She detested Guilford – he was indeed a spoilt, conceited and disagreeable young man – and she told her father that she would not marry him. Her obedience was forced by a beating, and … Guilford made no secret of his dislike for his bride.1
Although expressing a widely held view, this description of the marriage of Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley has, with the exception of the beating,2 no basis in a source of the times. None of the ambassadors reporting about the engagement and wedding remarked on any domestic scenes or personal details, and whether the intellectually minded Jane was beaten – or brow-beaten – into marriage or not, the Italian visitors to Queen Mary’s court who claimed she resisted the match do not say she did so because of Guildford’s person or personality.
Lady Jane Grey was very likely born in the spring of 1537,3 making her 16 at the time of her wedding on 25 May 1553. Guildford Dudley’s birth year is traditionally given as between 1534 and 1536, yet is there no specific evidence for any of these dates. Since the Dudleys had a newborn son in March 1537, though, and one of Guildford’s godfathers was the Spaniard Diego de Mendoza who visited England from May 1537 till August 1538, it is quite possible that Guildford was born in 1537 or 1538.4 He may thus have been of the same age or even younger than his bride. He certainly was a handsome boy: ‟a comely, virtuous and godly gentleman“ called him the chronicler Grafton, who had known him.5
After magnificent celebrations (with two theatrical companies, one male, one female, performing), married life started inauspiciousy for the groom:
My Lord Guilford Dudley, recently married to Suffolk’s eldest, one of his brothers, the Admiral and other lords and ladies, recently fell very ill after eating some salad at the Duke of Northumberland’s, and are still suffering from the results. It seems the mistake was made by a cook, who plucked one leaf for another.6
For Jane’s married life we are dependent on her own account in the form of an exculpatory letter to the victorious Queen Mary, which she wrote in August 1553 and which survives only in Italian translations. From Jane’s story it is clear that she considered herself a married woman and that she usually passed the nights with her husband.7 Declared Edward VI’s heir by the dying king, on 10 July 1553 Jane took official residence in the Tower of London; the Marquess of Winchester presented the crown jewels to her, saying that there was a second crown for her consort, a notion disagreeable to the new queen:
after the departure of the said My Lord, I was with my husband, and of that I discussed with him much, that I reduced him to consent, that, if he must be made King, it should be done by me, and by way of the Parliament. Afterwards I commanded to be called the Earl of Arundel, and the Earl of Pembroke, and I told them, that, when the crown came to me, it was resolved by me not to wish to make my husband King, nor ever to consent to it: but that it contented me to make him a Duke. The which being related to his mother, she angered herself with me in every way, and persuaded her son, that he should not sleep with me anymore: the which he obeyed, declaring to me that he did not desire to be a Duke, but King. Thus I knowing, that the following morning by order of the mother he had to go to Syon, I was forced, as lady, and loving of my husband, to send to the Earl of Arundel, and the Earl of Pembroke, that they should work [it] so that he should come to me, which they did. And so I was deceived by the Duke, and by the Council, and ill treated by my husband, and by his mother.8
Jane naturally was careful not to draw attention to her own family, while blaming all the rest – and of course the Duchess of Northumberland had tried to poison her, both before her accession and after.9 What does not figure in any of Jane’s accusations, though, is her marriage,10 and neither family ever made an attempt at dissolving this union between Grey and Dudley after the catastrophe of 1553, two points which should lend some support to the notion that it was a normal aristocratic match11 rather than part of a plot against Mary’s succession. For Jane, the married status was a serious matter and no row could change this. That it was more than mere decorum became clear on 19 July, the last day of her reign, when she stood godmother to the six-day-old son of one of the Tower guards: Jane wished that the baby be christened Guildford.12
A few hours later, Jane and Guildford were prisoners, lodged in separate buildings. It seems unlikely that they would have been allowed visits to each other, but during the final months of their captivity they could have met while taking the air in the Tower gardens, and in any case there would have been some eyecontact.13 The Duke of Northumberland was executed on 22 August; seven weeks later the Imperial ambassadors reported that his widow was “doing her utmost to secure a pardon for her children”, but that so far the queen had not decided on anything.14 Then, on 13 November 1553, Jane and Guildford, on foot and heavily guarded, passed through the city to stand trial at Guildhall. Guildford was convicted of compassing to depose Queen Mary by supporting his father with troops and by proclaiming and honouring his wife as queen; Jane was found guilty of signing various papers as ‟Jane the Queen“.15 The Imperial ambassadors summarized:
To-day three sons of the Duke of Northumberland, Jane of Suffolk and the Bishop of Canterbury were taken to the hall at Cheapside, and were there condemned to death. The only one of the Duke’s sons who has not been condemned is now my Lord Robert. When execution is to take place is uncertain, for though the Queen is truly irritated against the Duke of Suffolk, it is believed that Jane will not die.16
In the end it was indeed Jane’s father who secured the young couple’s undoing by his participation in Wyatt’s Rebellion against Mary’s Spanish marriage. His efforts at raising an army having failed miserably, Henry Grey arrived in the Tower as a prisoner on 10 February 1554, two days before Jane and Guildford were scheduled to die. Both wrote short messages to the duke in a prayerbook, in the hope that it would ultimately reach him:
the lorde comforte youre grace and that in his worde whearen all creatures onlye are to be comforted and though it hathe pleased god to take awaye ij of youre children yet thincke not I moste humblye beseche youre grace that you have loste them but truste that we by leavinge this mortall life have wanne an immortal life and I for my parte as I have honoured youre grace in thys life will praye for you in this life
youre gracys humble daughter
youre lovyng and obedyent son wishethe vnto your grace long lyfe in this world wth as muche ioy and comforte, as dyde I wyshte to my selfe, and in the world to come ioy euer lasting
your most humble son to his dethe
Guildford, for his part, also wanted to take leave from his wife, but Jane saw not fit to it:
Came the day of her death, and that of the husband, he, that was the first that should die, desiring to give her the last kisses, and the last embrace, asked her, that she might be contented, that he might go to see her. And she responded to him, that, if the sight of them might have given comfort to their souls, more gladly she would be contented to see him; but that, she finding that their sight would increase the misery in both, and bring much more suffering, it was best for now to forego that act, later then in a brief time they would see [each other] in another part, and live perpetually joined in an indissoluble bond.18
1 Chapman 1958 pp. 274 – 275
2 Rosso f. 10b
3 Ives 2009 p. 36
4 Higginbotham 2011; de Lisle 2013 p. 492
5 Ives 2009 pp. 275, 185
6 CSP Span 12 June 1553
7 Rosso ff. 54b – 55, 57
8 Rosso ff. 57 – 57b
9 Rosso f. 57b
10 Rosso f. 57b; Chronicle of Queen Jane pp. 25 – 26
11 Argued, for example, by W. K. Jordan, David Loades, Eric Ives.
12 Ives 2009 pp. 186, 215
13 Ives 2009 p. 252
14 CSP Span 9 October 1553
15 Bellamy 1979 p. 54
16 CSP Span 14 November 1553
17 BL Harleian MS 2342 ff. 78 – 80, 59v – 60
18 Rosso ff. 57b
The Chronicle of Queen Jane. (ed. J. G. Nichols, 1850)
Calendar of State Papers, Spain. Volume 11 – 1553. (ed. Royall Tyler, 1916) http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=973
Giulio Raviglio Rosso: History of the Events that Occurred in the Realm of England in Relation to the Duke of Northumberland after the Death of Edward VI. (ed. J. S. Edwards, 2011) http://www.somegreymatter.com/rossointro.htm
Lady Jane Grey’s Prayer Book: BL Harleian MS 2342 http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/record.asp?MSID=7220&CollID=8&NStart=2342
Bellamy, John (1979): The Tudor Law of Treason: An Introduction. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Chapman, Hester (1958): The Last Tudor King: A Study of Edward VI. Jonathan Cape.
de Lisle, Leanda (2013): Tudor: The Family Story. Chatto & Windus.
Higginbotham, Susan (2011): ‟How Old Was Guildford Dudley? (Beats Me).“ http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/posts/how-old-was-guildford-dudley-beats-me/
Ives, Eric (2009): Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell.