Tudor Book Reviews By TheAnneBolynFiles.com

Posted by Claire on July 7, 2009

As you all know, I am first and foremost an Anne Boleyn fan but I love Tudor history as a whole and seem to spend all of my spare time reading biographies of other Tudor personalities - people who lived at the same time as Anne.

I've just finished reading "Mary Tudor: The First Queen" (known as "The First Queen of England: The Myth of Bloody Mary" in the US) and what an enlightening biography it was.

Although I have studied this period of history at both school and university, I was still left with the impression that most people have of Mary - "Bloody Mary", the Queen who took joy in burning "heretics" at the stake. People she burned included Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the likes of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, as well as many members of the general population. But, is this all there was to this monarch? Apparently not!

My interest in Mary has grown as a result of watching "The Tudors" on TV. In that series we see her as a girl who suffers the loss of a mother, goes from being a pampered royal princess to a bastard, is used as merchandise by her father who just sees her as a diplomatic tool to bethroth to whichever side he's on, and a girl who has to get used to stepmother after stepmother. This incredibly well researched biography also looks at Mary's childhood and gives readers a good understanding of this misunderstood, and much maligned, monarch of England.

Linda Porter's biography is divided into 5 parts, each with their own chapters:-

" The Tudor Rose: 1516-1528 - This part of the book explores Mary's childhood as the royal princess loved and pampered by her doting parents, and the people she spent her time with - her household and tutors. Even at an early age, Mary was used by Henry and was even betrothed at one point to her cousin, Charles V Holy Roman Emperor. "

The Rejected Princess: 1528-1547 - In this part of the book, we see Mary's fall from pampered princess to rejected bastard as Henry marries Anne Boleyn and Princess Elizabeth usurps Mary's place in line to the Tudor throne. As an Anne Boleyn fan, it was interesting to see the other side of the story and imagine the hurt and fear that Mary must have felt as her parents' marriage crumbled and she was made illegitimate. No wonder Mary's health deteriorated. Porter makes the very valid point that Mary, and England itself, would have been spared much grief, pain and suffering if Catherine of Aragon had compromised and taken the way out that would have secured Mary's security. If Catherine had just taken the veil and become a nun, then much of Mary's suffering would have been prevented.

This part of the biography also covers Henry's other marriages and Mary's life up until the King's death in 1547.

" The Excluded Heiress: 1547-1553 - Here, we learn about what happens to Mary when her beloved brother, Edward, becomes King after Henry VIII's death. Mary accepted her brother as the legitimate heir to the throne, according to her father's will, but little did she know what suffering it would cause her. Even though his mother, Jane Seymour, was a staunch Catholic, Edward's reign is a time where England becomes protestant and Catholics are persecuted. Suddenly, Mary is in peril and is prohibited from celebrating Mass. In this part of the book, we see a Mary who is defiant and who puts her faith above her own personal safety. This surely is a woman to be admired.

" The Queen without a King: 1553-1554 - Edward VI died young and only ruled for 6 years, and his death gave Mary the opportunity to claim what was hers, the throne of England. After managing to rid England of Lady Jane Grey and her followers, Mary became the first Queen of England "Mary by the grace of God Queen of England, France and Ireland, defender of the faith, and in the earth supreme head of the Church of England and Ireland". In this part of the book, Porter tells us of how Mary did not go backwards as such, regarding England's religion, but picked up again what many of the English people actually believed, and returned England to a Catholic country. This part of the biography also covers Mary's coronation, her struggle in deciding who to marry, the challenge to her throne - Wyatt's Rebellion, her final choice of husband, Philip of Spain, and her heartbreaking false pregnancy.

" The Neglected Wife: 1554-1558 - Due to Philip's diplomatic missions, Mary was often alone coping by herself. This part of the biography covers the famous burnings of Latimer, Ridley and Archbishop Cranmer, a man who she had hated for so long because he was instrumental in obtaining her parents' divorce and making her a bastard, and makes the point that although Mary is known as "Bloody Mary, she was no different to other Tudor rulers and, in fact, many members of the public were not executed on her orders but were rounded and burned by their local authorities. Also covered in this part are Mary's triumph - her triumph over the Dudley conspiracy and her triumph over France - and also the disasterc of losing Calais and Mary's death in 1558.

As you can see from this brief overview of what Linda Porter's biography covers, this book is indeed a complete guide to Mary I's reign and had got to be the "Bible" of any Mary I researcher or anybody with an interest in this Tudor Queen.

Porter makes the point that Mary I is often dominated by her younger sister, Elizabeth I, and that we forget Mary's reign or just think of her as a Queen who burned lots of heretics. To think this way is to completely misunderstand this queen and to let ourselves be misled by those who attempted to blacken her name in Elizabeth I's reign and James II's reign, or those who want us to think of her as a puppet used by Philip of Spain. Porter writes:

"To dismiss her life as nothing more than a personal tragedy is both patronising and mistaken."


"Her bravery put her on the throne and kept her there, so that when she died she was able to bequeath to Elizabeth a precious legacy that is often overlooked: she had demonstrated that a woman could rule in her own right."

This female monarch shaped England so that Elizabeth I could herald in a "Golden Age" and reign successfully as a female monarch.

I really loved this biography of Mary and now have a new respect for her and an understanding of the pain and suffering that made her into the woman she was. This biography challenges the misconceptions that many of us have regarding Mary and educates us about who she really was. Here is what others are saying about this groundbreaking new biography:-

"A richly researched, marvellously realised historical biography" - The Daily Telegraph

"Mary deserves her proper account and this friendly and appreciative biography gives her the credit she is due" - The Tablet

and me, what do I say?

"Linda Porter's biography is a must read for anyone who wants to debunk the myths surrounding this period of history and learn the real truth about this much misunderstood Tudor monarch" - Claire Ridgway, The Anne Boleyn Files

"Mary Tudor: The First Queen" by Linda Porter is out now in paperback in the UK, published by Piatkus, and as a hardback in the US (called "The First Queen of England: The Myth of Bloody Mary"

Tudor Book Reviews by TheAnneBoleynFiles.com

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