Mary had a decision to make – submit, fight or flee. She took the decision with her household – and they raised the rafters with their cheers.
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Yesterday we followed Jane’s tempestuous day, and her proclamation as the rightful queen of England on 10th July 1553. But what of her rival, the Princess Mary, eldest daughter of Henry VIII?
Mary for some time had been made aware of Edward’s pain and illness. She received constant, courteous and respectful correspondence from the Duke of Northumberland about progress. She was utterly convinced of the Duke’s goodwill, and why would she not be? She was the heir under her father’s will. Not just that but everyone recognised it as a universally accepted fact and the rightful way of the world. There were some discordant notes. The principle source was from the Imperial ambassador Scheyfvre, who worried that Northumberland was pursuing power and would lull the Princess into the kind of warm and fuzzy feeling you get after a few pints of Brakespeare’s Ordinary or Rebellion Ale and a few bags of nuts, and that she’d fall, like a plum, into Northumberland’s evil lap. Scheyfvre and Renard were also pathologically gloomy about Mary’s prospects – Northumberland held the sinews of Tudor power – once he pulled on them, Mary would be doomed. So you know, not necessarily the kind of people you want around you in a crisis, especially as Charles V had specified no military support. Mary’s household officers though appeared to be a good deal less hysterical than Scheyfvre, though just as worried. Robert Rochester was the Comptroller of her household. He had remained calm and realistic during the crisis of 1550 and Mary’s aborted flight, and was described as
‘a man of few equals in steadfastness, loyalty and wise counsel’.
It seems likely that Rochester made preparations in case of a disaster, together with 3 other of Mary’s officers Jerningham, Waldegrave, and Englefield. They appear to have created a local network of loyal men around Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk, just case things went pear shaped. And after all, Mary was not short of resources, with an income over £3,500. And by 1553, Mary had been an East Anglian magnate for over 6 years, and that meant that not only had she built her manred, her network of loyal tenants sworn to turn out for her, she had made her affinity distinctive. She had not just kept her head down, she had defied the evangelicals, she consciously held herself out as a beacon of hope for everyone of the old religion. For men like Robert Rochester this was even more reason to give Mary their undivided loyalty; Rochester’s own brother John had been a Carthusian monk hanged, drawn and quartered by Henry VIII.
When the letter came to Mary at Hunsdon from Northumberland on 4th July calling her to the beside of her dying brother, she made preparations to comply. We do not know who stepped forward with the critical information that all was not as it seemed – and told Mary about the Devise for the succession, and that this was a trap. The Catholic historian Lingaard confidently stated it was the earl of Arundel – but without a shred of supporting evidence. Rochester seems like a better candidate. It seems that Rochester took himself secretly to London and met with the Imperial ambassadors there – the night sessions they called them. It was probably Rochester who came to his mistress and told her of the rumours.
So, Mary had a decision to make; did she trust the fair words of Northumberland – or the worries of her loyal Rochester? Mary made her choice, probably late on 4th July. Her immediate household was told they were moving out, and Mary rode out from the gates of Hunsdon. But she did not go south towards London. She went north. Behind her at Hunsdon her physician, John Hughes, stayed behind, to travel into London – because physicians could move freely around London without suspicion, and he could bring news of Edward’s death if and when it occurred.
No, as she rode through the night, Mary would have realised that this was not yet an irrevocable act; she could always play dumb if it turned out that Edward really was dead and that no monkey business was intended. By the morning of 5th, Mary and her party had travelled 30 miles to Sawston. They changed horses and kept going. They turned east, into the heart of East Anglia, into Mary’s ‘hood, riding for an incredible 38 miles to Euston, maybe travelling along the ancient Icknield way. There they were put up by the Earl of Bath, but no rest for the wicked, from Euston they had almost made it to the centre of Mary’s power, her great house at Kenninghall, formerly of course the seat of the Howards until the Duke’s fall from Grace.
On 7th July, another weary traveller rushed into Kenninghall. He was a goldsmith, and therefore also probably able to travel around without suspicion, and he had carried out commissions for Mary before and so was known to her. He was sent by a courtier and king’s Councillor in London called Nicholas Throckmorton, who at this point in time was doing that trickiest of things – running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. As the cunning folk through the ages have made clear, this is not something you can do without serious injury. The goldsmith had travelled all the way from London, and that’s not shy of 100 miles. He brought news – Edward the king was dead. No doubt he fell to his knees at this point and said long live the queen, but I’m making that up.
Mary, though, waited. This Goldsmith of hers was a prot. Throckmorton was a prot. Potentially lying toads then – maybe this was part of protestant Northumberland’s protestant plot to get her to declare herself queen – while Edward was still alive! That would be 100% solid treason, wham bamm thank you Sam. Nope, Mary would wait for John Hughes. He was a good Catholic, and an insider.
John Hughes arrived at Kenninghall on 9th July and asked to see the Princess. Edward really was dead to a degree that would make a Dodo look like a limbo dancer. Now, Jane had not yet been publicly proclaimed when he left but no doubt he brought the news from Throckmorton that Jane was the heir and would be proclaimed soon, by right of King Edward’s as attested by his will and the finest legal minds in the country.
So, Mary now faced a choice. She had three options really. She could accept her duty to abide by the will of the sovereign of England, which, as laid down by her father, allowed him to choose his heir by prerogative right. That carried some risks; presumably she’d be treated like a Princess but Queen Jane and the Council would always be worried, and maybe they’d put her under house arrest. Maybe they’d get so nervous they’d top her, it was unlikely but impossible to be sure. OR, she could leg it – the Empire was full of good Catholics, there’s no doubt they would shield her. She could gather a big army and come back and win her crown. That would be safer probably – she’d be free, wined and dined somewhere in the Empire while some Imperial generals sought to win her a crown at the end of a pike. Or – she became a traitor, a Rebel Queen, and fight, with all her people right here right now, you know what I mean.
Mary called her household together, and listened to what they had to say. Then she made her decision. She would
claim the kingdom of her father and her ancestors, which was owed to her as much by hereditary right as by her father’s will
Mary had more than a grain of her father’s talent for crowd pleasing. She asked for the
Aid of her most faithful servants as partners in her fortunes
This was exactly what her loyal followers wanted to hear. They went potty, and
Cheered her to the rafters and hailed and proclaimed their dearest princess Mary as queen of England
May I make just say a couple of things at this point? One is – why on earth is it always Jane Grey who is presented at the anomaly, the usurper? Very odd. The right for a king to name his successor had been a tradition recognised since Anglo Saxon times. The principle had been recognised in 1544 in Henry’s succession plans, Edward VI had nominated Jane as the rightful heir through a clearly attested and documented process. On 9th July, the banner Mary raised was that of a Rebel Queen.
The second point is that this though would have appeared nowhere in the house of Mary’s mind. Nowhere, not even that bit under the sofa you always forget to clean. From the core of her being, Mary knew herself to be queen. Whatever Mary’s strengths and weaknesses, she never lacked courage. We have seen, though, that she could be terminally indecisive – and it is still more impressive then that she took very little time to decide what she would do here. You can imagine also that she never wanted to feel again as she had felt when she submitted to her father’s will, accepted her mother’s marriage as illegal and became a political cipher. This time you could stand her up at the gates of hell but she would not back down.
The traditional story of Mary’s rebellion has been written as an extraordinary few days where the decision to resist was followed by the creation of an army from scratch. In fact as we have seen Mary was already surrounded by a core group of household men, who were in contact with their networks and manred around East Anglia. Mary’s team started calling in that network. Think 101 Dalmations and the twilight bark. Well maybe don’t think that. Letters had started going out from Kenninghall the previous day. The big question now was – would the network answer the call? To do so they would need to break the tradition and habits of a lifetime of obedience to the Tudor state.
Firstly, though, the world must be told that they had a saviour from the usurper Jane Grey and the evil Duke of Northumberland. And so Mary sat down with her team to write to the Council. And you know, maybe it would not be too late, maybe the Council could be called to heel, reminded that she was Henry’s daughter.
Let us go back then to the Tower of London where I left you all with Queen Jane at a grand feast, surrounded by the great and the good of the Council and their families, all trying to have a nice time, and ignore the sullen silence of the population outside. Jane and Guildford were trying to get over their first tiff as a married couple, as Jane had asserted herself – she was queen, Guildford was her consort and would not rule her. So, we might imagine a scene of enforced jollity when a servant of the Tower came and whispered in Northumberland’s ear. A visitor had arrived, and he bore a letter from the Princess Mary. Northumberland obviously decided that they were all in this together, the truth can’t hurt, nothing I can’t hear my friends can’t hear, all those sort of good things. And so Mary’s servant was announced and came forward into the hall.
Thomas Hungate was a Yorkshireman, and originally the man of Sir Anthony Browne. Browne had been a powerful member of the Council under Henry VIII, and was probably in his late 30’s in 1553. Browne had been one of those who had taken the opportunity offered by Mary to take the Mass, in defiance of Edward’s reformation. At some point Hungate had been introduced to Mary’s household, and he was the man who received Mary’s commission to carry out a critical role.
Hungate must have travelled hard, and his journey took him not to the Tower, or at least not straight away, it took him to the house of Jean Scheyfvre, who I will call the Imperial Ambassador one more time, but really you must be so bored of me saying that, so sorry. Scheyfvre admitted him immediately and from Hungate’s mouth received Mary’s secret message – a good deal less bullish than her official one, and a message which set’s Mary’s courage and determination even higher. In her heart, Mary thought her cause was doomed, and that without the support of the Empire, she saw nothing but
Destruction hanging over her
I do not know what reply Scheyfvre gave Mary; but in his heart he also thought Mary doomed. He could see the men of Northumberland’s livery in the city, he knew that Northumberland would have access to the artillery and armoury of the Tower. And his master had specifically instructed him that despite Mary’s wishes for foreign soldiers to help her rebellion, he could give no help except that which words and wishes could bring.
From Scheyfvre, Hungate hurried through the London night to the Tower. Well, I say ‘hurried’, I have no idea, maybe he bought himself a couple of buns along the way and put his feet up, but that evening 10th July he arrived at the Tower and demanded to be taken to the Council – he had a message for them. As he waited outside the doors of the Great Hall, he could probably hear the sound of music and of people talking and laughing inside. Maybe the Earl of Arundel was telling one of his famous fart jokes again, maybe Suffolk was the cause of the groaning from the impact of a series of dad jokes, who knows. But probably somewhat to his surprise, Hungate was admitted to the Great Hall itself – I imagine he’d expected to be shown to a private room for a quiet little chat. Not so. Probably nervous, and reminding himself of the saying ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ he stepped up.
Silence fell as Hungate read out the letter from his princess. Mary had gone for the ‘not so much hurt as disappointed’ approach, always an effective one. She expressed surprise that no one had told of her brother’s death. She sternly told them that she was well aware of the discussions about undoing the will of her Dad the great Henry. She told them that she was well aware
Of the great bands, and provisions forcible, wherewith ye be assembled and prepared – by whom and to what end, God and you know, and nature cannot but fear some evil’
She graciously promised that if they put all these things right and did as she asked, she’d let them all off with a bit of gentle chiding and household chores. What she required of them was this
We require you and charge you, and every of you, that every of you, of your allegiance which you owe to God and us, and to none other, for our honour and the surety of our purpose, only employ yourselves and on receipt herof, cause our right and title to the crown and government of this realm to be proclaimed in our city of London and in other places as to your wisdom would seem good
The response to Mary’s uncompromising message was initially silence. And horror. It seems that it was not only Northumberland who had convinced themselves that Mary would crumble, that she’d lay down and die. Jane’s mum and the Duchess of Northumberland both burst into tears. Northumberland’s stomach, I have no doubt, suddenly felt leaden and heavy. But Northumberland knew that it was up to him to take control, to show confidence. He made himself stand up, and march to Hungate and take the letter.
I am truly sorry that it was your lot to be so immature and thus rashly to throw yourself away in this embassy
And while Hungate muttered something that sounded like ‘what about not shooting the messenger’, Northumberland ordered Hungate thrown into prison.
The party, of course, was ruined. Mary’s shout of defiance had crashed against the walls of the Tower. She would fight.