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Authors: Suzannah Lipscomb

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Despite the honour of his elevated position, More knew better than to trust the man who had deposed the ‘wise and honourable’ Wolsey. His remarks — that he couldn’t rely on Henry’s favour for ‘If my head could win him a castle in France … it should not fail to go’, and that ‘Politics be King’s games … and for the more part, played upon scaffolds’ — show a shrewd understanding of the corrupting nature of power and, in particular, Henry’s tendency to punish failure in those on whom he most relied.

Yet More also had a conscience: one that proved to be his downfall. He felt unable to accept Henry’s repudiation of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, both resigning from his post as Lord Chancellor in May 1532 and refusing to attend Anne Boleyn’s coronation in June 1533. Like John Haughton and the monks of Charterhouse he then refused to consent to the King’s displacement of the Pope in the role of Supreme Head of the Church by swearing the Oath of Succession. As a result of this disloyalty, he was imprisoned in the Tower, and tried over a year later under an act passed in the interim that made it treason to deny the Ring’s supremacy. Silent in the face of his accusers, he was eventually convicted by the perjury of the villainously named Sir Richard Rich [also see T
HE
T
OWER OF
L
ONDON
].

On 6 July 1535, More was beheaded. His wit did not desert him at the last. He joked with an officer on the scaffold, ‘I pray you, master lieutenant, see me safe up, and for my coming down, let me shift for myself’, and comforted the executioner, ‘Pluck up
thy spirits, man, and be not afraid to do thine office. My neck is very short.’ Four hundred years later, Pope Pius XI canonised More as a Catholic saint and martyr.

Lincoln’s Inn remembers its famous son. A copy of Hans Holbein’s portrait of More as Lord Chancellor, with his rich gown and chain of office, hangs in the Great Hall, but the greatest treasure is hidden in a nearby committee room. Here, a prized Holbein miniature of More ensures that in this place, where many great men and women have studied and worked, More’s profound determination to act according to his conscience will never be forgotten.

‘On 18 July, in the first year of our reign.’
Letter signed ‘Jane the Queen’, from July 1553

G
uildhall, which is situated at the centre of the City’s square mile on the site of an old Roman amphitheatre, is one of London’s great survivors. It was the only secular building to escape the Great Fire of London in 1666 and it survived the Blitz in 1940, though in both instances it lost its roof and windows. In the fifteenth century, it was the second largest edifice in London, after the Old St Paul’s Cathedral, and the formidable Great Hall and undercroft date from that period. It is now on its fifth roof, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to recreate what the medieval roof may have looked like, but everything beneath window-height is to the design of the original master mason, John Croxton, who built the Great Hall between 1411 and 1430. It is Gothic perpendicular in style, and an impressive 151 feet long, 48 feet wide and 89 feet high. The five-foot-thick walls may partly explain its durability.

In the Tudor century, it was the setting for important trials: notably the momentous trial of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of
Canterbury [see B
ROAD
S
TREET
, O
XFORD
]; Guildford Dudley and his wife, Lady Jane Grey.

The traditional version of Jane’s story is littered with misapprehensions, not least of which is that she is known as the ‘Nine Days’ Queen’. In fact, her reign extended for thirteen days, from the death of Edward VI on 6 July 1553 to the declaration of Mary as Queen on 19 July. She is also known to history as Lady Jane Grey, but after her marriage on 25 May 1553, she always signed herself with her husband’s surname, Jane Dudley. Most tellingly of all, she is thought of as a rebellious pretender to the throne, thrust into the limelight by her ambitious father-in-law, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

The truth is that, according to the provisions of Edward VI’s ‘device for the succession’, Jane was Edward’s rightful chosen heir and Mary the illegitimate rebel, and it was not only Northumberland, but the whole political establishment who originally backed Jane. When Edward died, it looked likely that Queen Jane would have a long and prosperous rule.

Instead, Jane became one of history’s victims. Just sixteen years old, pretty, petite and slender, with brown eyes, auburn hair and fair, lightly freckled skin, she seems to have been a serious but charming bluestocking. Her extraordinary gift for study and languages is best illustrated by the fact that when Roger Ascham, Elizabeth I’s tutor, arrived at the Greys’ house at Bradgate in August 1550, he found everyone out hunting except for the fourteen-year-old Jane, who sat alone, reading Plato in the original Greek.

But Jane’s eventual downfall had nothing to do with her character: it was a matter of birth. Her parents were Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset (later Duke of Suffolk), and Lady Frances Brandon, daughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister, Mary [see T
HE
C
HURCH OF
S
T
M
ARY
, B
URY
S
T
E
DMUNDS
]. When the sick and
childless Edward VI was looking to provide himself with a legitimate heir, his gaze landed on Jane, and her fate was sealed.

Under Henry VIII’s last will, and a statute from 1544, if Edward died without children, the English throne was to pass to Mary, and then to Elizabeth. But Edward’s half-sisters were only in the line of succession because in 1536 Henry VIII had established that it was the king’s right to determine his successor beyond the usual principle of male primogeniture. This meant Henry could later add Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession while retaining his profound belief in their illegitimacy — for they had been declared bastards when his marriages to their mothers failed. Their claim to the throne was not by right: it was a gift from the King, and what one monarch had given another could take away.

As King, Edward also had the right to determine the succession, and since his half-sisters were officially bastards, he never seems to have considered their claim. Edward was also desperate not to hand the crown to his Catholic sister Mary, for he had been busy entrenching the Protestant reformation in England. When he fell ill in early 1553, and his mind turned to his mortality, his first plan for the succession intended that only male heirs would succeed. Later, when he realised his illness was terminal, he — or someone with his consent — made a crucial change to his ‘device for the succession’, amending it in favour of ‘Lady Jane and her heirs male’. On 21 June 1553, Edward signed and sealed this legal document, and 102 witnesses added their support.

Yet, when Edward died a fortnight later on 6 July, the government was unprepared. For several days Edward’s death remained a badly kept secret. Jane was not informed that she was queen until Sunday 9 July. The council also underestimated Mary, failing to anticipate her bold and rebellious actions after sources told her that Edward was dying. When Robert Dudley was sent to collect her the day after Edward’s death, he found that Mary had already
escaped to her strongholds in East Anglia and, a day later, had had herself declared queen [see F
RAMLINGHAM
].

Meanwhile, in London, Jane was proclaimed queen on 10 July, and escorted, with her husband, Guildford Dudley, to the Tower in great pomp and ceremony to await her (and possibly his) coronation.

Having let Mary escape, the government now needed to muster an army to tackle her rebellion, but they failed to do so with sufficient speed. Northumberland was given charge of the troops but, taking the long way towards Mary’s base at Framlingham, via Cambridge, in the hope of picking up reinforcements, he didn’t reach Suffolk until 18 July. In the interim, Mary had amassed a force of close to 10,000 and had probably even acquired artillery.

To both the council in London and Northumberland on the march, it became evident that might was on Mary’s side. In the afternoon of 19 July, sensing their hand had been forced, the council performed a volte-face and proclaimed Mary queen. On 20 July, Northumberland followed suit. Ten days after being told she was queen, Jane was told she was not.

Keen to evade punishment, the council looked for a scapegoat and pointed the finger at the absent Northumberland. After Mary had taken full power, he was tried for treason on 18 August, even though most of the jury had been just as committed to Queen Jane as he.

Jane remained in the Tower, now a prisoner, until her trial on 13 November 1553. Staging the trial at Guildhall, rather than in the privacy of Westminster or the Tower, was in itself an act of humiliation. Dressed in black and carrying a Bible, Jane maintained her composure, even when the sentence to be ‘burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen should please’ was pronounced in Guildhall’s cavernous Great Hall.

Few, however, believed it would end that way. It was still
expected that Jane, whom even Mary accepted had done little wrong herself, would, in time, be released.

This all changed after Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger’s rebellion in early February 1554 [see W
INCHESTER
C
ATHEDRAL
]: an uprising about which Jane had no knowledge and with which she could not have been involved, imprisoned as she was in the Tower. Seeing her as a target for rebellion, and perhaps in revenge at Jane’s father’s involvement, Mary decided to execute Jane and Guildford. The sentence was carried out almost immediately: both were beheaded on 12 February 1554. Jane had not yet reached her seventeenth birthday.

In the years after her death, Jane’s story was rewritten by the victors: their guilt obscuring her legal claim to the throne. At Guildhall, remember the young, bright Jane Dudley, whose fate was decided by forces greater than herself.

‘The Prince of Wales was kept under such strict supervision that he might have been a young girl.’

E
ltham Palace was the childhood home of Henry VIII. Perched on a hill with magnificent views over London, it was built as a moated mansion for Anthony Bek, the Bishop of Durham in 1295, and became a royal home ten years later. Among its many royal residents and builders were Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV — who spent most of his Christmases as King here — and Edward IV. At its zenith, it was a vast palace, far bigger than Hampton Court, with an outer court (you can see the Lord Chancellor’s lodgings, which made up part of this court, to the left over the moat bridge), substantial chapel, apartments for the King and Queen, a Great Hall, an array of kitchens and lodgings for courtiers. Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth, entertained 2,000 people here during Christmas 1482. Now, it is a masterpiece of a different sort, having been turned into an art deco wonderland by the Courtauld family in the 1930s. Nevertheless, there is an important Tudor history to the palace to discover.

Henry VIII was born on 28 June 1491 at Greenwich Palace (which sadly no longer stands). He was the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Like his elder brother,
Arthur [see L
UDLOW
C
ASTLE
], he had symbolic titles bestowed on him as an infant, becoming the nominal Constable of Dover Castle, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Earl Marshal and Lieutenant of England, Duke of York, Warden of the Scottish Marches and Knight of the Garter. The most memorable of these investitures for him must have been when as a child of nearly three and a half (doting parents take note), he rode a great warhorse through London and was bathed in a wooden tub in order to be dubbed a Knight of the Bath the following day.

Throughout his childhood at Eltham, Henry was often separated from his father, who had his hands full dealing with the threat posed by pretenders to his throne. He also lived almost entirely apart from his elder brother, who had been given a separate establishment at Farnham and was then shipped off to Ludlow at the age of six. Henry was left with his mother, Elizabeth, his two surviving sisters, Margaret and Mary, and the overbearing figure of his grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort.

BOOK: A Journey Through Tudor England
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