Mary Tudor: The Spanish Tudor by H.F.M. Prescott
Having read so much about her father Henry VIII and her half-sister Elizabeth I, I finally read an account of Mary's life that tried to portray her beyond the Bloody Mary persona that history has condemned her to. H.F.M Prescott sheds a different light on the sad monarch. It is an excellently researched and retold story, despite the occaisionally dragging descriptions of Mary's tediously disasterous policies.
Essentially a narrow-minded and fervently Catholic monarch at the time of the Reformation, Mary by no means had an easy life. She was born in 1516 as the Princess of Wales, but was stripped of her title and legitimacy when her father divorced her mother, Catherine of Aragon and married the fiery Anne Boleyn, mother of Elizabeth I. Mary clung dearly to her Catholic faith for survival through a youth of shame and neglect. In 1558 she inherited the crown and an impoverished state and treasury at 37 from her half-brother Edward VI. Over her five year reign, ending at her death, she sank from early popularity to immediate infamy: she married the hated Philip of Spain, engaged England in disasterous wars impoverishing her further, and implemented severely repressive religious policies (for which Mary has been named Bloody). When Elizabeth I inherited the throne, the country could not have been in worse state.
History has been quick condemn Mary I's dreadful understanding of statecraft. Prescott does not try to reverse this perception, but rather tries to spark some compassion for someone whom she considers to be one of the most misunderstood women in English history. According to Prescott, the tragic paradox of her life of was that, beside all the harm and hatred she caused during her reign, her only need was to be loved. Indeed through Prescott's eyes, Mary is a most miserable creature. Few historians have bothered to examine the desolate childhood she suffered of impoverishment and shame. Unlike her sister Elizabeth, who had an amazingly cunning survival instinct from an early age, Mary narrrow mind was incapable of the hard-headed multi-dimensional thought desperately needed at such a tumultuous time in English history.
"Unloved" -- the oldest excuse in the book? Perhaps. Prescott nonetheless provides convincing evidence to support this claim, drawing from household accountbooks to Mary's letters to describle the desperation and loneliness of her pitiful existence.