|Queen Elizabeth I|
In contrast, her older sister, Queen Mary I, is remembered as ‘Bloody Mary’ when she is remembered at all. The sisters shared the auburn hair that they inherited from their father, Henry VIII, but that is not all they had in common. A closer look reveals that Elizabeth learned much about ruling as queen regnant from the example of her sister.
The role modelling that Mary provided for Elizabeth began long before either of them became queen. The girls were often part of the same household when Elizabeth was young, beginning with Mary’s forced servitude in the infant Elizabeth’s household as part of Henry’s striving to emphasize that it was Elizabeth who, at that time, was princess while Mary was a bastard. By the time both girls were brought to court by stepmother Katherine Parr, both were bastardized princesses.
|Queen Mary I|
Both Katherine and Mary offered Elizabeth examples on the effects that the wrong marriage could have on a woman’s life. If she were not haunted by the fact that her mother had been executed by her father, Elizabeth need look no further than Katherine and Mary for further reasons to remain single. Thomas Seymour, Katherine’s fourth husband, gave Elizabeth an early lesson in flirtation, if not more, and was executed for treason shortly after Katherine’s death in childbirth. Mary’s marriage to Prince Philip caused an uproar of rebellion as the efforts to restore Catholicism became fused with England’s marriage to Spain in the minds of Englishmen.
However, Elizabeth took note of the finer details of Mary’s reign and used them to her advantage when her turn came. While the lack of a husband caused its own problems, not the least of which was the end of her family’s dynasty, Elizabeth had learned from her father’s marital scandals and the repercussions of her sister’s choice that it was safer to remain alone. Elizabeth is famous for stating, “I have already joined myself in marriage to a husband, namely the kingdom of England.” What is not so widely remembered, is that Mary said almost the same thing.
Elizabeth was a clever woman, better at reading political situations than Mary ever was. She was quick to use language and strategies that had worked for her sister, but also eager to put distance between herself and the memory of the aged, childless queen and learn from Mary’s mistakes.
|Hanging, drawing, & quartering|
Elizabeth used this difference between herself and her sister to bolster her position. In turn, Mary’s name was blackened. The harsh sobriquet ‘Bloody Mary’ was never applied to the devout queen during her lifetime, but the sister who benefited from her example also found that she appeared more glorious if her predecessor seemed evil in comparison. Instead of receiving credit for demonstrating that a woman could reign, Mary became the enemy whom Elizabeth triumphed over. Yet, Elizabeth would not have been the success that she was without the sister who paved the way for her.
Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
The First Queen of England by Linda Porter
The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
This post originally appeared on the blog of author Judith Arnopp in April 2017.