23 January 2011
Queen Mary 1: Dark days and disturbances
One of the strangest and most disturbing aspects of Queen Mary 1's whole persona, other than the most obvious, the Marian Persecutions, are her history of phantom pregnancies. Even today this strange malady is hotly debated, even to the extent of whether or not the state of phantom pregnancy actually exists. What is known is that Mary believed she was with child at least twice, and that she exhibited strong symptoms of actual pregnancy. The supposed causes of her phantom pregnancies are unknown, and almost certainly will remain thus.
As of late, revision writers, some of them truly gifted, are hard at work in an attempt to paint Mary in a new light. Though I find their writings to be endlessly fascinating, I am unsure as to how we might view Mary more favorably, as it is a documented fact that she was responsible for sending over 300 human beings to the stake. Her very name is synonymous with terror and religious persecution: Mary Tudor.
Those who are sympathetic of Mary Tudor inevitably cite her bitter childhood and adolescence in portraying her more positively. I digress; who can say they are not personally acquainted with a friend or family member who has experienced a miserable childhood? What percentage of the population has experienced the rejection of a parent? Unfortunately, this is not a rare or uncommon occurrence. Not withstanding, only a small number of people who have experienced such tragedy will every display the cruel malevolence that Mary did. Granted that few people will ever hold the power to exact such revenge on society. None the less, her actions live on, nearly half a millennium after her death.
Mary's phantom pregnancies were as mysterious as they were personally humiliating. What is known is that she was likely too advanced in age, that is for Tudor times, to accomplish a successful pregnancy and delivery. This was a time that was fraught with maternal danger, and Mary had experienced menstrual disturbances almost from the very start of her menses. Her wish to become a mother, given her fragile health and the time in history, and her age, was probably far too ambitious, though certainly understandable. Perhaps Mary could have been spared a great deal of pain and extreme embarrassment if her doctors had been courageous enough to simply tell her the truth. Rumours abounded that she was certainly not pregnant, and that no viable child would ever result from the two confinements. But Mary's actions had terrorized an entire country, and who would have wanted to be the fall guy to tell the queen that she was not pregnant, and probably never would be? No one wanted to wear those shoes, so Mary was flattered and given false hope until she herself accused her caretakers of blatant false flattery. Her confinements must have seemed interminable, while her doctors plied her with false hope long after nine long months of waiting had produced absolutely nothing. Clearly Simon Renard did not entertain any false hopes for Mary when in the spring of 1557 he wrote to Phillip, regarding the English succession. Concerned about how events had played out, he was casting a very watchful eye on Elizabeth. Mary was certainly in a rapid downward spiral, both physically and mentally. Today she might have been diagnosed as suffering from acute clinical depression, and would have been treated accordingly. But in 1557, human health, and maternity were enshrouded in superstition and ill-conceived notions. It did not help that Phillip, who treated his wife shamefully, openly abandoned her with hardly a glance backward. From our historical vantage point, we can safely say that Phillip was not exactly a nice guy, as history would play out. But in Tudor days, for a consort to basically ditch a monarch was a stunning and shocking scandal. Even if the diminutive little man suspected his wife was experiencing a hysterical pregnancy, his abandonment of his wife during those dark days was the epitome of cowardice. It might be said that he shared nearly equal blame for the Marian persecutions, as he certainly encouraged the terror Mary's subjects experienced. Rather than acting as a supportive, mature husband, Phillip was throwing tantrums because he had not been crowned king. In one piteous letter to Phillip, Mary wrote:
I beseech you in all humility to put off the business until your return...For otherwise your highness will be angry against me, and that will be worse than death to me, for I have already begun to taste you anger all too often, to my great sorrow.
Unfortunately, Mary's "great sorrow" would be transfered to the English people as the fires of Smithfield burned even as Mary lay dying. Was her motivation a true desire to see her people restored to her faith, or was it cruel revenge for the offenses of her own father, and even Anne Boleyn? Too this current day, Mary's strange life remains for the most part, a mystery.