Mary and Elizabeth Tudor were both, by all accounts, strong and intelligent women endowed with many of the qualities that mark a successful ruler. However, only Elizabeth's legacy is a positive one; her reign has been called the "Golden Age" of England, and she remains a heroine in popular history and even modern film. Mary's reign is scowled at, and seen by most as a brief unpleasant period preceding the glorious ascension of Elizabeth. To account for this, one can examine each sovereign's maternal influences, governing styles, and choices regarding marriage.
Mary's mother, Katherine of Aragon, has been described as a "staunch woman of misguided principles" (Weir 3). Betrothed to the English prince Arthur at the age of three, and sent from her homeland of Spain during adolescence, Katherine was accustomed to unquestioningly following the orders of her father (Weir 22). This was the normal course for a woman of that day, and Katherine remained obedient and subservient, in most meaningful ways, to men all her life. She admired her mother, Isabella, as the "supreme example of Christian queenship" and piety, and sought to emulate her (Weir 20). During her widowhood following Arthur's death only 6 months into their marriage, Katherine became "the pawn of ambitious men" determined to use her availability to serve their own political interests (Weir 51). Eventually, it was decided that Katherine should marry Henry VIII, the new heir to the English throne. Upon this marriage, Katherine adopted the motto "Humble and Loyal", which fairly accurately described her behavior through their alliance, which was plagued by Henry's well-known infidelity (Weir 81, 107). She took comfort in her daughter, Mary, whom she made certain received the very best religious instruction, as befitted a future Catholic queen (127). When Henry sought an annulment of their marriage in order to re-marry and perhaps father a male heir, Katherine begged at his feet for justice (200). Though she felt her position as queen was blessed by God, and refused to accept the annulment or recognize Henry's new queen, she bore Henry's indignities with saintly patience until her death. She also "[bid Mary] to obey her father in all things save those that touched her conscience" (Weir 261). In this way Mary was presented with a feminine ideal that called for piety and strength, but also extreme obedience to male authority.
Not so Elizabeth Tudor. Though she was but a child when her mother, Anne Boleyn was executed, Elizabeth was undoubtedly influenced by both the relationship between her parents and the infamous downfall of her mother. Anne Boleyn was "an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance" (Weir 3). She used the novel lure of chastity to enrapture the king, spurring him to take drastic measures in order to bring her to the throne (Weir 173). She handled him with such "calculated cleverness" that, for a time, the powerful man was completely under her spell (Weir 173). However, after their marriage Anne failed not only to produce a male heir, but to act as a proper wife as well. "She was demonstrably unsuited to her role, and incapable of playing the part of a docile, submissive wife" (Weir 144). Once they were married, and her powerful sexual hold was weakened, Henry began to lose patience with Anne's obstinate pretensions of control and challenges to his authority. When she criticized him for his frequent infidelity, he "brutally advised her to shut her eyes as her betters had done" (Weir 11). Yes, though he enjoyed the thrill of chasing one so stubborn and clever, Henry demanded obedience from a wife. Popular opinion was also against her, and when Elizabeth was born, though she was "Henry's recognized heir" she was not "the welcome one", people still preferring the castaway Katherine and her daughter, Mary (Weir 259). As she lost her hold on Henry, Anne lost all of her power and...