During the spread of Protestantism in the reign of her half-brother, Edward VI, Mary was steadfastly loyal to her faith, observing Mass in her private chapel in defiance of the Act of Uniformity and appealing to Emperor Charles V for protection. On Edward's death John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, arranged the short-lived usurpation of the throne by Lady Jane Grey; Mary, however, supported by an overwhelming number of loyal subjects, soon ascended the throne.
In the early part of her reign Mary showed considerable clemency toward her political opponents, but she and her advisers were set upon two policies—her marriage to Philip (later Philip II of Spain), son of Emperor Charles, with the consequent Spanish alliance, and the restoration of papal supremacy in England. The former aroused violent opposition, which was focused in the unsuccessful rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt, but both the marriage and alliance were carried out in 1554. Late in the same year papal authority was reestablished in England. Early in 1555, Parliament repealed the antipapal laws of Henry VIII and restored the ecclesiastical courts and the laws against heresy, but they refused to restore church property that had been seized.
There then began the religious persecutions that lasted for the rest of the reign. The number burned at the stake amounted almost to 300 and included such eminent figures as Nicholas Ridley, John Rogers, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer. The epithet "Bloody Mary" was a result of these acts, though they were less severe than many on the strife-torn Continent.
In 1555, Philip, frustrated by Parliament in his attempt to win coronation, left his wife and went to his dominions in the Netherlands. He returned briefly in 1557, mainly for the purpose of drawing England into the existing war between Spain and France, the chief results of which were the loss (1558) of Calais and the increasing hostility of the English people toward their queen. Mary, whose general ill health may have been aggravated by her grief over Philip's absence, died childless. She was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth I.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.