Sunday, 13 November 2016
13 November 1553: The Trials of Queen Jane, Archbishop Cranmer, and the Dudley Brothers
At London's Guildhall on 13 November 1553, five individuals were tried for high treason: Lady Jane Grey, the so-called 'Nine Days Queen'; her husband Guildford Dudley; his brothers Ambrose and Henry; and Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer was charged with helping to seize the Tower for Jane and of levying troops for the duke of Northumberland's expeditionary force against Mary I (Northumberland himself had been executed in August that year). The beleaguered archbishop allegedly 'openly confessed his crime', although he himself later clarified that he had 'confessed more... than was true'.
The Guildhall was the venue of several notable treason trials during the Tudor period. Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper, the reputed lovers of Katherine Howard, were tried and convicted at the Guildhall in 1541, while Anne Askew was tried for heresy at the same venue five years later. The five tried on 13 November 1553 proceeded from the Tower of London through the streets on foot to the Guildhall. Lady Jane - or Queen Jane; her exact title continues to rouse debate - was dressed in a sombre gown of black cloth and a black French hood.
The commission was headed by the lord mayor, Sir Thomas White. Eric Ives notes that the commission was 'overwhelmingly Catholic in sentiment', which was surely a calculated move on Queen Mary's part, as a sign of the new order that was to be a feature of her reign. The 'Nine Days Queen' was charged with taking possession of the Tower, alongside her husband, and 'signing various writings'. In short, she had unlawfully usurped the sovereign's authority.
All five were found guilty of high treason. The four men were sentenced to suffer a traitor's death: hanging, drawing and quartering. Jane was sentenced to be burned alive or beheaded according to the Queen's pleasure. The teenager faced news of her sentence bravely; she was sustained during those bleak months of imprisonment by her devout reformist faith. No date was given for the executions, and it appears that Queen Mary was, at least initially, willing to show mercy to the defendants, with the exception of Cranmer.
The outbreak of rebellion in early 1554, however, changed that. Whether or not she was pressured by the Spanish envoys, with the promise of marriage to Philip of Spain, or by her Privy Council, Mary elected to order the executions of Guildford Dudley and Lady Jane Grey, for she feared that her security would be compromised as long as they remained alive and a focus for reformers. On 12 February, Guildford and Jane were executed. Both died bravely. Jane was subsequently represented in cultural works as an innocent victim of her scheming parents, or as a virtuous Protestant martyr. Guildford was viewed with sympathy by his contemporaries, but modern writers tend to depict him negatively as an abusive, weak-willed and vicious adolescent, a portrayal that is essentially fictional in basis.
Ambrose and Henry, Guildford's brothers, were more fortunate. Ambrose was released from the Tower in late 1554 and went on to serve Elizabeth I as her Master of the Ordnance. In 1561, he was created earl of Warwick. He died in 1590. His younger brother Henry participated with Ambrose in several tournaments held by Philip of Spain, as a demonstration of Anglo-Spanish amity. Henry participated in the Battle of St. Quentin in 1557, where he died. Archbishop Cranmer fared less well. He was tried for heresy in 1555 and went to the stake on 21 March 1556.