The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary”

Written by Linda Porter
Review by Susan Higginbotham

If any historical figure is due for a reassessment, it’s surely Mary Tudor, characterized alternatively as a bloodthirsty fanatic and as a pathetic hag. In this lucid and intelligently written biography, Porter does an admirable job of showing us the woman behind the myth.

Porter gives us a full picture of Mary, reminding us that the queen who is often regarded as dour and sickly enjoyed fine clothes, gambling, and hunting. Her religious persecutions are not glossed over, but are placed in the context of their time and in that of Mary’s more positive actions regarding religion. Especially interesting is Porter’s examination of Mary’s fraught and highly ambivalent relationship with her younger sister.

It is not the “Bloody” Mary of popular history, or the lonely wife familiar from historical fiction, who emerges here, but the courageous woman who fought through many obstacles to get to the throne, then to stay there. Porter is to be commended for bringing this complex and much-maligned woman to life.