November 17, 1558 marked the sad end of Mary I, first Queen Regnant of England (except for Matilda, whose reign was disputed and who was arguably the reason that Henry VIII was so terrified of leaving his kingdom to a daughter…).
Mary died at Saint James Palace. Sir Nicholas Throckmorton removed Mary’s betrothal ring from her finger and brought it to Elizabeth at Hatfield to prove that the succession had truly taken place. The legend is that Elizabeth was sitting under an old oak tree when Throckmorton found her. After he placed the ring in her hand, she sank to her knees and quoted from Psalm 118: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Much of the country agreed. Mary was not a popular monarch. She had a vested interest in returning England to Catholicism – it was, after all, the creation of the Church of England that allowed her mother to be set aside. So, following in her father’s footsteps, she burned Protestants to persuade the people to return to Rome. She also married Philip II of Spain, allying England with a power that was actually then at war with France – and threatening the end that had so terrified Henry VIII: that England would become a province of one of the European powers.
But the truth was, Mary was more of a victim than almost anyone. She was only twelve when her father began the proceedings that would end with her bastardization, she had to watch a succession of stepmothers, some of whom she loved and some of whom she hated. She had to endure a younger brother threatening her religion and her very existence. And even after she acceded to the throne, she suffered two false pregnancies and the sinking feeling that the world secretly wanted her dead so her younger sister could inherit the throne. When you think of the misery endured by her mother, it’s hard not to sit and wonder whether she was subject to some kind of familial curse, like the Kennedys of today who have lost bright stars from several successive generations…
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