Edward VI was the much longed for male heir when he was born in 1537. His father Henry VIII must have felt a certain amount of reassurance that his throne would now be inherited by a son, and not one of his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. Yet despite making Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate, he included them in his will as heirs to the throne if Edward died without issue.
So by Henry VIII’s death in 1547 the succession looked something like this:
- Edward IV and his heirs.
- Henry’s children by “Queen Catharine, or any future wife“
- Mary and her heirs.
- Elizabeth and her heirs.
- Lady Frances and her heirs.
- Lady Eleanor and her heirs.
Edward VI was only 9 when he became king. His reign was not a long one as he died aged 15 with no heirs. In early 1553 Edward knew he was dying, and this gave him time to rethink the succession. He created a new document, the ‘Devise for the Succession’, which changed the succession plan. Originally the devise spoke of males through the female line. Yet eventually Edward had to acknowledge that ultimately a woman was going to inherit the throne, as he didn’t have a lot of time left and there we no direct male heirs. So the question was, which woman should become Queen*? Religion was the big issue. Edward’s heir according to his father’s will and testament was his sister Mary, a devout Catholic, which didn’t sit well with the Protestant Edward. His diary entry from 1551 shows his attitude towards Mary’s stubbornness in continuing her Roman Catholic practices:
“The lady Mary, my sister, came to me to Westminster, where after greetings she was called with my council into a chamber where it was declared how long I had suffered her mass, in hope of her reconciliation, and how now, there being no hope as I saw by her letters, unless I saw some speedy amendment I could not bear it. She answered that her soul was God’s and her faith she would not change, nor hide her opinion with dissembled doings. It was said I did not constrain her faith but willed her only as a subject to obey. And that her example might lead to too much inconvenience.“
Mary was never going to change, so Edward chose to disinherit both his sisters leaving Lady Frances and her children as the next heirs to the throne. Lady Frances was the daughter of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister) and had three daughters herself: Jane, Katherine and Mary. By the time Edward realised his death was imminent, he adapted the wording of the Devise from “Janes heires masles” to “Jane and her heires masles“. His decision to pick Jane was largely due to the fact she was a devout Protestant. Also Edward’s advisor the Duke of Northumberland had recently become her father in law, after her marriage to his son Guildford Dudley. Northumberland was definitely a driving force behind the Devise, and some believe he was largely responsible for it not Edward.
On Edward’s death on the 6th July 1553, Jane was proclaimed Queen. A contemporary account describes the coronation of Jane:
“On 9 July all the head officers and the guard were sworn to Queen Jane as queen of England….The following day queen Jane was received into the Tower with a great company of lords and nobles of… after the queen, and the duchess of Suffolk her mother, bearing her train, with many ladies, and there was a firing of guns and chamber such as has not often been seen, between 4 and 5 o’clock; by 6 o’clock began the proclamation on the same afternoon of Queen Jane, with two heralds and a trumpet blowing, declaring that Lady Mary was unlawfully begotten, and so went through Cheapside to Fleet Street, proclaiming Queen Jane.“
Famously known as the Nine Day Queen Jane did not rule long. Mary was popular among the people and was able to respond quickly to events and build an army of 30,000. The Devise for the Succession fell apart, as Northumberland’s supporters melted away leaving him at Mary’s mercy. He was executed, but Jane was initially spared as it was clear she was a pawn and not a player in these events. In her own words “I was deceived by the Duke and the Council, and ill treated by my husband and his mother“. Yet Jane’s fate was sealed the next year in 1554 when her father made the decision to join Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion against Mary. Jane was not involved, but because of her familial connections to the crown she would always pose a threat to Mary’s reign. At only 16 years of age, Jane was beheaded at the Tower of London on the 12th February 1554.
Edward’s Device for the Succession was ultimately a complete disaster, it did not succeed in what it intended to do and as a result Jane’s life was lost.
What do you make of the ‘Devise for the Succession’? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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*England followed the rules of primogeniture so a woman could inherit the throne, but it was not something that was desired by the patriarchal society of the time.
Henry VIII’s Will: https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/henry-viiis-will/
Edward VI by Dale Hoak, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Edward VI’s Journal: https://englishhistory.net/tudor/king-edward-vis-journal/
Will of Edward VI: https://tudorhistory.org/primary/janemary/app1.html
Coronation of Lady Jane Grey: https://englishhistory.net/tudor/the-coronation-of-lady-jane-grey-1553/
Lady Jane Grey by Alison Plowden, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Intimate Letters of England’s Queens by Margaret Sanders.