This day in history launched the scheme that would lead to the execution of John Dudley, the man who had clawed his way back up the political ladder after his father’s execution for treason in 1509, who had become Duke of Northumberland and President of Edward VI’s Privy Council, who was the de facto leader of the country as Edward was still a minor.
In February 1553, Edward VI had fallen ill – seriously enough that he had started to consider the succession. As an ardent Protestant, he did not want his Catholic sister Mary to inherit the throne, which was what would occur under the Act of Succession adopted during his father’s reign. Edward came up with his own “Devise for the Succession” in which the crown would bypass both Mary and Elizabeth as well as Mary Queen of Scots, and instead fall to Lady Jane Grey, whose claim arose through Henry VIII’s youngest sister. Unfortunately for Edward (and Dudley!), his Devise was not ratified by Parliament and therefore could not legally supersede the former king’s policy.
Still, Dudley sprang into action to profit from the action he hoped to shove down the country’s throat: on May 25, he married his son Guildford to Lady Jane Grey – with the clear intention of continuing his “reign” through them. He also took advantage of the day to marry his daughter Katherine to Henry Hastings (heir to the Earldom of Huntingdon), and to have Catherine Grey marry Lord Herbert, the heir to the Earldom of Pembroke. These unions gave him powerful and committed allies.
The weddings themselves were celebrated with the pomp that was to be expected for a royal marriage: a magnificent festival was held, with jousts, games, and masques. Guests included most of the highest nobles of the court, the Venetian and French ambassadors, and even “large numbers of the common people.” (In what with hindsight could be considered foreshadowing, Guildford and some others suffered an attack of food poisoning, blamed on “a mistake made by a cook, who plucked one leaf for another.”)
Six weeks later, Edward VI was dead and Dudley proclaimed Jane Grey Queen of England. She and Guildford made their ceremonial entrance to the Tower…then never emerged. Dudley’s scheme failed to sway a country that had long looked to Mary as the next rightful heir, and he and his children were quickly abandoned. Dudley was quickly executed, while Jane and Guildford were pardoned by a magnanimous Mary I – though not released. Unfortunately, they were condemned when opposition to Mary’s planned marriage to Philip of Spain resulted in the Wyatt Rebellion. While the rebels would likely have put Elizabeth on the throne instead of Jane Grey, Jane’s father joined the revolt – flaming the fans of governmental indignation and panic. Mary’s Privy Council unanimously advised execution, and Mary agreed.
Catherine fared a little better – well, she lived longer. Her new husband’s father sought to distance himself from the Grey family when Jane’s accession to the throne failed; he separated the couple and sought annulment of the marriage, which was granted in 1554 on the grounds that it had never been consummated. In 1560, after Elizabeth had come to the throne, Catherine secretly married again – Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford – and quickly became pregnant. Elizabeth was furious. Convinced that the marriage was part of a conspiracy against her crown, she promptly imprisoned poor Catherine. Catherine and Seymour remained in the Tower for three years, then after the two were permanently separated, Catherine was released but still kept under close confinement until she died of consumption in 1568, aged only 27.
As for Katherine Dudley, she seems to have been politically unaffected by her father’s treason. She went off to live with her husband in the English Midlands and Yorkshire for years, returning to court only in 1595 where she became one of Elizabeth’s closest friends. Definitely the winner of this round!
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