Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Friday, 14 July 1553 – Intrigues in an Ipswich inn

“...he [Henry Jerningham] had learnt in conversation that a squadron of five ships of the late King Edward VI, laden with soldiers and weaponry, had been forced into the safety of Orwell haven by bad weather and was lying there, by some extraordinary chance, or rather, by a gale sent from heaven. The crews were in a state of great disturbance and had most courageously mutinied against their officers because of the disowning of Princess Mary; the officers were staying in this haven against their will because of the unrest among the men.”

(Wingfield, The Vita Mariae Angliae Reginae, 1554)

In a small tavern in Ipswich, at the dead of night, a group of men sat with drinks discussing current events. Henry Jerningham had been fighting passionately for Mary from day one and had been trying to secure support for her in the south-east. He had his eyes set on a particular prize. Since the death of Edward VI several royal ships was stationed around the east coast prepared to prevent attempts made by Mary to flee. Jane and her allies were still ‘strong on land and sea’, as the Imperial ambassadors put it, but what a glorious victory it would be for Mary if she won the royal fleets. But this was a difficult task. If the captains and sailors of these ships were for Jane what could Jerningham do to convince them?

Drinking with his men in this inn, Jerningham began a conversation with the owner, a Welsh man named Philip Williams. Described by Robert Wingfield as possessing ‘complete and remarkable bravery’, Williams was utterly sympathetic for Mary. But he had a greater gift than sympathy for her. Williams told Jerningham that amongst his guests was a sailor from one of the ships. The sailor told Jerningham that five ships ‘laden with soldiers and weaponry’ had been forced to station nearby in Orwell haven (another, the Greyhound, sought refuge at Lowestoft). As per usual the English summer was proving to be troublesome and the storms had forced the ships to seek shelter. Not only were they nearby and liable for a visit by Jerningham and his men but it was reported that the crew onboard were rather discontent. The rejection of Mary had not gone down well and a mutiny had occurred.

Jerningham, we are told, was not easily convinced by this news at first. After all it was too good to be true. We can’t blame him for his scepticism. For despite Wingfield’s account of the affair, namely his claims that the sailors felt sympathy for Mary and that is why they rebelled, the crew probably were more incensed about not being paid. Queen Jane or Queen Mary, it didn’t matter as long as they would receive their wages and quickly. The sailor went away leaving Jerningham to talk it over with Williams. By the morning Jerningham made up his mind and decided to credit the sailor’s words. His decision to advance – his luck in picking that tavern and at that time – would lead to a decisive point in this whole affair. Ironically on the same date, the Imperial ambassadors were writing to Charles V, telling him that Mary would likely be caught by the duke in four days time ‘unless she had sufficient force to resist’, something they thought unlikely. ‘We therefore believe she is weak’, they told Charles, and will be ruined unless you assist her.

Meanwhile Lord Wentworth had decided to back Mary after she sent two servants his way with a letter that she hoped would convince him. The earl of Sussex, whose son had been kidnapped by Sir John Huddleston, was now at Framlingham. His captured son also backed Mary and had been awarded a friendly reception upon his arrival some days back. The 14th to the 16th marked the most arrivals at Framlingham; clearly news that the duke was advancing into Cambridgeshire and other peers operating elsewhere with large forces, did not curtail the loyalty of certain supporters. The gain of Wentworth meant Mary’s hold over Suffolk was significant; she now had the lord lieutenant and the sheriff of the county (Sir Thomas Cornwallis). Many years later John Foxe claimed Mary had promised the men of Suffolk (many of whom were favourable to reform) that she would not alter the religious policies of her brother’s reign if they supported her. How truthful is this? It has been supported by some historians, including Anna Whitelock and Diarmaid MacCulloch who argue that Mary was making a pragmatic statement. If true it is an indication that Mary was fully able to be deceptive and was rather shrewd in knowing what it took to gain support. She knew that Jane’s supporters were using her Catholicism against her; now she rendered their words ineffective. Before her accession, Mary had many associates who favoured reform. Not only did she rely upon these connections for favours, whether for herself or her servants (as was mostly the case), but she regarded certain of these individuals as genuine confidants. Such was the case with Anne, Lady Bacon and Anne Seymour, duchess of Somerset. In short, despite her faith which the duke and his allies attempted to publicise and use against her, Mary was known to engage in diverse networks. Later writers like Foxe may have looked upon her promises as obviously untrue but by this time she had cultivated for herself a reputation that made such things appear possible. And simultaneously she was able to receive support from Catholics in large numbers with many believing the restoration of the ‘true religion’ would certainly come about with her accession. So the theory of Mary being the most Catholic of Catholics supported only by Catholics in July 1553 is but partly true. The story of her victory was one of connections and deceptions; of support not always based along religious lines. And, as the case of Jerningham in the Ipswich inn shows, it is a story that contains a generous amount of sheer luck.

(Image - River Otwell. Photo taken from:

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