WCW: Queen Mary I


I don’t know that I have a crush on Queen Mary I of England (1516-58, reigned 1553-58), but I do find her fascinating. She’s so generally overlooked for her more famous sister (Elizabeth I), and she had such a chaotic and sad life. Daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon (their only child to live to adulthood), she was first princess of England and heir, then declared a bastard and separated from her mother for years (her mother died without the two ever seeing her again).

Princess Mary (detail from a larger painting showing Henry VIII, his jester Will Somers, his son Edward, daughter Mary and daughter Elizabeth), 1650-80 (copy after original, early 1550s), Boughton House

Princess Mary (detail from a larger painting showing Henry VIII, his jester Will Somers, his son Edward, daughter Mary and daughter Elizabeth), 1650-80 (copy after original, early 1550s), Boughton House

She waited in the wings while Edward VI reigned, then at his death, the English people by and large supported her against Lady Jane Grey.

Portrait of Mary I (1516-1558) by Master John, 1544, National Portrait Gallery

Mary instituted the Counter-Reformation, earning the nickname “Bloody Mary” for persecuting Protestants who wouldn’t convert back to Catholicism. Her marriage had been planned and canceled numerous times during her upbringing; she finally married King Philip II of Spain, but probably too late to have a child, which she desperately wanted. Then on top of everything, she had at least one false pregnancy (maybe more), which must have just been heartbreaking. She died at only age 42, possibly of ovarian cancer, which is ironic given her difficulties with conceiving.

Portrait of Queen Mary I of England (1516-1558), after Hans Eworth, 1550s, via Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Queen Mary I of England after Hans Eworth, 1550s, via Wikimedia Commons

I always wonder what might have been had her father not been a dick, had she married at a younger age, and just generally had a happier life. She’s also England’s first queen regnant, and that’s pretty darn significant.

Mary I, 1554, portrait by Antonis Mor, via Wikimedia Commons

Mary I by Antonis Mor, 1554, via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s take a look at Mary Tudor on screen! Note, there are a few productions that I can’t find any images of Mary from, including:

  • Marie Tudor (1917): played by Jeanne Delvair
  • Young Bess (1953): Ann Tyrrell
  • Henry VIII (2003): Lara Belmont


Tudor Rose / Nine Days a Queen (1936)

A film about Lady Jane Grey. Gwen Ffrangcon Davies plays Mary.

Tudor Rose / Nine Days a Queen (1936)

This seems very “classic Mary Tudor.”

1936 Nine Days a Queen


Pearls of the Crown (1937)

One of French director Sacha Guitry‘s episodic takes on history: “Tracing the history of seven valuable pearls of the English Crown from the time of Henry VIII of England to the present day (1937). Writer Jean Martin (Guitry) attempts to track down three of the missing pearls by tracing their previous owners, with events seen in flashback, involving Napoleon, King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I of England amongst others.” Yvette Pienne plays Mary (and also Elizabeth!).

1937 Pearls of the Crown

I feel like that’s Eric Idle?


The Prince and the Pauper (1962)

A TV miniseries adaptation (by Disney) of the Mark Twain novel. Sheila Allen plays Mary.

1962 The Prince and the Pauper

Yes, you’ve seen that gown again in Crossed Swords (1977), The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001, the Starkey doc), and Henry VIII (2003).


Marie Tudor (1966)

Apparently Victor Hugo wrote a story about Mary I, and it’s been adapted several times by French cinema. This one starred Kathy Fraise as young Mary, and Françoise Christophe as an adult.

1966 Marie Tudor

Young Mary liked to use Christmas deco as French hood trim?

1966 Marie Tudor

I can’t help but “read” that collar as “yassssss”!

1966 Marie Tudor

This isn’t bad, but it’s not how I see Mary. Especially the eyelashes.

1966 Marie Tudor

This REALLY isn’t how I see Mary.


Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)

Nicola Pagett makes a brief appearance in this Anne Boleyn-focused film, visiting her mother on her deathbed — which, of course, never happened in real life.

1969 Anne of the Thousand Days

I like how she’s all, “ugh, MOM!”


The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

I can’t find any pics, but apparently Verina Greenlaw plays a young Mary in the Catherine of Aragon episode of this famous BBC TV series. Alison Frazer plays the teenage Mary in the Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr episodes.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Nicely done, but then this production always does!


Elizabeth R (1971)

Daphne Slater plays an older Mary in the BBC TV classic miniseries about her sister.

1971 Elizabeth R

Okay that hood is too sticky-uppy, but otherwise, this is perfect.

1971 Elizabeth R

I’m not a massive fan of the Burger King crown, but blame BK.

1971 Elizabeth R

I do love a good partlet!

1971 Elizabeth R


Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)

Sarah Long plays the teenage Mary in this Henry/wife-focused biopic.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

She only gets one dress, but it’s REALLY beautifully accurate.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives


Die Liebe und die Königin (1977)

Another adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, with Inge Keller as Mary.

1977 Die Liebe und die Königin

Do I want to watch Mary and Philip’s tender wedding night? No, no I do not.


Lady Jane (1986)

One of the more focused looks at Mary comes from this Lady Jane Grey story, with Jane Lapotaire as Mary.

1986 Lady Jane

I love this SO MUCH, and yet it’s SO wicked witch!

1986 Lady Jane

If it just weren’t quite so pointy! (And is that panne velvet?)


Elizabeth (1998)

Kathy Burke plays a miserable, paranoid Mary in the early scenes of the Shekar Kapur/Cate Blanchett biopic.

1998 Elizabeth

Too dark and murky to say anything other than “pretty good.”


World’s Most Evil: Bloody Mary (2001)

Thanks to Trystan for finding what looks like a deeply shitty documentary, so shitty I can’t even find it on IMDB so no idea who’s playing Mary.

World's Most Evil: Bloody Mary (2001)

As Trystan said, that really is perhaps the world’s shittiest French hood. Also, dental hygienist hair.


Inside the Tower of London: Crimes, Conspiracies, and Confessions (2001)

No cast is listed on IMDB for what looks like yet another shitty doc.

Inside the Tower of London: Crimes, Conspiracies, and Confessions (2001)

#needsmorehotglue #needsmoreplasticpearls


The Virgin Queen (2006)

Joanne Whalley plays Mary in the early scenes of yet another QE1 biopic.

The Virgin Queen (2006) - Mary Tudor

Randomly wearing armor!


The Tudors (2007-10)

Bláthnaid McKeown plays young Mary in the Catherine of Aragon episodes, then Sarah Bolger takes over as teen Mary.

Why does she color coordinate with Anne instead of her mother?

2007-10 The Tudors

That’s a VERY Victorian brocade.

2007-10 The Tudors


Oh it’s the 1890s??!!

2007-10 The Tudors


2007-10 The Tudors

Okay so the hat isn’t bad!


The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Constance Stride briefly shows up as Mary, yet again inaccurately at Catherine’s deathbed. Why are people so determined to make Henry not-so-horrible?

2008 The Other Boleyn Girl

Only children can successfully rock the biggins.


The Twisted Tale of Bloody Mary (2008)

Miranda French plays Mary in what appears to be a low-budget something.

2008 The Twisted Tale Of Bloody Mary

“I am so miserable, I will poke your eyes out with my cheekbones.”

2008 The Twisted Tale Of Bloody Mary


Horrible Histories (2012)

Sarah Hadland plays Mary in a song that basically explains her deal. Apparently Alice Lowe also played her, but I can’t find the evidence.

2012 Horrible Histories

The hood is wonky, but it’s the Brits, so they don’t fuck it up terribly!

2012 Horrible Histories

Clearly there’s some interpretive dance involved


Wolf Hall (2015)

Lily Lesser plays young teenage Mary in this Anne Boleyn/Thomas Cromwell-focused adaptation of the Hilary Mantel novel.

2015 Wolf Hall

Dress is lovely! Too much hair however!

2015 Wolf Hall


Six Wives with Lucy Worsley (2016)

Both Scarlett Cecil and Grace Drew are credited as “Princess Mary.” Scarlett is pictured below, so I’m guessing Grace played teen Mary?

2016 Six Wives with Lucy Worsley

Behind the scenes shot, so I’m going to let it slide.


El ministerio del tiempo (2020)

Rachel Lascar plays Mary in an episode  focused on “Bloody Mary” of this Spanish, time-travel show.

2020 El ministerio del tiempo

Mary looks good, but her lady-in-waiting seems to think she’s in Russia.

2020 El ministerio del tiempo

I literally thought that was a crustacean on her bodice the first time I looked at this.


Have there been any decent portrayals of the “real” Mary I of England on screen?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

31 Responses

  1. Jillian

    I think chaotic might have been a better word in place of schizophrenic.

    • intergalactic_fop

      agreed, tossing around genuine mental disorders as synonyms for, as you said, chaos, and other historical messes just kind of contributes to the stigmatization. Like armchair diagnosing. I was rather taken aback when I read that.

        • intergalactic_fop

          totally understandable, it’s definitely more of a burgeoning awareness! ableism is so embedded in our language that it can be hard to recognize

          • Jillian

            Agreed. We are getting better at recognizing it, like how the word retarded is being phased out of common use, but there’s still a ways to go in some regards.

  2. Natasha Rubin

    That “World’s Most Evil” documentary looks HILARIOUSLY terrible, oh my gosh!!!

    I actually really liked Jane Lapotair’s portrayal in Lady Jane, and appreciated that she wasn’t painted as the villain, even in a story where she so easily COULD’VE been (what with beheading our lovely protagonists and all). The Virgin Queen’s portrayal was quite good too – it covered a lot of the same ground as Elizabeth (1998) but allowed Mary more dignity, I think. I appreciate the versions where she’s allowed some sympathy and nuance.

    And actually, as much as The Tudors was a terrible show, I thought Sarah Bolger was very good as Mary, and her character was usually written pretty well.

    Of course, none of those are portrayals where Mary is really the star (even in The Tudors she’s more of a second-tier character). I don’t know of any biopics of her which are well-regarded, which is a pity.

  3. Terri Alley

    I also liked Sarah Bolger’s portrayal of Mary. At times she seemed so fragile and you could see how Henry’s treatment of her & her beloved mother messed with Mary’s self esteem.

  4. Shashwat

    Maybe not the most “real” but Sarah Bolger’s Mary was heartbreaking.She captured the innocence and corruption of the character(I don’t know if there is a definitive interpretation of reality)so deftly.
    Why do films interpret the flat hood as minnie mouse headdress?It is the simplest Tudor headdress out there that can be closely recreated without much conjecturing(how raised the French hoods were,how rigid were the gable hoods)and even that ends up as an eye sore.

    • ConsiderTheBees

      I agree that Sarah Bolger did a very good job- she and Maria Doyle Kennedy did a very good job as Mary and Catherine, and although their costumes weren’t accurate by any stretch, I always found them to, at least, be less offensive than some of the others on that show.

      In regards to the sticky-up French hoods, I think a lot of it is because when you look a (necessarily) 2-D painting, they do sometimes appear to stick up like that, even if they weren’t really, and without the effort of the actual parts that made up the hood and having your hair done the right way under it, I think that is probably the easiest way to get it to stay on the actresses heads. That’s just my guess, though.

  5. Saraquill

    The “yasss” necklace looks like a version of the Collar of Esses– which was worn by Thomas Moore and others of a certain court position. Not suitable for a princess or queen.

    • Roxana

      You are exactly right. The collar of SS was a livery collar, that is something to be worn by the loyal retainers not the queen herself

  6. Nesseire

    As a Spaniard, I loved El Ministerio del Tiempo version.
    She spoke Spanish with English accent (as a person raised in England would) and she was portrayed as a dying woman who had fallen in love with the ass Felipe II and was abandoned by him. It was a very human portrayal

  7. Alissa

    Mary is one of those historical figures I wish I could go back in time and hug. She deserved so much better.

  8. Marie

    the best part of horrible histories mary is that she’s singing a parody of wuthering heights!

    • Julia R

      I adore Horrible Histories and that is one of the best song parodies they did. The Dick Turpin/Adam Ant one is amazing too though.

  9. Lily Lotus Rose

    Oh, Kendra, I want to give your a trophy for all the spot-on snark in this post! I’ve only see a few of these and I barely remember Mary I, so I can’t answer your question. The actress in the 2001 “Inside the Tower of London” pic reminded me of French actress Anne Parillaud. I checked her IMDB page and that’s not listed as one of her credits, so it’s probably not her.

    • SarahV

      Seriously. I guffawed multiple times during this article. The lady-in-waiting thinking she’s in Russia had me snorfing Diet Pepsi all over my keboard.

  10. Nzie

    I feel like everything about Mary is tragic and complex. So much of the Bloody Mary stuff; it seems kind of weird to single her out as uniquely bad in a couple centuries of very bloody religious wars and repression. I’d definitely be interested in learning more about her beyond that. I had to laugh at the deeply shitty documentaries–the headgear is hilariously bad.

  11. Susan Pola Staples

    Of the depictions of Mary I, I sympathise most with Sarah Bolger in The Tudors, Jane Lapotaire in Lady Jane and Lily Lesser in Wolf Hall. Costume-wise Wolf Hall was the best. I just wish Hank 8 wasn’t such a Donald.

    • SarahV

      If you can mentally adjust to the unusual ‘third person’ narrative style, the Wolf Hall novels by Hillary Mantel present a wonderfully multi-faceted view of Mary from her birth up until her father’s death. She’s just… so… stunted by her bastard father’s neglect and abuse, even as she’s being hunted like prey as a marital prize by the “Old Families” of England (the Plantagenet families) who stilled viewed the Tudor dynasty as a freakish aberration that needs to be drawn to a close.

  12. Addie

    I don’t think that’s a crustacean on her bodice. It’s obviously two spiders whispering about their Secret Santa plans.

  13. Charity

    Lady Jane at least had a semi-sympathetic depiction, as did The Tudors, although toward the end they decided to make her a militant “let’s burn people” girl, which seems premature. The burnings were just as political as they were religiously motivated.

    One thing that annoys the crap out of me — Mary burns 200+ people, we call her Bloody Mary. Her dad kills a bunch of wives and close friends, court members, and executes a ton of people after the Pilgrimage of Grace, and he’s “Good King Hal.” Historical sexism, much? Plus Elizabeth’s biographers trashed her sister’s reputation after the fact to make her look better.

    Poor Mary. She was no saint (ha ha) but I suspect she deserves a little better than history gives her.

    • Roxana

      Mary’s persecution proved a huge mistake with terrible optics. High ranking Protestants were allowed to escape overseas while middling and poor were burned. Her victims were ordinary folk with whom the mass of her subjects could identify. Even Catholics of those classes were sickened and doubted the rightness of her actions. Bishop Gardiner realized the burnings were doing harm, even Philip a supporter of the inquisition, had the political nous to plead expediency but Mary ignored him. It was her duty to erase heresy and save England’s soul. She almost certainly was not aware of the personal anger at the destruction of her own life that was her emotional motivation.
      The burnings were very much at Mary’s will. They ended abruptly with her death.

      • Charity

        Mary is a good example of what happens when you adopt an ideology that allows for violence in the “rightness of its actions” and need not carry out the violence yourself. Just like it was easy for her father to go hunting while Anne Boleyn had her head chopped off, it was easy for her to sit in her castle and tend affairs of state while people burned. Unless you are at the forefront of the pain and suffering of others, able to witness the inhumanity of it, and taking full responsibility for your role in it, it’s easy to “condone” it from afar.

  14. Roxana

    Little Scarlett Cecil obviously is loving that dress if nobody else does!
    Mary Tudor is an interesting women. Like all to many people her young life was blasted by conflict between her parents. In her case her father the king had all the power and she made the mistake of siding with her mother. Maybe Henry was right to keep Mary away from Catherine. She wrote her daughter a chilling little letter basically welcoming her to martyrdom. Unfortunately, unlike her mother Mary didn’t get off on persecution for righteousness sake and was badly damaged.
    Mary’s final, unconditional surrender to Henry narrowly averted a nervous breakdown. Mary is usually depicted, on Chapuy’s witness, of being devestated and conscious stricken but Mary’s own letters, expressing effusive gratitude to Cromwell, who she came to regard as a friend and mentor, and requests for favors that were instantly granted rather contradicts that image. She actually told the Spanish ambassador in plain words that what she’d written to the Emperor concerning her acceptance of the divorce and support for Henry was exactly what she felt and thought.
    Mary was secure in Henry’s favor for the rest of his life, the Pilgrimage of Grace and other rebels often used her name but Henry never suspected her of conspiring with them. He knew his daughter, Mary was no dissembler.
    Mary was devoted to her little sister and brother and the closest thing to a mother figure either had til the advent of Catherine Parr. The only thing that sometimes made her bitterly unhappy was her own single and childless state.
    IMO Mary’s most promising suitor was Philip of Bavaria. Mary was obviously a good match for him but I think there was some genuine attraction too. He actually kissed her in one of their interviews and gave her a diamond cross. Mary was worried by Philip’s lutheranism but told her father she would do his will in the matter, whether she was hoping for a yes or a no we can never know. But this Philip was close to her in age, eager to marry her and she was young and healthy enough to have had those children she wanted. Again IMO if Henry had only had a spare, a second son, he might have let Mary go but as it was she was the second heir to his crown and he didn’t dare risk it.

  15. Lil

    HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA that “world’s most evil” french hood……HAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHA that made me CACKLE