Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Passionate Tudor by Alison Weir depicts the complicated, ultimately tragic life of Queen Mary I

Mary I, England’s first true queen regnant, isn’t generally recognized for her admirable steadfastness, like her mother Catherine of Aragon, or her canny survival instinct, like her half-sister, Elizabeth I, although she exhibited both these qualities. Instead, due to her zealous persecution of Protestants, the sobriquet "Bloody Mary" clings to her. Her actions make her a challenging fiction subject, but Tudor expert Weir (The King’s Pleasure, 2023) dexterously humanizes this polarizing figure.

Following a cosseted childhood as Henry VIII’s elder daughter, Mary gets sidelined during her father’s pursuit of Anne Boleyn and break with Rome. Mary’s health suffers during many stressful years, and Weir casts a sympathetic light on Mary as she endures demotion and disinheritance, relying on her supporters and Catholic faith. But following her triumphant coronation, her marriage to Philip of Spain and cruel religious intolerance make her extremely unpopular.

Weir aptly demonstrates how politics and personal relationships intermix via Elizabeth’s transformation, in Mary’s eyes, from beloved sister to dangerous rival. Mary’s passionate spirit, which is stubbornly and tragically misdirected, comes alive via Weir’s thorough approach.

The Passionate Tudor was published by Ballantine (US/Canada) this week, and by Hodder Headline in the UK on May 9, under the title Mary I: Queen of Sorrows.  I wrote this review for the April 15th issue of Booklist.

This is the third novel in a loose trilogy following three generations of Tudors: Henry VIII (The King's Pleasure) and his mother (The Last White Rose) and eldest daughter. Other historical novelists have written about Mary I, but none very recently.  Suzannah Dunn's The Queen's Sorrow appeared in 2009, likewise Julianne Lee's Her Mother's Daughter, both at a time when Tudor fiction was in vogue. Having finished this series, I'm curious to see what Alison Weir will write next.


  1. Anonymous11:12 AM

    I am very intrigued by the Passionate Tudor, written by Alison Weir. It appears to be a gripping and sympathetic portrayal of Queen Mary I, highlighting her determination and religious belief during a chaotic era. What interests me most is Weir’s talent in humanizing such a controversial character and presenting her against other prominent Tudors like Catherine of Aragon and Elizabeth I in a nuanced way. The part where they delve into complex relationships, as well as the tragic misdirection should make for an interesting read!

  2. I enjoy history very much. Will be looking out for this one.