Review: Mary Tudor – England’s First Queen by Linda Porter

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.

Mary Tudor – The First Queen by Linda Porter

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.

Charles V

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.

Burning of Cranmer

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

8 thoughts on “Review: Mary Tudor – England’s First Queen by Linda Porter

    • The reviewer’s grasp of English grammatisation is very poor so I am not inclined to believe that he or she is an authority on the correct use of punctuation in a professional’s work (for a start). I think the reviewer should not divine negative comments for the sake of having something to say in a review, this is unqualified arrogance which is damaging to the author’s credibility, especially for those who cannot tell the difference.

      I have studied English for the past five years and would never be this insensitive about another’s work. Based on your own literary display it would be more logical to assume there is nothing wrong with the author’s punctuation to begin with.

      The following sentence is what I would call ‘atrocious punctuation’ and, I might add, awkward grammar;

      ”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.”

      – The first sentence here is far too short and the only people who use such sentencing are those with a finely tuned grammatical faculty; i.e., those who are undoubtedly familiar with it’s correct use.

      – There should be no comma after the word ‘though’ and its place in the sentence is utterly wrong. It would be correct to say; for example, Occasionally the author omits spacing after his/her use of punctuation; despite this having been corrected in the later editions, I had a red marker in hand.

      -You acknowledge this was a printing typo in the first place (common practice in the age of factory printing) so why complain about it if not to display your purported ‘red marker’ superiority.

      The review goes on like this, I would suggest that instead of slating someone’s work, if you are not absolutely sure then don’t publish it online. What you can be sure about are the parts you genuinely enjoyed or did not enjoy (be honest), did it go over your head in places? Was the grammar confusing to read?

      Always write as you were reviewing your own work, otherwise this can be hurtful to the author who has achieved a great deal in getting their work to print. Remember even the most experienced writers are sensitive about other people’s work, it is totally unfair to claim a grammatical inferiority where this is obviously not the case.

  1. Thank you for reviewing this! I find this book very useful for some details (for example there is a very interesting extract from a letter by Cranmer which is lacking from his huge biography by MacCulloch), but I didn’t find the time to read the book as yet from cover to cover although I am looknig forward to it. I also think that Foxe gets too much blame, tbh, especially the author’s contention that he started this negative press about Mary. That’s not true; propaganda against Mary and her regime began in 1553/1554 with exiled people like Richard Morrison and John Ponet, and her rule saw the first discussíons about tyrannicide among English intellectuals (nothing of this gets mentioned I think). One tiny detail got me rather upset, it’s about her alleged achievements in economics: she says that Mary for the first time took in hand a reform of the exchequer. It is true that she went through with a reform, but this same reform plan was shortly before being implemented when Edward VI died. This was pointed out by Elton, by Edward VI’s biographer Jennifer Loach, and by David Loades, so Porter should really have mentioned this, instead of saying Mary was the only one to do something (the real reform of the coinage had to wait until Elizabeth I anyway).

    • Let’s face it. Mary’s Catholicism led to a witch hunt, which might have got exacerbated if she had lived. I take issue with those who claim she was just a religious woman of her times. Her behaviour was seen as excessive even by the Spanish.

      It’s become fashionable to see Mary as the ‘poor little rich girl’, and credit her with everything good. Mary did carry out some reforms; she had to. But she was not the only one, and her reforms were not overly successful. Porter has gone to vast lengths to whitewash Mary. I would like a balanced bio, but I am not happy with a complete whitewash.

  2. Mary I deserves a better biography then this one. When I read it I spent a lot of time arguing with the author in my head. Well done

  3. Hey, I really liked your review and agree with it 100%
    I was just wondering which page you got the quote “footnote to history” from. It’s just that I can’t find it, and I think its a marvellous quote for my essay on Renaissance rulers…. If you can remember I would be so grateful!

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