A Triple Wedding and a Coup in the making

Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter and Guildford Dudley played by Cary Elwes. The movie featured a very idolized Victorian version of Jane, one where her greatest strengths are neglected.
Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter and Guildford Dudley played by Cary Elwes. The movie featured a very idolized Victorian version of Jane, one where her greatest strengths are neglected.

On May the 25th 1553 a triple wedding was celebrated. The couples were Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley, his sister Lady Catherine and Lord Hastings, and Jane’s sister, Lady Katherine and Lord Herbert -the son of the late Anne Parr -sister to the late Queen Dowager and Baroness Sudeley, Katherine Parr.

Lady Jane Dudley nee Grey
Lady Jane Dudley nee Grey

The wedding was a master plan in the making. Initially the ailing King, Edward VI had been considered as a potential suitor for the eldest of the Grey sisters since negotiations to continue his betrothal with Henry II’s eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth of France, were not going very well. Among the many reformers abroad who encouraged this union was Ulmer and Bulm who told their former apprentice she would flourish there. Jane’s popularity was rising and all that fame soon got to the teenager’s head. She began to make bolder statements against her cousin Mary and others who refused to follow the ‘true faith’. In Jane perspective, this was holy war, and she had become one of her faith’s greatest pioneers. But as the year 1552 came and went, it became clear to anyone that Edward’s days were numbered. He had survived a brush with death when he overcame the measles in 1551, but he wasn’t going to be so lucky this time. Edward began to draft a legal document that was more of a legal exercise that posed an important question on who would be king or queen after he died. The succession did not favor women as many people think. In fact “My Device for the succession” as it was titled, still favored male succession. It stated that if Frances failed to give birth to any male issue before he died, the throne would pass on to Jane and her sons. If Jane failed to have any sons then the throne would pass on to Katherine and her sons. And if she failed to have any sons as well, then to Mary and her sons.

To strengthen Jane’s claim and the Protestant alliance, the teenagers were married on the same day.  Not surprisingly, supporting the Evangelicals was France (whose own ambassador, Boisdauphin was present at the wedding) who were as opposed as they were to see the Lady Mary Tudor succeed her brother (since she would favor Spanish interests over French).

Lady Katherine Grey and her firstborn son, Edward Seymour. She married for a second and last time which landed her in the tower of London and then under multiple house arrests. At the time of the triple marriage, she was married to Lord Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke and the late Anne Parr -sister to the late Queen Dowager  and Baroness of Sudeley, Katherine Parr.
Lady Katherine Grey and her firstborn son, Edward Seymour. She married for a second and last time which landed her in the tower of London and then under multiple house arrests. At the time of the triple marriage, she was married to Lord Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke and the late Anne Parr -sister to the late Queen Dowager and Baroness of Sudeley, Katherine Parr.

The wedding took place in Northumberland’s London residence, at Durham House. The young couples wore “silver and gold fabrics forfeited to the King from the Duke of Somerset in 1551 and figuratively at least, marked with his blood.” (Lisle). Perhaps it was appropriate they were wearing such clothes since this wedding -albeit sanctioned by the head of their  church- was a declaration of war against their future rival, Lady Mary Tudor. The triple ceremony was attended by almost all of the nobility. They enjoyed a great number of entertainments such as masques, jousts, and a great feast. When the celebrations ended, the two Grey sisters went to their new homes with their respective fathers-in-law. Jane at Sion in Richmond, and Katherine at Bayanard’s Castle near the Thames (coincidentally the same palace one of their ancestress –Cecily Neville, Duchess of York  aka “Queen by Rights” and “Proud Cis”- had once possessed and where some historians suggest, Richard engineered his usurpation).

Edward VI. The last Tudor King.
Edward VI. The last Tudor King.

It is unclear whether the marriage was consummated or not. Some believed that it wasn’t because of her young age. But it is important to remember that in the Tudor age, the age of consent for girls was twelve and for boys fourteen. Both Jane and Guildford were well past that age range. Then again, the argument against it holds up very well too. Since she was her mother and Edward’s heir, her health was of the utmost importance. Consummating the marriage could result in a pregnancy which could result in her death or inability to have more children (as it had happened to her great-great-grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond).

Three days later, Edward VI’s doctors confirmed that he was dying. Edward had sent expensive gifts to the Grey sisters and to Catherine Dudley to congratulate them on their union. This proved his own validation for the Evangelical elite’s schemes against his sisters, and more than that, his own involvement with them. For Edward, it was imperative that England remained faithful and he believed that the only way that could be achieved was if another Evangelical succeeded him to the throne and that someone was Jane who was just as passionately Evangelical as he was.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Ives
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Inglorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Caroll
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