Thursday, 8 July 2010

Saturday, 8 July 1553 – Mary declares herself as queen

With her usual wisdom the lady now perfectly judged the peril of her situation, but nothing daunted by her limited resources, she placed her hopes in God alone, committing, as they say, the whole ship of her safety, bows, stems, sails and all, to the winds of fortune, and firstly decided to claim the kingdom of her father and her ancestors, which was owed to her as much by hereditary right as by her father’s will.”

(Wingfield, The Vita Mariae Angliae Reginae, 1554)

The most prominent men of Mary Tudor’s household were called for a meeting at Kenninghall. Their mistress had finally reached her Norfolk household and was quick to assemble her advisors. Earlier that day her physician Thomas Hughes, a man described as ‘worthy of belief’, had arrived at Kenninghall to conform the news of her brother’s death. Mary had previously been told this information by her goldsmith whilst at Euston Hall but she remained sceptical. Now she was sure and determined to declare her accession. Like the goldsmith, Hughes would not be forgotten for his loyal service. By October of the same year he would be appointed as one of the queen’s physicians.

The men who sat around the table and formed Mary’s first council were fervent in their loyalty to their new queen. Unsurprisingly given that this was Mary’s household most of these individuals were ardent Catholics. The comptroller of her household, Robert Rochester, had a brother, John, who had been one of the Carthusian monks martyred during Henry VIII’s reign. Edward Waldegrave, a gentleman of the household, was the son-in-law of Sir Edward Neville, who had been executed in 1538 for allegedly conspiring against Henry VIII along with the Pole family. He was also the nephew of Robert Rochester and thus another relation of John Rochester, the Catholic martyr. Like his uncle he would spend sometime in the Tower of London. In 1561 Waldegrave was accused of harbouring priests and having the Catholic mass administered in his household; he died imprisoned in the Tower the same year. Steward George Bacon had been the brother-in-law of Thomas Abell, Katherine of Aragon’s chaplain who had been hanged, drawn and quartered in 1540 for refusing to recognise the Royal Supremacy. Henry Jerningham’s parents had both served Katherine of Aragon; his mother, Lady Kingston had also served Mary. The Tyrrell brothers, Edmund, Richard and George, were ardent Catholics and utterly committed to Mary’s cause. When Mary died in 1558, George would uproot his family and move to the Spanish Netherlands in order to avoid living in Elizabeth’s Protestant England.

The exact details of the meeting were not recorded though they can be revealed by Mary’s subsequent actions. Clearly there was absolute agreement on the issue of Mary’s right to hold the throne. It was also decided that Mary needed to assert her claim as soon as possible by informing her household of the king’s death and her accession and by sending proclamations of her accession, including one to the Council (that was to be sent the following day). The Council were to be offered a chance to desist in their support for Jane. Any man who chose not to listen would be a traitor. Despite such strong words it must have been obvious to Mary and her advisers that the government would not be scared so easily. The man who would have to deliver the proclamation to the Council would be risking much by handing over such a powerful message. Despite the precarious nature of this task one servant, Thomas Hungate, offered his services immediately. Hungate, we are told, was an elderly man, ‘yet second to none in his obedience and diligence’. The duke might later rebuke Hungate for being ‘so immature and thus rash’ in carrying out this mission but Mary was highly grateful for his willingness. Like the goldsmith, the physician and the men who attended her first meeting providing advice, Hungate would be rewarded.

Having consulted with her advisors, it was time for the rest of the household to learn of her accession. It was a moment many had been waiting for. She summoned everyone ‘and told them all of the death of her brother Edward VI; the right to the Crown England and therefore descended to her by divine and by human law and after her brother’s death, through God’s high providence, and she was most anxious to inaugurate her reign with the aid of her most faithful servants, as partners in her fortunes’. Then all in her household, from Beatrice ap Rice, her laundress who had served her since she was a baby to her young loyal lady-in-waiting Jane Dormer, proclaimed Mary queen and rejoiced greatly.

Whilst Kenninghall celebrated and devised plans, the Imperial envoys in London were reporting that three or four warships were seen sailing towards the mouth of the Thames. In the same city, the king’s death was being widely circulated despite the lack of an official announcement. It was not just the ordinary people who were being informed that the king was still alive. On the 8th local magistrates were sent letters from the council detailing the king’s wishes regarding the succession and demanding they publicise such information. But the letters were worded in such a manner as to give the impression that Edward was still living. The duke and his allies were still finalising the plans for Jane’s accession; the time was not right for Edward’s death to be made known. They would have around forty-eight hours to set the ground work before informing the young lady in question of her own accession – a piece of news that would, Jane later told Mary, cause her to be ‘beside myself stupefied and troubled’.

(Image - a map indicating the properties granted to Mary in 1547. The location of Kenninghall is provided. The map is from David Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life, p. xi.)

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