This week we’re gonna slide through two reigns on our way to Elizabeth. The period from Henry VIII’s death until Elizabeth I assumed the throne was pretty ugly but we need to understand it because it contributes significantly to understanding Elizabeth and those gorgeous Elizabethans who paid her court.
Edward Tudor was the only legitimate son of Henry VIII. To have the male heir that he craved, Henry divorced a wife who was a beloved foreign Queen, destroyed the Catholic Church in England to clear the way for his second marriage, then married and executed the Queen who failed him after bearing Elizabeth.
In 1537, Jane Seymour, daughter of minor nobility, gave Henry a son at the cost of her own life. But Henry wanted more heirs. Before his death he married three more times without fathering the heirs he needed to secure his line. Three more lives curtailed by annulment, ended by execution, and ruined by a royal marriage when the heart loved elsewhere.
Soon after Henry’s death, Katherine Parr married Thomas Seymour who was Edward’s uncle and her former lover. Edward VI spent some of the happiest times of his early life with Katherine Parr, the last Queen and his aunt by marriage. She supervised his studies and provided him, and the Princess Elizabeth, with a happy home until her early death bearing her first child. Lady Jane Grey another ward who lived with her and her husband Thomas Seymour, was her chief mourner.
In 1547 Edward was crowned King when he was ten years old. The Protectorhip was originally taken by his uncle who became the Duke of Somerset but he lost out to John Dudley, the duke of Northumberland. Thomas had kept Lady Jane Grey’s wardship by dangling a marriage to King Edward in front of her parents. In reality, he was planning to possibly marry her himself, if the marriage scheme with Elizabeth didn’t work out. His brother, the Protector and Duke of Somerset, discovered Thomas’s plans, obtained a bill of attainder against him and had him executed on Tower Hill. The execution of his own brother and some economic ills led to a downturn in Somerset’s popularity which enabled Dudley (the duke of Northumberland) to seize the Protectorship and have him executed.
No one knows what kind of ruler the pious and learned Edward would have made because he died at 16 of TB. Dudley flattered Edward, gave him money, and treated him like a king. Edward became more interested in athletic pursuits and started to travel. Many at Court noticed Edward’s resemblance to his sickly uncle, Arthur. Like Arthur, he became sickly—first with TB and then with measles which further compromised his health. Over a period of months, his health deteriorated so that by the end of 1542, it was obvious that he was failing.
Meanwhile Lady Jane Grey who had become well-educated and pious returned to her family. At 13, she openly derided her parent’s frivolous lifestyle and judged them harshly. They foisted her off on a tutor. Some unfortunate deaths (or fortuitous for some) in the Brandon family placed Jane closer to the throne.
With the King’s failing health and the Catholic Mary waiting in the wings, Northumberland was forced to act. He married his son Guilford to Lady Jane Grey, attempting to secure his power and keep his head. That Jane suffered verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her own parents who forced her to marry Dudley mattered to no one. Jane, unlike her parents, was no fool. She understood the possible consequences should Dudley fail.
Although the Law of Succession passed by Henry named Edward as his heir with Mary and Elizabeth succeeding him. Northumberland tried to convince him to name Lady Jane Grey (rather than her mother who was in line after Mary and Elizabeth) as his heir. Edward, a pious Protestant, who had no desire that the Catholic Mary succeed him agreed. He disinherited Mary and Elizabeth as illegitimate and completed the legal procedures to have Parliament and London officials accept the choice. He died within weeks of securing the Letters Patent. So begins the tragedy of the Lady Jane Grey.
Jane left her in-laws home and returned to her own which she considered the best of a bad choice. She was forced to return to Durham House where she became ill and accused them of trying to poison her. They sent her out of London while events were set in motion that would end in tragedy. When sometime later she was returned to Syon House, an assembly greeted her as Edward’s successor. She said a prayer. She was escorted to the Tower where monarchs stayed before they were crowned at Westminster. She even refused to try on the crown but Dudley told her that his son would be crowned King. It was then that she saw the big plan—she was being used to maintain Dudley’s power. She dared to stand up to them saying that she would make him a duke but never a king. Dudley proceeded with the coronation.
Meanwhile, Princess Mary was summoned to her brother’s bedside but was warned that it was a trap. She fled to safety and demanded her right to the succession. Dudley gathered an army to attack but Queen Jane would have nothing to do with ruling the Kingdom. First one town and then another proclaimed Mary Queen and his army deserted him. Everyone deserted Jane who remained in the tower, including her own parents. She had been queen for nine days. And now she was a prisoner in that same tower.
In a personal letter, Jane beseeched her cousin Queen Mary for mercy. That mercy could not be granted for political reasons. Jane and the Dudley brothers were convicted and sentenced. Her fate was to be burned or beheaded at the Queen’s pleasure while her parents and sisters had returned to the Catholic Church and been welcomed into the Queen’s service. But Mary refused to order her execution. Jane’s father, however, escaped and tried to rally the people but failed. His actions set her execution in place. From her window she watched her husband die well. She, herself, did well until they blindfolded her and ordered her to kneel at the block. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find it and started crying “What shall I do?” and “Where is it?” One of the witnesses guided her hands to the block. She died well. Her bloody body, however, lay on the straw until Queen Mary gave permission for her to be buried in the same chapel as Henry’s executed Queens. She was seventeen. Next week, Bloody Mary & King Philip II. Rita Bay