Katherine Grey: Life Story

Chapter 5 : The King’s ‘Devise for the Succession’

Northumberland’s influence over the young King grew. He even persuaded the King to over-rule the Earl of Cumberland’s refusal to permit the marriage of his daughter, Margaret Clifford (Frances’ niece) to his own fourth son, Lord Guilford Dudley. This marriage, was not, however, to take place. Instead, Northumberland looked to move his family a step closer to the throne with the marriage of Guilford to Katherine’s sister Jane (third in line). Edward VI was ill, and the Lady Mary was reminding the Privy Council of her position as heir. She rode to London in February with a huge retinue, and the Duchesses of Northumberland and Suffolk joined her train as she visited her brother.

Although Edward opened Parliament on 1st March 1553, no substantive business was done, and he was not formerly announced as of age. Soon after, he made a will, called his Devise for the Succession. Edward was fourteen, exceptionally well-educated and intelligent. The influence of Northumberland and his radical tutors had given him a deep commitment to the Reformed Faith, and his great fear was that the Lady Mary would undo all his good work. Besides, the idea of female rulers was even more unpopular with the Reformers than it had been with Catholics. Bible study had dwelt a good deal on the wickedness of women and their duty of obedience. A particular scourge of womankind was John Knox, later to write his ‘First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’ and Knox was a chaplain at Edward’s court.

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Edward VI's "My Devise for the Succession"

The King’s Devise named as his heir, the heirs male (not yet born), first of Frances, then of her three daughters, then of her niece, Margaret Clifford, daughter of Eleanor Brandon. In the event of a minority, the boy’s mother was permitted to be Regent, provided she did everything her male Councillors advised. If no males had been born by the time of the King’s death, Frances was to be Regent – Suffolk must have danced with glee.

For the Privy Councillors, this meant that there were four young women available to be snatched up as matrimonial prizes, by whom they could, potentially, make their sons King. Lady Mary Grey and Lady Margaret Clifford were too young (both only 8 years old), so this left the two older Grey girls.

In early 1553, Katherine and Jane were married in a triple arrangement. Katherine was married to Henry Herbert, the son of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, nephew of the late Katherine Parr; Jane was married to Northumberland’s fourth, but oldest unmarried son, Guilford, and Katherine Dudley, Northumberland’s daughter, was married to Henry Hastings, who was a great-grandson of Margaret Plantagenet, Countess of Salisbury, and thus carried royal York blood. Ominously, the King was too ill to attend any of the ceremonies, contenting himself with sending presents of ‘rich ornaments and jewels’

The ceremony between Katherine and Herbert took place on 25th May 1553 at the Northumberland residence, Durham House. It was a day of traditional celebrations – feasting, jousting and masquing. Whether Northumberland engineered the marriage of Katherine as part of a wider plot to secure the succession to Jane and his son, is a matter of debate amongst historians.

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Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (c. 1538 - 1601), Lady Katherine's first husband

As more emphasis is placed on Edward’s own responsibility for the ‘Devise’ so less is placed on Northumberland. Professor Ives, in particular, believes the marriage of Katherine and Herbert was a routine aristocratic arrangement, and that, far from Pembroke being his crony, the two men did not get on well. The counter-argument might be that Pembroke was given the second prize of Katherine, in order to gain his support for the marriage of Jane to Northumberland’s son. Support for this may be found in the correspondence of the Imperial Ambassador, who claimed that the marriage was made for Katherine at Northumberland’s ‘intercession.’

Katherine was twelve, which was the age of consent for marriage, but generally considered to be too young for consummation. Nevertheless, she went to live at the Pembroke home at their London property, Baynard’s Castle, together with her fifteen year old husband. He had been in poor health at the time of their wedding, but soon made a recovery and the young couple grew fond of each other.

Meanwhile, Edward, close to death, had made another change to his Devise. It was apparent that no boys would be born before he died, so he bequeathed the throne, not to Frances, but to Lady Jane and her heirs male. As Jane was now firmly under the thumb of Northumberland (or so the Duke thought) Northumberland could picture a world in which his pre-eminence continued for some time.