Childless Queens and Kings: Mary I

By Nina Steele 

Mary IMary I was the Queen of England and Ireland from July 1553 until her death on November 17th 1558. She was the only child to survive from her mother’s marriage to Henry VIII. Her mother, Catherine of Aragon, was the first of Henry VIII six wives. Catherine, who later fell out of favour with the King and was exiled, understandably doted on her daughter.

Mary’s early life was fraught with drama. Her father longed for a boy to succeed him and since Mary’s mother was unable to fulfil his dream, he had their marriage annulled and went on to marry Anne Boleyn. Mary was declared an illegitimate child and went from living the life of a princess to being downgraded to the role of Lady-in-waiting to her younger half-sister Elizabeth.

Mary would eventually become Queen after the death of her half-brother Edward VI, the product of Henry VIII marriage to Jane Seymour, his third wife. Ensuring the line of succession is one of the main priorities for any monarch and Mary was no different. It was even more of a priority considering that she was in her late 30s (37 to be precise) when she ascended the throne. She was married a year later.

Unfortunately, there was not going to be an heir to the throne for Mary. Her infamous phantom pregnancies, now a stuff of legend.

Indeed, from September 1554 until May 1555, the rumour mill went into overdrive. As far as everyone was concerned, the Queen was expecting. She herself claimed that she felt the baby move inside her. Unlike today where pregnancies are easy to determine, there was no way of knowing in Tudor times that a woman was pregnant for certain. The only certainty was when the child was physically born.

And so the people waited. By May 1555, rumours started spreading that Mary had given birth to a boy. Letters of congratulations started to arrive from abroad. Mary was still refusing to come out of her birth chamber. By July, she claimed that she was still pregnant and that in fact she had miscalculated her due date. However, it soon became clear even to her that there was not going to be a child after all.

There was another episode of a phantom pregnancy, this time between 1557 and 1558. Once again, Mary was certain that she was pregnant, only for the child never to materialise.

Mary died childless and was succeeded to the throne by her half-sister, Elizabeth, known as Elizabeth I.


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