Tomb of Cardinal Pole in
Mary had promised when she ascended the Throne that she would allow her subject to practice religion according to their consciences unimpeded. In her first year or two, while the churches of her realm were restored to Catholic practice, altars rebuilt, roods re-erected, vestments and sacred vessels restored, she allowed her Protestant subjects to live in peace as long as they were discreet about their dissent. As we have seen, however, she had some scores she wanted to settle—in particular with Archbishop Cranmer whom she was determined to put to death in the most cruel way imaginable even though—given his renunciation of heresy—canon law forbad his being executed. She had also—and even before the martyrdom of Cranmer—executed several prominent Protestant bishops under the heresy laws which she directed Parliament to revive in 1554. Unfortunately, this seems to have given the Queen a taste for blood and as her reign progressed more and more Protestants were arrested, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake. All in all there were just less than 300 Protestant martyrs in her five year reign. Another 800 prominent Protestants fled England for the continent where they were introduced to the far more radical religious ideas found in the Reformed Churches of Strasbourg, Geneva, Zurich and other Protestant capitals. This was a huge mistake for Mary’s agenda of keeping England Catholic as it ultimately would have the dandelion effect of scattering the seeds of radical Protestantism throughout the realm.
Mary’s hope was to secure a Catholic succession. Her marriage to Philip of Spain produced two false pregnancies, one in the autumn of 1554 and the other in the spring of 1558. This second false pregnancy may have been the missed sign of something far more serious—perhaps uterine or ovarian cancer. In any event, by the summer of 1558 Mary was clearly dying. The heir to the throne but one was a Catholic—Mary, Queen of Scots. The problem was how to bypass Elizabeth, Mary’s Protestant half-sister, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the woman who had cause so much pain to Mary and her mother, Katherine of Aragon.
In the end, Mary was her father’s daughter, a Tudor through and through, and made the decision that better a Protestant Tudor on the throne than a Catholic Stuart. Mary died in London on November 17th 1558. She was buried four weeks later in Westminster Abbey according to Catholic Rites. Elizabeth did not attend the funeral, but—as I have stated in other postings—it was not the custom for the Sovereign to attend funerals, even of close family members. Mary had not attended the funerals of either her brother or her father.
Mary’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Reginald Pole, died of influenza in his residence at Lambeth later the same day as the Queen. (There was an epidemic in London at the time.) His body was taken to Canterbury Cathedral for burial in the Corona—the chapel immediately behind the spot where Becket’s tomb had once stood. Elizabeth came to the throne with a clean slate—an opportunity to pick her own Archbishop and shape the Church to her tastes. But she would find in Parliament some real challenges to her power over the Church. More on that down the line.