The 1553 Succession Crisis

Chapter 3 : Queen Jane

On 6th July, Edward died.  Initially, his demise was kept secret. Messengers were sent to convey Lady Jane from Chelsea Manor by barge to Syon House, Northumberland’s home. There, she was informed that Edward had devised the crown to her.

According to her own account of events, Jane protested vigorously, affirming that the true heir was the Lady Mary. Eventually, overcome by her parents, her in-laws and the Council, she accepted the great office now thrust upon her. Like her cousins, Edward and Mary, Jane was totally committed to her religion, and may well have seen her queenship as the God-given opportunity to carry Protestantism to victory.

Before the news of the King’s death became public, Northumberland and the Council sent messages to Mary and Elizabeth, to ask them to visit their dying brother – hoping to take both women into their control. Elizabeth succumbed to one of the convenient bouts of sickness that always prevented her doing anything she did not want to do and stayed at home in bed.

Mary set out for London, but, warned that Edward was already dead, turned and galloped for her manor of Kenninghall in Norfolk, where she arrived in the early hours of 8th July. She immediately had herself proclaimed Queen to her household officers and tenants, and wrote a letter to the Council in London, demanding that she be proclaimed Queen in the capital. She knew exactly what they had been up to, she continued, but would overlook their misbehaviour if they returned immediately to their allegiance.

On 10th July, Jane was brought by barge from Syon to the Tower of London, and installed there as Queen. The same day, the Council received Mary’s letter. A reply, calculated to inflame Mary, with its references to her as illegitimate, was swiftly dispatched, along with a circular with equally offensive assertions on Mary’s status, to the Commissioners of the Peace for the shires, to proclaim Jane and demand their loyalty.

The same day, there was an argument in the Tower, when Jane resolutely refused to accept her husband as her king-consort, insisting that he would be no more than a duke. Her mother-in-law was incensed – rather giving support to the contention that the Northumberlands were behind the nomination of Jane to bolster their own position, rather than to satisfy Edward.

It was now apparent to the Council that Mary would not meekly submit to being deprived of her rights, and that an armed force would be required to capture her. Initially, it was agreed that it should be led by Jane’s father, Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk. Suffolk had no skill as a military leader, and his wife (who had always had a close relationship with her cousin Mary) persuaded him to decline the role with a show of illness.

Jane came to her father’s rescue, insisting that he stay with her. It was therefore left to Northumberland to lead the force. He made his preparations, then reminded the Council that they were all in it together and that they should ‘use constant hearts, abandoning all malice, envy and private affections’.

They assured him that if he did not trust his colleagues, he was mistaken ‘for which of us can wipe his hands clean thereof?’ If this conversation did indeed take place as alleged, then it seems obvious that Northumberland was not convinced that the other Councillors would remain steadfast.

With no alternative, the next day, Northumberland set out from London, observing that no-one in the crowds that watched him pass wished him ‘God-speed’.

The Councillors left behind in the Tower then drew up proclamations to be sent to the various Commissions of the Peace outside London. Signed ‘Jane the Quene’, they exhorted the local gentry to stand in their allegiance to her, to ignore the ‘slanderous reports’ being circulated by the Lady Marybastard’, and to keep the realm ‘out of the dominion of Papists and strangers’.  

Meanwhile, Mary had left Norfolk, accompanied by the Earl of Sussex and his son and a growing number of gentlemen and commons, and travelled to her vast castle at Framlingham in Suffolk. This had two advantages – it was practically impregnable, and, should worst come to worst, would give her access to escape by sea.