Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Friday, 7 July 1553 – Mary learns of Edward’s death

“...she was told of the king’s death by her goldsmith, a citizen of London, newly returned from the City, but the cautious princess would not put complete confidence in the messenger and would not let the news be spread abroad. On this account she stayed there no longer, but hurried on to her house at Kenninghall....”

(Wingfield, The Vita Mariae Angliae Reginae, 1554)

As mentioned in the last post, there is some ambiguity concerning Mary’s exact route around the 6th but we know that by the 7th she was at Euston Hall near Thetford (near the Suffolk/Norfolk border) with Lady Burgh as her host. For it was there, sometime in the evening, that goldsmith Robert Reyns reached the residence and told Mary of her brother’s death and her own accession. Mary was at first cautious and would only accept the truth the following day when another individual repeated the same news. Her stay at Euston Hall was cut short; either the same evening or in the early hours of the next day, she would arrive at her Norfolk manor, Kenninghall. Once in her own household, surrounded by her loyal servants, she could publicly proclaim her accession and despatch letters to that effect. As Eric Ives recently argued, ‘Mary’s victory was won at the writing desks of Kenninghall’ (Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery, p. 228).

How organised was Mary during this time? There is also some uncertainty regarding this. Clearly she knew something of what was to come and this is credited in contemporary reports. In 1554 Giovanni Francesco Commendone recorded in Successi d’ Inghilterra that Mary and her household had ‘been secretly informed by some Members of the Council itself of the machinations of the Duke, of the progress of the illness of the King and finally of his death’. This is odd given the lack of outright support for Mary from members of the Council in the beginning. Furthermore she was not told of Edward’s death by individuals that high up in office. A much later report by William Camden states that before Edward’s death, Mary was pressurised into renouncing her title for money and lands. Recently, Jeri McIntosh argued that in late March/early April 1553, when Edward had then decided to remove Mary from the succession, the government informed Mary of the plans and granted her Framlingham and Hertford Castle in compensation. This Mary agreed to only to later renounce her position on the matter whilst still holding the properties, including Framlingham which she used as her base. If this version of events is correct, Mary had successfully deceived the Privy Council. She had placated them by residing so close to London till the 4th making it seem that she was waiting obediently near them. But she chose well when she selected Hunsdon as her residence. Close to London but also outside giving her a head start when she moved into Cambridgeshire. She had successfully eluded the government and had managed, by this date, to reach her own household and pick up support along the way.

In London the duke had, in the words of Charles V’s diplomats, ‘seized the treasury and money-reserves of the kingdom, has appointed his own men to the command of fortresses, has raised a force of artillery, fitted out warships for service, and has men ready to go on board as soon as he shall issue the order’. But he still did not have Mary. So that morning he dispatched his son, Robert, with an army of 300 retainers to capture her. Handsome, ambitious and with military experience, Robert Dudley is known to many today as the famous favourite of Elizabeth I. But in the days of July 1553 he was committed to ousting his future lover and her sister from the line of succession. His father, the duke, is often supposed to have been a cold man who advanced his family without a thought of their welfare. Yet his letters to his children reveal that by the standards of the age and his class, he was an indulgent and loving father. The duke did not so much as demand respect from his family as was the natural recipient of such loyalty and affections. His sons were aware that Jane’s cause was the Dudley cause and were just as determined as their father to see Mary’s destruction. But Robert was in for an unpleasant shock. Hurrying to Hunsdon he discovered that she had ‘suddenly departed with her train and family towards the sea cost of Norfolk’. Now he would not only try to find her but he would also guard the roads, make it incredibly difficult for her supporters trying to reach her. The method of patrolling of the roads was not one practised by Robert alone though. It was a tactic that Mary’s supporters would quickly rely upon and proved to be rather beneficial to their cause.

(Image - Portrait of Robert Dudley, First Earl of Leicester, attributed to Steven Van der Meulen, c.1564. Waddesdon Manor)

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