Mary Tudor The First Queen is a biography on Mary Tudor. It looks into Mary’s life from her birth to her death and attempts to explore all facets of her life. The author, Linda Porter has tried to give her a sympathetic portrayal quite at odds with her more common ‘Bloody Mary’ image.
The style of writing is very good and flows easily from one chapter to another. The book is divided into parts each part dealing with a specific phase in Mary’s life. This makes it really easy to consult a certain thing without having to browse through the entire book.
The first thing that strikes one while reading this book is the atrocious punctuation. While Porter has the gift of writing and writes in a way to maintain the reader’s interest, there are plenty of odd punctuation mistakes. Occasionally, there were no spaces after a full stop. It might not bother everyone, but for me, I had a red marker in hand. I have been told this has been corrected in the later editions, though. Good for her!
I liked her perspective on some things, for example, Vives’ writing the treatise for Mary, The Education of a Christian Woman, and its effect on Mary. It was interesting that she actually did not take the advice most attributed to her lack of sense in governance.
One thing that I really liked about this book is that it explains in detail, Charles V’s role in Mary’s life without sugar coating the issue. That Mary was used by Charles and how is clearly shown without resorting to clichés such as him being her guiding hand and how devoted he was to her and the usual crap that is generally associated with their relationship.
Another thing that was included in this book was the economics of the times, always a matter of interest to me. Many historians simply overlook this crucial aspect of a monarch’s rule but it was and remains the backbone of any leader’s popularity with the masses, and hence, one of the most important aspects of their reign.
Porter manages to write well and in detail about Mary and her life. I did wish, though, that she would have refrained from making blanket statements about situations and people. The author also tends to ramble a lot about things she does not seem to have researched very well. She goes on and on about Margaret Pole’s ancestry and problems in her youth and blames Edward IV for every problem. And is there any reason why Anne Boleyn’s downfall gets dissected in a biography on Mary Tudor? It was done very badly too in my opinion.
And this brings us to the myths bandied around in this book. “Smeaton was subject to 24 hours of fierce torture…” How does she even know this? We can’t conclusively prove that he was tortured at all, leave alone for how long and when. This is not the only mistake she makes. Her entire section on Anne Boleyn’s downfall is riddled with errors. Why ramble when you can’t even get facts straight? And oh my! She certainly has stayed true to the evil Frances and Henry Grey, poor little Jane Grey, mama’s boy Guilford and so on. Yeah, sure!
The author clearly prefers the camera in the room technique with analysing the events. I am pretty sure she had a CCTV installed to check how people felt in the most intimate situations. Either that, or they personally confided in her. Another thing that really bothered me was the author contradicting herself often. Jane Grey was a poor little girl who received no love, but then she was no pawn and knew her own mind. Mary clearly waited for instructions from Charles on many major issues but then she also always made up her own mind. And so on …
And the issue of Mary’s religious persecution is covered in 2 small pages! 2 pages!!!! And this from a writer who went on and on about Anne Boleyn, Francis Brandon and Margaret Pole. If this is not whitewashing, I don’t know what is! It is rather shocking that Foxe is dismissed as writing about it with “almost loving horror”, and if it were not for him, the burnings would be a mere ‘footnote to history’. Is the author trying to propagate some kind of agenda? Foxe may be partial and biased, but he noted down what happened.
Porter tells us what to think and offers no reason why we should think that way. I, for one, remain unconvinced by many of her statements, mostly offered without any basis of how and why she arrived at said conclusions. On the other hand, the book certainly is a good start to understand the much neglected first Queen.
My rating: 2/5