Marrying Mary to the Black Legend: Anti-Catholicism and Anti-Marian Messages in Anglo-American Films about Philip II of Spain

  • Author(s): William B. Robison
  • When: 2016-12
  • Where: The Birth of a Queen
  • When Mary I of England wedded Philip of Spain in 1554, she unwittingly married herself to the Black Legend, a historiographical tradition that since the sixteenth century has demonized imperial Catholic Spain and its Inquisition for bigotry, religious intolerance, and cruelty to foreign enemies, heretics, and colonial peoples. Of course, at Mary’s death in 1558, most of the actions that made her husband the avatar of the legend lay in his future as King Philip II of Spain (1556–1598), and she played no part in them. Moreover, when Spanish historian Julián Juderías coined the term ‘Black Legend’ in 1914, he traced its origins to the Dutch Revolt against Philip, which began in 1566. However, as William Maltby has shown, the English version of the legend began during Philip and Mary’s reign. Contemporaries criticized Mary—half-Spanish herself—for making Philip king of England, allowing him to involve the English in the Habsburgs’ continental war, and for the ‘Spanish’ cruelty entailed in her burning of ‘heretics.’ Elizabethan Protestants looked back on Philip and Mary’s reign as tribulation from which they were grateful to be delivered. Seventeenth-century anti-papist polemicists began calling the first Tudor queen ‘Bloody Mary,’ an unflattering appellation that gained currency with the Enlightenment critique of religious intolerance in the eighteenth century and persisted into the increasingly secular nineteenth and the ecumenical twentieth. Meanwhile, Philip became the leading figure in a royal pantheon of anti-Elizabethan papist villains including Mary herself, Marie of Guise, Mary Queen of Scots, and Catherine de’ Medici (who has her own black legend).

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