Until recently, Mary has been the forgotten Tudor - overshadowed by her infamous sister Elizabeth. Mary, thin, slightly built with the characteristically Tudor reddish hair, has gone down in history as Bloody Mary, Catholic bigot and murderer of Protestants one of the most reviled women in history. And whilst Mary has been presented as a Catholic bigot who married an unpopular Spanish prince, Elizabeth is the perennial Virgin Queen, a beacon of Protestant nationalism. And it is she who remains the focus of public interest as the Tudor Queen and has continued to inspire countless films, biographies and scholarly monographs.
However, during my PhD research I became very aware that there was another story to be told of Mary which was dramatic, compelling, dare I say it, perhaps even inspiring. Mary can be seen as strong, determined and yes, ruthless, but with a personal story that was one of sadness, tragedy and courage. Undoubtedly my motivation was not least the fact that my PhD supervisor was David Starkey who was writing his book on Elizabeth at the time. I was really struck by the fact that Mary's story was as amazing as her sisters and I wanted to tell it in a new and exciting way. Many people knew Mary only as Bloody Mary, many confused her with Mary Queen of Scots, far fewer recognised her as England's first crowned queen.
I could have published my research in an academic monograph intended for a few hundred readers but I was incredibly driven by a sense of wanting Mary's story to capture the popular imagination. So I wanted to write a book based on archival research but written accessibly - in 66 chapters - for a wider readership: historical fact with the appeal, description and drama of historical fiction.
I have sought to construct a new, popular narrative of the reign and an image of a queen less weak-willed, unintelligent and politically incompetent but well-educated, courageous and politically accomplished; a woman whose reign redefined the contours of the English monarchy who made it possible for queens to rule as kings, who was the first queen regnant of England.
It was high time I felt to tell her story and put her center stage. It's the stuff of a feature film - I await the call from Hollywood...
Anna Whitelock's book, Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen, can be ordered here.