While doing some research on Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk and her daughters, I came across a book written by Richard Davey in 1912 about Katherine and Mary Grey, the sisters of Lady Jane Grey. It’s impossible to write about these women without detailing their place in the succession to the throne of England. Davey provides this explanation of Henry VIII’s will and Edward VI’s ‘Device’, in which he tried to change the order of the succession. I thought my readers and those interested in Tudor history might find this interesting.
Davey says this in his Note:
“The following brief account of Henry VIII’ s Will may aid the reader in understanding the complications to which it gave rise. By this famous testament (dated 26th of December 1546 and revoking all his previous Wills), King Henry VIII provided that, in case he himself had no other children by his ” beloved wife Katherine [Parr] or any other wives he might have thereafter,” and in the event of his only son, Edward [afterwards King Edward VI], who was to be his immediate successor, dying childless, that prince was to be succeeded by his eldest sister, Princess Mary ; and if she, in turn, proved without offspring, she was to be succeeded by her sister, King Henry’s younger daughter, Elizabeth.
Failing heirs to that princess, the Crown was to pass to the Lady Jane Grey and her sisters, Katherine and Mary Grey, successively, these being the daughters of Henry’s eldest niece, the Lady Frances Brandon, Marchioness of Dorset. In the event of the three sisters Grey dying without issue, the Throne was to be occupied successively by the children of the Lady Frances’s sister, the King’s other niece, the Lady Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland.
The Scotch succession, through Henry’s eldest sister, Margaret Tudor, Dowager Queen of Scotland, was set aside, and the name of the young Queen of Scots [Mary Stuart] omitted from the Will, preference being given to the Ladies Grey, the daughters of Henry’s niece, because he hoped that the betrothal of Mary Stuart, then only six years of age, to his son Edward, might be arranged, and the desired union of England and Scotland brought about in a natural manner.
It is curious that Henry’s nieces, the Ladies Frances and Eleanor, are not named in the Will as possible successors to the Crown, although their children are. Probably the King thought that, considering the number of claimants in the field, both ladies would be dead, in the course of nature, long before they could be called upon to occupy the Throne.
In 1553, the Duke of Northumberland, then all powerful, induced Edward VI, in the last weeks of his reign, to make a Will, in which he set aside the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, his sisters, even stigmatizing them as bastards, and thus reversing his father’s testament ; and named Lady Jane Grey, his cousin, and in default of her, her sisters Katherine and Mary Grey, as his immediate and legitimate successors. The consequences of this unfortunate ” Devise,” as it is called, were, as all the world knows, fatal to the Lady Jane and her family.
As the result of these two Royal Wills, the principal claimants to the Crown on Elizabeth’s death were, therefore, at the beginning of her reign, the following : firstly, Mary Queen of Scots, and her son, afterwards James I, who may be described as the legitimate pretenders; secondly, the Lady Margaret Lennox, step-sister to the Queen of Scots, and her two sons Darnley and Charles Lennox, and, eventually, the latter’s daughter, Arabella Stuart ; thirdly, the Lady Katherine Grey and her two sons, and finally, in the event of their deaths, their aunt, the Lady Mary Grey.
In case of all these princes and princesses leaving no issue, there remained the children and grandchildren of the Lady Frances’s sister, the Lady Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland, one of whom, at least, Fernando Strange, rendered himself and his claims distinctly troublesome to Elizabeth. The queen had, moreover, to contend with the heirs of the Plantagenets, the members of the royal house of Pole, who, in the person of the Earl of Huntingdon, hoped, at one time, to dethrone the queen, and, with the assistance of the ultra-Protestant party, reign in her stead.”
For the most part, this explanation is correct. Davey makes an error in stating that Lady Margaret Lennox was the step-sister to the Queen of Scots. In fact, she was the half-sister of Mary Queen of Scots father, James V. He also calls Edward VI’s new document his Will but in fact it was labelled a ‘Device’ and did not have the legality of a certified Will.
Regarding the ‘Device’, this document was followed up with certified Letters Patent which Edward had the legal right to issue. The Letters Patent were properly testified by all of the King’s council. However, as soon as they were issued, an argument arose that Parliament must vote on and pass them as legislation to make the new succession legal. This argument has existed to this day. It stands to reason that Henry VIII’s Act of Succession, which had been passed by Parliament, would take precedence over Edward VI’s ‘Device’ and Letters Patent. It was argued at the time that Henry’s Will was not legal as the dry stamp of King Henry VIII’s signature had been used in lieu of his genuine signature.
Davey’s explanation tends to illustrate the origin of the controversy of the succession upon the death of Henry VIII. Therefore, it is easy to understand why there was debate and dispute over the elevation of Jane Grey to the throne and Mary’s valiant fight to gain it back. The muddying of the waters also created an atmosphere of distrust for Queen Elizabeth I. She would view Katherine and Mary Grey as contenders for the throne upon her death, resulting in their mistreatment and house arrests when they made ill-advised marriages that she did not approve. Katherine Grey would have the audacity to give birth to two sons, which created even more apprehension for Elizabeth.
What creates the most curiosity in regards to Henry VIII’s Will and Edward’s attempts to alter it, is the tendency for both of them to disregard Henry’s elder sister Margaret Tudor and her progeny. We will never really know their reasons for this omission. But what is interesting is the fact that Queen Elizabeth I preferred Mary Queen of Scots and her heirs as her successors. And that is exactly what happened.
Upon her deathbed in 1603, the history books say when Elizabeth was asked if she regarded James VI of Scotland as her heir, she nodded her head in the affirmative. I’ve always wondered if this was the truth, as we know some of her councilors were lobbying for James to become king, well before Elizabeth died. As Elizabeth took her last breath, there was a messenger at the ready to ride to Scotland and inform James he was now King James I of England, in direct contradiction of Henry VIII and Edward VI’s wishes.
Further reading: “The Sisters of Lady Jane Grey and Their Wicked Grandfather, Being the True Stories of the Strange Lives of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and of the Ladies Katherine and Mary Grey, Sisters of Lady Jane Grey, ‘the Nine-days Queen'” by Richard Davey, “Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen” by John Edwards