Posted on 04/05/2009
Anna Whitelock, Lecturer in Early Modern History, has just published Mary Tudor: England's First Queen with Bloomsbury. It tells the remarkable story of a woman who was a princess one minute, feted by the courts of Europe, and a disinherited bastard the next. It tells of her Spanish heritage, the unbreakable bond between Mary and her mother, Katherine of Aragon; of her childhood, adolescence, rivalry with her sister Elizabeth, and finally her womanhood. It explores the formative experiences that made Mary the determined and single-minded queen she became. She had fought to survive, fought to preserve her integrity and her right to hear the Catholic mass, and finally she fought for the throne. As Queen of England, Mary retained her tenacity. She married Philip of Spain against much opposition and struggled passionately to restore Catholicism, the religion to which she had remained true all her life. Yet whilst she was brave as a queen, as a woman she was dependent and prone to anxiety. In an age when marriages were made for political and diplomatic advantage, Mary married a man she truly loved but whom did not share her passion. It is this tension between Mary's dominance as queen and her tragedy as a woman that is crucial to understanding her reign. Her private traumas of phantom pregnancies, debilitating illnesses and unrequited love were played out in the public glare of the fickle Tudor court. The Mary that emerges is not the weak-willed failure of traditional narratives, but a complex figure of immense courage, determination and humanity.