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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

February 18Mary I of England's Birthday

Updated: Dec 27, 2019

When Edward VI died in 1553, Mary became queen only after a faction of Protestant nobles tried to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.  When Mary ascended the throne, England was irreconcilably divided on religion. During the final years of Henry VIII's reign and even more under the Edward VII's, nearly all of the Catholic churches had been de­faced or destroyed, convents and monasteries confiscated, and the practice of Catholicism forbidden.

Although Mary worked towards reestablishing Catholicism in England, her first official announcement when she became queen was to leave her subjects free to worship as they chose. Mary's attempts to bring about gradual changes were often thwarted by the council and her marriage to Phillip of Spain caused many of her subjects to hate her violently. Phillip had lived most of his life in a country that was notorious for the sadism of the Inquisition and where the extermination of heresy was a pious responsibility.

Because the initial Protestant rebellion was both religious and political, the most vocal of the rebels were arrested and charged with heresy. The general European penalty for heresy was burning at the stake. Mary and her council, under the influence of Reginald Pole, the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, eventually approved burning as the punishment for heresy. The standard European method for this form of execution was to tie a bag of gunpowder to the victim's waist so that when the fire reached that point, the explosion would end their agony. The wood was often too green and/or damp and the fire burned for hours before the victims finally died.  The condemned were never gagged so their screams and prayers echoed throughout the crowds attracted to the grisly proceedings.

In 1558 John Knox published his First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monsterous Regiment of Women, which was an uncompromising, vicious assault on the female Catholic rulers who were slaughtering the emerging Protestant sects, often preceded by severe torture and followed by burning at the stake. Knox was particularly vindictive towards Mary Tudor who was England's "wicked Jezebel, who for our sins, contrary to nature and the manifest word of God, is suffered to reign over us in God's fury." He called her a tyrant, a bastard, and referred constantly to her "bloody tyranny.". It was the popularity of Knox's publication that resulted in Mary's appellation "Bloody Mary."

The Bloody Mary cocktail is an appropriate celebration of Mary's death.  However, there is some controversy over the origin of the perennial favorite Sunday brunch alcoholic drink. Bloody Mary. 

George Jessel, the film actor. producer, and fundraiser initially claimed its invention . But Fernand “Pete” Petiot, an American bartender working at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris during the 1920s,  also claimed the honor. In a 1964 interview in The New Yorker, Petiot stated “I initiated the Bloody Mary of today. George Jessel said he created it, but it was really  nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over....I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper and a layer of Worcestershire sauce.” There since have been as many variations on the recipe as heretics burned under Mary's reign.

Mary's life and her conflicts with Elizabeth continue to be a popular subject of film, television, theater, and opera. Some of the more interesting portrayals have been by Daphne Slater in the first episode (April 2007);of the TV aeries The Tudors; Scarlett Johansson in Mary Queen of Scots (2008); Samantha Morton in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007; Carmela Remigio in the filmed version of Donizetti's opera, Maria Stuarda (2002),; Sarah Crowden in Orlando (1992), and Katherine Hepburn in Mary of Scotland (1936).

Our favorite portrayal of the bloody queen is Daphne Slater's.  Watch her while sipping a few of her eponymous cocktails or our suggested Bloody Mary Sorbet

Bloody Mary Cocktail


1&1/2 oz chili pepper flavored vodka* 1&1/2 oz tomato juice or Snappy Tom dash of celery saltDash of Worcestershire Sauce dash of lemon juice dash of Tabasco


  1. Shake or mix in cocktail shaker or pitcher with ice.

  2. Serve in an Old Fashioned glass with an ice cube and small celery stick as a stirrer-garnish.

* Flavored vodkas are a Russian tradition. Add flavoring to a bottle of vodka   and let it sit at room temperature for three days. Then keep bottle in the  freezer. For chili pepper vodka, add three dried red chili  peppers. Also, try other flavored vodkas by adding strips of lemon, orange, or lime zest or  1 tsp of anise,  or try   a few peppercorns or even a dozen dried cherries.

Bloody Mary Sorbet


3 large fresh ripe tomatoes 1/4 cup lemon juice 1/4 cup simple syrup*1 cup chili pepper flavored vodka* 1/2 tsp celery salt 2 dashes of Tabasco


  1. Peel, core, and seed tomatoes. Puree them in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients. Pour mixture in commercial ice cream mixer and follow manufacturer's instructions.

  2. Because of the vodka, process sorbet for approximately 1&1/2 times as long as general processing time.

*See Appendix A

© 2010 Gordon Nary


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