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Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock

Posted By Claire on September 20, 2010

US version

US version

The Tudors series, with the excellent Sarah Bolger playing Mary, and Linda Porter’s biography have definitely helped me to empathise with Mary and understand the woman behind the “Bloody Mary” myth, so I was desperate to read this new book on Mary by historian Anna Whitelock, a former student of David Starkey. In her Huffington Post article, “There’s Something About Mary”, Anna Whitelock described the goal of her Mary I biography:-

“I could have published my research in an academic monograph intended for a few hundred readers but I was incredibly driven by a sense of wanting Mary’s story to capture the popular imagination. So I wanted to write a book based on archival research but written accessibly – in 66 chapters – for a wider readership: historical fact with the appeal, description and drama of historical fiction.

I have sought to construct a new, popular narrative of the reign and an image of a queen less weak-willed, unintelligent and politically incompetent but well-educated, courageous and politically accomplished; a woman whose reign redefined the contours of the English monarchy who made it possible for queens to rule as kings, who was the first queen regnant of England.”

I must say that Whitelock has achieved her goal. “Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen” is a wonderfully written biography which is not only based on historical fact, the primary sources, but is also a pleasure to read. Mary comes alive in this book and the reader is given a new understanding of the woman whose reign is often seen as a complete flop and whose character has been maligned since the publication of John Foxe’s “Actes and Monuments”. Read this book and meet the real Mary I.

Book Rundown

As you all know, I don’t like to just review a book, I like to give a rundown of its contents so you know what is covered. The chapters are short and easy to digest.

Introduction: Resurrection

“Mary Tudor” begins with Whitelock considering Mary’s resting place and the fact that it is her half-sister, Elizabeth I,who was buried with her on James I’s orders in 1606, who steals the limelight. It is Elizabeth who has the grand effigy and in burying the queens together like this, Whitelock points out that “James shaped how those queens would be remembered: Elizabeth magnificent, Mary, her body, as her memory, buried beneath”. Whitelock states that her mission is “to resurrect the remarkable story of Mary, the first queen of England” and that “it is the contrast between Mary as queen and the personal tragedy of Mary as a woman that is the key to understanding her life and reign.”

Part One: A King’s Daughter

Chapter 1: Princess of England

This short chapter covers Mary’s birth, christening and the context of her birth – her parents’ relationship, Katherine of Aragon’s struggle to give her husband a son.

Chapter 2: A True Friendship and Alliance

Whitelock examines Katherine of Aragon’s background, the “true friendship and alliance” between England and Spain which was brought about by the Treaty of Medina del Campo 1489 and the betrothal of Katherine and Prince Arthur. She goes on to cover Katherine’s marriage to Henry VIII and the chapter ends with Katherine’s success at being Regent.

Chapter 3: Are You the Dauphin of France?

A brief chapter about the 2 1/2 year old Mary’s betrothal to the baby François, the Dauphin of France.

Chapter 4: A Very Fine Young Cousin Indeed

Here, Whitelock covers little Mary’s household, Henry’s change of allegiance to the Emperor and the resulting betrothal of Mary and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

Chapter 5: The Institution of a Christian Woman

This chapter looks at the young princess’s education.

Chapter 6: Great Signs and Tokens of Love

This chapter starts with Henry and Charles’s joint invasion of France and ends with Charles breaking off his betrothal to Mary and marrying Isabella of Portugal.

Chapter 7: Princess of Wales

A chapter looking at the enhancement of Mary’s status – the sending of the 9 year old Mary to the Welsh Marches to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches.

Chapter 8: Pearl of the World

The revival of marriage negotiations between England and France, with Mary being promised to the French King or his second son, the Duke of Orléans, and the visit of the French to court.

Chapter 9: This Sheer Calamity

This chapter covers Henry VIII’s belief that his marriage to Katherine was contrary to church law, his relationship with Anne Boleyn and the 1529 marriage trial at Blackfriars.

Chapter 10: The King’s Great Matter

Whitelock covers Henry’s fight for annulment, Wolsey’s fall, and  the breakdown of Henry and Katherine’s relationship and its effect on Mary.

Chapter 11: The Scandal of Christendom

The rise of Anne Boleyn, the annulment of Henry and Katherine’s marriage, the pregnancy of Anne Boleyn and Mary’s change in status.

Chapter 12: The Lady Mary

The birth of Mary’s half-sister, Elizabeth, Mary’s refusal to accept the title “Lady Mary” and Mary’s “house arrest” at Hatfield, serving the baby Elizabeth.

Chapter 13: Spanish Blood

This chapter includes a transcript of a letter written by Katherine to her daughter with its “suggestion of a shared martyrdom” and ends with Anne Boleyn’s anger at Mary’s pride and obstinacy, “her unbridled Spanish blood.”

Chapter 14: High Traitors

Mary’s exclusion from the succession, Katherine and Mary’s refusal to sign the Oath of Succession and their resulting ill treatment.

Chapter 15: Worse than a Lion

This chapter open with the 19 year old Mary being “dangerously ill” and covers Henry’s refusal to let Katherine see her daughter, the executions of Thomas More and John Fisher and Mary’s desperation to leave England.

Chapter 16: Suspicion of Poison

The death of Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s celebration at the news and Mary’s desire to flee from England.

Chapter 17: The Ruin of the Concubine

Anne Boleyn’s stillborn son, the fall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour.

Chapter 18: Most Humble and Obedient Daughter

Mary’s hope that she might regain favour with her father and Mary’s signing of “Lady Mary’s Submission” under threat of death.

Chapter 19: Incredible Rejoicing

Mary’s return to favour.

Chapter 20: Deliverance of a Goodly Prince

The birth of a son and heir, the future Edward VI, the death of Jane Seymour and Mar’s involvement in Edward’s early upbringing.

Chapter 21: The Most Unhappy Lady in Christendom

Henry’s suspicion of Mary and her supporters, his alienation of Mary from the emperor, the arrests and imprisonment of the Pole family and the negotiations for a marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves, and Mary and one of the German princes.

Chapter 22: For Fear of Making a Ruffle in the World

The arrival of Anne of Cleves and her marriage to Henry, Thomas Cromwell’s fall and the annulment of the Cleves marriage.

Chapter 23: More of a Friend than a Stepmother

The marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine Howard, the execution of Mary’s “second mother” Margaret Pole, the fall of Katherine Howard, the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine Parr and the friendship between Katherine and Mary.

Chapter 24: The Family of Henry VIII

The return of Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession, the family portrait, the war with France and the departure of Chapuys.

Chapter 25: Departed This Life

The plot against Katherine Parr and Henry VIII’s death.

Part Two: A King’s Sister

Chapter 26: The King is Dead, Long Live the King

The accession of Edward VI.

Chapter 27: Fantasy and New Fangleness

The provisions of Henry’s will for Mary, Mary’s household and Mary’s protest at the “fantasy and new fangleness” of the religious changes.

Chapter 28: Advice to be Conformable

Mary’s disobedience and rebellion against the new religious policies, her flouting of the law.

Chapter 29: The Most Unstable Man in England

John Dudley’s overthrow of Protector Somerset.

Chapter 30: What Say You, Mr Ambassador?

Mary’s desperation to flee to the continent and her escape plan.

Chapter 31: An Unnatural Example

The reunion of Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, and Edward’s threats regarding Mary’s religious practices.

Chapter 32: Naughty Opinion

Mary’s continuing disobedience and the Emperor’s support.

Chapter 33: Matters Touching My Soul

Edward’s struggle to get his half-sister to conform and his ill-health.

Chapter 34: My Device for the Succession

Edward’s illness, Edward’s overturning of his father’s will with his appointing of Lady Jane Grey as his heir, and Edward’s death.

Chapter 35: Friends in the Briars

Lady Jane Grey proclaimed Queen, Mary’s demand that she be recognised as Queen and Mary’s growing support.

Chapter 36: The Owner of the Crown

The fall of Lady Jane Grey.

mary tudor whitelockPart Three: A Queen

Chapter 37: Marye the Queen

The first meeting of Mary’s council and her journey to London.

Chapter 38: The Joy of the People

Mary’s triumphant entry into London, her appointing of Privy Council members and Simon Renard’s role as her counselor and confidant.

Chapter 39: Clemency and Moderation

Mary’s punishment of the rebels, the execution of John Dudley, religious change and Elizabeth’s display of compliance.

Chapter 40: Old Customs

Mary ‘s coronation procession.

Chapter 41: God Save Queen Mary

Mary I’s coronation.

Chapter 42: Iniquitous Laws

Mary’s first Parliament, the repeals of the Edwardian religious legislation, the restoration of the Mass and the “process of Catholic revival”.

Chapter 43: A Marrying Humor

The marriage question – Edward Courtenay or Philip of Spain?

Chapter 44: A Suitable Partner in Love

Mary’s decision to marry Philip.

Chapter 45: A Traitorous Conspiracy

Wyatt’s Revolt and Mary’s victory.

Chapter 46: Gibbets and Hanged Men

The executions of Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley, the imprisonment of Elizabeth, the execution of Thomas Wyatt and the release of Elizabeth into house arrest.

Chapter 47: Sole Queen

The ratification of Mary’s marriage treaty.

Chapter 48: Good Night, My Lords All

The arrival of Philip in England and his and Mary’s first meeting.

Part Four: A King’s Wife

Chapter 49: With This Ring I Thee Wed

The marriage of Philip and Mary.

Chapter 50: Mutual Satisfaction

Philip’s installation as knight and cosovereign of the Order of the Garter and the couple’s return to London.

Chapter 51: The Happiest Couple in the World

The beginning of Mary and Philip’s married life and the tension between Philip’s Spanish household and the English entourage.

Chapter 52: To Reconcile, Not to Condemn

Cardinal Pole’s return to England and the return of England to the Catholic fold.

Chapter 53: The Queen is With Child

Mary’s pregnancy and the rumour of the birth of a prince.

Chapter 54: Her Majesty’s Belly

Mary’s pregnancy confirmed as a phantom pregnancy.

Chapter 55: Blood and Fire

The burning of heretics starts with John Rogers, Canon of St Paul’s. This chapter gives the names and details of some of those burned for their “heretical” beliefs, but Whitelock points out that “neither Mary nor Pole had expected to burn so many; they wanted the heretics to be reconciled rather than die and for the burnings to be carried out judiciously and without vindictiveness” and that “to halt the process would have been to condone heresy.”

Chapter 56: Extraordinarily in Love

Philip¡s departure and Mary’s sadness.

Chapter 57: Committed to the Flames

The burning of Thomas Cranmer, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

Chapter 58: A Great and Rare Example of Goodness

Mary’s involvement in the commemoration of Easter.

Chapter 59: Stout and Devilish Hearts

Civil unrest, the death of Lord Chancellor Stephen Gardiner, Sir Henry Dudley’s plot to depose Mary and Mary’s anxiety that Philip should return.

Chapter 60: Obedient Subject and Humble Sister

Mary’s sending of an armed guard to Elizabeth’s home at Hatfield, her belief in Elizabeth’s” innocence”,  another conspiracy and Elizabeth’s resistance to marriage.

Chapter 61: A Warmed Over Honeymoon

Philip’s return to England, the Queen’s Council’s refusal to give Philip troops for a war against France or to declare against France, Mary’s determination to give Philip what he needed and Council’s eventual decision to help Philip with money and troops.

Chapter 62: A Public Enemy to Ourselves

Sir Thomas Stafford’s plot to depose Mary, Philip’s final departure and the loss of Calais to France.

Chapter 63: The Grief of the Most Serene Queen

The Pope’s anger at Mary’s support of war with France, the Pope’s investigation of Pole as a suspected Lutheran, the eventual peace between Philip and the Pope, and the damage done to Mary’s relationship with the Pope.

Chapter 64: Readiness for Change

Giovanni Michieli’s 1557 account of the character of Mary I.

Chapter 65: Thinking Myself to Be With Child

Mary’s second false pregnancy, the deterioration of her health and Mary’s acceptance of Elizabeth as her heir.

Chapter 66: Reasonable Regret for Her Death

Mary I’s death, Elizabeth proclaimed Queen, Cardinal Pole’s death, Philip’s reaction to news of Mary’s death, the funeral arrangements and funeral.

Epilogue: Veritas Temporis Filia

Whitelock explains how “the forging and recasting of Mary’s reputation began immediately upon her death”, how her dying wishes were ignored, how she “quickly became a figure of opprobrium” and how John Foxe’s account “would shape the popular narrative of Mary’s reign for the next four hundred and fifty years.” Whitelock argues that there is more to Mary than the myth “Bloody Mary” and that Mary was “a woman marked by suffering, devout in her faith and exceptional in her courage”. She fought for the throne and won it and “in many ways Mary failed as a woman but triumphed as queen.”

Anna Whitelock’s biography ends with acknowledgements, full and detailed notes, a bibliography divided into unpublished sources, primary sources and secondary sources, and an index.

Final Words

I would highly recommend Anna Whitelock’s “Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen” to history buffs, students and anyone who wants to debunk the myths that surround this Tudor queen and find out who she really was. This book explores Mary I’s whole life, from cradle to grave, and gives you the complete lowdown on who she was and what made her tick. A great read.


“Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen” was released in the USA by Random House in hardcover on the 7th September 2010 and is available from Amazon US – click here – or your favourite bookshop.

It was released as “Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen” in the UK in paperback in March 2010 and can be ordered at Amazon UK – click here for details.


21 Responses to “Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock”

  1. LadyinWaiting says:

    I am sooooo excited! Mary has been left in the dark too long, her story along with Katherine of Aragons needs to be told!

  2. Julie B. says:

    This book sounds so interesting, I would love to read it. Even though Mary had been treated badly by her father and that might be why she behaved a certian way, I can’t help but get a negative feeling about her.

    I never understood how a “Christian” person could murder (and in horrible ways) another person.

  3. cyberpiglet says:

    This book was a good introduction to Mary. It didn’t go into her life in much depth, however. I found that the Linda Porter book on the same subject was much better, but Whitelock was good for someone who is just getting started in studying the Tudors.

  4. roxasbb says:

    This was Whitelock’s second book about the same subject so I thought “Ok this person wrought two books about the same person, has a PhD, so it has to be good” (I had to right a biography report on a book for school) I felt that the book was more about King Henry VIII
    (Mary’s father) then Mary. I tried sooooo hard to finish the book, but it wasn’t going to happen. In the end I looked to the internet for help. I fond out that Mary was a sickly child, the book never said anything about that.

  5. Jenny says:

    You should read the Mary Tudor series by Hilda Lewis. It is excellent. The first book is called “I am Mary Tudor.” I read all three books and I loved the look it gave me, although fictionalized, into how Mary’s life may have been.

  6. Chris Link says:

    I am reading this book and and am enjoying it very much. I have always felt sorry for her and I am glad that more people are feeling the same way.
    I only read on of the books by Hilda Lewis and have been looking for the other two.

  7. Debra Stang says:

    I thought this book was very well-written and easy to read. I especially liked the way Whitelock used primary sources to support her case. I came away from the experience feeling as if I knew a lot more about Mary’s reign than I had before. She does tend to be overshadowed by Elizabeth.

    However, try as she might, Whitelock still couldn’t come up with any convincing reason why a compassionate, “Godly” woman would burn 300 people alive. While she may not have been the stereotypical “Bloody Mary” of history, Mary Tudor obviously had some serious faults and personality flaws.

    By the way, Jenny, I remember reading I Am Mary Tudor years ago and absolutely loving it. I didn’t realize Hilda Lewis had written more about Mary. I’ll have to go in search.

  8. Kelly says:

    Why is there no hardcover edition of this book in europe, i really want the hardcover version, all my tudor and other history books are hardcover… Really want to read this one, i love tudor figures (mostly Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Catherine of Aragon and her mother Isabella of Castilie) but really think this one can not be missing in my collection.. So will search Ebay for it, i think Mary is tragic, but also guilty for burning so many people, but i also believe that she lived in a time were times were hard, especialy for a woman, in the Netherlands we alway have a saying for it “Een kat in het nauw maakt rare sprongen”, wich means, if someone feels threatened, they do strange things… I think Mary was so fanatic in her beliefs, but was a product of how she was raised. So i’m really look forward to read this one. So glad i found this site and the sister site of it, now i know what books to search for. Clare, keep up the good work, did you recieve my email with my Elizabeth Armada Portrait picture…

    Kelly from the Netherlands

  9. Kelly says:

    Oops forgot to mention that i have read a biography of her husband, Phillips II of Spain (cause offcourse he has been the king of my country in the time of Willem van Oranje), but she was mentioned as his wife, that he totally had no interest in her (she was suggested by his father, to get more power in England, a strategic move) that he thought of her as a old woman and he really was not enthousiastic about sharing a bed with her.

    In another Biography of Anthonius Mor (painter of the spanish court) they are more positive about her, Anthonius Mor is the painter of the famous painting we all know, where she is sitting in a chair, accourding to that biography she was in control of how she wanted to be portrayed and he enjoyed to make the painting, but there must be sayed that he was a catholic like she, and he was making a living by painting famous people of the court of Charles V..

    Thinking about what i have read about her in those books, it makes me want to read this one more, sorry for my enthousiastic 2nd reaction, but i really had no idea there was a new book about her. And as a history and especially tudor fan, this makes my week!

    Have a great day!
    From the Netherlands

  10. Claire says:

    Hi Kelly,
    There is a hardcover version of this book available in Europe from various sellers at but it just has a different title “Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen”. Hope that helps.
    Have you read Linda Porter’s biography of Mary I? It is excellent and I highly recommend it.
    I agree with you, Mary was a very complex woman who had been psychologically damaged by her father’s treatment of her and her mother in her teenage years and she had very strong religious beliefs. In her faith, I don’t think she was very different from others of her time, for example, Sir Thomas More was also reponsible for a lot of religious persecution. I think she felt that she was doing God’s work by stamping out heresy.
    No, I didn’t receive your email, my email address is if you want to resend it. Thanks x

  11. Claire says:

    Thanks for your comment, Debra, Anna Whitelock’s book was excellent but I think that Linda Porter’s book gave me a greater insight into what made Mary tick.

  12. Kelly says:

    Hi Claire,

    Thnks for your reply, will create a account for a avatar. Yes i have the book by Linda Porter, i have not read it yet, cause i am reading at the moment the book Elizabeth R by Thera Coppens, a dutch biograyphy about Elizabeth, i have the Linda Porter book for a long time, but was so busy with all my books, but after your recommendation it will be the next book i will read.

    I had ordered a painter to copy the armada portrait (it is one of my favorites) and the Nightwatch by rembrand , it is painted on canvas with oil, i will resend you the mail, i was so enthousiastic (hope to spell it right) that i had made pics of it and sent it to your mail…

    I think you are very right, times were different, they were harder, people were not as free as we are now, therefor my love for history is so big, these are the people who fought for our rights, made the changes and fought for freedom. That is why i am interested in all history figures. But the Tudor family are my favorites. There is something about them that is so adictvie.

    From the Netherlands

  13. Rose says:

    After reading your review, I feel really sorry for Mary! I’m definitely gonna buy this one.

  14. Raegan says:

    Hi Claire,
    Greetings from illinois!
    My father gave this book to me for Christmas and so far I am thoroughly enjoying this. I hope to find the other books everyone is recommending. Thank you so much for your wonderful reviews and this website – As former history major I was so excited to find so many people that are fascinated by this time period, it makes me itch to go back (if not for the exams and papers!).

    Happy New Year!


  15. Shannon says:

    Haven’t had a chance to read the book yet! It’s in my university library, but only in the short load section, unfortunately which means you can only check it out for 6 hours at a time, which is definitely not long enough! However, she does teach at my school, and I’m so excited to take her course next year called ‘Tudor Queenship: Mary I and Elizabeth I.’ It’s going to be amazing! I feel so lucky! 🙂

  16. Veronica says:

    It looks so good! too bad I can’t buy it 🙁

  17. LaBria Brumfield says:

    Would this book be a good source for an essay?

  18. Claire says:

    Why can’t you buy it?

  19. Claire says:

    Yes, it would as it has all its sources listed too.

  20. Veronica says:

    I can’t because I don’t have a credit card

  21. Claire says:

    Couldn’t you buy it/order it at your local bookshop and pay for it in cash?

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