The True Story Behind The Sinister Nickname Of Queen “Bloody Mary”

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Image: Antonis Mor

It’s July 1553, and Mary Tudor has just succeeded to the throne of England and Ireland as Mary I, the first woman to rule both countries. The principal story of her life has been one of bitter dynastic rivalry. The main theme of her reign will be deadly religious controversy. And it’s the latter that will lead to her nickname: “Bloody Mary.”

Image: Joos van Cleve

Born in 1516, Mary Tudor’s birthplace was the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, a few miles down the Thames from London. Her father was King Henry VIII, and her mother was his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Catherine had previously been married to Henry’s late brother, Arthur. This was a detail that would later haunt Mary, as we’ll see.

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Image: Hans Holbein

Mary was the only child of Henry and Catherine who lived past infancy. Catherine suffered a series of miscarriages, stillbirths and early child deaths. Henry became convinced that she would never provide him with what he craved, a male heir. And in 1525 he transferred his affections to one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn.

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