“By this tyme newes was brought that sir John Williams was also proclamyng quene Mary in Oxfordeshire. From that tyme forwarde certayne of the counsayll, that is, the erle of Penbroke and the lorde warden sought to go out of the Tower to consult in London, but could not as yet.”
(J.G. Nichols, The Chronicle of Queen Jane, and of Two Years of Queen Mary)
A week had passed since Edward VI’s death and Mary still did not have the throne. But things were looking up. John Williams, sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, had declared Mary queen in Oxfordshire and had amassed a significant force. Despite this, the duke of Northumberland, the marquess of Northampton and the earl of Huntington had raised troops and were setting off from London. The duke would be heading for Cambridgeshire, reaching Cambridge around the 15th. He would arrive with an impressive force and with the upper hand, yet leave a captured traitor awaiting a grim fate.
The loss of the duke from the capital was exploited by Mary’s supporters near London. Several men had connections in the Thames Valley and were operating in this area. Jane was not alone in London; the duke ensured he left behind many prominent allies to guard the city against possible attack. His kinsman, Sir Francis Jobson, was handed control of Westminster Palace and Jane was still lodged in the Tower. Yet despite his efforts, the duke was taking a gamble in leaving. As an able commander and someone so attached to the current events it seems fitting he engaged in the field. But his departure meant the loss of authority. Jane may be queen and may have taken on her role with dedication but the duke had the ability to persuade other peers. Would they prove so loyal in his absence?
The same day the Imperial ambassadors were granted an audience at the earl of Pembroke’s London residence. Also attending were three other earls – John Russell, first earl of Bedford, Henry Fitzalan, twelfth earl of Arundel and George Talbot, sixth earl of Shrewsbury – along with William Brooke, tenth Baron Cobham, Sir John Mason and Sir William Petre. They were to discuss the princess’s fate and whether Anglo-Imperial relations could still prevail despite Jane’s queenship. But some of these men were started to have their doubts. William Herbert, earl of Pembroke was becoming incredibly anxious. He was tied to this affair almost as securely as the duke, for his son and heir had married Jane’s sister, Katherine. The earl of Arundel shared his worries; whilst waving off the duke from London and wishing him well – exhorting him to die for their cause – he was considering deserting Jane for Mary. Why did these men have a change of heart? Did some doubt the legitimacy of Edward’s changes to the succession despite being involved in the process? Did some have sympathy for Mary all along? The earl of Bedford had welcomed Mary’s return to court and the destruction of Anne Boleyn in 1536 indicating a degree of admiration for her. Was the news of the growing support for Mary enough to make them see her cause as righteousness? As a young man, Arundel was described as being ‘of good wit, and likely to do well’. He was not going to be destroyed by this affair; if switching allegiances would save him, then needs must be done. His religious principals may have also affected his sympathies for Arundel was inclined to conservative practices.
Mary did not know of these doubts amongst the chief councillors and her sights were set on another prize – Thomas Wentworth. Only two days previously he had proclaimed Jane queen in Ipswich along with Sir John Cornwallis who quickly recanted his position on the matter and joined Mary. Wentworth was lord lieutenant of Suffolk – a perfect prize for Mary. Thus pressure was exerted upon him to renounce his position. Persuasive letters were devised and would be dispatched the next day, delivered by two trusted servants. It would not take Wentworth long to decide what course of action to take next. His ‘inner conscience constantly proclaimed that Mary had a greater right to the throne’, Robert Wingfield alleged, though Wentworth may have been wracked more with worry over the growing support for Mary. He would then make a journey to Framlingham with supplies. Soon Suffolk would be Mary’s county.
(Images. Left: Portrait of William Herbert, first earl of Pembroke by an unknown artist, c.1565. National Museum Wales. Right: Portrait of Henry Fitzalan, twelfth earl of Arundel, after Steven Van der Meulen, 1565. NPG, London).