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Yet here’s a spot

by
01 January 2016

Angela Ranson finds a Tudor clean-up only partially successful

Mary Tudor: England’s first Queen Regnant
Gregory Slysz
Gracewing £12.99
(978-0-85244-856-4)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (use code CT111)

 

THIS book represents a fresh look at the life and reign of Mary I (1553-58), daughter of Henry VIII. It is partly a biography, and partly an analysis of the sources that collectively make up Mary’s historical reputation as the stern and unstable “Bloody Mary”. Slysz seeks to challenge the idea that Mary’s religious policy was a failure, and examine the motives of various chroniclers and historians who have attempted to portray her in a negative light.

Slysz’s passion for this goal is evident: he is especially indignant that Mary was included in a compendium of “the most evil women in history” and a “killer queens” exhibit. Thus, his attempt to restore Mary’s reputation is reminiscent of a child standing up to the school bully on behalf of a comrade incapable of self-defence. It is a respectable gesture, but the other child looks no stronger for it. Mary emerges from this work no less “bloody” than when she went into it; the arguments for her rehabilitation lack objective, in-depth analysis of the primary sources.

Slysz engages with the works of many modern historians, but he does not distinguish between academic and non-academic works. Also, he often neglects to credit his sources in the text: rather, he quotes a short passage and then relies on the footnote to tell the reader its source. This makes it difficult to maintain concentration throughout the argument, not to mention that it removes Slysz’s opportunity to fit his own work into the wider context of Tudor history.

He does succeed, however, in accomplishing his main purpose. In the introduction, Slysz says that he aims to create a single volume that draws together all of the key themes of Marian history. He has arranged the structure and format of this work to do just that, by outlining the gradual development of Mary’s reputation over the course of centuries and contrasting it with the oft forgotten accomplishments of her reign. Thus, this book has value for students of Tudor history. It revises an age-old legend, and raises fresh questions about both Mary herself, and her religious policies.

 

Dr Angela Ranson earned her doctorate at the University of York in 2014. Her current research focuses on early modern ecclesiastical history.

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