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July 21, 1553 – Northumberland Arrested

John Dudley in the 1540s, panel painting at Penshurst Place, Kent (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Woof. This was the end to a tale of great hubris….hubris that almost succeeded.  

Back in February, Edward’s health was such that he started to worry about the succession. Not wanting his Catholic sister Mary to inherit his throne, he came up with a plan to name his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his heir (you can read more about that here). Plans moved forward enough that on May 25, Northumberland married his son Guilford to Lady Jane – as a way of ensuring that he would continue to rule behind the scenes (he also arranged two additional marriages to cement allies – read about that here). Then on July 6, Edward died.

In truth, the scheme should have worked. Northumberland had the Council behind him, therefore the law (or the appearance of the law). He also had French support, since they hated the idea of the Emperor’s cousin on the English throne. Nor was Charles prepared to intervene militarily – he even instructed his envoys to arrange themselves with Northumberland and to discourage Mary from undertaking anything dangerous. But no one had reckoned with Mary’s courage or her public support – and it almost feels like Northumberland got careless.

Key to his success was getting custody of Mary and Elizabeth – but while Edward lived he did nothing more than send invitations. It was only on July 7 – the day after Edward died – that Northumberland sent his son Robert into Hertfordshire with 300 men to secure Mary. By then, she had been made aware of her half-brother’s condition and had already moved to East Anglia and started to raise armed support.

The Council received her demand to be recognized as Queen the same day they declared for Jane Grey. But it took Northumberland until July 14 to assemble a large enough force (1,500 troops and some artillery) to oppose her. An even bigger problem for Northumberland: he had to be the one to lead the troops (he was the most experienced general in the kingdom) but he also needed to stay around to keep reassuring his increasingly nervous Council that everything was fine. Indeed, they ended up declaring for Mary pretty quickly after he left. On July 20, Northumberland received their letter informing him of this change and commanding him to disband his army. He capitulated immediately and himself proclaimed Mary queen, throwing up his cap and “so laughed that the tears ran down his cheeks for grief.” On July 21, the Earl of Arundel arrived to arrest him.

He was taken straight to the Tower. There was never any question of mercy as there was for the other Council members or even Jane and Guilford. He was executed a month later, on August 22.


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July 21, 1553 - Northumberland Arrested
Published inOn This Day


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