It is the Spring of the year 1553 and Edward, the sixth of his name, King of England lay dying in his bed. He was but 15 years old.
His father, Henry VIII, of blessed memory had desperately wanted a son and Edward’s birth had caused great rejoicing in the land. He was baptized with splendid royal ceremony in the chapel at Hampton Court Palace within a week of his birth.
He never knew his mother, the Queen Jane Seymour, for she was taken ill with child birth fever and was to die shortly after his birth. Henry had then taken two wives in quick succession; one discarded for the King thought her ugly. The second he had beheaded for her treasonous adultery.
Edward knew only his stepmother, the loving Catherine Parr, Henry’s last wife who entered his life when he was five years old. She would warmly embrace young Edward and his older half-sisters, the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth. As she was highly learned woman she would personally oversee Edward’s education.
King Henry died when young Edward was but nine years old, the once vibrant young Henry who had changed England forever now a morbidly obese, somewhat paranoid monarch suffering from a putrefaction of a limb, the result of a wound which never healed.
Prior to his death Henry had appointed a Council to rule by majority during Edward’s minority; eventually John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland took charge as the King’s Protector after the Duke of Sussex was executed on trumped up charges.
His education completed, Edward was to begin to rule in his own right at age 16.
But Edward was dying. He had contracted small pox and though surviving was now dying of tuberculosis.
He had no children. No issue of his body. The Princess Mary was next in the line of succession according to the will of his father.
Edward was the first King of England to be raised a Protestant. Henry had begun the religious reformation in his country, severing his relations with Rome in order to obtain his divorces. In practice however the English church remained essentially Catholic. Edward conformed to the prevailing Catholic practices, including attendance at mass: but he became convinced, under the influence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer and the reformers among his tutors and courtiers, that “true” religion should be imposed in England. It was during Edward’s reign that the Anglican Church adopted the Book of Common Prayer.
John Dudley suspected early on that Edward was dying.
And John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Lord Protector was going to see to it that the devout Catholic, Princess Mary never took the throne. He wanted the crown for his own family; he had experienced being a limited sovereign. Now he wanted the real thing. A Catholic Queen Mary would bring about the destruction of Protestantism in England and his ruin as well.
Confident that the King would not recover from his illness, Northumberland called upon John Grey, Duke of Suffolk; he spoke of the King’s illness.
“His Majesty is ill and I fear he shall not recover. If he passes without issue, which to me seems quite likely, the crown will pass to Princess Mary. A Catholic on the throne will be our ruin!”
“But it was the will of Henry, of blessed memory, that it be so” replied Suffolk.
“True, but she was declared illegitimate by King Henry and that has not changed!”
“Are you considering supporting the claim of Princess Elizabeth, Lord Protector? She is a believer in the true religion.”
“No! She is the daughter of the treasonous Boleyn! And she too was declared illegitimate! I cannot support the illegitimate daughter of one who was beheaded by Henry awhile Queen”
“What then are you suggesting my Lord?”
“I have seen Henry’s last will. He named Edward, his son, as his successor. Upon Edward’s death, the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth in that order, be they still living. And their heir if any have issue while monarch. Do you know whom he named next”?
Suffolk shook his head.
“Your daughter Jane!”
Suffolk’s daughter Jane was the granddaughter of Mary, sister to Henry Vlll.
Suffolk stood in shock. “My daughter a quiet girl of the country with no desire to be Queen! She herself would tell you so! We had no idea she was named in the King’s will!”
“Well if Mary succeeds to the throne we will both surely lose our heads!”
Northumberland continued; “I believe that I can persuade the King and Council to pass over Princess Mary, for we are all Protestants and will lose our lands and titles should she become Queen. Further I will oppose Princess Elizabeth as the unsuitable and illegitimate issue of the treasonous Boleyn. Your daughter Jane is next in line. Edward has no child and we can see to it that neither Mary nor Elizabeth becomes Queen.”
The Third Succession Act of 1544 restored Henry VIIIs daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to the line of succession, although they were still regarded as illegitimate. Furthermore, this Act authorized Henry VIII to alter the succession by his will. Henry’s will reinforced the succession of his three children, and then declared that, should none of them leave descendants, the throne would pass to heirs of his younger sister, Mary, which included Jane. For unknown reasons, Henry excluded Jane’s mother, Frances Grey, from the succession and also bypassed the claims of the descendants of his elder sister, Margaret, who had married into the Scottish royal house and nobility.
“And now my Lord Suffolk, I have a proposition to make. I suggest we marry your daughter Jane to my youngest son Guilford Dudley.” Suffolk sat in stunned silence.
Lady Jane Grey had an excellent humanist education and a reputation as one of the most learned young women of her day. Furthermore she was a committed Protestant. Nonetheless, whether she wished it or not, at sixteen years of age she was married to Guilford Dudley, son of the Lord Protector and probably the most powerful man in England.
Northumberland then began having conversations with the King.
“You know you are dying your Majesty and we must make plans of succession for the good of the country. Your father Henry’s will, he of blessed memory, named you as his successor and upon your death without issue named your sister Mary, to be followed by Elizabeth. Your Majesty is well aware of Mary’s religious proclivities; we must not allow her to undue all you and your father have accomplished in bringing the one true faith to our people. As for Elizabeth, while she is a true Protestant, she is the illegitimate daughter of the traitor Boleyn. We cannot endure such a woman on the throne.”
Edward, sickly and with great pallor on his boyish face and body answered with difficulty; “And what is your counsel my Lord Protector?”
“You should consider your cousin Jane your Majesty. She was also named fourth in line in your father’s will. I support her claim and I believe the Council will as well. Think on it and I shall return at your command.”
Edward lay alone. He knew his cousin Jane. He used to play with her as a child but he did not see her often now as she did not live at Court. He always felt closest to his sister Elizabeth as she was only four years older than he. Yet he could not ignore Northumberland’s advice; her mother was the traitor Boleyn.
A few weeks later as he lay near death Edward wrote his succession document.
In his document Edward provided for, in case of “lack of issue of my body”, fthe succession of male heirs only, that is, Jane Grey’s mother’s male heirs, Jane’s or her sisters. All of which were non-existent. As his death approached and possibly persuaded by Northumberland, he altered the wording so that Jane and her sisters themselves should be able to succeed. Yet Edward conceded Jane’s right only as an exception to male rule, demanded by reality, an example not to be followed if Jane or her sisters had only daughters. In the final document both Mary and Elizabeth were excluded because of bastardy; since both had been declared bastards under Henry VIII and never made legitimate again, this reason could be advanced for both sisters.
The document subverting both Mary’s and Elizabeth’s claim to the throne was signed by 102 notables, among them the whole Privy Council, peers, bishops, judges, and London aldermen. Edward also commanded to have his “declaration” passed in parliament and the necessary writs were prepared.
Edward died on July 6, 1553. He didn’t know he had effectively signed his cousin Jane’s death warrant. On 9 July Jane was informed that she was now queen, and according to her own later claims, accepted the crown only with reluctance. The next day, she was officially proclaimed Queen of England, France and Ireland after she had taken up secure residence in the Tower of London, where English monarchs customarily resided from the time of accession until coronation. Jane refused to name her husband Guilford Dudley as king and deferred to Parliament. She offered to make him Duke of Clarence instead.
Northumberland faced a number of key tasks to consolidate his power after Edward’s death. Most importantly, he had to isolate and, ideally, capture Princess Mary to prevent her from gathering support. He failed. As soon as Mary was sure of King Edward’s demise, she left her residence at Hunsdon and set out to East Anglia, where she began to rally her supporters.
Northumberland set out from London with troops to meet her; in his absence the Privy Council, having second thoughts, switched their allegiance from Jane to Mary, and proclaimed her queen in London on 19 July to the great jubilation of the populace. Jane was imprisoned in the Tower along with her husband. She had been Queen for nine days.
The new Queen entered London in a triumphal procession on 3 August, and the Duke of Northumberland was executed on 22 August 1553. In September, Parliament declared Mary the rightful queen and denounced and revoked Jane’s proclamation as that of a usurper.
Jane and Guilford were not executed and were kept in the Tower at Mary’s pleasure until Wyatt’s Rebellion, which broke out in the north over Mary’s planned marriage to Philip of Spain. English Protestants were in no mood to see the establishment of “their Catholic Majesties” on English soil. Jane’s father, Duke of Sussex joined the rebellion which was subsequently crushed.
Sussex joining the rebellion was the final straw.
Jane, 17, was beheaded on Tower Green after seeing the body of her husband who was beheaded publically earlier in the morning on Tower Hill.
Both died because of who they were and their religion. Both died for the machinations of Northumberland.
Jane and Guildford are buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula on the north side of Tower Green. Jane’s father, Duke of Suffolk, was executed 11 days after Jane. Her mother, the Duchess of Suffolk, married her Master of the Horse and chamberlain and was fully pardoned by Mary and allowed to live at Court with her two surviving daughters. She died in 1559.
Edward is buried in Westminster Abbey. Edward’s burial place was unmarked until as late as 1966, when an inscribed stone was laid in the chapel floor by Christ’s Hospital school to commemorate their founder. The inscription reads as follows: “In Memory Of King Edward VI Buried In This Chapel This Stone Was Placed Here By Christ’s Hospital In Thanksgiving For Their Founder 7 October 1966”
Mary, who came to be known as “bloody Mary” reigned only five years burning hundreds of Protestants at the stake.
When she died she was succeeded by Elizabeth l, one of England’s greatest monarchs. She secured Protestantism In England. And she would keep her “favorite” Robert Dudley, Guilford’s elder brother by her side. She had met him when they were imprisoned by Queen Mary, she for plotting against the Queen, he for his father and brother’s treason.
Both were eventually released Their love was well known but they never married.
Maybe she kept him close just to watch him.