Henry Grey Gets What’s Coming to Him

Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, 3rd Marquess of Dorset wasn’t a bad man.

Henry Grey Suffolk

He was a rather typical specimen of the ruthlessly self-interested and ambitious Tudor courtiers and not actively evil or anything. To the contrary, he was a zealously devote Protestant, although there is often a fine line between the actions of a zealot and evil. If you are being killed it doesn’t really matter if your murdered thinks he has a “good” reason to do it.

What bugs me most about Henry Grey is that 1) his zealotry got his daughter killed and 2) he is never called out for his attempts to make himself powerful through his child; instead false accusations against John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland are treated as gospel while one of the real bad guys swans his way through history and historical fiction. This is totally unfair, and chafes my delicate butt.

At first, Suffolk hoped to marry his eldest daughter, Lady Jane Grey, to King Edward VI.

Streatham lady jayne grey

However, the powerful Edward Seymour 1st Duke of Somerset was dead set against the match, fearing Grey would try to take over as de facto sovereign. Northumberland also advised against the match, believing that Edward was better off with a foreign princess. The young king agreed with him, actively sending a trusted member of his council to negotiate his marriage with Elizabeth of Valois, the eldest daughter of King Henry II of France.

King Edward, having been thoroughly acquainted with men who wanted to use him for gain by his own uncles, Edward and Thomas Seymour, was leery of Grey – even though Grey was as devoutly Protestant as the king. The young monarch trusted few people, and of that small number, he seems to have trusted Northumberland most of all. Because of Edward’s trust in Northumberland, it was assumed that the duke was a puppet-master who ruled the young king, and it was all Northumberland’s idea to marry his son Guilford to Jane Grey and put her on the throne in place of Mary Tudor, so he could continue his shadow reign.

This is poppycock.

Edward, always perspicacious, knew he was dying by late spring of 1553. He needed to choose and heir. A devout and committed Protestant, he did not want his half-sister Mary to reign after him; there was too much risk that she would attempt to turn England toward ‘popery’ again. He gave serious consideration to naming his half-sister Elizabeth, whom he called his “sweet sister Temperance” (Nichols, 1857:ccxxxvi), his heir. Elizabeth was Protestant and would have kept England safe from papist heresy, but Edward decided in the end that he really couldn’t skip over one sister for theoretical illegitimacy and not the other. If neither of his half-sisters could be allowed the crown, who then should have it? From the bloodlines, it should fall to a cousin. His father’s older sister, Margaret Tudor, had married James IV of Scotland and their heir and current Queen of Scots, Mary, was both Catholic and engaged to the heir of the French throne. England ruled by Catholic monarchs and annexed to France in all but name? Never! That left the children of his father’s younger sister, Mary Tudor, as potential heirs. The eldest of Mary’s surviving daughters, Frances, was Henry Grey’s wife. Edward, perhaps fearing Grey had too much influence over his wife, skipped over the duchess in favor of her daughter, Lady Jane Grey.

The king wrote, in his own hand, the first draft of what he called “My Deuise for the Succession”, which named Jane Grey as next in line for the throne.


The exact date he started this remarkable document is unknown, but it was possible he was working on it as early as February of 1553 and it had certainly been written by April, (Ives, 2012:121). Jane and Guilford Dudley 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 (Lisle, 2009). Guilford was the fourth surviving son of Northumberland, and not much of a prize for a girl with Jane’s pedigree. 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? That meant less power for Henry Grey! Worse, Northumberland wasn’t Protestant enough for Suffolk. 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 clandestine 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” (Ives, 2012:133).

If Northumberland was plotting to seize power, he was really, really bad at it.

Notwithstanding everything Northumberland did to show he wasn’t trying to take the throne for himself, people remained convinced he had “formed some mighty plot” to get the crown, and that he was “confident he would prevail” (Ives, 2012:134). Rumors went around that Northumberland was “guilty of harming his Majesty’s person”, and “seeking to devise means of removing the King and aspiring to the Crown”, and “perhaps poison [Lady Mary]”, or “find means of getting rid of his present wife, and ally himself with the [Lady Mary], and even kill Edward Courtney, who had been a prisoner in the Tower science childhood and was a potential claimant to the throne (CPS Spain, 11 June 1553).

John Dudley Duke of Northumberland_Penshurst

On the last week in May of 1553 Lady Jane Grey married Lord Guilford Dudley.When Edward died on 6 July 1553, Jane Grey became the new English monarch as had been outlined by his wishes. As was customary after a king’s death, the Privy Councilors got all their ducks in a row, including Northumberland securing the Tower where the royal artillery and coffers lay, and prepared to make the announcement of the death of a king and the reign of a queen. On July 10 1553 Jane, who was not much older than her cousin was when he died, was proclaimed queen without a stir. The English government, the Anglican Church, ambassadors and foreign courts all recognized her as the rightful queen and Guildford as her king consort.

At this time, Mary was just the late king’s bastard half-sister and technically a fugitive. She had been ordered to present herself at court, but her loyal informers had warned her that Edward’s death was nigh and she had fled to the Catholic stronghold in the North of England instead. By the time Jane was named queen, Mary was in Norfolk and gathering troops. She was able to secure the defection of several nobles who were jealous of Northumberland’s potential power to her cause, including the Earl of Pembroke, who threw his recently acquired daughter-in-law Katherine Grey out of his home as a sign of his solidarity to Mary. On 19 July Mary rode into London at the head of an army of Catholic loyalists and took the throne. Jane, her husband, and any of their supporters were imprisoned in the Tower. Northumberland was captured, and was executed for following Edward’s orders and for all his imagined cruelties and slights to Mary. In September, the Parliament declared Mary the rightful queen and regulated Queen Jane to position of usurper.

Queen Mary was close friends with her cousin, Francis Grey, and because of the duchess’s pleadings it seemed as though Henry Grey, his daughter Jane, and their son-in-law Guilford might be allowed to live. But then Marry announced her intention to marry King Philip II of Spain, and the Protestant hard-liner Henry Grey got them all killed by joining in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion against Mary. The short-lived uprising intended to raise troops and march into London on 18 March 1554. In fairness, Henry Grey might have though his daughter safe even if they failed, since the plan was to depose Mary and replace with her half-sister Elizabeth, rather than Jane and Guilford Dudley.

Henry Grey was wrong on many levels. The plot was discovered and foiled, but it made Philip II of Spain so worried about Mary’s throne that he wouldn’t wed her and come to England until she had “secured” it. This she did by executing Jane and Guilford on 12 February 1554.


Henry Grey was beheaded eleven days later on the 23rd. I hope at some point between the time of his daughter’s death and his own someone asked Grey if preventing the queen’s Catholic marriage was worth Jane’s life.

Grey’s body was buried in the chancel area of St Peter ad Vincula, the Tower chapel, but:

According to Walter George Bell (writing in 1920), the severed head of the Duke was discovered in a vault in London’s Holy Trinity church in 1851, perfectly preserved by the tannin-rich oak sawdust used to pad the basket on the scaffold on which he had been executed 297 years earlier. Bell believed the head might have been hidden by the Duke’s widow to prevent it from being exposed on a spike on London Bridge. Both of them had worshipped in the chapel at Holy Trinity … However, Bell also notes a scandal at Holy Trinity in 1786 in which a sexton had been found sawing and chopping up coffins in the vaults and using the wood to stoke the fire in his quarters. Many of the bodies had been partly dismembered in the process and Bell warned his readers that the surviving head might well have resulted from this debacle.


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