On the morning of 9th July 1553 the 16 year old Jane was walking in the Grey manor at Chelsea in blissful ignorance. Then the Duke of Northumberland’s daughter, Mary Sidney, came to call
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It’s the morning of 7th July, and a 21 year old Robert Dudley, son of the great and powerful Duke of Northumberland rides with a group of horsemen furiously through the vast deer park at Hunsden House, 30 miles or so north of Westminster. There is an edge of desperation in the set of the exhausted men as they clatter up to the magnificent 15th century house. They have been sent by the Duke to bring the Princess Mary to the Council. But Dudley is worried – because his father is worried. The Council had written to Mary on 4th July. She should have come by now. Why had she not come? No one yet knew that Edward already lay cold and dead, and Jane Grey was to be made queen of England; the only person who could really stop that from happening was the Princess Mary. She could not be allowed to stay at liberty. under. no. circumstances.
Dudley throws himself from his horse in front of the great doors of the house and batters his way in, pushing his way through rooms with increasing desperation and panic. As the shocked servants stumble into the hall and try to stop him the truth become clear – the Tudor bird has flown.
Now that, gentle listeners, is my attempt to write drama. Obviously, I have to point out that we have no historical record of whether Dudley threw himself from the horse at all – may have paused for a while, and ordered a servant to help, had a nice cup of tea and bun – who knows. Well not teas obviously. Also, I suspect the door would have been bolted, so he’d probably have to knock. Tsk, I say, and again tsk. That’s the trouble with these pesky, fly-by-night dramatists isn’t it?
But the point is that Mary had indeed flown. In fact, as news of Edward’s illness had emerged, Mary had indeed moved to Hunsdon to be closer to London, and she may even had left Hunsdon to start the journey to London. But a breathless message arrived just in the nick of time – and probably it was the Imperial Ambassador Scheyfvre who spilt the beans. The real brains of the Imperial faction was Simon Renard, and he was pessimistic for Mary’s chances of success, writing
The actual possession of power is a matter of great importance especially among barbarians like the English
Just in case you though Xenophobia was an English thing, by the way. Renard thought Northumberland had it taped, all covered. And d’you know what? It is an elephant in the presence chamber. Why on earth did Northumberland not make sure he had Mary in his grasp? We know that John Gates, his supporter in the Privy Chamber, was overheard making that very point to him
But sir, will you suffer the Lady Mary escape and not secure her person?
And yet Northumberland had been so confident when he spoke just a few days ago to Noailles the French Ambassador, he clearly thought he had it taped. So what had gone wrong? Had Northumberland become Northbumberland? And maybe here is the real significance of the occasion we dramatized a few weeks ago, when Mary considered flight in 1550 and made such a pitiful hash of it – Northumberland underestimated his opponent; he thought she’d crumble, he’d thought she’d lay down and die. Although in his defence it is also worth noting that just arresting the Princess Mary, still officially and outwardly being treated as Edward’s heir and confidently accepted by the world as the next Queen to be, would not have been so simple, and he’d probably had to take out Mary’s supporters too, and that would have been very messy, even were it possible. Northumberland may have felt that the Devise and support of the Council would be sufficient – the actual possession of power that Renard mentioned. Northumberland may also have made some provision for a war chest if trouble did occur. So Northumberland thought stealth and drawing Mary to London to be the best approach. The next few days would tell him if he was to suffer for his miscalculation. Incidentally, the Princess Elizabeth had also been ordered to London, she said she’d rather not thank you, she was feeling a little peaky. Which is very Elizabeth.
When the Council heard the news, brought post haste back from Hunsdon, a letter was immediately sent out the following day on 8th July to all the Lords Lieutenant throughout England, the men who made up the military arm of the sheriffs, that
She hath suddenly without knowledge given either to us here or to the country there…taken her journey toward Norfolk.
There was a shameless appeal to patriotism, for
True and mere Englishmen keep our country to be English without putting our heads under Spaniards’ and Flemings’ girdles as their slaves and vassals
Right from the start Mary was being associated with foreign powers – the Empire in particular, and given her constant correspondence and reference to the Emperor and his ambassdors they are not necessarily wrong. The assumption seems to be that Mary was running for the coast, to escape to the Empire to launch an invasion from abroad.
The hunt was on.
There were still a few hours before this storm would fall on Jane, who was still with her parents at their manor at Chelsea, recovering from illness, while her husband Guildford was with the Duchess and Duke of Northumberland at Durham house on the Strand. For her a few more hours of blissful ignorance. For the Council wanted things kept secret just a while longer to tie up as many loose ends as possible. On the 8th July therefore, the Lord mayor of London and 31 other dignitaries and Aldermen of London were brought before the Council. They were told that the king was dead, and were presented with his will and Devise for the Succession, which they were required to sign. All solemnly swore an oath to keep it quiet. Well one of them may have giggled a little, I can’t be sure. And if not one of them rushed home and told the wife then they were no true husband. But you know, in principle. Then all the officers of the Tower of London were also told, and sworn in to protect Jane as their Queen. In the city of London, the place was swarming with men wearing the livery of the dukes of Northumberland and Jane’s father Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk – Henry VII would be turning in his grave at all the livery and maintenance going on. 500 men for Northumberland, 300 for Suffolk by some reports. Rumours, whispers, spread round the city, from furrowed brow to furrowed brow. Something was afoot.
For Jane at Chelsea, it seems to be that the 16 year old had convinced herself that the greatest challenge ahead of her was the one faced by so many women, and indeed men of the age, learning to live with someone she knew only slightly and had not chosen. It seems that she had convinced herself that when Jane Guildford, the Duchess of Northumberland told her that he had to be ready to rush to the Tower because she had been made heir to the throne, that the Duchess was just messing with her. Probably, Jane thought, the Duchess used it as an excuse, because she wanted Jane to go back to Durham House and live with her husband Guildford Dudley. You can understand; imagine being told such a thing, seems potty – everyone knew Mary was Edward’s heir. So what was to follow hit her very hard.
It was a Sunday, 9th July at Chelsea. As a devoted evangelical Jane would have been in the rhythm of Sunday, though maybe she also walked through its gardens, admiring the knot gardens and orchards for which it was famous, or remembered her happy time there with Catherine Parr who had been so kind to her. But then she was told that Mary Sidney had arrived and had news for her; Mary was Northumberland’s daughter, married to the Henry Sidney who had been at the side of the king. So certainly, in the know. Incidentally, there can be little doubt that Jane’s husband Guildford was equally already aware. Anyway, Mary gave a worrying but oblique message to Jane – she must come to the great house at Syon west of London
To receive that which has been ordered by the king
Syon is about 8 miles away as the crow flies. And a good deal longer as the River flows, the river Thames being a lazy, meandering kind of beast around those parts. Which is relevant, because it would have been by boat that Jane and Mary were taken to her strange destination, no doubt Jane trying to pump Mary for information. But when she stepped ashore, she found there was no one there to greet her apart from the servants. And so she went up to the house and waited. And golly, she must have had a heavy pit of dread in her stomach. As she walked up and down the Long Gallery of Syon house, overlooking the river, She must surely have thought back to that conversation with the Duchess of Northumberland. And wondered. And worried.
Eventually the sight of a richly decorated barge on the river, hustle and bustle and many grand lords and ladies. She waited until the noises came outside of the Long Gallery and then in and she was greeted by Northumberland, and other Councillors and most powerful men of the realm – the Marquis of Northampton, the Earl of Huntingdon, the Earl of Arundel, rehabilitated after his attempt at a Catholic coup, and the power broker William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. They did what blokes do when faced with a difficult conversation. They talked about something else. Probably the weather. Until eventually they did what they should have done from the start, and asked the women to join them; Frances, Jane’s mother, the Duchess of Northumberland and others. Finally Northumberland screwed up the courage to tell her the news. Edward the king was dead. And Edward had made her, Lady Jane Grey, his heir. Jane’s mind still resisted the news. Then the Councillors all knelt to Jane as ‘heir of straight descent’ and offered her their loyalty. There were others coming into the room now, Jane’s father the Duke of Suffolk was there, but the biggest thing in the room was a deathly hush. There were kneeling lords, a new queen, and all the assembled magnificence could rustle up was an embarrassed silence.
So Northumberland again took the English way and babbled. Eventually the truth battered down the mental walls of Jane’s denial and broke in. Jane collapsed and fell to the floor in a torrent of tears. She cried out in one more effort to have this cup of poison taken from her lips, that she neither desired nor had asked for.
The crown is not my right and pleases me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir
Your grace does wrong to yourself and your house
replied the Duke
Jane’s Mum and Dad were now at her side, telling their daughter that this was her duty. And eventually Jane had to give way and accept her destiny to be queen of England. As she later wrote
Declaring to them my insufficiency, I greatly bewailed myself for the death of so noble a prince, and at the same time turned myself to God, humbly praying and beseeching him, and if what was given to me was rightly and lawfully mine, his divine Majesty would grant me such grace and spirit that I might govern it to his glory and service and to the advantage of this realm.
The moment broken, things maybe relaxed a bit. Jane maybe permitted herself to dream. Everyone let off steam with a great banquet and all tried to hope the worst bit was over. As if.
The next day, 10th July, was to be the big one – where the truth was revealed officially to the world. The wheels were to be put in motion, the plan that the Council had been working on since the king’s death, executed. Jane would have seen Northumberland and most of the Councillors leave for London early in the morning – she was to follow later. While she waited at Syon, the royal heralds were proclaiming the news around London – Edward was dead, Jane was rightful queen of England, they declared
Lady Mary unfitted for the crown, as also the lady Elizabeth. Both ladies were declared to be bastards; and it was stated the Lady Mary might marry a foreigner and thus stir up trouble in the kingdom…and also that she was of the old religion she might seek to introduce popery
They were greeted with disbelief. They were greeted with confusion. Everyone knew that the daughter of Good King Hal was the rightful heir. The Princess Mary was to be queen – who was this Lady Jane Grey when she was at home? Rumours circulated that Edward had been poisoned. And Northumberland, the finger was pointed at Northumberland. Men in his livery were everywhere. London hated the Duke.
At 3 O’clock, a procession of magnificent barges took Queen Jane and a gilded entourage down the Thames to the Tower, to the main entrance, the Lion Gate. Jane was dressed in green velvet embroidered in gold, with large sleeves and a long train, behind her carrying the train was her mother. Her headdress was white and heavily jewelled and over her head was carried the cloth of estate. Now at last beside her was her husband Guildford, tall, blond, dressed in white and gold, closely attentive to his wife the queen.
The crowd was all about as she landed. But there were no cheers for Queen Jane, except for the archers and for the guns that fired salute. As Scheyfvre and Renard watched the silent they rubbed their hands with glee. One man even yelled defiance for Princess Mary. His name was Gilbert Potter. Gilbert Potter was dragged away. And his ears were cut off at the root for his treachery.
At the gate of the Tower Jane was greeted by Northumberland, and the silence thundered in their ears. Inside the gate he drew her, and everything would have been a it more comfortable as the silence was shut out. Inside the Tower a presence chamber had been rustled up with the cloth of estate set up over a royal chair. Jane was decked out in finery that would have made evangaleicals like Roger Ascham come over in a flush; in particular a heavily jewelled chin cloth, extended over the chin in a style allowed only for nobility. When the crown came, Jane tried to refuse it. She was assured they were making another one anyway for her husband. The penny dropped. If she, Jane was to be Queen then he, Guildford was to be king. Hang on a moment – was this the point of the whole thing? Was this a Dudley stitch up? She might read Plato and have a brain the size of a small orbital satellite but Plato does not necessarily make you street wise, so it appears this possibility had not yet occurred to Jane.
There was a fierce discussion between husband and wife. What Jane called ‘a reasoning of many things with my husband’. Which is as nice a euphemism as you could wish for – next time you have a domestic if you have such things, you might describe it as a reasoning of many things. Another penny had dropped for Jane – Guilford knew. He’d known all along, and he’d not told her. This hurt.
The upshot of the reasoning of many things was that Guildford agreed he’d only be made king by Jane, and by assent of parliament. Jane called for Arundel and Pembroke and made it clear that Guildford would not be king – she would instead make him a Duke. At some point the mother in law got involved and tried to insist Guildford should be king, even telling her son to withdraw his sexual favours and go home to Syon. Guildford, in thrall to his Mum and desperate for recognition, said he would go the following morning.
It’s a fascinating episode. She’s 16, she’s not been educated for politics, she’s not street wise, but now Jane had the measure of the Duke and his family. And if the throne must be hers, then it would be hers, not the Dudleys, and she would be no cipher. There was steel as well as intellect in Lady Jane Grey.
Still, it must have been a little uncomfortable that evening of 10th July. A huge feast was set in her honour, and as she sat here surrounded by the richest and most powerful men and women in the realm you wonder what she and Guildford talked about.
Anyway, at least Jane could try to enjoy the supper at the end of a dramatic and exhausting day and look forward to a bit of bed.
But at that point a visitor was announced. It was an elderly man, called Thomas Hungate. He came with a letter. The letter was from the missing Princess Mary.