Mary Tudor: Courageous Queen Or Bloody Mary?


Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary

I'll start this review by saying that I highly recommend Mary Tudor: Courageous Queen or Bloody Mary? by Jane Buchanan. It's among the latest in Scholastic's “A Wicked History” series, an excellent line-up of biographies of historical figures tailored to a ‘tween audience.

A provocative book cover for Mary Tudor

Despite the incendiary cover (this one is stamped with a bloody “LETHAL”), Mary Tudor is a balanced, informative and highly readable account of the second (if you count Lady Jane Grey) reigning queen in England's early modern history.

Mary Tudor engaged to Prince Francis at 2 years old

Buchanan is successful because she does that thing so key to good biography: she humanizes Mary Tudor through good, plain storytelling. Even adult readers are likely to discover things they didn't know about “Bloody” Mary — like that she loved to play the virginal, a sort of miniaturized harpsichord and was very musical like her father; or that she was engaged, at age two-and-a-half, to France's Prince Francis. (In an elaborate ceremony, the toddler kissed the Lord Admiral of France solemnly on the cheek, thinking the messenger her betrothed.)

Read about treading carefully in the court of Henry VIII

The persecution of heretics by Queen Mary

Things, of course, do turn bloody when Mary takes the throne in 1553 and commences burning heretics for the good of England's soul. But even in her decline, Buchanan manages to muster sympathy for Queen Mary. She doesn't shrink from Mary's phantom pregnancy, and, on balance, does a fine job laying out the major players during this treacherous time without saddling the narrative with confusing detail. In other words, it's clear who Martin Luther is, and Archbishop Cranmer, but they don't distract from Mary Tudor's story.

What's more, the style is crisp and simple, and according to Scholastic's site, the vocabulary is controlled. I also like the selection of portraiture and the overall design of the book. The timeline and glossary should be especially useful to younger readers.

Other notorious ne'er-do-wells in the series include Genghis Khan, Robespierre, Vlad the Impaler, and forthcoming next month: Henry VIII: Royal Beheader. I can hardly wait.

Elizabeth Frengel