Edward VI’s ‘Devise for the Succession’ would plunge England into turmoil. Was it his own work, or was it the work of a manipulative and power hungry Northumberland? Here’s what happened.
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Last week then we heard about the flowering of John Dudley’s career if I can put it like that, how after many years in royal service and on the king’s Council he came to be the primus inter pares of the Council. I have talked a little about his motivations, and the controversy about that. Was he driven by greed and a lust for power? Or was he driven mainly by a sense of duty and loyalty to the king? Or indeed by a bit of all of it? What we have seen is that Northumberland had the courage to take decisions that were necessary; he had withdrawn from war with Scotland, and made peace with France. Together with the inspired financial shenanigating by Thomas Gresham on the Antwerp money exchanges, Northumberland had begun to free England from the debt with which it had been saddled. Not to be forgotten, of course, that there was one more round of altar stripping. With the mass banished and simplicity established, there was no need then for all the glittering plate and chalices, which were carted off wholesale to be mashed up and melted down for the state.
In terms of Northumberland’s material greed of which he is often accused, he had made himself warden of the northern marches, and awarded himself the substantial salary of £1,333. Nice, you might say. Until you realise that he needed to maintain the northern retinue to defend said marches from that, and Somerset had awarded himself £5,333. So…Northumberland begins to look cheap as chips by comparison. By 1553 Northumberland did have very substantial estates and income, with household of 200 and income of £4,300. By having himself awarded Ducal title, he’d certainly achieved his craving for public recognition. But his income pales in comparison with Somerset’s, or even with greater magnates such as the earl of Shrewsbury; it is far less than other leading statesmen Wolsey and Cromwell had achieved, even without taking inflation into account. He’d laid a nest egg of most reasonable proportions for the standards of his time. Also much of this money seems to have been provided by taking the off-cuts as it were; so land seems to come rather frequently in and out of Northumberland’s hands as it becomes available. This seems mean that Northumberland wasn’t building up a long term set of family estates, so much as taking some income as he could before making long term grants. One result is that Northumberland build a much smaller manred that many of his magnate competitors. A much smaller what, I hear you ask? The word Manred comes from man rent pretty much; and I suppose we might very loosely compare it to the old affinity, the network of people who felt they owed their loyalty and service to the lord, though manred is rather more specifically related to the tenants of the lords land, whereas affinity was much broader. Either way, Northumberland doesn’t seem to have worked very hard at creating his own private manred, which doesn’t say very much for any ambitions he might have had to seize power against the political will. It will be significant, warned the podcaster darkly.
Northumberland had begun to embed the operation of the King’s Council into the hard wiring of England’s executive, and introduce the king into that process. Understanding the relationship between the young king and Northumberland, and understanding the mind of Edward is crucial to what follows.
In a sense Edward’s position as king was no different to any of his predecessor or indeed immediate successors. He was king, and the king’s will was paramount. There was no specific moment when young kings officially became king, no rules saying there must be a regency until the king reached a certain age – his minority was a sort of inconvenient divergence from the normal path; folks realised that at some point Edward would simply choose to throw off the cape of youth and assume the mantle of adulthood and full rule. He was not locked away for no one to see until he would step forth into the footlights and burst into ‘Danny Boy’. In terms of daily life, he was surrounded always by the people of his privy chamber and his councillors. Just like Henry VIII or Mary and Elizabeth, he came under intense pressure from the councillors and people around him. And you can see this in his relationship with that unscrupulous fox Thomas Seymour. Edward recorded in his diary aged only 10 that Thomas had told him that
I was too bashful in my own matters and asked me why I did not speak to bear rule as other kings do
Thomas Seymour at this point had been trying to get Edward to write in defence of his plans to be made the king’s governor.
So although not fully in control of government everyone knew that ultimately Edward was the spring whence authority flowed, and everyone pressed forward with their cups to catch some of the water, or tried to redirect its path. So the gentlemen of the privy chamber, the men around Edward were crucial to influence the king’s mind – just exactly the same it was in Henry VIII’s reign.
Why, you might ask am I telling you all this? You are probably thinking look, I know this already, I have suffered the pain of over a year of listening to you grind on about Henry VIII, I know how the Tudor court works. Get on with it. The reason is that it’s important to show the context in which we start to see Edward take some control; and in understanding the black legend that attached itself to Northumberland. Put simply, the tradition has been to see Northumberland as dominating and controlling the young king, and therefore responsible for what happened on Edward’s death. Northumberland has therefore been condemned to history as a bad man, manipulative and power mad.
Even where there is evidence of Edward beginning to exercise his authority, this is not proof that he was in control, that these words came from him. Maybe the evil duke stood behind the young king, directing him in his writing. Quite probably as the pliable young man bet his attention towards the job in hand, the Evil Duke’s features behind him were twisted in evil, saliva sliding from his distorted lips dripping unseen into the young king’s hair. Parody aside, it’s a critical question, and very difficult to resolve.
This question is important particularly for two important events; the reformation is one, which we have been discussing; and we have seen that Edward was to a substantial degree and enthusiastic supporter of the reformation. But now, comes a new event – the creation of a new succession plan, the Devise. If Edward fell under a bus – who should succeed him? The question would be if this was Edward’s plan, or part of Northumberland’s grand plan for world domination.
There were certainly some then that believed that Edward was simply overawed by the great Duke and fell into his power. This is a story that would serve many interests; the regime that succeeded Edward needed someone else to blame for the succession crisis – no one wanted to blame a king. So you need to look at evidence that the Devise was Northumberland’s working in that light. None the less, there were many that believed Northumberland was the eminence gris. Edward Montagu was the chief justice of the common pleas. Bear in mind that when he wrote the following phrase, he was in the aftermath, and had a string incentive to excuse his own role in the creation of Edward’s plans for the succession: He, Montagu stated that the king never invented this matter of himself, but by some wonderful false conscience
Robert Wingfield was a contemporary historian and a devout Catholic. He declared that
The unhappy king…dared not make any protest, but fell in with the Duke’s wishes
And later historians such as J A Froude would do their very own falling in with Wingfield
Northumberland had made important progress: he had persuaded Edward…and the council and lords could now be forced into an appearance of acquiescence
It is certainly true that Northumberland did his very best to make sure that he could influence the king; and the Imperial Ambassador amongst others noted how he did this – by getting his own placemen into Edward’s privy chamber so that they could influence the king. We are back ladies and gentlemen to the conversation we had many times about Henry VIII as we said – the influence of the gentlemen who could whisper into the king’s ears while he was doing his ablutions. One of the 4 principal gentlemen of the Privy chamber was Henry Sidney, Northumberland’s son in law for example; the French ambassador reported home that Sidney had
‘acquired so great an influence near the King, that he was able to make all of his notions conform’
Conform to Northumberland’s notions, is what he is saying
But suspicion focusses most on one John Gates. In January 1550, John Gates became another of the four ‘principal’ gentlemen; and in April 1551 he became vice-chamberlain. Again, it was the French ambassador who reported that Gates was the
‘principal instrument which he [Northumberland] used to induce the King to something when he did not want it to be known that it had proceeded from himself’. Gates ‘was to report back to him everything said to the King, for this Gates was continually in the Chamber’
Gates also held the dry stamp of the king’s signature; so, fair dos he was in a position of great trust and power.
There’s a nice series of comments by the Scheyfvre, the Imperial Ambassador too; he reported that the Duke would coach the young king in his chamber so that Edward would appear knowledgeable in front of the Council. A French source also claimed that
he visited the King secretly at night in the King’s Chamber, unseen by anyone, after all were asleep. The next day the young Prince came to his council and proposed matters as if they were his own; consequently, everyone was amazed, thinking that they proceeded from his mind and by his invention.
Scheyfvre also noticed that during a Council meeting, Northumberland kept a close eye on the young king, and signalled to him to wrap things up when debate had exhausted itself. The image being built up is of a rather clueless compliant king, at the mercy of a Svengali type figure in the Duke, older, with a more powerful personality overawing the adolescent who:
Revered [Northumberland] as if he were himself one of his subjects – so much so that the things which he knew to be desired by Northumberland, he himself decreed to please the Duke
It is a bit tricky to gainsay this picture. What evidence could we show that Edward had a mind of his own, and had the courage to assert himself against Northumberland? Well there is some evidence of both, as it ‘appens. From 1550, there is growing evidence of Edward’s emerging will and interest in religious reform. In 1550, he insisted on altering the wording of the new oath of Supremacy; he also ordered the removal of Saint George from the order of the Garter, on the basis that saints were to be largely banished, though that didn’t happen before his death and so remained. As these imply, Edward’s will was clearly in favour of reformed religion, and we have seen other evidence of this as he began to assert his will in opposition to his sister’s passionate defence of traditional practice, and to do so with increasing force – and would not back down.
The same is then true of his interest in government. In 1551, he carefully recorded in his diary each of parliament’s proclamations, and wrote about the changes in the coinage. In September 1552 he shows some of that waspish irritation and attention to detail that so terrified Henry VIII’s councillors. The unfortunate victim was our villainous Richard Rich, torturer of Anne Askew, who announced that a certain document was not legitimate and needed the signature of more councillors. Edward wrote to him sharply
We think your lordship not ignorant hereof that the number of our councillors or any part of them maketh not our authority
As a result, Richard Rich did the brave Sir Robin thing and headed for the safety of his duvet and absented himself from court, and Henry VIII’s procedures for the use of the king’s dry stamp were resurrected – in this Edward seems to have been was protecting his royal authority, and his interest in the royal supremacy is a clear and continuing interest.
Edward also began to create a series of political papers. The sort of thing that these days we’d see in a TED talks or something; Edward would have got himself dressed up in jacket and jeans, installed powerpoint and headed for the stage with a head mic, laptop and started talking about thought leadership. In many of these exercises, Edward was probably being engaged and encouraged by his tutors, they were essay questions almost, set by his tutor, compare and contrast the treaties of Vienna and Versailles, that sort of thing. But then, when most of us would stop the minute we were able and play footie or hit the boozer, Edward kept going; there are 5 papers he produced after his formal education had probably finished at 14. They include the whys and wherefores of providing military aid to the Emperor, an analysis of the financial situation, on religion and particularly significant, on the management of business through the council. Edward was thinking about the political future and administration of his kingdom; he began referring in his diary to ‘My’ Council rather than ‘the’ council as he’d done before. He was preparing to take over, and so he should, in October 1552 he turned 15.
Is this Edward talking, or a result of Northumberland’s salvia in his hair? It’s very difficult to know. Historians seem pretty much universally convinced that Edward was the sort of bloke who sat at the front of class and put his hand up frequently, and not only that, gave a good answer rather than something vacuous; his parents would have glowed with pride at his school report. There are a couple of occasions where we can at least see difference of opinion; notably, Edward supported Cranmer’s reform of canon law against Northumberland. Notably, Edward lost that argument – Northumberland blocked it. But there it was none the less – in Edwards will, an exhortation to carry on the reform, suggesting that Northumberland persuaded Edward to delay it rather than permanently block it; and at very least it is evidence of Edward’s independent thinking. There’s another little incident over archery when Edward taunted Northumberland that he
Aimed better when he cut off my Uncle Somerset’s head
Which I have to say is a lumbering sort of gag, but some evidence Edward wasn’t walking around eyes downcast scared of Northumberland, however much he may have relied on him and looked up to him.
If you are going to consider the idea that maybe Northumberland did not dominate and control Edward, you need to put an alternative in place. The alternative mooted is that Northumberland’s power and authority was instead based on the respect and gratitude of his young master; that what Northumberland did was take his teenage king seriously. Rather than trying to keep him in the background and out of the way did Somerset had done, he tried to give him the keys to the kingdom.
A good starting point, is a rather cold phrase by historian Eric Ives
Investing in control of a boy was investing in a wasting asset
Icy. His point is that at some point Edward, in the words of Freddie Mercury, would want to break free, and as he did, Northumberland would head toastwards if said king hated and despised him. Ives also makes the point that although it is quite true that Northumberland made sure that his mates were close to the king, like John Gates, it doesn’t do to be naïve – that’s what we’ve seen politicians trying to do throughout Henry’s reign. Northumberland in the context of the day would have been a blithering idiot not to. Any of his Council colleagues would have given their eye teeth to do the same.
The argument goes that Northumberland in fact was a politician, that’s what his consensual style of government was all about, he ruled through and with the council not separately to it as Somerset tried to do. I think I may have bored you with my example that by the time you bring a proposal to new product development committee, you should know very well what the decision will be, because you’ve already lined them all up – that’s how Northumberland worked. It might be that Northumberland’s approach, in line with his desperate desire to rehabilitate the Dudley family reputation, was to do such a good job for his young boss that Edward would retain him for ever because he liked and trusted him, and was grateful for his service.
What we know happens is that Northumberland encourages Edward to come regularly now to Council meetings – rather than trying to keep him away. And surely, if the man was trying to control all the variables and suppress the King’s independence, keeping him away from the council is what he’d have tried to do. But Northumberland actively puts Edward in front of his Council. A lot depends on how you interpret these following comments from the Imperial Ambassador, Scheyfve. In January 1552 he wrote
He seems to be a likely lad of quick, ready and well developed mind, remarkably so for his age…Northumberland whom he seems to love and fear is beginning to grant him a great deal of freedom in order to dispel the hostility felt for him
And then in March
The king is usually present at council meetings now especially when state business is being transacted in order to lend his personal authority to the Council’s decisions
Critically, at these meetings, Scheyfve noticed this point that Northumberland would send secret messages to the king, little signs that this or that debate had gone on long enough and maybe should be closed down now; as I’ve mentioned, the ambassadors were convinced Edward was being coached. Both sides, team Good Duke and team Bad Duke, have used this to support their case, and it is completely two edged – it could be the evil, eminence gris, controlling the lad from a distance. Or it could be the mentor, the Master Ugwe encouraging, helping, breathing confidence into a young man in a challenging and scary situation. I cannot make your mind up for you.
What is very clear by this is stage is that Edward was a young man of great promise. His intellectual powers are well attested, his library enormous and demonstraing the breadth and depth of his education; John Foxe marvelled at his quickness with Latin and Greek. Cardano, an Italian Physician met Edward around this time and was glowing in his reports. He described Edward as
Of a stature somewhat below middle height, pale faced with grey eyes, a grave aspect, decorous and handsome.
It might be a miracle of nature to behold the excellent wit and forwardness that appeared in him
‘This boy’ declared Cardano ‘was filled with the highest expectation…on account of his cleverness and sweetness of manner…in his humanity he was a picture of our mortal state’. I have to say it reads remarkably similarly to my school reports. Not. Sadly.
There is further evidence that the reformation was firmly in the right hands; So Scheyfve asked the king to be Godfather to his child, which is kind of reasonably standard practice. Edward of course politely agreed, but he declined to attend the ceremony, which would be held under the Catholic rite. Incidentally, In England, the Ambassadors were allowed to practice religion according to their own tradition, catholic or whatever; a right signally denied to the English Ambassadors abroad. Sauce for the goose was apparently not sauce for the Gander. Anyway, Edward told Scheyfve
He was firmly resolved that his laws and constitutions should be obeyed within his realm…a different course of conduct would be against his conscience
OK, you decide then you lot, and let me know when you know what you think. But essentially as far as the political nation was as concerned, they were on to a good thing as far as Edward was concerned. And he seemed active and pretty healthy the lad, though distressingly enough he did have a bout of illness in April 1552; he caught both measles and small pox. He seemed to have shaken them off within a couple of weeks though, a fact that everyone celebrated of course. Including his younger sister Elizabeth from whom we have not heard for a while. Elizabeth was much less of a worry of course than Mary; partly because unlike Mary she wasn’t next in line to the throne under Henry’s will, but also because she was very much conformist in religion. And she kept herself in Edward’s good books. She’s 19 by this time is Elizabeth, and clever both in intellect and in the softer skills of life. She sent a pict of herself to her brother
‘I humbly beseech your majesty, that when you shall look on my picture, you will vouchsafe to think, that as you have but the outward shadow of the body afore you, so my inward mind wisheth that the body itself were oftener in your presence.’
Dare I say every so slightly slimy? Not the kind of letter I’d expect to get from my sister, and if I ever did I would be irredeemably weirded. But then you know, I’m not king of England.
In January 1553 his other sister, Mary, came to call. This time she managed not to shove her religious defiance into everyones’ faces – or indeed she decided this time the priority was not to show her solidarity with traditionalists, depending on your view point. And the meetings with her brother were friendly – but Edward was ill. He was a right poorly pig with a bad cough and he was bedridden. This time the illness lingered; parliament had been called to address the problem of money, and it was opened on 1st March in a low key ceremony, and suspended for a day because the King was ill again; and by 17th March he’d been confined to his room. The news from the palace improved during April; on 31st March Edward had been able to prorogue parliament, he was walking in the Garden by 10th and travelled to Greenwich on 11th April, so he seemed to be on the mend.
And it’s while he was on the mend that it seems Edward started doodling. When you or I doodle, no one pays any notice except maybe to compliment us on a particularly fine doodle, but when you are a king, you doodle about the succession, and everyone sits up a little straighter while my dog when he’s trying to persuade me that he’s such a good dog I really ought to be sharing that bun in my hand. No one seems to have seen this initial doodle, not even Northumberland, it’s all in the King’s hand, and he called it his ‘Devise for the succession’. Golly, there’s a doodle for you. It’s dynamite actually. Timing’s important here by the way – Edward and his doctors fully expected him to be fine at this point.
There are four versions of the Devise for the the Succession as it develops over time. This first one, probably done in April 1553, carried on Edward’s father’s obsession – defining a line of succession for men only. Edward was clearly feeling fine, and this was just a precaution, nothing to worry about. The succession starts with Edward’s children of course, whenever they start popping off the production line. But if the unthinkable happened then the succession goes not to Mary or to Elizabeth – cos you know, they are women. Nor does it go to Lady Frances Grey because as she would surely point out to you, she’s a woman, BUT it would go to her male heirs, then the male heirs of her sisters, also Brandon descendants of Henry VIII’s sister Mary. It’s a remarkably optimistic succession actually, because none of these people actually had any male heirs. But the point is that Princess Mary is nowhere. By ‘eck.
This is despite the fact that Scheyfve had reported with satisfaction that Mary had been received at court
As if she had been queen of England,
And Northumberland was very clearly communicating politely with Mary and keeping her well informed of goings on at court. But Scheyfve was not entirely happy; he was a bit worried about Northumberland. There’d been a rumour last year that Northumberland was minting coins with his own head on them. And now in May, Lady Jane Grey was married to Northumberland’s son, Guildford. Well, that got the tongues wagging. Scheyfve noted that Jane’s mother
Was third heiress to the crown by the testamontary deposition of the late king and has no male heirs
He’s thinking that if the king mysteriously dies followed by Mary and Elizabeth well, guess who’d be in the driving seat? Northumberland, that’s who. So Scheyfve was laying eggs. And indeed history has tended to see this as Northumberland plotting already – ah Edward’s about to croak, better get my son married to the Jane cos Edward’s changed the succession so then my son will be king by right of Jane and Ill be in power for ever long live me. But look, this is hindsight. It’s too early. The Doctors by this stage were convinced Edward would get better. Northumberland had been hawking Guildford his son around the marriage market for a while, already been turned down by the Cliffords. It seems to have been William Herbert, the powerful Earl of Pembroke who suggested the idea of a Guildford + Jane = happiness formula, and Jane’s younger sister married Pembroke’s own lad. The marriage must have been agreed some time earlier when the King was even finer that the doctors thought now. Even Scheyfve concludes its just Northumberland going through the normal process of building his power by making good marriages.
But in May, inside the palace, everything changed. The king just could not shake his illness, he had really a horrid cough. The doctors diagnosed a tumour on the lung on 12th May. One of Edward’s medical team was an Imperial spy, of course, which is what gives us this report
He does not sleep unless stuffed with drugs which doctors call opiates…the patient is in great pain or tormented by constant sleeplessness or racked by violent coughing….the sputum he brings up is livid, black, fetid and full of carbon; it smells beyond measure…his feet are swollen all over. To the doctors all these things portend death and that within 3 months
On 28th May, the Duke of Northumberland summoned all Edward’s doctors to a case conference, and asked them point blank what Edward’s chances were. I’m sorry they said, there’s no longer any doubt. Edward must prepare to meet his maker, and it will not be long.
We cannot know, but it seems likely that Northumberland was by now aware of Edward’s doodlings. The suspicion has been that it was Northumberland that now guided Edward’s hand to change his succession plans, the poor weakened and helpless king forced to disinherit his dear dear sister by the evil and quite possibly dribbly Northumberland. But what is clear is that it was Edward and Edward alone who had completed the first version and written Mary out of the succession. By June, Version one was disastrous though – there were no heirs that qualified under its rules If Edward croaked now. So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, even a 16th century rocket scientist, to know that something had to be done. Yet version two was still created in the king’s very own hand. Not only was it written by Edward, but this process was not done in a corner between king and Northumberland – that can often be the impression, a document hurriedly produced in dark corners. But while the news was kept as secret as possible the succession was produced in front of the council and in front of the council’s legal advisers. In Version two, subsequently worked into a fair version, version three, Jane Grey was made heir. Quite why her mum was passed over again I am not clear, except to say that Edward’s father had done the same thing. Edward clearly had the energy still to do this – he signed the paper in 6 places.
Next came legal advice, to turn version 3 into version 4. The legal stage opens interesting questions about why Edward did this, and about the legality of it all. Before going into it, it is important to know where the story comes from, and the knitting of arse covers is an important consideration. All the contemporary accounts come from people explaining what went on to the Princess Mary, without wanting too many plot spoilers. So they were unlikely to say something like ‘I thought it seemed like a great idea. And anyway your Dad thought you were a bastard.’ So the main account is from Edward Montagu, the Lord Chief Justice; there are accounts of bits of the process also from William Cecil and from Robert Wingfield. It is Montagu’s account that normally wins, because it is dramatic.
Its Sunday, 11th June. Montagu receives a letter, signed by eleven Councillors. He is to attend the court at 1pm the following day with other legal officers. Golly. Montagu arrives the following day, and together they are all ushered into the presence of the king. At Edward’s side are William Paulet the Treasurer, the useless Marquis of Northampton, John Gates and some other canon fodder, red shirt wearers. According to Montagu, Edward said that Mary was unmarried, he was worried she’d marry a foreign husband, and
The laws of this realm might be altered and changed and his highness’s proceedings in religion might be changed
Those then are the reasons according to Montagu. It could be true. Or it could be that this is simply safer than saying to Mary ‘Your dad and brother considered you to be a bastard’. They were sent away with version three of the Devise for the Succession to work up a final version four, all legally tied up. Away they went, quite possibly scurrying. According to Montagu they came back the following day and objected, nay refused. Sorry little king, this is a red, a no go. It would be quite, quite illegal. Sorry, it’s Mary for me! At this point Northumberland is supposed to have stormed in and yelled at them all, including threatening to fight Edward Montagu. Away they scurried until 15th June when they were shown into a king with his angry face on. And Montagu caved in, having so bravely and handsomely fought for his legal principle and the rights of his most darling Princess Mary.
Seeing the king so earnest and sharp and the said duke so angry the day before who ruled the whole council as it pleased him, and were all afraid of him (the more the pity) so that such cowardliness and fear there was never seen among honourable men
Well done, Eddie baby. You really fought for your princess you loyal lad. She’ll probably reward you. By not chopping your head off. The final Devise for the Succession was drawn up and duly on 22nd Montagu and all the lawyers returned and signed it.
It’s not a bad story and quite convincing. But there are reasons to doubt it. Those legal objections. It is quite possible that Montagu argued at first, the vast majority of lawyers I have worked with, like surveyors actually, with feel the need to go through the tooth sucking phase, that’s the nature of the beast I think, the risk inherent in any action needs to be identified, and by this stage we already have an honourable tradition of lawyers in England desperate to avoid political shenanigans. But the idea that the Devise was illegal is deeply dodgy. The assumption is twofold; that it breached Henry VIII’s will, and that it was not ratified by Parliament.
But we have Henry’s 1544 statute for the succession as evidence here. The act stated that Henry had ‘full and plenary powers’ to assign the crown to whomsoever he wished by issuing letters patent or by the terms of his will. Nowhere in the bill does it say that Parliament gave this power to Henry – that would have been nutty, the king called parliament not the other way round. Basically this statute accepted and confirmed for all to see that the king had to power to devise the succession as he saw fit. This then despatches the second objection to the boundary rope – nay, sends the ball soaring over the ropes to the thunderous cheers of the crowd. The right follows the king, not Henry. Henry’s dead. Edward’s king. There are no rules anywhere saying Edward is not a proper king yet, as I have already discussed. Ironically, Montagu and his chums also lift parts of the wording directly from the 1544 statute that
The said lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth to all intents and purposes are and be clearly disabled to ask, claim or challenge the said imperial crown
Montagu, my contention is, was simply trying to save his life – a perfectly reasonable activity, whatever your hourly rate. Given that Montagu’s grounds for objection are so flimsy, it seems quite acceptable to find Robert Wingfield’s account more convincing. Which was that all the lawyers except two accepted the Devise ‘up to the hilt’, with Montague leading the charge. Though for balance we should note that Wingfield’s motivation was to condemn everyone he could find in the Princess Mary’s eyes, so you know, care also needed.
We now come to the other signatories of the Devise. There are over a hundred. Edward was clearly worried though; so he drew up a special document we might call ‘the engagement’, and it’s a single sheet. It commits the signatories to implement the devise. The signatories, 16 councillors and the relevant law officers signed in the presence of Edward himself. There were clearly some worried now among the various Councillors; Edward was ill, maybe they would be in trouble if things went wrong, or at very least here’s a situation with a bit of leverage going on. There’s a bit of jiggery pokery – Pembroke, Shrewsbury, Bedford all received grants of land. Arundel, traditionalist though he was he signed as well.
There were some problems. Cranmer at first refused to sign. He had sworn to uphold Henry’s will, and that troubled him. Other men have signed Edward said gently, and they have consciences too
I am not judge over any man’s conscience but mine own only
Said the good Archbish. He tried to dissuade Edward from his course of action, which is interesting since he knew Mary’s religion. and even tried to gather an opposition group in the Council which in retrospect looks like conscience taken to the most extravagant extremes. The Duke lost his rag again and he and Cranmer had a ding dong at the Council table but in the end royal supremacy won over conscience in Cramer’s mid and when Edward asked him to sign he did so.
The other man who gave them trouble was William Cecil. The signing was done by the Councillors altogether and when Cecil was called he refused. The others kept going and when all where done, Edward spoke to him. The source of all this is a funny letter – that’s funny peculiar rather than funny ha ha – to Cecil in 1573 from a Colleague, reminding him what happened all those years ago, almost as though the official record of events drawn up by Cecil in 1553 had been lost
He willed you to subscribe as a witness, that it was his pleasure to have it so to pass; which you have no reason to deny. And so as the last man you subscribed
Why did so many of the most powerful men in the realm sign up? Surely, surely, whatever you think of Northumberland, we have to discount that everyone was just scared of Northumberland? This is not like a Bolsevik politburo with hundreds of thousands of political opponents already mown down, these are men like Pembroke and Shrewsbury more personally powerful and rich than Northumberland. Religion seems a tricky one though more possible; on the one hand, the signatories were a combination of conservatives and evangels and so you’d think it’s not religion then since they all signed, but it’s more possible the conservatives felt corralled and isolated.
Another possible reason is the return the common law. It’s a fine point, but Henry’s succession required illegitimate children to succeed, since Mary and Elizabeth were illegitimate, whereas Edward’s succession, though imposed by royal will, returned to succession by legal inheritance. The other option and my personal favourite is that they simply thought it was fair enough – it was the king’s will.
Now you may be looking with some surprise at your generic MP3 player or fruit based device and wondering why on earth, in the name of all that is holy, I am blathering on about the devise for the succession. Well look the thing is that the traditional assumption, or what which I was taught when I was a lad, was that really the Lady Jane Grey thing was a sort of blip, and obvious aberration before the rightful Queen Mary came to the throne. Well, as I hope I have demonstrated, I am with Eric Ives on this one. The rightful and legal successor to Edward VI was Lady Jane Grey.