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Contrary Mary

The nursery rhyme that starts “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How does your garden grow?” is both a children’s verse and a political commentary. It refers to Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII, and Queen of England 1553-1558. After her death she became known as “Bloody Mary.” Mary was a firm Catholic, and after she became Queen, she worked to return England to Catholicism. Henry had turned England Protestant during a dispute with the Pope. During her reign, about 300 people were executed for opposing her effort to return the nation to Catholicism. The nursery rhyme allegedly refers to some of the instruments used to torture and execute her opponents. She became known as Bloody Mary because of her persecutions of Protestants. This is somewhat ironic, because during her father King Henry’s reign some thousands of people were executed, many of them for opposing Henry’s turning England Protestant. In a desperate attempt to produce an heir, she married Phillip II of Spain. No pregnancy occurred, and Phillip returned to Spain. After Mary’s death in 1558, her sister Elizabeth became Queen, the start of a remarkable rule.