Did Good Queen Bess Kill More People for Religion than Bloody Mary?

Did Mary I kill fewer people because of religion than Elizabeth I? – The short answer is no.

I have seen many claims over the last few years on the internet that Mary I executed fewer people on grounds of religion than Henry VIII and/or Elizabeth I, or even Edward VI. I thought this to be an alarming trend, as my gut feeling told me this couldn’t be true; from reading several books it seemed to me that Mary executed a good deal more people than either Henry VIII or Elizabeth. I decided to count the beans (as best as I could) and here is the result, as derived from Wikipedia’s

List of Protestant martyrs of the English Reformation


List of Catholic martyrs of the English Reformation

Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, a leader of the great northern rebellion of 1570. Executed at York in 1572, he was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1895.

The Wikipedia list of persecuted Protestants is entirely based on John Foxe’s famous Book of Martyrs for the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I. The Wikipedia list of Catholic martyrs during the English Reformation enumerates people who died because of their faith between the reigns of Henry VIII and Charles II, according to the statistics of the Catholic Church. I have here included only the persons persecuted under the Tudors (until 1603).

I didn’t count in Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, executed in York 1572 for his leading part in the Northern Rebellion and beatified in 1895. Neither did I count in Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, executed for his part in Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1554; though his story is related in Foxe’s book, he is not listed by historians as a victim of religious persecution. A handful of other political rebels later beatified are included in the list of Elizabeth’s victims, though. This list, unlike the Foxe list, also includes many people who died while incarcerated for their faith.

Henry VIII:
4 Lollards
63 Protestants
65 Catholics
Total 132

Edward VI:
2 Protestants (“Anabaptists”)
Total 2

Mary I:
284 Protestants
Total 284

Elizabeth I:
6 Protestants (“Puritans”)
184 Catholics
Total 190

About Christine Hartweg

Hi, I'm the author of "Amy Robsart: A Life and Its End" and "John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey's Father-in-Law". I blog at www.allthingsrobertdudley.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Edward VI, Elizabeth I, errors & myths, Henry VIII, religion and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Did Good Queen Bess Kill More People for Religion than Bloody Mary?

  1. Thank you for this Christine.

  2. Hans van Felius says:

    Thanks for this. But in the Wikipedia list I missed the Amersham Martyrs, who were executed under Henry VIII in 1521, six men and one woman. The Amersham Martyrs have to be counted as Lollards I guess. Buckinghamshire was a centre for Lollardy. one of my ancestors was a prominent Lollard during the Oldcastle revolt at the start of Henry V’s reign.

  3. Whomoi says:

    To believe that Wikipedia is the valid source of this info is ludicrous. Let me remind everyone that there have been times when Wikipedia has allowed ANYONE to sign in to make changes in any listing; and let us, also, remember that it is the victors who write history. You need provide an impeccable source for this topic…Wikipedia is definitely NOT it!

    • This post was written with people in mind who make those claims on social media without ever citing any source whatsoever. The good thing about Wikipedia is that you can go there and check it. If I cite a journal article on JSTOR you would claim that because you can’t see it (without institutional access) I made it up.
      You can find the total numbers from these lists also in general biographies or works on Mary’s religious policies, like Eamon Duffy, he has the same 284 as Wikipedia. The same is true for Edward VI, of course, where the two victims (Joan Bocher and George van Parris) are mentioned in every biography. The numbers for Elizabeth I and Henry VIII can be derived from works on their reigns, too.
      The numbers of Catholic martyrs during the English Reformation has been officially counted by the Catholic Church. It is the source for the Wikipedia list of executed Catholic martyrs. So, I don’t understand what’s your problem.

  4. Ruth Vanita says:

    Right! Wikipedia is the most reliable source!!! Read historians and you will find that about an equal number were executed by Elizabeth and Mary.

  5. Ruth Vanita says:

    I think the claim correctly made is that the Protestant Tudors (Henry VIII, his son Edward, Elizabeth I and James I together executed far more Catholics than Mary Tudor did Protestants (Mary didn’t live for very long). The list of Catholics tortured and executed through the second half of the 16th century and then throughout the 17th is horrifying.

  6. Kristine says:

    Queen Elizabeth put many protestants to death. The monarchy, whether “catholic” or “protestant” is not God fearing and they hate the truth.

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