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Happy Birthday Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary, Bloodied Mary, Muddy Mary.

February 18, 2016

Here’s the Horrible Histories tribute to Mary Tudor whose birthday it is today.  You’ll notice that they thought it would be funny if Mary Tudor was also Kate Bush.   I don’t have a problem with that.

Well, well, well.  Five hundred and five years old today.  How time flies!  And she’s still stuck with the whole “Bloody” prefix.  For the past two hundred years or so, various historians have tried to put the whole protestant-burning thing in context.  There was, after all, a great deal of this sort of thing about in sixteenth (and seventeenth) century Europe.  And let’s not forget that her sister killed her fair share of Catholics.  Perhaps Elizabeth’s victims were spaced out better.  But then Elizabeth had rather more time to kill her quota, whereas Mary always felt she was in a hurry.

Many of those in authority in the sixteenth-century seemed to have felt that God would be angered by any deceleration of religious terror.  Thomas More was very concerned that he hadn’t managed to incinerate enough heretics and that Divine retribution would fall on him as a consequence.  Tick tock tick tock tick tock.

Mary felt a particular sense of urgency because she had interpreted her humiliating phantom pregnancy as God’s punishment on her for tolerating heresy.  In many ways, she was prone to torturing herself, living in constant fear of God’s imminent wrath.  And the best way to appease that wrath was to set fire to a bunch of people.  Ho hum.

Apparently it rained a lot during Mary’s reign.  It rained so much, she (and every one else) might have been happier if she’d moved to Spain to be with her husband (although actually Philip was in Brussels for much of the time).  It rained so much, it’s a (strange) miracle it ever stopped raining for long enough to incinerate 283 people.  And the miserable weather led a lot of people in that superstitious age feeling that God was making His feelings known about Mary in His own way.

The Spanish marriage and alliance was a high risk strategy that failed spectacularly.  If Mary had married an English Catholic aristocrat, she might have argued that this new heresy of Protestantism was essentially foreign and alien to the English character – an infestation from the Germany and/or the Low Countries.  She might have (re)made a Catholic version of English patriotism.  Instead, by tying her Catholic vision to what looked like a necessarily disproportionate alliance with a foreign super-power she managed to make Catholicism itself look like a dangerous alien influence.

History is written by the winners.   If Mary had “won” – i.e. re-established England as a permanently Catholic country, managed live long enough to space out her victims less melodramatically, produced a child who could have grown up and become another Catholic monarch and, in turn, parent to more Catholic monarchs then the “Bloodiness” of her early years would have been forgotten – or rather – that bloodiness would be referred to by “revisionist” historians.  If she’d died at 72 in 1588, succeeded by the child of Philip, then we might be talking about “Blessed Mary” – the matriarch of a long-standing Anglo-Spanish alliance that had wedded England to the great Spanish Hapsburg empire (on which the sun never set).  No Spanish Armada.  Quite possibly – no Netherlands – which might never have achieved independence.  Spanish – the dominant language throughout North America.   And Ireland’s history transformed out of all recognition.

Imagine waking up two years ago for an alternative 2016 (and we all dream of alternative 2016s), the celebrations of Blessed Mary’s 500th birthday would have been very high profile.  We’d be quite frankly sick and tired of Marian documentaries and discussions.

Instead, we were left in 2016 with the 500th birthday of a very unhappy person, a victim of religious mania who created more victims – someone to feel very sorry for but not someone you’d enjoy being around.  Fire and water defined and destroyed her.

Bloody Mary.  Bloodied Mary.  Muddy Mary.

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