Money is probably the best evidence for a conspiracy in 1553. The “cash flow” does not only tell us that there was a plot, but also when it took place. In May, but mostly in June 1553, a lot of property changed hands in England: To put his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the English throne, the Duke of Northumberland needed to buy support. The greatest plums went to the Princess Mary, Edward VI’s half-sister and, by law, the heir to the throne.
Not every royal grant in 1553 was a bribe. Many beneficiaries indeed seem to have profited from death bed largesse rather than needing to be bought. Henry Gates, the brother of Sir John Gates (the chief influence in Edward’s privy chamber) was unlikely to disagree with the accession of Jane Grey. Sir John, deemed a fanatical Protestant, was later even suspected of coming up with the plan to make her queen.
Edward Lord Clinton, nephew of the Duke of Northumberland and a beneficiary of royal grants
Several beneficiaries were personally close to Edward, while not being powerful figures themselves. One of the earlier grants was made on 22 May 1553, to John Cheke, the king’s beloved tutor. Others who received grants were Sir Henry Sidney and Thomas Wroth, the friends in whose arms Edward died only days later. None of these men had to be bought. Sidney and Wroth worked closely with Northumberland, and Cheke, another keen Protestant, was reported to be one of those planting Mary’s demotion into Edward’s head.1
The most important and most difficult people to buy were the noblemen. The Earl of Shrewsbury was a great provincial magnate, rather cool towards the Edwardian regime and keeping aloof from involvement in central government. He certainly had to be bought. Most difficult, and as it turned out impossible, to win was the grand Earl of Arundel, who had fallen into disgrace together with the Duke of Somerset. Other than Somerset he had kept his head and had been released, but he had received a huge fine, which was adjusted and confirmed as late as 10 May 1553!2 – A sign, surely, that any plots for the succession were not yet in the making. Interestingly, Arundel’s fine was remitted on 1 July. Only on 21 June 1553, the day he and many others signed Edward’s “Devise”, was Arundel restored to the privy council.3
The other noblemen receiving grants were not enemies of the regime, but allies. John Russell, Earl of Bedford, may have been not particularly committed but he too was a Protestant and John Dudley had already rewarded his support (with an earldom) on an earlier occasion. Henry Neville, Earl of Westmorland, 29 years old, could almost be called the Duke of Northumberland’s protegé. An incorrigible gambler, he was always in debt. His ancient name notwithstanding, he owed his position of power in the North of England to the duke’s regime, in whose interest he worked. The Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Huntingdon were also allies, almost cronies; and Huntingdon was not only a recently acquired relative (his son having wed Northumberland’s daughter), but he and his son were also regular house guests of the Dudleys.4
Of the remaining peers, Lords Clinton and De La Warr were relatives as well; De La Warr was the Duchess of Northumberland’s uncle, while Clinton was the duke’s nephew (by marriage). Lord Darcy, on the other hand, was one of those men Northumberland called “my special friends”. As Edward’s Lord Chamberlain he was also the most important channel of communications between the king and his chief minister.
The London financier, Thomas Gresham, received his grant on 1 July 1553 (King Edward dying on the sixth); it is always a good thing to have warm relations with money people. And Gresham had been very useful before.
The biggest grant to Princess Mary: Framlingham Castle. Photo by Squeezyboy. CC BY 2.0
The most intriguing group of grants are those given to Princess Mary and her circle. Mary received the substantial Framlingham Castle and Park in mid-May and Hertford Castle as late as 6 June.5 In the same month she also received lands worth £604 17s 1¾d p.a. in exchange for lands near the Essex coast and a diamond and pearl pendant from Edward VI.6 As late as 19 June – the day public prayers started to be held for Edward’s recovery – her best friend and lady-in-waiting, Susan Clarencius, was allowed to buy more lands in Essex.7
Framlingham Castle in Suffolk (which she would use as her fortified headquarters within a few weeks) was the most generous gift Mary ever received from her brother. It came as the last step in an exchange of lands talked of since December 1552, but the point in time is still highly significant. Added to this came the considerable lands, and another functioning castle, received in Hertfordshire on 6 June. How plausible is it that Northumberland would have transacted this deal with Mary when at the same time he was plotting her overthrow?
Or was it actually a deal of another nature? One historian has argued that the Edwardian government sought to buy even the king’s sisters. That the grants of Framlingham and Hertford Castle to Mary and some other benefits to Elizabeth (as hinted at by William Camden) were part of a deal to accept their brother’s ideas for the succession.8 We must remember that Mary actually took possession of her new strongholds and that Framlingham especially proved to be crucial in her forthcoming struggle, for the crown and against Northumberland and his troops. Had she duped the duke? That Susan Clarencius was favoured as late as 19 June only supports this impression. Whatever the answer, it seems inconceivable that Northumberland would have let Mary have a place like Framlingham – in her home turf East Anglia – if he had anticipated to fight against her in the near future. It would have been strategic suicide.
Considering how, and especially when, some things happened between March and July 1553 – in parliament, in foreign relations, in issuing rewards – it clearly appears that there was a conspiracy for the crown. However, it becomes also clear that there was no grand conspiracy, no master plan planned over many months, as tradition would have it. The circumstantial evidence discussed points towards June as the time when the plan to enthrone Jane really came into being. And that’s pretty late.
Grants by Edward VI to courtiers and noblemen, April – July 15539
- 17 April
Henry Neville, 5th Earl of Westmorland
- 22 May
John Cheke, royal tutor, lands worth £100 p.a.
Thomas West, 9th Baron De La Warr
- 12 June
Henry Gates, brother of Sir John Gates, lands worth £102 12s 7d p.a.
Francis Hastings, 2nd Earl of Huntingdon, £158 8s 5d p.a.
- 23 June
Sir Henry Sidney, privy chamber, lands worth £160 6s 11½d p.a.
- 26 June
William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, Dnyate, Somerset
John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, lands worth £78 16s 7d p.a.
George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, mansion of Coldharbour, London, and lands worth £66 13s 1½d p.a.
- 1 July
Thomas Gresham, financier, lands worth £201 14s 9½d p.a.
- 3 July
Sir Henry Sidney, keepership of Sheen (Palace of Placentia)
- 4 July
Thomas Wroth, privy chamber, lands worth £87 3s 8½d p.a.
A Grand Conspiracy in 1553? – Parliament
A Grand Conspiracy in 1553? – Foreign Affairs
1 Loach 2002 p. 163
2 Loades 1996 p. 262
3 Ives 2009 pp. 161 – 162
4 Hoak 1976 pp. 63 – 65; Cross 1966 pp. 9, 13; Loades 1996 p. 308
5 Skidmore 2007 p. 264; McIntosh 2008 ch. 4; MacCulloch 1995 p. 538
6 Skidmore 2007 pp. 264, 329
7 MacCulloch 1995 p. 538; Ives 2009 p. 186
8 McIntosh 2008 ch. 4
9 Skidmore 2007 pp. 264, 327; Ives 2009 p. 317; Gammon 1973 pp. 185, 275; Loach 2002 p. 165
Cross, Claire (1966): The Puritan Earl: The Life of Henry Hastings, Third Earl of Huntingdon 1536-1595. Jonathan Cape.
Gammon, S. R. (1973): Statesman and Schemer: William, First Lord Paget. Tudor Minister. David & Charles.
Hoak, Dale (1976): The King’s Council in the Reign of Edward VI. Cambridge University Press.
Ives, Eric (2009): Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell.
Loach, Jennifer (2002): Edward VI. Yale University Press.
Loades, David (1996): John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland 1504–1553. Clarendon Press.
Lock, Julian (2004): “Fitzalan, Henry, twelfth earl of Arundel (1512–1580)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid (1996): Thomas Cranmer: A Life. Yale University Press.
McIntosh, J. L. (2008): From Heads of Household to Heads of State: The Preaccession Households of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor. Columbia University Press.
Skidmore, Chris (2007): Edward VI: The Lost King of England. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.