Mary and Reginald: What could have been?

Guest post by Samantha Wilcoxson for Tudors Dynasty

Queen Mary I has gone down in history as ‘Bloody Mary’ thanks to her persecution of Protestants and rebellions against her choice of husband. We may think that marrying the man of her choice is the lesser crime through our modern worldview, but sixteenth century Englishmen were far more concerned about having a Spanish ruler than returning to Catholicism. What if Mary had made a different choice?

When Mary became queen, one of the first issues that she was required to address was her marriage. Though several betrothals had come and gone throughout her thirty-seven years of life, neither her father nor her brother had wished to legitimize her position by giving her a spouse. Finally, the decision was up to Mary herself. She chose Prince Philip of Spain, which turned out to be a disaster.

Philip was the son of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and nephew of Catherine of Aragon. The family connection and shared faith made the match desirable to Mary, and she refused to listen to any advice to the contrary. She was warned that people would not accept Spanish rule, but Mary insisted that she herself would rule England and the child she was hoping to bear would follow her.

Of course, Mary failed to bear an heir and Philip led English troops against the French, just as had been feared. Mary had lacked the foresight and political acumen to discern how poor of a choice Philip was for her. But who else could she have chosen?

One popular candidate for Mary’s hand was Edward Courtenay. This York cousin had been imprisoned since the Exeter Conspiracy of 1538 but was released upon Mary’s accession in 1553. Mary was hesitant to marry a man who had spent his formative years in prison and was a decade younger than herself regardless of how much Bishop Gardiner, who had been imprisoned at the same time, encouraged the match. Courtenay was found flitting around the edges of conspiracy often enough to be sent away to Padua where he died in 1556.

Another possible suitor was brought from Italy to assist with Mary’s counter-reformation. Cardinal Reginald Pole was another distant cousin of Mary’s on the York side of the family. His mother, Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury, had been Mary’s governess and a close friend of Catherine of Aragon. The mothers had proposed that the two be betrothed when they were much younger, but Henry had not been interested in making the match. He had likely seen the pairing as too much of a threat to his son’s rule, but, with Edward dead, Reginald could have been the ideal choice.

Had Mary been wed to Reginald, the counter-reformation could have gone on much as it had, but without the sideshow of rebellions against Spanish rule. Englishmen expected Mary to return her kingdom to the old faith and rid it of heretics. They would have known it when they supported her against Lady Jane Grey, but they had not expected her to marry a foreigner. With Reginald at her side instead of Philip, the 284 burnings would have been a footnote in history, no more notable than actions taking place throughout Europe as rulers struggled to cope with the Reformation.

That being said, it may be assuming that history would change too much because of one wedding instead of another to say that Mary could have born a son with Reginald as she failed to do with Philip. Instead, the couple likely would have died childless, and still on the same day, November 17, 1558. England would have been saved events such as Wyatt’s Rebellion but would still see the accession of Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. Sometimes, there is no way of avoiding fate.

About the Author:

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Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers Trilogy. An incurable bibliophile and sufferer of wanderlust, she lives in Michigan with her husband and three teenagers. She lives in Michigan with her husband and three children. You can connect with Samantha at or on Twitter @Carpe_Librum.

Purchase her newest book, Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I (Plantagenet Embers Book 3) on

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