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Five little-known facts about Queen Mary I


Things you (probably) didn’t already know about ‘Bloody Mary’

1. She was the first ever woman to be crowned Queen of England and rule the country in her own right.

Mary I was England’s first undisputed queen regnant, discounting Matilda centuries before, and Lady Jane Grey’s brief, abortive reign. Many people think that the first queen regnant was Matilda, daughter of Henry I in the twelfth century, but she was never crowned and was given only the title ‘Lady of the English’. Up until Mary’s reign, English law referred only to kings. By a special Act of parliament in April 1554, Mary declared that women had all the power of men and queens could rule with the same force of law as their male counterparts.


2. Despite being unmarried when she came to the throne and nearly forty when she married her husband, Philip II of Spain, Mary had been betrothed several times – the earliest when she was just two years old.

Throughout Mary's childhood her father, Henry VIII, negotiated potential future marriages for her. She was promised to the Dauphin, the infant son of King Francis I of France, at just two years of age, but the contract was retracted after three years. In 1522, at the age of six, she was instead contracted to marry her 22-year-old first cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but this was broken off within a few years by Charles (with Henry’s agreement). Henry's chief adviser, Cardinal Wolsey, then resumed marriage negotiations with the French, and Henry suggested that Mary marry the Dauphin's father, King Francis I, who was eager for an alliance with England. A marriage treaty was signed which provided that Mary marry either Francis I or his second son Henry, Duke of Orleans, however an alliance was later secured with France without the need for the Mary to marry.


3. Mary loved to gamble.

Mary was, amongst other things, a lover of fashion, a remarkable dancer, an outstanding musician and competent Latin scholar. However, one of her biggest indulgences was gambling - which is somewhat surprising given that she was a religious zealot and held such strong morals. Her privy purse accounts reveal numerous amounts of money lost in this way, including one occasion where she was placing money on a game of bowls and had to ask her servants to borrow more. When they refused Mary waged the next day’s breakfast. Her accounts book attests: ‘Payed for a Brekefaste loste at Bolling by my lady Maryes grace.’


4. Mary is buried beneath Elizabeth I in Westminster Abbey.

When Queen Elizabeth I died, James I had an impressive tomb built for her at Westminster Abbey (although the tomb he built for his mother Mary Queen of Scots was much grander) in the vault of her grandfather King Henry VII. However, three years after her death, James had Elizabeth’s coffin dug up and moved to the north side of Henry VII’s chapel and laid on top of her half-sister, Mary I’s, grave. Elizabeth’s presence in the grave is celebrated by a magnificent monument bearing Elizabeth’s effigy; the fact that Mary also lies there is acknowledged only by the Latin inscription ‘Partners both in throne and grave. Here rest we two sisters Mary and Elizabeth in the hope of one resurrection.’


5. ‘Bloody’ Mary I might be the inspiration for the nursery rhyme ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary’.

Whilst there are several interpretations as to its meaning, many scholars trace the nursery rhyme ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary’ to Queen Mary’s unpopular attempts to bring Roman Catholicism back to England. Some say that the 'silver bells' stand for Catholic cathedral bells, the ‘cockle shells’ are said to represent the pilgrimage to the Catholic Shrine of St. James in Spain and the ‘pretty maids all in a row’ symbolise Catholic nuns. Others, however, claim the meaning was about torturing her victims. ‘Silver bells’ stood for thumb screw torture devices, ‘cockle shells’ a genital torture device and ‘the pretty maids all in a row’ for the people lining up to be executed by the Halifax Gibbet (an early guillotine).

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.


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