For the ‘The Year of Mary I’-series I wanted to read some more about Mary I and this book caught my attention almost immediately. Mary’s attempt to bring England back to the Catholic faith is perhaps the most controversial from her reign due to the almost 300 people that were burned in the process. I would like to put forward that I do find the burning horrendous and that I am in no way trying to ignore that suffering. However, it should not prevent us from trying to look at it objectively.
Neither is Eamon Duffy, who tries to walk us through Catholic England in Mary’s time. Mary’s foremost ally was her cousin Reginald Pole (who was a grandson of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV), who broke with Henry VIII in 1536 and was made a cardinal in 1537 and also became the papal legate. He lived mostly in exile. His mother Margaret Pole was executed in 1541, along with his elder brother Henry (in 1539) and his nephew Henry was imprisoned until his death in 1542, possibly of starvation. Reginald was considered as a threat with his Plantagenet at least until he entered the church, which made it impossible for him to have legitimate children. Reginald returned from exile upon the accession of Mary to the throne, and together they embarked on the task of returning England to the Catholic faith and to Rome.
Eamon Duffy manages to portrait an objective picture of the time, and it’s rather refreshing to look at Mary’s religious policies without Mary immediately being declared mad or bloody. It is hard to imagine how life would have been if she had been allowed to live longer. In a twist of faith, both she and Reginald Pole died on the same day and with them their Catholic counter-reformation, leading the way for Elizabethan propaganda to label her as Bloody Mary. I admire Mary for her strong Catholic beliefs and her willingness to go to extremes to bring the country back to what she believed was the true religion. I would highly recommend this book if you’re looking for something new.