*NB – this was supposed to go out yesterday but Fun With Kids happened instead*
On the last week in May of 1553 Lady Jane Grey married Lord Guilford Dudley, the fourth son of the duke of Northumberland (John Dudley), at the urging of the increasingly ill King Edward VI. Contrary to myth, there is no evidence her “cruel” mother and father forced Lady Jane to wed anymore than any other arranged marriage at the time. Even if they had been dead set against the match, the king had made it clear he wanted Jane and Guilford married stat. Northumberland was Edward’s most trusted advisor and the king wanted him to remain influential over the future queen. As her father-in-law, Northumberland would certainly be in the right place to help Lady Jane rule a Protestant England.
Although Northumberland has become the scapegoat for Lady Jane’s brief reign, Edward did not need Northumberland’s help to be leery of his half-sister Mary’s succession to the crown. Mary was a hard-core Catholic and Edward was equally devoted to Evangelicalism; he did not want a Catholic to rule England. Edward had likewise stricken Elizabeth from succession because he believed her to be sincerely illegitimate and the daughter of a possible adulteress. The king also skipped over the legitimate children of his aunt Margaret because her son, James V of Scotland, was too Catholic as well. The king, eager to safeguard Protestantism in England, resolved to make his younger aunt’s eldest daughter his heir.
Edward had written the first draft of his “deuise for the succession” in late April or early May, before or at the time of Jane Grey’s betrothal. Anyone in Edward’s court or government who whinged about the king’s choice (usually because they didn’t want Northumberland to remain powerful in the next monarchy) were summoned before Edward where he “with sharp words and angry countenance” forced them to accept his decision. He was determined to have all his ducks in a row before he died. Edward made sure it was legal to dismiss his father’s will declaring Mary the next in line to throne, telling the Archbishop of Canterbury that “the judges and his learned council said, that the act of entailing the crown, made by his father, could not be prejudicial to him, but that he, being in possession of the crown, might make his will thereof.”
Edward signed the final version of his “deuise” drawn up by the court’s senior royal lawyers and named Jane Grey as his successor, on June 21, 1553. The document was signed by 102 witnesses (including the whole Privy Council) and the king’s Great Seal was applied to it. His will was official, legal, and binding two weeks before his death.
When Edward died Jane Grey was made queen without a hitch. The English government, the Anglican church, ambassadors and foreign courts all recognized her as queen and Guildford as the new king. Nonetheless, the queen’s cousin Mary and her allied perpetrated a coup against crown, and solidified it by creating and disseminating the enduring myth that Mary was the “rightful” heir. To this day people believe that Mary was the rightful queen and that Jane was an “innocent traitor” manipulated by her parents and Northumberland.
Later, the combination of Protestant resistance to enforced Catholicism and Philip of Spain’s insistence that Jane Grey be executed before he would marry her motivated Queen Mary to judicially murder the 16 year old lawful monarch she had usurped a few months prior. Northumberland had already been beheaded for his “rebellion” in putting the legal heir on the throne, and Guilford Dudley was beheaded prior to his wife’s execution for no other reason than he had been married to Jane Grey.
For further reading and to get the full details of Jane Grey’s legal right to the throne, I cannot recommend Eric Ives’s book Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery highly enough.