Just before the end of 2020, my article ‘Gender, Authority and the Image of Queenship in English and Scottish Ballads, 1553–1603‘ came out in History. It was based mainly on a paper that I gave a couple of years ago to the EFDSS Broadside Day in Glasgow. Many of you will know that Mary I was England’s first queen regnant – a queen in her own right, because she was heir to the throne rather than because she was married to a king. Right from the start of my PhD research into Mary, I’ve been fascinated by the fact that there are so many ballads from her reign which are really bothered by the fact that she’s a woman. I wrote a chapter about it in the PhD thesis, and then adapted it a bit when it was published as Singing the News (now available, remember, as a slightly more affordable paperback edition!). But my article takes this line of argument a bit further, arguing not only that the balladeers were attempting to normalise a female monarch and set people’s minds at rest, but that they succeeded in doing so. It suggests that Mary’s reign needed ‘selling’ because she was a woman, and the strongest selling point she had was her parentage.

The article also compares and contrasts the Marian accession ballads to those about Elizabeth I and James I, as well as to the various Scottish ballads complaining about Mary Queen of Scots which I wrote a blog post about a few years ago. It’s notable that there are far fewer ballads specifically about Elizabeth’s accession, and several more about James I. Obviously, there are problems with survivals, but the Stationers’ Registers back up the numbers. So I wonder if balladeers felt the need to ‘introduce’ monarchs who were a bit different – such as Mary as the first woman and James as a foreigner – but Elizabeth was less out of the ordinary because Mary had done the hard work of being the first queen regnant for her.