his congregation, that God would either convert her or soon remove her from the earth.45 One day a dead dog with a monastically tonsured head, and a rope around its neck, was thrown through a window into the Queen’s chamber.46 In Kent a priest had his nose cut off.47 It seemed unreasonable to Mary that the Protestant émigrés, to whom she had allowed safe departure from England, should be sending back pamphlets attacking her as a reactionary fool, and speaking of the “lousy Latin service” of an “idolatrous Mass.” 48 Some pamphlets urged their readers to rise in revolt and depose the Queen.49 A meeting of 17,000 persons at Aldgate (March 14, 1554) heard a call to put Elizabeth on the throne.50 Insurrections in England were planned by English Protestants abroad.

Mary was by nature and habit merciful—till 1555. What transformed her into the most hated of English queens? Partly the provocation of attacks that showed no respect for her person, her faith, or her feelings; partly the fear that heresy was a cover for political revolt; partly the sufferings and disappointments that had embittered her spirit and darkened her judgment; partly the firm belief of her most trusted advisers—Philip, Gardiner, Pole—that religious unity was indispensable to national solidarity and survival. Philip was soon to illustrate his principles in the Netherlands. Bishop Gardiner had already (in the spring of 1554) vowed to burn the three Protestant bishops-Hooper, Ridley, Latimer—unless they recanted.51 Cardinal Pole, like Mary, was of a kindly disposition, but inflexible in dogma; he loved the Church so much that he shuddered at any questioning of her doctrines or authority. He did not take any direct or personal lead in the Marian persecution; he counseled moderation, and once freed twenty persons whom Bishop Bonner had sentenced to the stake.52 Nevertheless he instructed the clergy that if all peaceful methods of suasion failed, major heretics should be “removed from life and cut off as rotten members from the body.”53 Mary’s own view was expressed hesitantly. “Touching the punishment of heretics, we think it ought to be done without rashness, not leaving meanwhile to do justice to such as by learning would seek to deceive the simple.”54 Her responsibility was at first merely permissive, but it was real. When (1558) the war with France proved disastrous to her and England, she ascribed the failure to God’s anger at her lenience with heresy, and thereafter she positively promoted the persecution.

Gardiner opened the reign of terror by summoning to his episcopal court (January 22, 1555) six clergymen who had refused to accept the re-established creed.* One recanted; four, including John Hooper, deposed Bishop of Gloucester and Worcester, were burned (February 4–8, 1555), Gardiner seems to have had a revulsion of feeling after these executions; he took no further part in the persecution; his health broke down, and he died in November of this year. Bishop Bonner took charge of the slaughter. Philip, still in England, advised moderation; when Bonner condemned six more to the stake the Imperial ambassador, Renard, objected to “this barbarous precipitancy”; 57 and Philip’s confessor, a Spanish friar, preaching before the court, denounced the convictions as contrary to the mild and forgiving spirit inculcated by Christ.58 Bonner suspended the sentences for five weeks, then ordered them carried out. He thought himself lenient, and indeed was once reprimanded by the Queen’s Council for insufficient zeal in prosecuting heresy.59 To each heretic he offered full pardon for recantation, and often added a promise of financial aid or some comfortable employment;60 but when such inducements failed he passed sentence grimly. Usually a bag of gunpowder was placed between the legs of the condemned, so that the flames would cause a speedy death; but in Hooper’s case the wood burned too slowly, the powder failed to explode, and the former bishop suffered agonies for almost an hour.

Most of the martyrs were simple workingmen who had learned to read the Bible, and had been encouraged in the Protestant interpretation of it during the previous reign. Perhaps the persecutors thought it justice that the ecclesiastics who had done most to inculcate the Protestant faith should be called upon to testify to it by martyrdom. In September 1555, Cranmer, sixty-six, Ridley, sixty-five, and Latimer, eighty, were brought from the Tower to stand trial at Oxford. Latimer had tarnished his eloquent career by approving the burning of Anabaptists and obstinate Franciscans under Henry VIII. Ridley -had actively supported Jane Grey’s usurpation, had called Mary a bastard, and had assisted in deposing Bonner and Gardiner from their sees. Cranmer had been the intellectual head of the English Reformation: had dissolved the marriage of Henry and Catherine, had married Henry to Anne Boleyn, had replaced the Mass with the Book of Common Prayer, had prosecuted Frith, Lambert, and other Catholics, had signed Edward’s devise of the crown to Jane Grey, and had denounced the Mass as a blasphemy. All these men had now been in the Tower for two years, daily expecting death.

Cranmer was tried at Oxford on September 7. His examiners made every effort to elicit a recantation. He stood his ground firmly, and was judged guilty; but as he was an archbishop his sentence was reserved to the Pope, and he was returned to the Tower. On September 30 Ridley was tried, and stood his ground. On the same day Latimer was led before the ecclesiastical court: a man now quite careless of life, dressed in an old threadbare gown, his white head covered with a cap upon a nightcap over a handkerchief, hisspectacles hanging from his neck, a New Testament attached to his belt. He too denied transubstantiation. On October 1 they were condemned; on October 6 they were burned. Before the pyre they knelt and prayed together. They were bound with chains to an iron post, a bag of powder was hung around each man’s neck, the faggots were lit. “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley,” said Latimer, “play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” 61

On December 4 Pope Paul IV confirmed the sentence against Cranmer. For a time the first Protestant archbishop of Canterbury gave way to forgivable fear; no man who could write such sensitive English as the Book of Common Prayer could face these ordeals without exceptional suffering of body and mind. Moved perhaps by Pole’s fervent appeal, Cranmer repeatedly “renounced and abhorred and detested all manner of heresies and errors of Luther and Zwingli,” and professed belief in the seven sacraments, in transubstantiation, purgatory, and all other teachings of the Roman church. By every precedent such recantations should have commuted his sentence to imprisonment, but (according to Foxe) Mary rejected the retractions as insincere, and ordered Cranmer’s execution.62

In St. Mary’s Church, Oxford, on the morning of his death (March 21, 1556), he read his seventh and last recantation. Then, to the astonishment of all present, he added:

And now I come to the great thing, which so much troubleth my conscience more than anything that ever I did or said in my whole life, and that is the setting abroad of a writing contrary to the truth; which now here I renounce and refuse... as written for fear of death... and that is, all such bills and papers which I have written or signed with my hand since my degradation.... And forasmuch as my hand offended, writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished therefor, for... it shall be first burned. And as for the pope, I refuse him as Christ’s enemy and Antichrist.63

On the pyre, as the flames neared his body, he stretched out his hand into them, and held it there, says Foxe, “steadfast and immovable... that all men might see his hand burned before his body was touched. And using often the words of Stephen, ‘Lord, receive my spirit,’ in the greatness of the flame he gave up the ghost.”64

His death marked the zenith of the persecution. Some 300 persons died in its course, 273 of them in the last four years of the reign. As the holocaust advanced it became clear that it had been a mistake. Protestantism drew strength from its martyrs as early Christianity had done, and many Catholics were disturbed in their faith, and shamed in their Queen, by the sufferings and fortitude of the victims. Bishop Bonner, though he did not enjoy the work, came to be called “Bloody Bonner” because his diocese saw most of the executions; one woman called him “the common cutthroat and general slaughter-slave to all the bishops in England.”65 Hundreds of English Protestants found refuge in Catholic France, and labored there to bring the sorry reign to an end. Henry II, while persecuting French Protestants, encouraged English plots against Catholic Mary, whose marriage with the King of Spain left France surrounded by hostile powers. In April 1556, British agents discovered a conspiracy, led by Sir Henry Dudley, to depose Mary and enthrone Elizabeth. Several arrests were made, including two members of Elizabeth’s household; one confession implicated Elizabeth herself, and the French King. The movement was suppressed, but it left Mary in constant fear of assassination.

One group of fugitives encountered tribulations that reveal the dogmatic temper of the times. Jan Laski, a Polish Calvinist, had come to London in 1548, and had founded there the first Presbyterian church in England. A month after Mary’s accession Laski and part of his congregation left London in two Danish vessels. At Copenhagen they were denied entry unless they signed the official Lutheran confession of faith. As firm Calvinists, they declined. Refused permission to land, they sailed to Wismar, Lübeck, and Hamburg, and in each case met with the same demand and repulse.66 The Lutherans of Germany shed no tears over Mary’s victims, but denounced them as detestable heretics and “Devil’s martyrs” for denying the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.67Calvin condemned the merciless sectarianism of the Lutherans, and in that year (1553) burned Servetus at the stake. After buffeting the North Sea through most of the winter, the refugees at last found entry and humanity at Emden.

Mary moved with somber fatality to her end. Her pious husband, now anomalously at war with the papacy as well as with France, came to England (March 20, 1557) and urged the Queen to bring Britain into the war as his ally. To make his mission less hateful to the English, he persuaded Mary to moderate the persecution.68 But he could not so easily win public support; on the contrary, a month after his arrival, Thomas Stafford, a nephew of Cardinal Pole, fomented a rebellion with a view to freeing England from both Mary and Philip. He was defeated and hanged (May 28, 1557). To fill the Queen’s cup of misery the Pope in that month repudiated Pole as papal legate, and accused him of heresy. On June 7 Mary, anxious to please Philip, and convinced that Henry II had supported Stafford’s plot, declared war against France. Having accomplished his purpose, Philip left England in July. Mary suspected that she would never see him again. “I will live the rest of my days without the company of men,” she said.69 In this unwanted war England lost Calais (January 6, 1558), which it had held for 211 years; and the thousands of Englishmen and women who had lived there, and now fled as penniless fugitives to Britain, spread the bitter charge that Mary’s government had been criminally negligent in defending England’s last possession on the Continent. Philip made a peace favorable to himself, without requiring the restoration of Calais. It was an old phrase that that precious port was “the brightest jewel in the English crown.” Mary added another mot to the tale: “When I am dead and opened you will find Calais lying in my heart.”70

Early in 1558 the Queen again thought herself pregnant. She made her will in expectation of a dangerous delivery, and dispatched a message to Philip beseeching his presence at the happy event. He sent his congratulations, but he did not have to come; Mary was mistaken. She was now quite forlorn, perhaps in some measure insane. She sat for hours on the floor with knees drawn up to her chin; she wandered like a ghost through the palace galleries; she wrote tear-blotted letters to a King who, anticipating her death, ordered his agents in England to incline the heart of Elizabeth toward marriage with some Spanish grandee, or with Philip himself.

In Mary’s final summers a plague of ague fever moved through England. In September 1558, it struck the Queen. Combined with dropsy and “a superfluity of black bile,” it so weakened her that her will to live fell away. On November 6 she sent the crown jewels to Elizabeth. It was a gracious act, in which love of the Church yielded to her desire to give England an orderly succession. She suffered long periods of unconsciousness; from one of these she awoke to tell how she had happily dreamed of children playing and singing before her.71 On November 17 she heard Mass early, and uttered the responses ardently. Before dawn she died.

On the same day died Cardinal Pole, as profoundly defeated as his Queen. In estimating him we must record the bitter fact that at the beginning of his last month he had condemned three men and two women to be burned for heresy. It is true that all parties except the Anabaptists, in those years of mad certainty, agreed that religious unity had to be preserved, even, if necessary, by punishing dissent with death. But nowhere in contemporary Christendom—not even in Spain—were so many men and women burned for their opinions as during Reginald Pole’s primacy of the English Church.

For Mary we may speak a more lenient word. Grief, illness, and many suffered wrongs had warped her mind. Her clemency passed into cruelty only after conspiracies had sought to deprive her of her crown on her head. She listened too trustingly to ecclesiastics who, having themselves been persecuted, sought revenge. Till the end she thought she was fulfilling by murder her obligations to the faith which she loved as the vital medium of her life. She does not quite deserve the name of “Bloody Mary,” unless we are to spread that adjective over all her time; it simolifies pitilessly a character in which there had been much to love. It is her strange distinction that she carried on the work of her father in alienating England from Rome. She showed to an England still Catholic the worst side of the Church she served. When she died England was readier than before to accept the new faith that she had labored to destroy.

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