Was Mary I a cruel queen who failed in everything she tried to do?

Ebin, Year 8


Mary I was a Tudor queen, daughter of Henry VIII, who reigned for 5 years, from 1553 – 1558. She is most commonly known for being a Catholic who burnt almost 300 people during her reign! She wanted to bring the country back to Catholicism, which meant undoing all the work her half brother Edward VI and her father Henry VIII did. However, was she really cruel and was she a failure in everything she did?


The argument for her being cruel is that she burned almost 300 people for being a different part of the same religion, Christianity! This is obviously cruel and doesn’t make sense to us in the 21st Century, as now we don’t have public executions of any kind here in the UK. There are also other factors such as the fact that straight after Mary died, the country went straight back to Protestantism. This was possibly linked to the burnings, which regularly were administered at a place named Smithfield. The burnings here were called the ‘Fires of Smithfield’ and this made public support for Catholicism go down rapidly. According to Source A, “The fires of Smithfield had led to popular hatred of the very religion that Mary had championed so valiantly.” For the whole of her reign, and possibly her life, she wanted to make and keep the country Catholic. She did that in a number of ways. She married the Spanish King to get a Catholic heir and she tried a cruel regime to keep the country Catholic. In the end these plans failed. Her marriage to the Spanish King didn’t result in any sort of Catholic heir and it made her even more unpopular with the country as if she had an heir, the heir would have ruled over both England and Spain, but his main priority would have been his father’s country. Her cruel regime backfired as soon as she had passed away, because the country had an almost immediate switch to Protestantism.


In Source B, Mary is shown as being cruel, even though her name isn’t mentioned in the source! It shows a Spanish friar, possibly one of Mary’s husband’s friars, pushing the Archbishop of Canterbury to convert to being a Catholic. Nobody should be able to use power to convert someone to another religion. However, this is exactly what Mary did to many people, and some of them, feeling extremely pressured, became Catholics. This shows how cruel Mary was. This source also shows the Archbishop of Canterbury to be a brave person, who was martyred for his religion. Mary can be classed as a failure according to this source as she failed with her Turn or Burn policy. The Turn or Burn policy was to give people one last chance to convert to Catholicism, if not, they were burned at the stake. This failed because almost 300 people decided that they would rather burn and stick to Protestantism.


Source C really shows how cruel Mary is, or can be! In the picture, we see a public burning, which means that everyone can see it. It’s very disturbing! Also, another thing to note is that the source shows a group of people being executed together. This could be people from the same family or close friends who would be burning themselves and watching their loved ones slowly being incinerated. Or, equally as horrifying, family members and friends could be watching while their loved one/s die! It is truly disgusting! This source can also show Mary as a failure because, like with source B, of her Turn or Burn policy. 


However, there are many ways in which she wasn’t a cruel leader and wasn’t a failure. For example, we can see in Source A that everything she did was to try and save her subjects. If this worked and her subjects were saved, we’ll never know. However, Mary must be applauded in her determination to save her people. There was also the fact that she offered people one last chance with the Turn or Burn policy. 

Mary can also be proven to have not been a failure because of the revolution she made in the country during her relatively short reign. She improved many things such as: Government institutions were steadily evolving, trade was encouraged at home as well as abroad, and there were plans to reform the coinage and to build a better navy. So, Mary wasn’t just a failure. She had many successes in her time.


Mary was, of course, born in a time where we expected all the monarchs to be cruel, but she was a standout in the numbers that she burned at the stake and also in her vicious attempts to steer the country back to Catholicism. Although Mary failed in her main goal, which was to keep the country Catholic, she did indeed have many successes with her country. Even though through the early stages of her reign she was loved, she was hated in England before and after her death. She may have tried valiantly to be a good ruler who ruled over a content Catholic nation, but instead, at least in my eyes, she became a tyrannical ruler who ruled over a bitter Catholic nation, and even though she failed at her main goal, she wasn’t a complete failure. So, I believe that Mary I was a cruel ruler but she wasn’t a failure.



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