Around the 14th July a ship called the Greyhound sailed into Orwell Haven. Its captain was in gaol in Lowestoft, its crew had smashed open the cash box. Meeting with Sir Henry Jermingham may well have changed the course of history.
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Sir Richard Brooke was a man close to and trusted by the Duke of Northumberland. They’d been together on the Scottish campaigns of 1544 and the French war of 1545. Sometime after the 7th July 1553, Brooke had been ordered to take a squadron of six ships out into the Thames estuary, and to patrol the Essex and Suffolk coast. Brooke’s task was twofold; to stop the Princess Mary from fleeing England to the continent to join her friends in the Empire; and to stop any potential ships from the Empire from bringing support to Mary in England. Northumberland did not realise that not only was there no chance of either happening; but that he had unwittingly put his own cause in great danger.
Brooke’s fleet contained 900 men, but in their haste to get on station to prevent Mary escaping, the seamen were inexperienced; and to try to make sure he retained control, Northumberland had imposed his own captains on the fleet. None the less, Brooke sailed out into the estuary, and towards the objective. Only to be hit by the weather. England is liable to do that sort of thing unfortunately, it has a lot of weather, and the fleet was scattered.
One of the ships was The Greyhound, a large ship of 200 tons, captained by one of Northumberland’s men, Gilbert Grice. Grice was forced apart from the rest of Brooke’s squadron, and forced to take shelter in the Lowestoft Roads. Once everything had quietened down weatherwise, Grice went ashore to gather some intel. It turns out this was a mistake. The townsmen of Lowestoft were suspicious, despite Grice’s ragged staff livery badges. And they locked Grice up until they could get things straight.
Meanwhile, Mary’s agents were active all along the coast, trying to raise support. One of Mary’s servants, a man called Pooley got wind of Grice’s situation – what fantastic opportunity! Getting hold of a ship was one thing; getting hold of the men on the ship was another – but the big prize, the real mcoy, the big Kahuna burger, was the ordnance, the guns. In the honoured business game of bullshit bingo, the ordnance was a game changer, a paradigm shift. With artillery, Mary’s cause began to look genuinely credible. And if it was Pooley that could get said ordnance for his princess well, he’d be the bee’s elbows and no mistake. He would be rewarded handsomely, his world would flow with milk and honey, his wife would be proud of him and what more could he want. Pooley was so excited it’s quite possible that a little wee came out. Though there is no corroborating documentary evidence to support the wee hypothesis, and so this must remain historical speculation. Anyway, onwards.
Pooley was on that ship like a rat up a drain. The shipside boss, given that Grice was in the clink, was the ship’s master, a man called Hurlock. Pooley laid out the life of plenty and general awesomeness that would be their’s if Hurlock were to place his ordnance at the disposal of her most glorious majesty, the rightful Queen Mary. Hurlock dithered.
Meanwhile Grice was in jail doing his nut, aware that the queen’s agent was out there subverting the path of righteousness. The goodmen of Lowestoft would not release him, but allowed him to send his own bribes shipwards – Gold rings. First one, Then another. Then another. He was beside himself. It is possible a little wee…well you know.
I was in this kind of situation once, with two competing offers. Obviously the kingdom didn’t depend on it. There is only one answer. Elizabeth I knew this – if making a decision is really nasty, then you know, just don’t make it. So Hurlock just sailed away to find Brooke and the rest of his squadron leaving both Grice and Pooley.
If only that was the only problem. In common with many soldiers and mariners in the early modern period, none of the sailors had been paid for ages, and so were all thoroughly grumpy. Given that the captain appeared to be absent without leave as it were, or shall we say unavoidably detained, why not help themselves to the captain’s chest? Which they duly did, distributed the cash amongst themselves, and chucked the chest into the sea. Which is great…but not exactly legal.
The men of the Greyhound needed a route back to acceptance, which is when they sailed into the Orwell Haven.
Now I don’t know whether our hero Pooley had managed to warn Mary’s household officers of the opportunity going on here, but it’s entirely possible, because Sir Henry Jermingham was not the kind of man to be wandering around the Essex coastline for no reason – Jermingham was in Mary’s inner sanctum. But it was he that now made contact with the Greyhound. The crew saw their chance. They could cut a deal. Look, Jermy baby – we’ll help you arrest all the pro-Jane captains of the squadron, and you’ll get a bunch of artillery. In return, you’ll turn a blind eye to any minor misdemeanours we may or may not have allegedly committed in relation to a chest full of spondulikes. Howsabout it?
Well, Jermingham thought about this seriously for oooh, you know, half a nanosecond and then said ‘marry’. Which as you’ll know from your Shakespeare means yeah, alright then.
As it happens though, no violence was necessary. When the Greyhound reached the fleet, Brooke and his captains were faced with a choice – fighting the Greyhound or of joining a cause that it seems most of their crews would prefer anyway, and so might well just ignore their orders. So enthusiastic support for swapping sides to Mary seemed a reasonable or even unavoidable decision.
And so it was that around 15th July, Richard Brooke had decisively taken his squadron over to Mary’s side. On that day, Brooke rode to Framlingham to present the loyalty of his fleet to Mary. By 16th the orders had been issued to land the artillery and bring the pieces to Framlingham. By the 18th July at the latest Mary had artillery.
So we are now back riding not with Mary but with Northumberland. After a very long day’s march he was finally approaching Bury St Edmunds. He would have been looking forward to a chance to rest – but more importantly to meet with the extra men that Lords Oxford and Clinton would bring. The army was ordered to set up camp and as it did, news started coming in from messengers and from Northumberland’s scouts. The first bad news of the day was that Lord Clinton had unaccountably failed to move towards Northumberland. With the pretty clear indication that he was doing the classic Bosworth manoeuvre perfected by the Stanleys. He’d just hang around if that’s all as well with you, until he knew the right side to join. Then he’d be duly enthusiastic.
Now maybe this would have been OK; Northumberland still had the better organised, professional force, and he had artillery. But now came the kicker. From Northumberland’s scouts came the news that Mary’s army now was 10,000 strong. Bit of a rabble probably, but odds of 3:1 didn’t sound attractive. Although with artillery advantage you know…maybe it would be OK…except Northumberland now learned that there was in fact no artillery advantage. Brooke had defected to Mary. Mary had guns. This was one piece of bad news too many.
Northumberland had to admit that what had once seemed like a dead cert was now looking like a train smash. He now had one option – he needed to regroup and get more men. Maybe there could at very least be some sort of Mexican standoff. Or Suffolk standoff, where he and the council could negotiate a deal. Even now, the Duke could see that the situation was far from lost; news arrived from his son Robert Dudley that King’s Lynn, the largest town in the north of Norfolk had declared for Jane, and that would generate a fresh contingent of soldiers. So it could even be that by returning to Cambridge more men would come in, brought by the power of the royal summons, and there was a chance to still win this.
Northumberland sent messengers thundering down the lanes and road to the Council in the Tower telling them what had happened, writing to them ‘somewhat sharply’; and urging them to send more men to him at Cambridge.
On the morning of 19th July, Northumberland turned around, struck camp and started the 25 mile march back to Cambridge. As they marched more news trickled in. Body blows as they are otherwise known. For example the earl of Oxford had finally moved, so that’s good. He’d moved all the way into Mary’s camp, where he had arrived the previous day, 18th July. So that’s bad. In these circumstances of course, I find an aphorism or two can help. Maybe Northumberland reached for one or two like, um, the dark before the dawn, or things have to get worse before they get better – why is that by the way, why is that so often necessary? Or maybe he simply put his head in his hands, who knows. But around him as he marched his army began to get the measure of things. And many now took the chance to cut their losses and slip quietly away. The Duke’s army marched towards Cambridge shedding soldiers like dead skin if you’ll pardon the analogy.
What of London then? There can be little doubt that as the 19th dawned confidence was at a premium. Throughout the conflict so far, actually the Council had remained firm; the series of circulars and proclamations carry the signatures of numerous councillors. And maybe Jane and Guildford started that fateful day of 19th with a feeling of reasonable confidence. For Jane there was pleasant occasion when one of the warders of the tower came to ask her to be Godmother to his son, and asked her to name him. They named the lad Guildford, and maybe it’s an indication that over the last few days Jane and Guildford had found strength in their relationship. As they chatted this over, they knew that Suffolk was leading the Council meeting as normal in the Tower. That morning, a letter was issued to Richard Rich, on his mission to raise troops in Essex, urging him to stay loyal. They did not know it at the time, but they were all ready too late, Rich was not a man for noble lost causes. Of course the news from the east was awful – Northumberland in retreat, Mary’s army growing. But it appeared that the Council were holding their nerve. That morning the Council discussed a plan for the Earls of Pembroke and Arundel to leave the Tower and raise their manred on their estates in the west of England, march back towards London to crush the rebels emerging in the Thames Valley.
The Council meeting broke up. Obviously if this was the plan, some of the Councillors at least would need to leave the Tower, but now Suffolk found that he could no longer enforce his rules to prevent Councillors from leaving anyway; his authority was always shaky, respect for him wafer thin. With one excuse or another, Jane and her parents found that the Tower was worryingly empty. Maybe this was OK – the Councillors taking a break, and Pembroke and Arundel heading off for their mission.
But the muttering and subdued panic had found expression. Cecil had spoken to Arundel, and what he learned allowed him to dash off a letter to his estates holding the recruitment of his own men to join Northumberland’s army. Because there was to be a meeting of the Council. But the meeting would not take place at the Tower under Suffolk’s eyes – instead by various means as soon as they were unseen, the Councillors made their way to the other great medieval castle of London, now gone of course – Baynard Castle, the Earl of Pembroke’s gaff. Although Pembroke hosted the inaugural meeting of the self preservation society, it was Arundel who broke ranks first. Northumberland he declared was
‘a thirster of blood’, ‘a man with very small or no conscience at all. I do not doubt but you shall have good cause to concur with me in opinion and to show how little I ought to esteem the tyrant
Arundel went on to talk about how Mary ‘shone with goodness’ that it was all Northumberland’s fault. The flood gates were open. Pembroke laid his hand on his sword and shouted
If my Lord Arundel’s persuasions cannot prevail with you, either this sword shall make Mary Queen, or I shall lose my life
Brave Sir Herbert! The process of betrayal, cowardice and self justification is never pretty. We shouldn’t judge of course – I suspect I would have been in the front rank. But of their commitment and responsibility to Jane and of her future there was none in this meeting, nor was there any dignity.
The meetings was in chaos, with scenes of jubilation, relief and hope. It was decided that they would process to the heart of the city, to Cheapside, the wide broad market. Servants rushed from the room, sent by their masters to spread the word, to gather the crowd to hear the news. No one suggested that maybe possibly perhaps they should tell Suffolk, Or Jane, to whom they had pledged their honour and their lives. I’m getting judgy again. Sorry.
Eventually they were ready, and off set these great and noble men, full of self importance and relief to save their nation and the queen that all along they’d really wanted on the throne, not that protestant usurper Jane. Pshaw, the very thought. It’s not very far from Baynard’s Castle to Cheapside – maybe half a mile, so quarter of an hour at a snail’s pace. As they processed through the streets, more and more people gathered. Helped by the earl of Pembroke scattering golden coins to the crowd in his excitement. People laughed and shouted for joy as the news of what the Council was to say spread. ‘Long Live Queen Mary’ went the cry. At Cheapside a herald proclaimed the news – Mary was Queen.
Great was the triumph for my time I never saw the like, and by the reports of others the like was never seen
Caps by the hundred were thrown into the air, tears of joy watered the London streets. Bells started ringing and then, rather alarmingly I would have thought, bonfires. Scheyfvre heard the noise, saw the fires and though it looked like Mount Etna erupting.
The only other noise you might have heard was the clacking of knitting needles as the more advanced of the self preservers knitted themselves arse covers. Two of the Council were clever enough to know that messengers with bad news might get chucked in the deepest darkest dungeon, but messengers with good news might be allowed to kiss the new sovereign’s hand. Two men forwent the celebrations – the Earl of Arundel and William Paget found themselves fast horses and set off into the night towards Framlingham, to seek the rebel queen. Who was Rebel no longer.
Meanwhile, pushing their way through the crowds, the remaining lords rode to St Pauls where they heard the banned Te Deum for the first time in ages. Impromptu feasts and banquets started up along the streets. It was party time. As Julius Terentianus recorded, some Catholics rubbed their hands and promised a grand time ahead. Unimpressed by the example of Edward VI’s reign, where not one Catholic had been burned,
Lastly, at night, they had a public festival, and threatened flames, hangings the gallows and drowning to all the gospellers
How true that would turn out to be.
And what of Jane? No doubt Jane, Guilford, Frances and Henry stared out with horrified eyes at the fires, and heard the sound of jubilation and celebration with a growing sense of disaster and dread, as a wave of hatred and desertion swept its way through the afternoon air and washed into and around the Tower.