10 things you might not know about Edward VI

by Kyra Kramer

Chapter 9 : Matchmaker

Fact 9: Edward demanded Lady Jane Grey marry Guilford Dudley despite the protests of both their parents

The belief that Duke of Northumberland and Jane Grey’s parents forced the young couple to the altar is such a deeply ingrained notion in popular culture that people just take it for granted that it is true. Nonetheless, it is myth rather than history:

… there is no evidence that Northumberland had anything to do with it, let alone having been the one to convince Edward to choose Jane. Jane and Guilford were probably not even engaged to each other at the time; that seems to have occurred after Edward had the idea of naming Jane as his heir. Just as the deuise was Edward’s baby, the decision to wed Jane to Northumberland’s son appears to have been the king’s brainchild as well. Northumberland was the man Edward thought would be the best person to assist Jane in keeping England on the path to pure Protestantism, and Edward wanted Northumberland to be the queen’s father-in-law.

Guilford and Jane’s engagement was harder to arrange than it usually presented to have been. For one thing, Jane’s parents were less than thrilled with the match. Guilford was the fourth surviving son of Northumberland, and not much of a prize for a girl with Jane’s pedigree. It had been hoped, up until the king’s engagement to Elizabeth of Valois, that Edward would marry Jane himself. Henry Grey, who was as headstrong as any nobleman in Christendom, wasn’t charmed by the idea of no longer being in charge of Jane’s destiny. The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk became even more reluctant to wed Jane to Guilford when they learned Edward was making her next in line of succession. What if Northumberland wanted to rule England through his son, making Jane a puppet queen? Worse, Northumberland wasn’t Protestant enough for Suffolk. Henry Grey was as enamored of the new religion as Edward himself, and Northumberland lacked the zealot’s spirit. It was only the fact that Edward was determined for the match, and no one could gainsay the king, that finally sealed the deal.

Northumberland knew what kind of ruckus it would cause. He was already accused of being a shadow king; what would people say when they knew his son was married to Edward’s heir? Northumberland had been trying, by word and deed, to show he didn’t want the crown, but it was no use; people were determined to see him as a spider in the middle of an evil web. The best way to show he wasn’t power-mad was to arrange a marriage that actually put his potential power in jeopardy by presenting a rival heir, and that is exactly what he did. The next in line to the throne after Jane would be her sister, Katherine Grey, and Northumberland’s rival for top dog in the Council (and thus one of the men who trusted him the least) was the Earl of Pembroke. In complete contradiction of his own best interest, Northumberland “personally brokered the negotiation between Pembroke and the bride’s father … and one only has to look at the threat Katherine would pose to Queen Elizabeth in the 1560s to realize the danger she would have posed to Jane and Guilford” …

On the last week in May of 1553, Lady Jane Grey married Lord Guilford Dudley. The king had previously sent the bride “presents of rich ornaments and jewels” to convey his blessing on the match.

Clearly, neither the Greys nor the Dudleys were the driving force behind Jane and Guilford’s match. The marriage would not have occurred without Edward’s unceasing demands that it take place.