Mary Tudor’s claim to the throne was effectively enshrined in law. Mary was the legitimate daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. While the law stated that Edward, as a boy, had the right to succeed his father despite being the youngest of the late king’s children, Mary was legitimately the next in line. However, known for her fervent support of Catholicism, there were those in England who feared yet more religious turmoil in the nation if Mary became queen. Hence the move by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, to put Lady Jane Grey on to the throne. This would have allowed the religious reforms introduced during the reign of Edward VI to have been maintained.
On the death of her half-brother, Mary must have felt isolated. The most powerful nobleman in England had put forward his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane, to be queen and the dying Edward had accepted this on June 21st 1553 when he signed a document excluding Mary and Elizabeth from any succession – claiming that both were illegitimate. To what extent Dudley exerted pressure on the very ill king is not known. Some believe that despite his ill health, Edward was capable of making decisions and that the decision to exclude Mary was his own.
Edward died on July 6th 1553 but his death was not publicly announced for three days, though rumours of his death understandably leaked out. During this time, Dudley did what he thought was needed to secure the position of Lady Jane. She was declared queen on July 10th.
However on July 9th, Mary, having heard rumours of Edward’s death, had written to the members of the Privy Council. Mary’s letter was a statement of her right to the throne. It was copied and sent to many large towns in an effort to gain support. In fact, for all his planning, Dudley failed to do the most important of tasks – to secure Mary and to control her movements and what she wrote etc.
Mary’s letter of intent to the Privy Council was widely read in many towns and it was the almost instinctive support of the people for the true heir that ended Dudley’s plot and led to his execution along with Lady Jane Grey’s. The letter is also a clear indication of Mary’s academic ability – it is well written and well argued.
“My lords, we greet you well and have received sure advertisement that our dearest brother the King and late sovereign lord is departed to God. Marry, which news, how they be woeful unto our hearts, He wholly knoweth to whose will and pleasure we must and do humbly submit us and our will.
But in this lamentable case, that is to wit now after his departure and death, concerning the Crown and governance of this Realm of England with the title of France and all things thereunto belonging, what has been provided by act of Parliament and the testament and last will of our death father – beside other circumstances advancing our right – the Realm know and all the world knoweth. The rolls and records appear by authority of the king our said father and the king our said brother and the subjects of this Realm, as we verily trust that there is no good true subject that is or can or will pretend to be ignorant hereof. And of our part, as God shall aid and strengthen us, we have ourselves caused and shall cause our right and title in this behalf to be published and proclaimed accordingly.
And, albeit this manner being so weighty, the manner seemeth strange that our said brother, dying upon Thursday at night last past, we hitherto had no knowledge from you thereof. Yet we considered your wisdoms and prudence to be such that having eftsoon among you debated, pondered, and well weighed this present case with our estate and your estate, the commonwealth, and all your honours, we shall and may conceive great hope and trust and much assurance in your loyalty and service, and that you will like noble men work the best.
Nevertheless, we are not ignorant of your consultations and provisions forcible, there with you assembled and prepared – by whom and to what end God and you know, and nature can but fear some evil. But be it that some consideration politic of some whatsoever reason hath hastily moved you thereto, yet doubt you not, my lords, we can take all these your doings in gracious part, being also right ready to remit and fully pardon the same freely, to eschew blood-shed and vengeance of those that can or will amend. Trusting also assuredly you will take and accept this grace and virtue in such good part as appeareth, and that we shall not be enforced to use the service of other our true subjects and friends which in this our just and rightful cause God, in whom our final affiance is, shall send us.
Wherefore, my lords, we require you and charge you, for that our allegiance which you owe to God and us, that, for your honour and the surety of your persons, you employ your selves and forthwith upon receipt hereof cause our right and title to the Crown and government of this realm to be proclaimed in our City of London and such other places as to your wisdoms shall seem good and as to this case appertaineth, not failing hereof, as our very trust is in you. And this letter signed with our hand shall be your sufficient warrant.
Given under our sign at our Manor of Kenninghall the 9th July 1553.
The reply from the Privy Council that Mary received was generally negative. Those who signed the reply on behalf of the Privy Council had good reason to be concerned once it became clear that the people supported Mary’s right to the Crown.