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
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Lady Jane Grey takes possession of the Tower

Lady Jane and her husband, Guildford Dudley.
Lady Jane and her husband, Guildford Dudley.

On the 10th of July 1553, Lady Jane Dudley nee Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley arrived at two o’clock in the afternoon at the Watergate near the Tower of London. They had traveled by barge from Westminster to Richmond Palace where she momentarily stopped to put on royal robes, then she returned to the boat where she resumed her procession. Jane had been informed of the King’s death a day before. The sudden realization that she would become the first Queen Regnant of England must have hit the teenager hard. Yet Jane was no passive victim as she’s been portrayed by Victorians. In extolling virtue, they gave the public a version of Jane where she is a shy, quiet, and religious woman who knows her place. It was the role model that Victorians intended for young women at the time. But the real Jane Grey was anything but passive. She saw herself as a leader amongst the Protestant faction. So much so, that she had received praise at an early age from many notable Protestant scholars such as Roger Ascham, Ulm and Heinrich Bullinger. While she may not have wished to be Queen, she saw it as an opportunity to preserve the religious establishment of the late king, Edward VI.

Lady Jane Grey Prevailed on to Accept the Crown exhibited 1827 Charles Robert Leslie 1794-1859 Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
Lady Jane Grey Prevailed on to Accept the Crown exhibited 1827 Charles Robert Leslie 1794-1859 Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900

After Richmond, she traveled to Northumberland’s residence, Durham, where she dined with important courtiers. The Privy Council met afterward. What was supposed to be a successful coup, was proving to be disastrous as they Council discussed a letter they had received from the Lady Mary Tudor (who resided in Norfolk). The Lady Mary informed them that she was England’s rightful heir and by denying her the crown, they were committing treason.

The lady Mary Tudor
The lady Mary Tudor

Jane must have heard of the letter at some point during the procession, but if it unnerved her, she did not show it.

“Like Joan of Arc who defended France at the age of seventeen, she would protect her country and her faith against the threat she believed Mary poised.” (Lisle)

Her mother could not help but cry out in fear. Like their ancestress Margaret Beaufort, the Countess of Richmond -when her son had been crowned- she knew the dangers that awaited Jane if she became Queen. Her life would never be easy, and even if she succeeding in being crown and defeating Mary, there would be many who would conspire against her.

When she and Guildford set course for the Tower of London, the people could not help but be overtaken with the spectacle. The Italian merchant Baptista Spinola who was present at the event, describes it in great detail:

“This Jane is very short and thin, but prettily shaped and graceful. She has small features and a well-made nose the mouth flexible and the lips red. The eyebrows are arched and darker than her hair, which is nearly red. Her eyes are sparkling and light hazel, I stood so long near Her Grace, that I noticed her color was good, but freckled. When she smiled she showed her teeth, which are white and sharp. In all, an animated person. She wore a dress of green velvet stamped with gold, with large sleeves. Her headdress was a white coif with many jewels. She walked under a canopy, her mother carrying her train. Her husband Guildford walking by her, all in white and gold, a very tall boy with light hair, who paid her much attention … Many ladies followed, with noblemen, but this lady is very ‘heretica’ and has never heard Mass, and some great did not come into the procession for that reason.”

Spinola’s account however may be the fabrication of a New York journalist then turned novelist and later biographer. Lisle believes that there is some truth to it but that Richard Davey might have added that romantic spin to it to perpetuate the myth of Jane Grey created by Victorians.

Between four and five o’clock their procession stopped and she and Guildford took full possession of the tower. Once the gates closed, trumpets blew and the heralds cried, reading the royal proclamation of “Jane by the Grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland”  and ending it with “God save her” which was meant to reaffirm Jane’s right to the wear the English crown.
One boy did not believe she was the rightful queen and he shouted that Mary was the true Queen. What happened to this kid, you might ask? Well these were the Tudor times. So he was arrested and had his ears cut off the next day.

Notices were pinned across London outlining Edward’s will while elsewhere in East Anglia Mary continued to rally more supporters to her cause.

Sources:

  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

Illustrated Kings and Queens of England: A great book to get people started on the history of the English Monarchy

Illustrated_kings_and_queens_of_england
Illustrated Kings and Queens of England by Claire Ridgway, Timothy Ridgway and Verity Ridgway. This an easy, accessible and fantastic read. Very comprehensible and straight to the point. And albeit it is very short, it has all the important details, grounded in fact and well researched that dispel the myths about many of the English Kings since Alfred the Great of Wessex who was the first who proclaimed himself King of the Anglo-Saxons or England.

Everyone who is a teacher or has a daughter, cousin or sibling whom she or he wants to get started on the period, should get them started with this book. You will enjoy it. I devoured it one day. I could not put it down. I don’t know if I am going to go down in to the field of education, but if I continue down the path I am heading, this is the book I will be recommending to my students.

The book starts with a short summary of the first known human settlements on Great Britain then it moves to a quick overview of the Isles occupations by later groups such as the Celts, Romans, Germanic tribes, etc to the point that it starts from Alfred of Wessex. As stated, Alfred “the Great” of the kingdom of Wessex was the first of the Anglo-Saxon kings who is recognized as the King of he English, because he called himself so. From there it moves to all the Kings and Queens to the present Queen Elizabeth II.
Filled with interest tidbits and details, this book doesn’t disappoint.