Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Princess, Bastard, Queen

Stephanie Mann reviews a new biography of Queen Mary I. More on Mary from Stephanie, HERE. To quote:
Anne Whitelock does much to address some of the commonplace characterizations of Mary and her reign. The biography comprehensively covers Mary's life beginning with the circumstances of her conception and birth, the marriages arranged for her while still a little child, her education, and all the trauma of separation from her parents, the years of tension over "The King's Great Matter", culminating in Katherine of Aragon's death and later the oaths Mary was forced to swear, her conflict with Anne Boleyn and relations with other stepmothers up to Henry VIII's death (Part One: A King's Daughter). In Part Two, A King's Sister, Whitelock focuses on Mary's determination to practice her Catholic faith freely in spite of pressure from her much-loved half-brother and his council--and then covers her tremendous victory over Northumberland, demonstrating her determination and her ability to rally supporters to her cause.

In Part Three, A Queen, Whitelock even more dramatically depicts Mary's achievement in becoming the first Queen Regnant of England, dealing with a council of men who doubted her ability as a female to rule, who had supported Northumberland's coup against her or who even had bullied her to give up the Catholic Mass. Mary's courage and rousing rhetoric to persuade Londoners in support against the rebellion led by Thomas Wyatt are clearly a high point in this section, as she wins her people over again to defend her. She clearly states that her first loyalty is to her people and that she would not marry if she thought such a relationship would endanger England. They rally round her and support her, based on her expressed care and concern for them. After Wyatt's rebellion is defeated, Mary cannot afford the mercy she had shown Jane Dudley and her spouse, especially when Jane's father had taken part in the attempted coup.

In Part Four, A King's Wife, Whitelock covers the most delicate territory: the heresy trials and subsequent burnings at the stake of bishops, preachers, lay evangelicals, those who committed sacrilege in their opposition to Catholicism, heretics (by any Christian standard), and Thomas Cranmer, Mary's bete noire. She also addresses one of the saddest episodes of Mary's life when she believed, in error, that she was pregnant, preparing to deliver a child, having prayers said, anticipating that she would have an heir to succeed her. Chapter 58 is a remarkable chapter, describing Mary's wholehearted participation in bathing the feet of 12 poor women and touching the ill. Otherwise, Whitelock effectively presents details about Mary's relationships with Reginald Pole, her cousin and Archbishop of Canterbury--whom she protects from the Pope; Elizabeth, her half-sister--whom she does not completely trust and yet, preserving orderly succession, must acknowledge as her heir; and Philip, her husband--to whom she would not submit as Sole Queen of England, even though he wanted to reign equally with her.

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