BLOODY MARY'S MARTYRS: The Story of England's Terror

Jasper Ridley, Author . Carroll & Graf $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0854-3

By the standards of 20th-century terrors, the numbers of men and women who fell victim to reactionary Catholic oppression during the reign of Queen Mary (1554–58) were modest: fewer than 300 were executed for their Protestant faith. But the experience cast a long shadow over English history. Oppression bred new ideologies of civil resistance, and as Linda Colley has shown in Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (1992), the later association of Catholicism with bigotry and tyranny was central to the development of quasi-democratic nationhood. In his footnote-free description of the persecution, deeply indebted to John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Ridley (biographer of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, as well as Mussolini) recites a "litany" of moving stories: an eight-year-old boy dies after being beaten during a visit to his incarcerated father; a woman gives birth while being burned alive, and her baby is thrown back into the flames. There is little here that is new; after a concise account of usual suspects and events preceding and during Mary's rule (Sir Thomas More "was a particularly nasty sadomasochistic pervert" who "enjoyed being flogged by his favourite daughter"), Ridley concentrates on the witch hunts and their victims. One wishes for a deeper explanation of the culture and psyche of intolerance—which was, after all, the hallmark of the age (more so, perhaps, in the 16th century than in the much maligned medieval past), and Mary's reign provides useful case material. But to his credit, Ridley recognizes that tyranny was by no means a monopoly of the Catholic Church—it's hard to ignore the next "400 years of persecution and discrimination" suffered by the Catholics—and concludes with a more general clarion call for present-day tolerance. Illus. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 07/02/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
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Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-7867-0986-1
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