The Queen’s Tragedy (1906), one of the most famous historical novels by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson – the celebrated author of the bestseller The Lord of the World – tells the painful story of Mary Tudor through the eyes of Guy Manton, a university student who came to serve her at court after her marriage to Philip II of Spain.
Misery and despair characterize the political experience of a queen who is unable to understand the mood of her people: they are unhappy with the re-establishment of the old religion and rather annoyed by the hasty methods she employs to eliminate rebels and dissidents (hence the infamous nickname “bloody Mary”). The book, which delves into the most hidden details of the sovereign’s complex personality, ends with the death of Mary in 1558, described by the author with a surprising literary device, obtaining the final images directly from the woman’s mind.
The novel is a sort of long psychological study, mainly centered on the queen’s personal drama, to which the title explicitly refers. Although she has always acted for the best and did everything to bring Catholicism back to England, Mary is inexorably doomed to defeat. An ineffective policy, the failure of love aspirations and the anger at having to leave the throne to Elizabeth – with the risk, which turned out to be a reality, of a new policy of Protestantization in the country – are the elements that embody a tragedy that is both private and collective.
However, in political failure the seeds of personal sanctification take root and bear fruit. The queen, whose name evokes that of the Mother of God, finds strength only on her deathbed, when she has a sense of a strong identity with the sufferings of Christ: defeat on this earth is the antechamber to victory in eternity.
The English history of the sixteenth century represents, in a small way, that of the whole of humanity, perennially poised between worldliness and eternity, between damnation and salvation. Therefore, reading The Queen’s Tragedy does not only give knowledge of the past, when so many Catholics had to suffer because of their Faith, but it is above all a precious opportunity to come to terms with oneself, an invitation to fight the sin that is in us, that same evil that on a large scale paved the way for the Anglican schism and all the violence that followed.