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History Rewind – Mary I of England Marries Philip II of Spain

As we all know there are a lot of Mary’s in English history – possibly too many! For me, there’s one that stands out easily as the most memorable as her name lends itself to my favourite drink after a heavy night. ‘Bloody Mary’, as she is infamously known as, was the eldest daughter of Henry VIII from his first wife Catherine of Aragon.

It was on this day in 1554 that Mary I of England married the future King Philip II of Spain at Winchester Cathedral.


The wedding itself was relatively uneventful, but the marriage was a pretty serious affair. Since England’s break with Rome, the Catholic cause in England had been slowly bubbling away – repression and an increasingly hostile Protestant community meant that England was in a troublesome time. When Mary ascended to the throne in July 1553, England found itself once again under a devout Catholic monarch. This frustrated a number of people who had embraced the English Church’s break with Rome and the Reformation, although many others embraced the restoration of the Catholic faith.

Mary, whose reign saw the burning of nearly 300 Protestants, was thoroughly aware that to solidify her reign she needed strong backing from an influential Catholic power. This alliance was found on the Iberian Peninsula in the guise of the slightly gangly and hot tempered Prince Philip (soon to be Philip II) of Spain. Philip was a scourge of Protestantism and the staunch defender of the Catholic faith. At this time, Spain was at the height of its powers and both Mary and Philip saw the possibilities that a marriage between them could bring. Through this marriage, Mary believed she would be able to assert her legitimacy and restore what she saw to be the ‘true’ faith back to England, while Philip saw this as an opportunity to expand his vast empire even further and strengthen his influence on the European political scene.

However, the possibility of this match created fears that Philip would attempt to become King of England in his own right, rather than being a consort. Owing to sixteenth century values, it was natural for a wife’s property to become that of her husband’s upon marriage, thus this stirred ideas that Philip could technically inherit Mary’s title and therefore her Kingdom. It is also worth remembering that Mary was England’s first Queen Regnant (this depends if you count Empress Matilda and Lady Jane Grey of course…), so this created even more unease as the idea of a woman ruling in her own right was alien to the male-dominated society at the time. One thing was for definite, no one wanted England to be sucked into the vast Spanish Empire, be catapulted into costly wars and be ruled by the increasingly erratic Habsburgs.

Although there were protests against this match, the marriage documents were drawn up and parliament agreed that Philip would be styled ‘King of England’. However, parliament  insisted that Philip would not wield any true power over government; legislation would have both Mary and Philip’s name on it, the coinage would show both of their faces, Philip could not elevate foreigners to high office and England wouldn’t be bound to defend Spain in a state of war. All of this was only relevant while Mary was alive; in other words, parliament was ensuring that England would remain as English as possible with a Spanish King-Consort on the throne.

The marriage was purely political at first, although there is evidence that Mary grew to love her husband and became increasingly dependent upon Philip as her short reign developed. A confidante of Philip’s wrote about the marriage stating: “The marriage was concluded for no fleshly consideration, but in order to remedy the disorders of this kingdom (Spain) and to preserve the Low Countries”. Such a romantic sentiment – maybe they should have included that in the marriage vows…

The marriage, much to Mary’s distress, did not produce the heir she so desperately wanted and needed. She had at least two phantom pregnancies, and when it became clear that Mary was not going to successfully produce an heir it was assumed that Mary’s half-sister, Elizabeth, would come to the throne after The Queen’s death. In May 1558 Mary died, most probably from some form of cancerous tumour. Philip, who was abroad at the time of his wife’s death, is known to have said: “I felt a reasonable regret for her death”…such sentimentality.

Photo credit: Lisby via photopin cc

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