Jane Grey, the early years: An Outstanding Prodigy & Evangelical leader in the making

6804,Lady Jane Dudley (née Grey),by Unknown artist

There is no question that Jane Grey was for all intent and purposes a prodigy, even for her times. Today we expect children to learn the basics. But back in the sixteenth century, things were different, especially for noblewomen, who were expected to make their families proud by finding a suitable husband who’d make a powerful ally. In the case of Jane Grey, being the eldest of her sisters, meant she had to meet most of society’s expectations. Having royal blood, and being related to the King through her mother, meant that she had to work harder than Katherine and Mary, and just as hard -if not more- than her bastardized cousins, Ladies, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.

Jane Grey HBC black and white 1

But Jane Grey exceeded everyone’s expectations, especially her father whose continual indulgence made her appreciate him more than her mother who was stricter. When her thirst for knowledge became evident, she became a ward in the Parr household. Queen Dowager Kathryn Parr had recently remarried, for the fourth and last time to her true love, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley. The couple’s manor, Sudeley Castle, became a safe haven for many intellectual curious girls like Jane. Among them was Jane’s cousin, and Kathryn’s favorite royal stepdaughter, lady Elizabeth Tudor. Elizabeth Tudor was nearly Jane’s equal, but after she fell from grace, Jane took her place in Kathryn’s heart.

Jane lamented the Queen Dowager’s death, and after she was returned to her parents, she berated them and begged them to send her back. She wrote how unfair they were treating her. Several historians and novelists have taken this as ‘proof’ that Jane Grey’s mother was a wicked woman and her husband, an indolent fool, or her partner-in-crime who saw their daughter as nothing more than tool in their quest to gain more power. As easy as it is to turn this into a dualistic tale of good and evil, heroes and villains and so on; the truth is that her parents were neither of these things.
Lord Henry Grey, Marques of Dorset and (after the fall of Somerset) Duke of Suffolk, and Frances Brandon, were self-serving aristocrats. This is not unusual given that a family’s number one interest was in promoting their children to other courtiers in the hopes that they would marry into equally or more powerful families to further their riches. Family mattered more than everything else, and this is where religion comes into play as well because it was believed that the best way to raise successful wives and lords, was to instill the fear of god in them. As a result, Jane’s intelligence became highly by Reformers in England and abroad.

Jane Grey black and white 3

Soon after, she became one of the leading figures in the Evangelical movement. In 1552, shortly after Somerset’s execution, her family gained more prominence. Renown Protestant figures like the pastor Michael Angelo Florio whose congregation looked after Protestant exiles, praised her and held her as an example for other Protestant women to follow. He wasn’t the only one, older women like William Cecil’s wife, Mildred Cooke, thought the same. In a letter she wrote in Greek, she compared the adolescent girl to the fourth century bishop of Caesare, Basil the Great, and gave her a copy of one of his many works. Her former tutor Bullinger introduced her to the works of Theodore Bublinger who had translated the Koran -this has led some historians to believe that she might have also been taught Arabic. As her popularity among scholars grew, Jane’s self importance also grew and so did her arrogance. Her father, by this time Duke of Suffolk, together with the Marquis of Northampton (William Parr -Katherine Parr’s brother), and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, supported the King in his reissue of the prayer book which completely outlawed the mass and introduced more radical reforms inspired by Swiss and German reformers such as Bullinger and Ulm. There were few opponents in Edward’s council to these new reforms, but among them was Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury who had been a good friend of the “Good Duke” (Edward Seymour) and believed these reforms were too radical and too soon to be implemented. Also in this year, Henry began to make plans for his eldest daughter and heir’s betrothal. Jane was not he first bride her father in law had in mind for Guildford. Margaret Clifford, another descendant of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon was his first choice but her father said no since Guildford was only a fourth son and in spite of his pleas and the king’s, the earl’s mind remained unchanged. As the king’s health got worse the following year, he gave his blessing to Northumberland and Suffolk to wed their four teenage offspring. In a triple marriage ceremony in May 25 1553, Jane was married to Guildford, Katherine to Lord Herbert, and Catherine Dudley to Lord Hastings. With the pieces set, it was only a matter of time before Edward’s passing led to their final move.

Sources:

  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
  • –. The Sisters who would be Queen. Harper. 2009.
  • Ives, Eric. Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.
  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors. Grove Press. 2016.

22 JANUARY 1552: The Execution of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour contrast with Tudors
The Historical Edward Seymour (left) was in reality a shy man as opposed to the intimidating figure played by Max Brown (right) in “The Tudors”.

 

On the 22nd of January, Edward Seymour, the former Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset was executed.

John Dudley and William Herbert had grown dissatisfied with the way he was running the country. When Edward Seymour was elected Lord Protector, he got to that position by making deals with many of Henry VIII’s executors and members of his imagined Regency Council. Edward was also part of this council, and upon his death he was going to be elevated to Duke and his eldest son by Anne, to Earl. But this wasn’t good enough for him. Less than a year later, he had alienated most of his supporters, including his brother. After Thomas’ execution, there was a popular uprising and instead of dealing with them in the same manner he had dealt with the Scots in the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, he pardoned many of them.

One of his close friends and allies, (Paget) had warned him of what might happen if he continued down this path. In a letter, dated July 7th 1549, he wrote: “I see at the hand the King’s destruction and your ruin. If you love me or value my service since the King’s father’s death, allow me to write what I think. Remember what your promised me in the gallery at Westminster before the late King died … planning with me for the place you now occupy to follow my advice before any other. Had you done so, things would not have gone as they have. Society is maintained by religion and laws: you have neither. The old religion is forbidden and the new not generally imprinted. The law is almost nowhere used: The commons have become King.”

The Protector obviously chose to ignore it until August when John Dudley and his men dealt with the rebels accordingly.

“The Earl of Warwick commanded an army of twelve thousand professional soldiers and German mercenaries against Norfolk farm boys with few guns or blades, but hopes of “an equal share of things.” Three thousand men died outside Norwich at Dussindale on 27 August.” (Lisle)

As he and his men gained more supporters, Somerset took his nephew to Windsor where he promised him he would be safe from his enemies. The King highly distrusted his uncle but there was little he could do.

Edward VI

Anticipating his arrest, the Protector took his nephew to Windsor. He told him that he was taking him to a “safe haven” and that this would be temporary until he dealt with his enemies.

Anne joined her husband at Windsor days later. With no one else they could trust, they sent their ten year old son, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford to bring reinforcements. But these never came. Instead, the boy was intercepted in the West by Sir William Herbert.

Sir William Herbert’s allegiance was to the league of conspirators, among them his brother-in-law, the Marquis of Northampton, William Parr who was the late Queen’s brother and who was one of many who held a grudge on the Lord Protector for kicking him off the Privy Council. He probably held a grudge against his wife as well, given her treatment of his sister.

With their son captured, and one of their commanders asking the Protector to step down “rather than any blood be shed,” the two realized that they had no option but to surrender.

Eventually he was released and continued to attend council meetings, but on the 16th of October 1551, he was arrested once again and brought to the Tower. His wife was arrested the following day and also brought to the Tower and *“if we are to judge from the list of articles she sent for, she must have realized that her visit was a long one.”

The charges laid against the Duke of Somerset were outrageous. Following his first arrest, he had lost his Protectorate but still retained some influence. His wife went on to make deals with the leading families in government by proposing betrothals to the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, Warwick and others, to her son and daughters. Warwick married his son to her daughter Anne, but as tensions began rising, the couple decided to use the last card they had up their sleeves which was their illustrious daughter Jane.

John Dudley

Jane was smart, articulated, and was highly praised by her mother’s chaplain and other Reformers. If she could get her royal cousin’s attention, she could bring her father back into favor. Somerset’s plan were discovered and fearing what he would do if he succeeded, Dudley and the others prosecuted him, and charged him with attempted murder, saying he planned to invite all the nobles to dinner so he could murder them. Since there wasn’t any evidence regarding this, new charges were laid against him, this time they involved sedition treason and conspiracy to “overthrow the government, imprison Northumberland and Northampton, and convene Parliament.”

Somerset attended the hearings in December where Lord Strange was brought in to testify of his plans to marry his daughter to Edward VI so he could regain power, and others were brought in to add more weight to the other charges. After his trial, his sentenced was pronounced, along with his brother-in-law, Michael Stanhope who had also been arrested and charged with treason.

There are many versions of his last words, one comes from his chaplain (John Foxe) who wasn’t present for his execution but he maintained that his account was taken from a “certain noble personage” who was.

Edward began by saying: “Dearly beloved masters and friends, I am brought hither to suffer, albeit that I never offended against the king neither by word nor deed, and have been always as faithful and true unto this realm as any man hath been. But foresomuch as I am by law condemned to die, I do acknowledge myself, as well as others, to be subject thereunto …” and added that he had come here to die, according to the law, and gave thanks “unto the divine goodness, as if I had received a most ample and great reward” then asked them to continue to embrace the new religion and obey their young King.

His speech was then interrupted by the arrival of two horsemen which the people took as a sign of a pardon and shouted “A pardon! A pardon! God save the King!” But it wasn’t. Northumberland and the council had issued a law that prevented the lords’ tenants and the common citizenry yet they still managed to come. So they were sorely disappointed when they found out that no such pardon was given and turned to their hero, the “Good Duke”, who said lastly:

Edward Seymour

“Dearly beloved friends, there is no such matter here in hand as you vainly hope or believe. I have always showed myself a most faithful and true subject and client unto him. I have always been most diligent about His Majesty in doing of his business, both at home and abroad, and no less diligent about the common commodity of the whole realm.”

Kneeling down, he let his face be covered with his handkerchief and right before the axe cut through his neck, he prayed “Lord Jesus, save me.”

In many ways, Edward Seymour can’t be blamed for the economic disaster since he inherited that from Henry VIII, but in other ways his mismanagement caused an even worse economic crisis and despite his popularity with some of the commons, he attempted to solve the problem of vagabonds by turning them into slave and his wars with Scotland brought an even greater strain on the treasury.

But for the people gathered that day, he was their hero and like many popular saints with the old religion, they saw him as something larger than life, and some even went as far as dipping their handkerchiefs and other pieces of clothing in his blood and treasured them as relics.

Edward VI for his part showed very little emotion. He wrote in his diary after he had been informed of his uncle’s death: “The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning.”

Sources:

  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour *
  • Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor: A Family Story by Leanda de Lisle
  • Edward VI by Chris Skidmore

Struggling to be Neutral in a Tudor Squabble for the Protectorate

“Because the trouble between us and the Duke of Somerset may have been diversely reported to you, we should explain how the matter is now come to some extremity. We have long perceived his pride and ambition and have failed to stay him within reasonable limits.” -October 9, 1549 to the Tudor sisters Mary and Elizabeth.

Mary I historical

Mary had been one of the many who had been asked to aid in Northumberland’s plot to overthrow the Protectorate under Somerset. Mary refused. Why? Wouldn’t it had been better if she curried favor with Dudley from the start? Things would’ve worked far easier for her if she did, she wouldn’t have to fight her way to the throne like her grandfather (Henry Tudor) did, and she would’ve had most of the Protestant elite with her.

John Dudley


In theory yes.


But this goes back to the myth of the innocent little boy manipulated by the ‘evil’ Duke of Northumberland who couldn’t stand on his own two feet to oppose him.
Northumberland and Mary didn’t just have different religious views, they had different preferences in terms of foreign policy. Dudley favored the French over the Spanish Hapsburgs.
And yes, religion played a role but if you want to go there, I suggest you read more books on the subject because the politics were far more complicated than you think. Mary wasn’t stupid either, she knew where Dudley stood in terms of religion, foreign policy, and everything else. She wasn’t going to fair better under him and she told the more naive Francois Van der Defelt this who was not as familiar with English politics as his predecessor -Eustace Chapuys- had been. And there was some familiarity between them. Mary had fond memories of his late sister, her father’s third wife and Edward VI’s mother, Jane Seymour, and she was just as fond of his wife who, far from the shrew in the television series “The Tudors” was nowhere near as scandalous and the terrible remarks spoken about her reflects the misogyny about the era and the view of strong women. When she became Queen, while she never fully agreed with her husband’s policies, she released Anne Seymour nee Stanhope from the Tower and restored some of her lands.

Mary and ass Elizabeth The Tudors1
Elizabeth like Mary had abstained herself from participating in the Duke of Somerset’s overthrow. She knew the Duke still had friends in court, and who knew if he could be overthrown for good or if he, as he threatened, could mobilize the people against his enemies.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
  • Mary Tudor by Anna Whitelock

Cousins at War: The Lady Mary’s Final Victory

Mary i and Jane

From the 18th to 20th of July 1553, the odds fully turned in Mary’s favor when an important ally found his way into her camp. The 16th Earl of Oxford, John de Vere was a complex man. He was a Protestant and a great military leader, whose experience no doubt, gave Mary the boost she needed to issue her proclamation where it goes as follows: “By the Queen. Know ye all good people that the most excellent Princess Mary, eldest daughter of King Henry VIII and sister to King Edward VI, your late sovereign Lord, is now by the grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, defender of the Faith and very true owner of the Crown and government of the realm of England and Ireland and all things thereto justly belonging, and to her and no other ye owe to be her true Liege, men…” Then she denounced Jane Grey’s usurpation, pinning all the blame on her father-in-law instead of her cousin, and declared herself the rightful queen. “… Most false traitor, John, Duke of Northumberland and his accomplices who, upon most shameful grounds, minding to make his won son King by marriage of a new found lady’s title, or rather to be king himself, hath most traitorously by long continued treason sought, and seek the destruction of her royal person, the nobility and common weal of this realm…” This is not surprising given that Mary knew the power of propaganda and she knew that a House divided, as during the Wars of the Roses with the case of the House of York, made everyone in her family look weak. And if people knew the nuts and bolts behind the usurpation, they wouldn’t blame the Duke, but instead look at Mary’s family. This would look very bad for the Tudor Dynasty. If a monarch couldn’t control her own brood, then how could she rule over a country? And it was much easier to use “bad councilors” as scapegoats rather than holding the royals accountable for their actions. Mary’s father had done it many times. Whenever he did a bad decision, someone else was blamed, be it his spouse, his in-laws, or his councilors.

Mary I Signature

The proclamation ended with a rallying cry calling all the “good people” to join “her said armies yet being in Suffolk, making your prayers to God for her success … upon the said causes she utterly defied the said Duke for her most errant traitor to God and to this realm” then she signed it as “Mary, the Quene”.

When Jane heard what happened, she was out for blood. She ordered her troops to march against the rebels in Buckinghamshire, naming William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, one of the two commanders. She gave him specific instructions to deliver “punishment or execution as they deserve.” The message was clear. Her cousin the Lady Mary Tudor might be older, more experienced and have the support of almost all the commons in the realm, but Jane Grey was no passive teenager. She was not going to give up so easily, and until her cause was fully lost, she was going to keep acting as she had done for over a week. Nobody who saw Jane, saw a timid girl, but a strong teenager who continued to carry out her duties as the unofficial queen. On the morning of the 19th, a Christening ceremony at Tower Hill where Lady Jane had been asked to stand in as godmother by one of her servants, a man named Edward Underhill. Her goddaughter was named after her husband, Guildford. Jane was too busy to attend so she sent her mother’s cousin, the Lady Throckmorton, instead. Other proxies were sent for her father and other family members, including William Herbert who excused himself from the ceremony, claiming he had to meet the French Ambassador to convince him of sending troops to fight off Mary’s common forces. In reality, William Herbert was pondering on his own future and where he would fit in all of this conspiracy if Mary won. How would she deal with the traitors? The Marquis had felt an air of unease the day before when he heard the news of Mary’s proclamation and the Earl’s defection. Although he had been given specific instructions to deal with the rebels, the Marquis chose not to comply. He and a number of other councilors gathered at Baynard’s Castle where they discussed a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Nobody wanted another civil war like the one that had split the country in two over one hundred years ago. The men gathered their things and rode to Cheapside where they declared Mary Tudor the lawful Queen and read her proclamation. The crowd went “mad with joy” the Imperial Ambassador reported. “From a distance the earth must have looked like Mount Etna.”

Jane Grey juxtaposed

Jane and her family also knew that everything was over. That same day, the council’s soldiers headed to the Tower to arrest the Duke of Suffolk. Jane’s father had heard of the council’s betrayal and rushed to tell his daughter the news. Jane did not lose her composure. Using the same irony she’d used against one of Mary’s maids when she mocked her Mass, she told her father that she was blameless and she only took the crown because he gave convincing arguments to her. If he hadn’t, she would have never done it. Her father was forced to take down the canopy of state, and other symbols that were representative of her reign, and agreed to the Council’s demands. Jane had gone from a guest at the Tower, awaiting her coronation, to a prisoner.

John Dudley

News of Mary’s victory reached Northumberland and his men that night. He felt angry and betrayed. He had suspected of the council’s betrayal since they asked him to go away to lead a small force against Mary. But he had not expected things would fall down so quickly. Realizing he was lost, and that he was going to be –not only Mary’s scapegoat- but the Greys’ scapegoat as well, he began to cry and sent someone to the new Queen, in the hopes that she would take pity on him. He told the vice-chancellor of Cambridge that their new monarch was a “merciful woman” and read her proclamation the following day, declaring her the rightful Queen. It was over. Mary had won. She was informed of her victory on the 20th. Mary, as her supporters, were overjoyed. She rode on a white horse, and made an inspection of her troops at four o’clock in the afternoon.

“An inspiring sight awaited her. The standards were unfurled, the military colors were set up and battle lines divided into two, under Wentworth and Susssex. For the first time as Queen, Mary saw her forces arrayed…” (Porter)

And like her maternal grandmother before her, she showed herself fearless, giving an inspirational speech “with an exceptional kindness and with an approach so wonderfully relaxed as can scarcely be described” that won everyone’s affections. After she finished with her inspection, she ordered a large detachment of cavalry to stream forth. The Lady Mary was delighted to hear the sounds of cavalry, and the cries of her men who did not stop cheering for their new Queen. She demonstrated an exceptional charisma, and she was ready to fight if needed be. Thankfully, it had not come to that. Lord Paget and the Earl of Arundel had come to tell her of the latest events, adding that the Duke of Northumberland had also surrendered. Bonfires were lit, people cried out to the sky, “men ran hither and thither, bonnets flew into the air, shouts rose higher than the stars, and all the bells were set a-pealing” wrote an anonymous Italian staying in London at the time, echoing the Imperial Ambassador’s words that the earth seemed to be shaking with joy.

Mary I signature Tudor

This was something unprecedented. Mary had won the throne without shedding one drop of blood. To her it must have felt like déjà vu. Her grandfather Henry Tudor, then Earl of Richmond, had won the crown through bloodshed, and he owed it largely in part to the military expertise of the 13th Earl of Oxford, another John de Vere who had always been a staunch Lancastrian and upon knowing that the royal Lancastrians were dead, he ran to Brittany to join Henry Tudor (who was considered by many, the last Lancastrian scion). While there were other factors that contributed to her grandfather’s victory, the Earl’s military expertise can’t be denied. He was there with Henry, helping him rally more men to his cause and after he won, his title was restored. Mary’s ally was Protestant unlike her, but despite this, he joined her because as his predecessor, he viewed her as the legitimate successor to Edward VI. And it was his decision to join her that became a turning point in this conflict. Mary having an army of commons was one thing, but soldiers mutinying, and an Earl who was well known for his military expertise joining her, was another. Mary thanked God, owing her victory to Him, saying that she “wanted the realm cleansed of divisive parties” and thanks to Him, she had done so. Mary’s struggles were far from over though, and so were Jane’s. The two cousins would still be pit against each other, and as Mary’s reign faced many rebellions, it became clearer that only one  of them could live.

Sources:

  • The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle