In April 1553, Edward, who had been removed to Greenwich in consequence of illness, grew rapidly worse. By the end of the month he was spitting blood and the country was felt to be on the eve of a new reign. The accession of Mary, who was personally popular, was looked forward to by the people as a matter of course. The ambitious Northumberland, however, worked on the mind of the feeble and dying king and succeeded in persuading him to declare both his sisters incapable of succeeding to the crown, as being illegitimate. The king died on July 6. The last male child of the Tudor race had ceased to suffer.
When Lady Jane was saluted by Northumberland and four other lords, all kneeling at her feet, as queen, she shook, covered her face with her hands and fell fainting to the ground. The next Monday, July 10, the royal barges came down the Thames from Richmond and at three in the afternoon Lady Jane landed at the broad staircase of the Tower, as queen, in undesired splendour. But that same evening messages came saying that Mary, whose right in law was unquestionable, had declared herself queen. She had sent addresses to the peers, commanding them on their allegiance to come to her.
Happily, the conspiracy in favour of Lady Jane was crushed without bloodshed, although it had seemed for a time as if the nation were on the brink of a civil war. But though Mary wished to spare Lady Jane and her husband, her intentions were frustrated by the determination of Renard, ambassador of the emperor. Northumberland was sent to the Tower and beheaded on August 22 and, in the following November, Lady Jane and her husband were also condemned. Mary long hesitated, but at length her scruples were overcome, she issued the fatal warrant on February 8, 1554, and four days later both were executed. Lady Jane was but a delicate girl of seventeen, but met her fate with the utmost heroism.
Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, became the chief instrument of the restoration of the Catholic faith under Mary. His fierce spirit soon began to display itself. In the fiery obstinacy of his determination this prelate speedily became the incarnate expression of the fury of the ecclesiastical faction, smarting, as they were, under their long degradation and under the irritating consciousness of those false oaths of submission which they had been compelled to swear to a power they loathed.
MARY listened to the worst counsels of each and her distempered humour settled into a confused ferocity. Both Gardiner and she resolved to secure the trial, condemnation and execution of her sister Elizabeth, but their plans utterly miscarried, for no evidence against her could be gathered. The princess was known to be favourable to the Protestant cause, but the attempts to prove her disloyalty to Mary were vain. She was imprisoned in the Tower and the fatal net appeared to be closing on her.
But though the danger of her murder was very great, the lords who had reluctantly permitted her to be imprisoned would not allow her to be openly sacrificed, nor indeed permit the queen to continue in the career of vengeance on which she had entered. The necessity of releasing Elizabeth from the Tower was an unspeakable annoyance to Mary. A confinement at Woodstock was the furthest stretch of severity that the country would, for the present, permit. On May 19, 1554, Elizabeth was taken up the river.
Vexations began to tell on Mary's spirit. She could not shake off her anxieties, or escape from the shadow of her subject's hatred. Insolent pamphlets were dropped in her path and in the offices of Whitehall. They were placed by mysterious hands in the sanctuary of her bedroom.
Her trials began to tell on her understanding. She was ill with hysterical longings; ill with the passions which Gardiner, as her chancellor, had provoked, but Paget, as leader of the opposing party, had disappointed. But she was now to become the wife of King Philip of Spain. Negotiations for this momentous marriage had been protracted and even after the contract had been signed, Philip seemed slow to arrive. The coolness manifested by his tardiness did much to aggravate the queen's despondency.
On July 20, 1554, he landed at Southampton. The atmospheric auspices were not cheering, for Philip, who had come from the sunny plains of Castile, from his window at Southampton looked out on a steady downfall of July rain. On the next Sunday he journeyed to Winchester, again in pouring rain. To the cathedral he went first, wet as he was. Mary was at the bishop's palace, a few hundred yards' distance. Mary could not wait and the same night the interview took place. Let the curtain fall over the meeting, let it close also over the wedding solemnities which followed with due splendour two days after. There are scenes in life which we regard with pity too deep for words. The unhappy queen, unloved, unlovable, yet with her parched heart thirsting for affection, was flinging herself upon a breast to which an iceberg was warm; upon a man to whom love was an unmeaning word.
Mary set about to complete the Catholic reaction. Gardiner, Bonner and four other prelates formed a court on January 28, 1555, in St. Mary Overy's Church, Southwark, and Hooper, bishop of Gloucester, and Canon Rogers of St. Paul's were brought up before them. Both were condemned as Protestants and both were burnt at the stake, the bishop at Gloucester, the canon at Smithfield. They suffered heroically. The Catholics had affected to sneer at the faith of their rivals. There was a general conviction among them that Protestants would all flinch at the last; that they had no 'doctrine that would abide the fire.' Many more victims were offered. The enemies of the Church were to submit or die. So said Gardiner and so said the papal legate and the queen, in the delirious belief that they were the chosen instruments of Providence.
The people, whom the cruelty of the party was reconverting to the reformation, while the fires of Smithfield blazed with a rapidity like that produced by the gift of tongues at Pentecost, regarded the martyrs with admiration as soldiers dying for their country. On Mary, sorrow was heaped on sorrow. Her expectation of a child was disappointed and Philip refused to stay in England. The horrible crusade against heretics became the business of the rest of her life. Archbishop Cranmer, Bishops Ridley and Latimer and many other persons of distinction were amongst the martyrs of the Marian persecution.
Mary's miseries were intensified month by month. War broke out between England and France. For ten years the French had cherished designs and on January 7, 1558, the famous stronghold of Calais fell into their hands. The effect of this misfortune on the queen was to produce utter prostration. She now well understood that both parliament and the nation were badly disposed towards her. But her end was at hand. After much suffering from dropsy and nervous debility, she prepared quietly for what she knew was inevitable.
On November 16, at midnight, taking leave of a world in which she had played so evil a part, Mary received the last rites of the Church. A few hours later the pope's legate, Cardinal Pole, followed her. Thus the reign of the pope in England and the reign of terror closed together.
Return to Outline of Great Books Volume I