Take that, Virgin Queen

Mary TudorPoor Mary Tudor. First she goes from being daddy’s little princess to nearly being daddy’s latest executed-loved-one. Then after surviving against all odds and every precedent to become England’s first queen regnant she keeps upstaged in death by her little sister Elizabeth and nicknamed “Bloody Mary” to boot. No doubt about it, sibling rivalry can be a bitch.

Anna Whitelock has written Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen with the stated intention of reclaiming her rightful place in history for this perpetually beleaguered royal. She does this by creating a very accessible biography. The scholarship is evident but the writing style is surprisingly fast-paced. Tudorphiles won’t find much new in the two-thirds of the book. This is well-trodden ground and Whitelock focuses simply on Mary’s point of view without wringing out tenuous interpretations. She also shows Mary’s shift from obedient Catholic girl to a woman for whom faith offered the only constant in her life.

Once Mary becomes queen Whitelock takes great pains to demonstrate how she paved the way (definitely unknowingly) for little sis Elizabeth to become Gloriana. The idea of a woman as ruler was unthinkable prior to Mary. After Mary it was a viable option. Whitelock is less successful in redrawing the portrait of “Bloody Mary” although in fairness to the author that was probably not the intention. Instead of claiming Mary was in thrall to her advisors when she sent hundreds to be burned at the stake, Whitelock points out that Mary was perfectly willing to die for her religious beliefs and thus wasn’t too troubled by others dying for theirs. It’s not a sympathetic portrait but it strikes me as far worthier for this notable survivor.

Recommended for history readers and Tudorphiles.

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