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Banned Mary Tudor poster a sign of ‘knee-jerk anti-Catholicism’

By on Friday, 16 July 2010

A portrait of Queen Mary by Sir Antonis Mor

A portrait of Queen Mary by Sir Antonis Mor

The London Dungeon’s new digital poster showing Mary Tudor as a zombie is proof of England’s “knee-jerk anti-Catholicism”, according to a leading historian of the period.

A digital poster for the London Dungeon featuring the sudden transformation of Queen Mary I into a zombie-like character was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for scaring children.

The advert, which ran on digital screens on London Underground stations, featured an image of the 16th century queen sitting on a chair and then morphing into a monster with sunken eyes, pale skin, a wide-open mouth and a scarred face.

A spokesman for Merlin Entertainments said the advert was supposed to show the “dark side of [Queen Mary's] personality and portray her as a villain”.

But Leanda de Lisle, author of The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey, said the portrayal of Mary Tudor as a monster was historically inaccurate.

She said: “It really is an example of England’s knee-jerk anti-Catholicism and how our history of the Tudor period has been distorted by post-Reformation propaganda.

“What about Elizabeth? People may be aware of the executions of Catholics, but there were many more people. After the 1569 northern rebellion, Elizabeth ordered that a man was to be hung in every village associated with the rebellions. It was on a similar scale to her father.

“Even after the rebellion of 1553, Mary was very merciful to Lady Jane Grey’s father – he was pardoned. When there was another rebellion in January 1554, one army had swept up to the court in London, she was then advised that the people who threatened her life still threatened her, but her actions were not bloodthirsty by the standards [of the day].

“The burnings were a revival of her father’s law, and a reaction to two Protestant attempts on her throne, one of which got very close to London. People think about the threat to Elizabeth from Catholic Spain, but Mary also suffered threats from an ideological clique.

“In fact even her Protestant enemies called her the merciful princess, although she became less merciful under extreme threat.”

In contrast to the 300 executions carried out by Mary Tudor, her father executed over 70,000 people, equivalent to some of the ideological tyrannies of 20th-century Europe. Mary Tudor was not known as “Bloody Mary” until after the Glorious Revolution of 1689.

  • Mark Chatwood

    I don't think this poster is a sign of 'knee-jerk anti-Catholicism' at all, or at least not 21st Century knee-jerk anti-Catholicism. No doubt knees were a-jerkin' in England in 1689 – the Catholic James Stewart had been deposed, and an English elite which was by then Protestant needed to portray the last two Catholic monarchs (James and Mary) as incompetent or violent so the people would accept the rule or a foreign prince. Was it not done in the name of good social order?

    Nearly 400 years have passed since then, and because of that propaganda campaign, we now have something much more difficult to change – a deeply embedded, cultural (even casual) anti-Catholicism. I'd be surprised if the poster's designers gave much thought to Mary's Catholicity at all. More likely she was just a convenient and well known 'bogey-man' figure from history. Of course, she was made so deliberately by the 'Glorious Revolutionaries' because she was Catholic, but I'm prepared to give the designers the benefit of the doubt, and assume there was nothing malicious in their choice. Facile, uninformed, and sadly typical, but not malicious.

  • Es1933

    Yes, I also suspect that the whole silly thing is only vaguely anti-Catholic – probably more like a symptom of historical ignorance (which may be common among the people who run “museums” nowadays) and a determination to earn lots of lovely loot from a public that just wants to live in the dregs – look at Merlin Entertainments's statement of – well, “principle” – on their website: “In 2009, we had five horrible new additions! In London, witness “Surgery : Blood & Guts” and make sure you hold onto your stomach in Tooley Street's filthy makeshift operating room. In Hamburg, find yourself convicted of crimes on the high seas and witness “Stortebeker's execution,” whilst in Amsterdam, find yourself trapped in a workhouse with the mistress that was “Rembrandt's dark secret.” In York, “Bloody Vikings” herd you into the forest, determined that you will be commanded by Viking rule. Whichever Dungeon you visit, you are sure for a gruesome treat!”