Friday, 16 April 2010

Are we demoting Mary by referring to her simply as ‘Mary Tudor’?

Some months ago Professor Peter Marshall of the University of Warwick wrote a fantastic piece for The Times Literary Supplement in which he reviewed several recent publications on Mary. Marshall began his article by observing that,

Mary is the only English monarch routinely known by her family name rather than her regnal number. It’s as if she wasn’t really a proper queen at all, her rule an interruption to the proper numerical progress of monarchical history. The reign was of course an interruption to a particular view of historical progress: that which identified the establishment of Protestantism as the keystone of English national identity and subsequent imperial greatness. In the still remarkably fresh satirical words of 1066 And All That, the Catholic Mary simply failed to understand that “England is bound to be C of E”.

Marshall is certainly correct in his observation that ‘Mary Tudor’ is frequently favoured over ‘Queen Mary I’. But is this a conscious or unconscious act of disrespect? Is there really anything wrong in calling Mary, ‘Mary Tudor’?

It is, undoubtedly, anachronistic to call her ‘Mary Tudor’. As Clifford S.L. Davies observed in an article also published in The Times Literary Supplement:

Queen Mary I is routinely referred to as “Mary Tudor”. This is a historian’s convenience to distinguish her from her cousin Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots; the contemporary terms were “the Princess Mary”, “the Lady Mary”, or “Mary of England”.


If one searches accounts of 1485, of 1509, of the succession crisis of 1553 (the attempt to make Lady Jane Grey Queen), of the accessions of Mary and Elizabeth, even of accounts of Elizabeth’s death in 1603 – occasions on which any historian today could hardly but allude to “Tudor” – the word and concept is conspicuously absent. Mary and Elizabeth are “daughters of Henry VIII”, not “Mary Tudor” or “Elizabeth Tudor”. Henry VII is always described before Bosworth as “Richmond”; as indeed he features in Shakespeare’s Richard III, and in his fleeting appearance in Henry VI Part III.

Thus if we are to credit Davies’s and Marshall’s arguments, not only are we snubbing Mary by refusing to acknowledge her as Queen Mary, but we are also being illogical in our choice of title for the real Mary would not have identified herself as ‘Mary Tudor’. Nor would her contemporaries.

Obviously I used ‘Mary Tudor’ for the title of this blog, so I am guilty – though I like to say instinctively as opposed to maliciously so – of the accusations here. The title of this blog comes from an article Judith Richards wrote in Carole Levin, Jo Eldridge Carney and Debra Garret-Graves (eds.), High and Mighty Queens of early modern England: Realities and Representations (New York, 2003). Richards propagates the view of Mary as a cultivated and intelligent princess and queen, adapt at court and government affairs. It is clear from reading Richards fabulous biography published in 2008, that it is imperative to reconsider Mary’s reign and recognise her partly successful, yet of course highly complex, legacy she left to her sister, Elizabeth I. Mary, Richards concludes, ‘normalised the idea of a female monarch to such an extent that Elizabeth succeeded her without challenge within England’ (p. 242). She also confronts the most controversial of Mary’s policies as monarch and argued that, in the case of the burnings, there has been the tendency to use one aspect of the reign to conclude its whole success. Reasons are provided for England’s declaration of war against France and though Mary had her personal failures, ignorance, stupidity and idleness were clearly not among them. Marshal acknowledges Richards’s argument in her review. It is clear that Richards promotes a far more favourable view of Mary and her reign than has been traditionally asserted. Her use of the title, Mary Tudor, was obviously meant in no way to undermine the figure.

Marshall’s observation of the tendency to refer to Mary not as a queen is an interesting one and should stimulate debate. It is certainly very easy to use ‘Mary Tudor’ without questioning the validity of this and Marshall is correct in prompting us to think further. Yet even he is guilty of adopting this term from time to time. Ultimately I hesitate to say we are devaluing Mary, particularly as two recent biographies on her, Linda Porter's and Anna Whitelock’s books, have included in their title that Mary was England’s first queen regnant. If the title ‘Mary Tudor’ is becoming more popular than the gruesome sobriquet ‘Bloody Mary’ then we are at least progressing in the right direction.


  1. I did not know that I was going against the grain, but I referred to Mary as Mary I when I wrote my book. I wonder if the fact we usually refer to "William and Mary" and not William III and Mary II also contributes to the omission of Mary I's number.
    When did the pattern of using the Roman numerals after the monarch's names begin? Was there a protocol for using the numbers during the reign?

  2. A very interesting post. I've always wondered why she was referred to by her full name while her half-siblings were not. I'm not sure I agree with the notion that it was to distinguish her from the Scottish Queen. Wouldn't she have been "Mary, Queen of the English" then?

    I think because her reign has generally been seen as an anachronism of sorts, referring to her as "Mary Tudor" sort of illegitimizes her reign. And this could well have been intentional since not only was she of the wrong religion but she was also widely regarded by most historians as a failure.

    Anyway, for all that, I think your last line sums it all up nicely - better Mary Tudor than Bloody Mary!

  3. Fascinating discussion- I'd never considered this question before.

  4. DeonKilgore – Thank you!

    Stephanie – That’s a good point. Mary II is often regulated to just ‘Mary’, which I suppose is somewhat to do with her perceived, and in many respects actual, passive role during the couple’s joint rule. I’m not sure when the use of Roman numerals became popular. I know that Henry VIII during Mary’s reign was either referred to as ‘King Henry’ (with something attached to this like ‘of late memory’ to distinguish him from other Henry’s), or ‘eighth’ was added. In his song, Thou Sum Saith That Youth Rulyth Me, Henry VIII referred to himself as ‘the kyng, the eighth Harry’.

    Andrew – Thanks! For some reason Mary has been confused with Mary, Queen of Scots (I suppose based on the fact that both were sixteenth-century Queen Regnants named Mary and were Catholics). Though I have never really understood how the pair could get confused it still does happen. Amusingly, Judith Richards in her introduction to her biography on Mary stated that when she told friends she was writing a book on Queen Mary I many thought she meant Mary, Queen of Scots. Likewise, actress Joanne Whalley, who played Mary in the BBC drama ‘The Virgin Queen’ (2005), also spoke of the confusion:

    ‘Actress Joanne Whalley is keen to clear up exactly who Queen Mary was, "No one really knows about her. You say I'm playing Queen Mary and they go, 'Oh, Mary Queen of Scots?' and you go 'No! Mary Tudor!' - and they don't know who she is. She is completely overshadowed by Elizabeth - as she was in their time."

    The fact that both queens governed different countries has been lost on some people!
    The 'Tudor' part may help some realise the difference, though as Mary is often unknown in general (sometimes people are suprised to learn that Henry VIII had two daughters!), even this does not always help.

    Matterhorn - Thank you!

  5. 人生的價值以及他的快樂,都在於他有能力看重自己的生存 ..................................................

  6. To tell the truth, although I know that Queen Mary I, was Mary Tudor...I always think of Mary Tudor as being Henry's little sister, the Queen of France and Charles Brandon;s wife. For some reason that is always who I think of when I hear the name...