Pining Away

A s the sweating sickness raged in that summer of 15 51, councillors and courtiers, among them the Duke of Somerset, fled to their country houses to escape the contagion. In Somerset's absence, the remaining lords of the Council planned a new distribution of titles and honours amongst themselves and fretted over rumours of rebellions against Warwick's regime. It was said that Somerset was plotting some new mischief, and to counteract these threats the Council further strengthened the royal guards by employing 500 foreign mercenaries. The other enemy at the door was rising inflation, which Warwick unthinkingly sought to cure by debasing the coinage, but this did little to bring down prices, which had tripled since Henry VIII's time.

The King's sisters remained on their estates. We know something of Elizabeth's lifestyle at this time because her household book for the year from October 1551 survives. She was still suffering intermittent ill-health, but this did not prevent her from checking and signing every page of her accounts. For a princess she lived modestly, economising where she could. Her table was supplied mainly from her estates. Veal, mutton, boar, beef, poultry, eggs, barley and wheat were delivered in vast quantities to her kitchens by her huntsmen and farmers, and were supplemented by little luxuries sent by friends — a sturgeon, young swans, or some plump partridges, or gifts from local people, such as apples from a poor woman, or a basket of peas.

Elizabeth's clothes were made by a tailor called Warren, to whom she paid £26 for velvet cloaks and £78.18$ (£78.90) for liveries for her servants. He also supplied her that year with a pair of silk-lined bodices, twenty and a half yards of velvet, ten yards of black velvet for a pair of sleeves, two French hoods with partlets (veils), lining for kirtles, lengths of damask, crimson satin and silk, cauls and linen cloth. During this period Warren also made up 'divers robes for Her Grace'.

Other purchases were few. Mrs Ashley bought Holland cloth for making new towels, and Elizabeth paid a carpenter 44s.9d (£2.24) for making a walnut table. She also bought some gilt plate for New Year's gifts, at a cost of £32.35.8d (£32.18). In all, she dispensed only £7.i5s.8d (£7.77) on alms for the poor.

Music was her greatest indulgence. In February 1552 she paid over £7 to the King's drummers and pipers and Master John Heywood's troupe of child performers, who came to visit her by royal command. The accounts also record payments to other entertainers, Farmer the lutist, More the harper, and Lord Russell's minstrels. Seventeen shillings went on replacement lutestrings for Elizabeth herself. Her greatest pleasures were playing her lute or virginals, reading or sewing. She still hunted daily if her health and the weather allowed it; if not, she would pace restlessly up and down the gallery, or lie listless and frustrated in her bed.

That autumn, the ruling clique rewarded its supporters. On n October, Warwick was created Duke of Northumberland, the first man not of royal blood to bear a ducal title in England. At the same time, Dorset was promoted to the dukedom of Suffolk, which he held in right of his wife, whose brothers had died of the sweating sickness; the accommodating William Paulet was made Marquess of Winchester, and William Herbert, another of Northumberland's cronies, was created Earl of Pembroke. Several other members of the Duke's following, relatives, tenants and soldiers, received knighthoods. By creating this new affinity, Northumberland was extending his power base and consolidating his hold upon the Council by identifying the interests of his supporters with his own.

Somerset viewed this unprecedented distribution of honours as a threat to his own position, for all of those recently ennobled were his enemies. Already, he knew, Northumberland was preparing to move against him, determined to crush the voice of opposition. Aware that bribes had been offered to those who might be prepared to speak falsely against him, he turned for advice to his former secretary,William Cecil, who gave him cold comfort.

'If Your Grace be not guilty, you may be of good courage,' he said.'If you are I have nothing to say but to lament you.'

On the morning of 16 October, when the sweating sickness had abated and most councillors had returned to Whitehall, Somerset came late to a Council meeting. Before he could sit down, the Lord Treasurer accused him of treason and conspiracy, at which Northumberland summoned the guard and had him arrested and conveyed to the Tower. Shortly afterwards, the Duchess of Somerset joined him there in custody.

Northumberland had now gathered enough material to charge his rival with treason. It was alleged that Somerset had meant to seize control of the Tower and use its arsenal of weapons to establish his ascendancy over the capital. He would then orchestrate risings in various parts of the country, whilst he himself arranged the poisoning of the entire Council at a state banquet. It sounded preposterous but it would serve to condemn the Duke.

Whilst the Council was busy amassing more evidence, as it was pleased to call it, the court was preparing for a state visit by Mary of Guise, Queen Regent of Scotland, who was travelling back to Scotland after a visit to France. The Lady Mary was invited to attend the official reception but declined on the grounds of 'constant ill-health, which at present is worse than usual'. The real reason for her staying away, she told Scheyfve, was her fear of being subjected to further questioning on matters of religion.

Mary heard, however, that her young cousin, Jane Grey, was to attend the reception with her parents, and kindly sent Jane 'some goodly apparel of tinsel cloth of gold and velvet, laid on with parchment lace of gold', to wear for the occasion. The austere Jane preferred simple clothes in black and white and identified courtly finery with the trappings of the Roman faith.

'What shall I do with it?' she asked Mrs Ellen in dismay, as the nurse unwrapped the gown.

'Marry, wear it, to be sure,' Mrs Ellen replied.

Jane was horrified.

'Nay, that were a shame to follow my Lady Mary against God's word, and leave my Lady Elizabeth, which followeth God's word,' she answered piously. But her parents made her wear the gown, knowing that the King loved such finery, and would himself appear decked out in robes of cloth of gold, white velvet and silk, sparkling with diamonds, emeralds and rubies. Elizabeth, however, stuck to her sartorial principles and 'altered nothing, but kept to her old maiden shame-fastness,' according to John Aylmer, cutting a striking figure at court in her severely-cut garments.

Somerset's enemies now moved in for the kill. Northumberland, aware that Edward VI had little love for his uncle, made sure of the King's support by promising to implement more of the kind of radical religious policy that Edward favoured, and had little trouble in convincing the boy of Somerset's guilt. This much is evident from Edward's journal.

On 1 December the former Lord Protector was tried in Westminster Hall, found guilty and sentenced to death. Northumberland told the condemned man that he willingly forgave him and 'will use every exertion in my power that your life may be spared'. The public, however, voiced such extreme displeasure at the sentence that it had to be deferred for fear of provoking riots, and the 'Good Duke' was returned to the Tower, surrounded by crowds crying 'God save him!' to wait until the furore had died down. Arundel, implicated in the plot, was also imprisoned. He would be released within a year, but would emerge determined to have his revenge upon Northumberland.

With the traitors satisfactorily dealt with, Northumberland held 'a great muster of men-of-arms' in what is now Hyde Park, attended by most of his colleagues on the Council. This show of strength was calculated to warn the people not to provoke their rulers.

Mary, meanwhile, had received a letter from the Emperor castigating her for not attending Mary of Guise's reception at court. As heiress to the throne, he pointed out, it would be wiser if she showed herself there at every opportunity. Mary replied that she was planning to visit her brother in the New Year; however, she had heard a rumour that she was to be forced to attend Protestant services, and she had no intention of submitting to any 'outrageous rite'. The Council were still bullying her priests into submission, and she had complained about this but got nowhere. When he read her letter, the Emperor instructed Scheyfve to make another formal protest to the Council on Mary's behalf, but when the ambassador eventually saw them in January, he was told that King Edward, like Charles V, insisted on having his laws obeyed. To argue was futile.

The court observed Christmas with the usual festivities, and on this occasion, to please the King, Northumberland revived the ancient office of Lord of Misrule. A Mr Ferrers was chosen to act the part, and, garbed in a gorgeous costume of carnation satin striped with silver, he kept great state, having his own officers, including heralds, magicians, and fools, some of whom were dressed as cardinals. The cost - over .£300 - was astronomical, but the King loved it. He also enjoyed masques and plays featuring Henry VIII's former fool, Will Somers.

Neither of the King's sisters was at court for the festivities. Elizabeth stayed at Hatfield, while Mary kept the festival with the SufFolks and Lord Willoughby at Tilty in Essex, where there were banquets and masques for her entertainment. On Twelfth Night gifts were exchanged, and Mary presented Jane Grey with a beautiful necklace of pearls and rubies.

After Christmas, Northumberland put pressure on King Edward to sign Somerset's death warrant, but the boy was reluctant to send his uncle to the block, confiding to the French ambassador his hopes of preventing the execution. Edward was not yet his own master, however, and Northumberland's will prevailed. On 22 January 1552, Somerset walked from his prison to Tower Hill through tumultuous crowds who were protesting vociferously against the sentence. Suddenly, some soldiers were seen hastening in the direction of the scaffold, and the cry went up, 'Rescue! Reprieve!' However, the men were only guards arriving late for duty, and the disappointed mob would have carried off the prisoner to safety had he not been so heavily guarded.

Somerset proceeded calmly to the scaffold, and begged the people to cease their clamour.

'Through your quietness, I shall be much quieter,' he said. Then, after asserting his loyalty to the King, he knelt for the blow. After it had fallen, there was a rush for the scaffold so that people could dip their handkerchiefs into the blood of a man whom many supposed to be a martyr. If Northumberland had been unpopular before, he was hated now, and many believed he was planning even greater wickedness. As for the King, he made a brief, laconic entry in his journal: 'The Duke of Somerset had his head cut offupon Tower Hill between eight and nine o'clock in the morning.' There was no word of regret for a kinsman, no betrayal of any emotion.

Northumberland had eliminated his worst enemy and removed a focus for an opposition party. By cleverly manipulating the King and making Edward believe that he was defacto ruler, the Duke contrived to exercise absolute control over the government. Edward was susceptible to flattery, and Northumberland laid it on heavily, deferring cleverly to the King's desire for religious change. That spring a revised version of the Book of Common Prayer was authorised, which was to form the basis of the present Anglican liturgy; it was heavily influenced by the teachings of the Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, whom the King much admired. Meanwhile, numerous chantries were being closed and their wealth appropriated by Northumberland and his supporters. So zealous was the Duke that Bishop Hooper acclaimed him as 'that most faithful and intrepid soldier of Christ'.

That February, inspired by a sermon by Bishop Ridley that drew his attention to the plight of the poor, the King established two charitable foundations in empty religious houses in London. In the priory of St Thomas at Southwark, he founded a hospital for the sick, and in the convent of the Grey Friars at Newgate, a school for the children of the poor, called Christ's Hospital.

In fact, Edward was bursting with plans, and frustrated that his power was still too limited to carry them out. He wanted to strip the Order of the Garter of its association with St George and have its knights pledge themselves to 'the truth wholly contained in the Scripture'. He was determined to streamline the Council into committees, one of which was to govern 'the state', the first suggestion of cabinet government in England. He meant to continue his father's policies. In fact, he could not wait to exercise his prerogative in every respect, and put so much pressure upon his advisers that, in the spring of 1552, the Council, with Northumberland's blessing, agreed that the King should attain his majority and assume responsibility for the government of his realm when he reached the age of sixteen in October 1553. This announcement met with everyone's approval, and there were celebrations to mark it.

On 17 March the Lady Elizabeth rode into London to lodge at St James's Palace, bringing with her 'a great company of lords, knights and gentlemen' as well as 200 ladies and gentlewomen on horseback, and a company of yeomen. Two days later she went in procession through St James's Park to Whitehall Palace, followed by dukes, lords and knights, and ladies and gentlewomen in great company, and so she was received into the court goodly'. The warm welcome accorded her marked the esteem in which she was held, in stark contrast to the treatment meted out to her sister Mary, the Catholic heiress, whom Northumberland both despised and feared. As for the King, he was always pleased to welcome his 'sweet sister Temperance' to court.

At the beginning of April 1552, shortly after Elizabeth had gone home, Edward 'fell sick of the measles and the smallpox', as he recorded in his journal. This was probablyjust a bad attack of measles, rather than the disfiguring smallpox, and the King appeared to make a full recovery. On 21 April, Elizabeth, having heard he was better, was writing to express her relief to learn of his 'good escape out of the perilous disease, and that I am fully satisfied and well-assured of the same by Your Grace's own hand. I must needs give you my humble thanks, assuring Your Majesty that a precious jewel at another time could not so well have contented as your letter in this case has comforted me.'

On 23 April, Edward was sufficiently recovered to take part in the St George's Day service in Westminster Abbey, clad in his heavy velvet Garter robes, and for a while thereafter he carried out his royal duties as normal, though it seems that his constitution had been irrevocably undermined by his illness.

At the end of April the court moved to Greenwich Palace. Here Edward enjoyed tilting at the quintain and running at the ring, hawking, evening revels and musical recitals, or trips along the river on the royal barge. He attended 'a goodly muster of his men-at-arms' on Blackheath, watched the acrobats and high-wire artistes that he loved, and a play written for him by Nicholas Udall, entitled Ralph Roister Doister. In June the Lady Mary visited Greenwich with 'a goodly company'. Edward received her warmly and tactfully avoided the subject of religion.

On 27 June, the King rode through London before departing on his annual progress — a tour of part of his kingdom, enabling him to meet his subjects and be seen by them. He and his huge retinue would be accommodated in the houses of great nobles who lived along the route, often at a crippling cost to these hosts. Edward had been eagerly anticipating his progress, which this year would take him through the southern and western counties, and left London in cheerful mood, but some observers noticed that he was looking thin and pale.

Unfortunately, his advisers had arranged a punishing schedule, which required him to perform all kinds of public duties, such as inspecting the naval dockyard at Portsmouth, and to be constantly on show, as a king and as a guest. There was plenty of'good hunting and good cheer', with lavish entertainments laid on for him at the great houses along the way. John Aubrey, the seventeenth-century diarist, once met an old woman who recounted that, as a girl of sixteen, she had been out walking in the Wiltshire countryside when she met a well-dressed youth on horseback. He told her he had been hunting but had lost his way. As she gave him directions, a party of horsemen galloped up, and by their deferential manner she knew that he was the King, even before they addressed him as such.

By August, the strain was beginning to show. According to a Spanish observer, 'It was observed on ail sides how sickly he looked, and general pity was felt for him by the people.' Edward appeared exhausted, but he would not give in.

The lords with him, however, decided it might be best to curtail the progress, on the pretext that funds for it had run low. They did not want to provoke a political crisis by admitting that the King was ill.

At Salisbury, Northumberland, who had remained in London, rejoined the King, and was shocked by the change in him. Edward, he decreed, must return to London and consult a physician. He then summoned the Italian doctor and astrologer, Girolamo Cardano.

Edward returned to Windsor on 15 September. He hated the castle but had been too ill to travel further. Dr Cardano arrived shortly afterwards and professed himself highly impressed by his royal patient, praising his 'excellent virtues and singular graces, wrought in him by the gift of God. Nothing can be said enough in his commendation; [he is] such a worthy prince, although but tender in years, yet for his sage and mature ripeness in wit and all princely ornaments, I see but few to whom he may not be equal.'

Cardano was therefore distressed to discover that this paragon appeared to be afflicted with all the symptoms of consumption, or tuberculosis, a serious wasting disease of the lungs for which there was then no cure. Prior to his visit, the doctor had secretly - and at great danger to himself, for it was against the law - cast Edward's horoscope, in which 'I saw the omens of a great calamity.' Now he saw clearly that the King bore 'an appearance on his face denoting early death. His vital powers will always be weak.'

Summoned before the Council, Cardano did not dare reveal his true diagnosis, for it was treason to predict the death of the King. Instead, he mouthed soothing platitudes, saying that rest was all that was needed for his patient to recover his accustomed vigour.

But a rest from royal duties made little difference. Throughout the autumn and winter of 1552, the King's health declined steadily. He developed a harsh, racking cough, was laid low by spasmodic fevers, could not face food, and had to endure an unsightly bloating of his body, like dropsy. By the time he returned to Hampton Court to celebrate his fifteenth birthday, he was suffering agonising paroxysms of coughing which made him spit blood, and his doctors could do nothing for him. By Christmas, it was obvious that what the Elizabethan antiquarian John Stow refers to as a consumption of the lungs was well-established, and that the King's days on earth were numbered.

Northumberland, however, chose to act as if all was normal, arranging especially elaborate entertainments for Christmas and pretending that the King would soon recover. Edward's death would put an end to all his schemes, for it would bring Catholic Mary to the throne, and Mary would not look kindly upon a heretic who had bullied her mercilessly over religion. Already, Northumberland was devising in his mind ways of preventing Mary from ever succeeding, while at the same time making friendly overtures to her as if he were deferring to his future sovereign.

Mary had heard that her brother was unwell, but can have had no idea how serious his illness was because of the conspiracy of silence that surrounded him. Therefore she was astonished when she began to receive respectful, conciliatory letters from Northumberland, informing her of affairs of state and news of the court, and suggesting she resume the coat-of-arms she had borne back in the 15205 as her father's heiress. Then she was granted £500 for repairs to ruinous dykes on her Essex estates. It was all rather perplexing.

Elizabeth did not receive such courteous treatment. Northumberland feared her astuteness, and when she demanded to visit the King, he forbade it, refusing to heed her protests. The Duke almost certainly feared that her influence over Edward might ruin his future plans, and began systematically to poison the boy's mind against his sister.

By January 1553, foreign observers had noticed that Edward's cough was 'tough, strong [and] straining', and he himself had confessed to a 'weakness and faintness of spirit'. It was proving impossible to keep his condition a secret, and rumours of his illness - and even his imminent death - were beginning to circulate. On 20 January, Scheyfve warned the Emperor that a crisis was approaching; he had discovered that Northumberland was hoarding huge sums of money and, having removed Winchester from the treasury, had placed himself in control of it.

In Essex, Mary heard the rumours about the King's health and was alarmed. She had received an invitation from Northumberland to attend a Candlemas masque performed by a troupe of child performers, and on this occasion had no qualms about accepting, being determined to see for herself how her brother was. In February, according to the diarist, Henry Machyn, she rode to London 'with a great number of lords and knights and ladies, to the number of two hundred horse'; Northumberland himself received her, with a display of courtesy and ceremony, an hour's ride from the city, accompanied by Lord William Howard and a hundred mounted gentlemen. He then escorted Mary to the Priory of St John at Clerkenwell, where she was to stay.

The King, Northumberland explained, was too ill to receive his sister, being in bed with a high fever, but he might be better on the morrow. Next day, Mary rode to Whitehall, where she was welcomed at the palace gate by Northumberland and the entire Council, who accorded her so much respect that she might have been a reigning queen. By now, it must have occurred to her that her brother was very ill indeed and that, to all appearances, her accession was expected. However, she did not trust John Dudley; for all she knew he might be plotting some new villainy.

For three days, while Edward was too ill to see her, Mary remained at court, where wild rumours were circulating. She was told that the King was the victim of'a slow-working poison', or that he was already dead. It was therefore with some relief that she was finally admitted to his bedchamber. What she saw there left her profoundly shocked, for Edward looked so thin and ill that it seemed he must surely die of whatever disease was ravaging his poor body. She was assured that he was on the mend, however; he did seem pleased to see her, and they exchanged pleasantries, both avoiding the topic of religion. But he was soon exhausted, and Mary was not surprised to learn, later that day, that the masque had been cancelled and the children sent home. She too went home, troubled in her mind, not only about her brother, but about Northumberland's intentions. Did he really mean to welcome her as Queen when the time carne, as come it surely would? Or was he dissembling, trying to lull her into a false state of security?

Elizabeth was angry when she heard that Mary had been to court; she too had been 'determined about Candlemas to come to see the King's Majesty', but Northumberland had put her off with excuses, saying she could come another time.

A week after Mary had left, Edward's bouts of coughing became so violent that his doctors thought he was dying, and warned the Council that he was in peril of his life. If he caught any other malady he would undoubtedly succumb to it. Edward himself feared the worst, but he was more concerned about what would happen to the Protestant cause in England if he were to die now. He remained in a grave condition for more than a week, then suddenly rallied and was able to leave his bed. Throughout the crisis, Northumberland had issued daily bulletins about the King's health, trying to conceal the mortal nature of his illness, but even he could not prevent rumour and gossip from crying abroad the truth.

An unknown well-wisher had sent Edward some books to while away the hours spent in his sick bed. After the worst was over, John Cheke wrote to the donor to say that his master had received the books

kindly and courteously. His Majesty, debilitated by long illness, is scarcely yet restored to health. Should a longer life be allowed him, I prophesy indeed that, with the Lord's blessing, he will prove such a king as neither to yield to Joshua in the maintenance of true religion, nor to Solomon in the management of the state, nor to David in the encouragement of godliness. It is probable that he will not only contribute very greatly to the preservation of the Church, but also that he will distinguish learned men by every kind of encouragement. He has long since given evidence of these things, and has accomplished at this early period of his life more numerous and important objects than others have been able to do when their age was more settled and matured.

On 21 February, the King had sufficiently recovered to open in person a new Parliament, summoned urgently by Northumberland, but people were shocked to see how weak and exhausted he was. Parliament confirmed the new date for the King's coming-of-age. So confident was Northumberland of his hold over Edward that he did not doubt that his young master would continue, if he lived, to defer to him. If he did not live, then he could be relied upon to take the Duke's advice on the appointment of a successor who would ensure the future welfare of the realm and the maintenance of the Protestant religion.

When Parliament rose, Edward departed for Greenwich, firmly believing that Northumberland had both his and the kingdom's interests at heart and could safely be left to govern the country to the King's satisfaction. As for himself, he was of the opinion, according to Scheyfve, that his illness was not as serious as had been thought, and that he would soon be restored to health. A few peaceful weeks at Greenwich, enjoying the fresh air, would effect a cure. God must surely spare him for the great task that lay ahead of him.

In his will, confirmed by the Act of Succession of 1544, Henry VIII had left the crown of England to his son Edward and his heirs. If Edward died childless, Mary and her heirs were to succeed, then Elizabeth and her heirs. If these lines died out, then the heirs of Heny VIII's younger sister, Mary Tudor, were next in succession. Mary Tudor had died in 1533, and her heir was Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, mother of Jane Grey.

Northumberland knew that, if Mary succeeded, it would mean the end of his own power and probably his life. It would also herald a Catholic revival and the outlawing of the reformed religion. By the middle of March 1553, Northumberland had decided that the succession must be altered to exclude not only Mary, but also Elizabeth, who was likely to prove unamenable to his tutelage. When Edward died, the crown should pass, not to the forceful Frances Brandon, who would be no one's puppet, but to her daughter, a fanatical Protestant who would promote the reformed religion, but who was also young enough to be in awe of Northumberland and manipulated by him. It was the Duke's intention to marry Jane to his youngest son, Guilford Dudley, in order to cement the bond between the two families and thereby create a royal dynasty of Dudleys, of which he, Northumberland, would be the founding father.

The Duke had no doubt that he was in a position to bring such an audacious plan to fruition. He ruled as a dictator, and the King was in his control. Edward would surely see the virtue in the arrangement and would give it his blessing. He could then make a new will, disposing of the crown and disinheriting his sisters. Such a process was in fact illegal, for the King, as a minor, had no right to alter his father's arrangements for the succession since they had been confirmed by Act of Parliament. Furthermore, Parliament had granted Henry VIII the power to bequeath the crown to whomsoever he pleased; it had not extended that right to his successors. But Northumberland had no time for the niceties of the law. Suffolk, when approached, was more than willing to support him, and delighted that he was at last to realise his ambition of seeing his child on the throne; he was certain that his wife would waive her right of succession in favour of her daughter. As for Jane, she was not consulted; daughters were expected to obey their parents.

Yet Northumberland was not in such a strong position as he believed himself to be. Many of his fellow councillors resented his power, his greed, his pride, and his shameless promotion of his sons. They were angry at the imperious way in which he summoned them to Ely Place to conduct business, or had secret night-time conferences with the King, and made decisions without reference to their opinions. They muttered that he was, after all, the son of a traitor. Under his rapacious rule, England had advanced steadily towards bankruptcy as the Duke feathered his own nest and those of his supporters, and her prestige in Europe had been brought lower than ever before. He had hurried through radical religious reforms without pausing to consider the fact that most people in England were not ready for them, had, indeed, only just accustomed themselves to the religious settlement established by Henry VIII, and were largely Catholic in sympathy, even if they did outwardly conform with the recent religious changes. It did not occur to Northumberland that this latest scheme to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne would not be tolerated by a populace that loved and respected both Mary and Elizabeth as the late King Henry's daughters. He could only see the advantages it would bring to himself.

Northumberland divulged his plans to no one outside his immediate circle, but Scheyfve for one guessed that trouble was brewing, and that the Duke would do his utmost to prevent Mary from succeeding to the throne: 'They are evidently resolved to resort to arms against her, with the excuse of religion among others,' he reported. Nevertheless, the Duke continued to treat Mary with deference, and acted as if there was nothing seriously wrong with the King, speaking of Edward's coming marriage with Elisabeth of France and his hopes that their union might be fruitful. The strain of maintaining this pretence told on him, however; he became short-tempered and, if thwarted, responded with violent outbursts of rage. He confided to William Cecil that he retired each night 'with a careful heart and a weary body'. Fear of the future, and the stress of retaining a firm grip on affairs whilst plotting a daring coup, had a predictable effect on his health: he was, he told his secretary, 'as ill at ease as I have been all my life. What comfort think you may I have, that seeth myself in this case after my long travail and troublesome life, and towards the end of my days?'

Mary was also in a state of high anxiety that March. She did not trust Northumberland and feared that, if the King died, he would arrange for her to be done away with before she could assert her right to the throne. She was aware that others besides Northumberland were horrified at the prospect of her becoming queen. She was strongly identified with the Catholic cause and with Imperial interests, and had throughout her life taken no decisions without first seeking the advice of her cousin Charles V or his ambassadors. There were many influential people who had much to lose if Mary came to the throne, or who simply feared foreign interference in English affairs.

Edward VI's condition was steadily deteriorating, which meant that Mary's accession seemed a near-certainty. At the end of April Scheyfve reported: 'I hear from a trustworthy source that the King is undoubtedly becoming weaker as time passes, and wasting away. The matter he ejects from his mouth is sometimes coloured greenish-yellow and black, sometimes pink like the colour of blood.' One of the royal physicians confided to the ambassador that Edward would be dead by June. The Council had also been told this grim prognosis, but continued to issue reassuring bulletins for the benefit of the public. Northumberland did not want Mary to have time in which to make plans and perhaps arm her supporters. Yet the public were suspicious, wondering why they had not seen the King for so long, and in London in particular there was rampant speculation as to what was going on behind the palace doors.

Edward himself realised he was dying, and was racked with anxiety as to what would happen after his death. If Mary succeeded him, all his plans for the establishment of a Protestant state would be undone — it was an appalling prospect. Seeing his distress, Northumberland took care to play on his fears by predicting the destruction of his religious policies by Mary, and consequently had no difficulty in convincing him that it would be wise to consider altering the succession; indeed, Edward may even have suggested it himself.

While the dying King agonised over the future of England, Northumberland finalised plans for the marriage of his son Guilford to Lady Jane Grey. Jane was already betrothed to Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, the fifteen-year-old son of the late Duke of Somerset, but her parents had no qualms about breaking this precontract; fond as they were of Hertford, this new match held far more glorious prospects for themselves and their daughter.

Jane was now fourteen. Battista Spinola, a Genoese merchant who saw her at this time, described her as being

very short and thin, but prettily shaped and graceful. She has small features and a well-made nose, the mouth flexible, the lips red. The eyebrows are arched and darker than her hair, which is nearly red. Her eyes are sparkling, her colour good but freckled. In all, a charming person, very small and short.

The French ambassador, Antoine de Noailles, pronounced Jane to be 'well made' and spoke admiringly of her cultivated spirit and meritorious modesty. Fluent in Latin and Greek, she frequently corresponded with reformist scholars in Switzerland, and was learning Hebrew in order to read the Old Testament in its original text. Already she was famed throughout European intellectual circles for her erudition. As well as being very clever, Jane was proud of her lineage and family, but she was also contemptuously intolerant of those who held different beliefs from herself, and insensitive to the beliefs and feelings of others.

As yet, Jane knew nothing of her betrothal being broken, nor of the plan to marry her to Guilford Dudley. Born in 1536, Guilford was Northumberland's fifth and youngest son, and his mother's favourite. The Duchess had spoiled him, and he was now a vain, foolish, self-indulgent youth, who still ran to his mother whenever anyone denied him what he wanted. He was fair-haired, with a tall, elegant physique, aristocratic good looks, and a courteous manner, but he appeared both petulant and disagreeable. Like all the Dudleys, he was ambitious, and the prospect of a royal bride appealed to his vanity.

Lady Jane was not interested in young men, preferring to pursue her intellectual interests. Left to herself, she would not have married, but she accepted that princesses of the blood royal had no choice in the matter. However, she hated the Dudley family, and when, at Suffolk

Place, her parents informed her that she was to marry Guilford Dudley, she refused to do so. Suffolk and his wife were incredulous that their daughter should dare to defy them, and erupted in fury, but Jane quietly pointed out that she was already contracted to marry Lord Hertford, and was not free to marry anyone else. Her protest did her little good. Shouting and swearing at her, the Duke and Duchess insisted she obey them; when she persisted in her refusal, they responded with blows and curses. This did not work either, so the Duchess gave her errant daughter a whipping, and thus she and her husband 'succeeded in concluding' the betrothal. A contract was drawn up and a sullen Jane gave her reluctant consent to it. Thereafter she behaved politely but coolly towards her future husband whenever they met. Their betrothal was announced late in April 1553.

By this time, the King's condition was critical. Confined to his bed at Greenwich with a high temperature, he lay coughing up foul-smelling sputum and wincing at the pain caused by ulcers that had erupted all over his body. Northumberland was still issuing optimistic bulletins but no one took them seriously any more, and there were frequent reports that the King's death was imminent or that he was already dead. When they could catch the rumour-mongers the Council had them put in the pillory, but they could not trace the persons who claimed that Northumberland was steadily poisoning Edward.

Gossip was further fuelled by the King's failure to appear at the wedding of Lord Guilford Dudley and Lady Jane Grey, which took place on Whit Sunday, 25 May 1553, at Durham House in the Strand. It was actually a double wedding, for Jane's sister Katherine was also being married, her bridegroom being William, Lord Herbert, the son of the Earl of Pembroke, an ally and friend of Northumberland. These were just two of several marriage alliances made at this time by Northumberland in order to extend his power base. The joint wedding ceremony was conducted with great pomp and splendour to underline the importance of the occasion. Durham House had been refurbished with new tapestries, Turkish carpets and new hangings of crimson and gold tissue. The King sent magnificent jewels for the young couples, and commanded his Master of the Wardrobe to supply all the wedding finery, including cloth of gold and silver tissue and rich clothes. Lady Jane wore a gown of gold and silver brocade embroidered with diamonds and pearls. The entire Council attended the wedding, but the wedding banquet and the masques and jousts that followed it were held in private, with no foreign ambassadors being invited. However, the festivities were marred by an outbreak of food poisoning, caused bya cook carelessly selecting the wrong leaves for a hot salad. Guilford Dudley was one of those affected.

After the celebrations were over, Jane returned with her parents to Suffolk Place, while her sister Katherine was sent to live with her new husband at Baynard's Castle, the riverside town house of her father-in-law. It had been agreed by the Suffblks and Northumberland that the marriages should not be consummated just yet. If the coup were to fail, then they could easily be annulled. Jane, with some relief, went back to her studies, while Katherine and William Herbert were given separate bedchambers. William was all for defying their parents and creeping into his wife's room at night, but his fear of Northumberland's wrath prevented him from doing so. History does not record whether or not either couple had any affection for each other; in Jane and Guilford's case, it is more likely that they were merely indifferent.

For a month after her wedding Jane was ill. She believed that her father-in-law was trying to poison her, although he had no obvious motive for doing so. Her parents took her to the former monastery at Sheen to recover. While they were there, a former monk, embittered at having been turned out of the foundation by Henry VIII, did his best to frighten them away. One day, when the Duke and Duchess were walking in the gallery, a bloody hand brandishing a dripping axe thrust itself out of an aperture in the wall. No sources record what happened to the monk who perpetrated this hoax.

After the weddings were over, Northumberland hastened back to Greenwich to be with the King. Thereafter, he rarely left Edward's side. As May drew to a close, the boy grew weaker, and his doctors predicted he would not last two weeks. Some gave him only three days to live. In alarm, Northumberland realised he had very little time left in which to bring his plans to fruition.

The first step he took was to persuade the Duchess of Suffolk to relinquish her claim to the throne in favour of her daughter. He then ordered Jane and Guilford to consummate their marriage, which they did shortly afterwards. Jane had still not recovered from her illness, and in June her mother-in-law sent her to recuperate at Katherine Parr's former home at Chelsea. Here she was joined by the Duchess of Suffolk, but not by Guilford. His duty done, he preferred to remain with his mother.

Late in May, John Banister, a student doctor attached to the royal household, recorded that the King was

steadily pining away. He does not sleep except when he is stuffed with drugs. The sputum which he brings up is livid black, foetid and full of carbon; it smells beyond measure. His feet are swollen all over. To the doctors, all these things portend death.

The physicians had given up hope, and Northumberland, knowing they could do nothing more for their patient, sent them away, and in their place installed a female quack who claimed she could cure the King. With Northumberland's blessing, she began giving Edward daily doses of a potion that almost certainly contained arsenic, which prolonged his life but caused him intense pain and suffering. It seems likely that Northumberland knew what the effects of this drug would be, but he was desperate for more time, and consequently indifferent to the agony suffered by his young master.

The Duke now faced the task of persuading the King to change his father's will and disinherit his sisters. He told him that 'It is the part of a religious and good prince to set apart all respects of blood where God's glory and the subjects' weal may be endangered. That Your Majesty should do otherwise were, after this life - which is short - to expect revenge at God's dreadful tribunal.' Faced with the prospect of eternal damnation and an England returned to the Catholic faith, the King agreed that Mary should never succeed. But he could see no reason why Elizabeth should not. Northumberland answered that Mary 'could not be put by unless the Lady Elizabeth were put by also'. A female sovereign would marry a foreign prince and would 'abolish all the ancient rights and immunities' of the realm, until her husband finally 'extinguished at last the name of England. Your Majesty should consider again, and again. Kings owe protection to their subjects to defend them from injury.'

Edward suggested that the Duchess of Suffolk succeed him, but Northumberland summoned her to Greenwich where, in the King's presence, she formally relinquished her claim to the throne. When she had gone the Duke spoke at length of the 'matchless qualities' of Lady Jane Grey

and the agreeableness of her conversations with His Majesty's own affections. She hath imbibed the reformed religion with her milk, and is married in England to a husband of wealth and probity. Your Grace had always an affectionate sympathy for that excellent lady. You are bound by your duty to God to lay aside all natural affections to your father's house.

The Duke pointed out that both Mary and Elizabeth had been declared bastards by Act of Parliament and never formally legitimised.

Jane had been born in lawful wedlock. Moreover, there was a precedent for her succeeding in her mother's lifetime, for had not Henry VII acceded to the throne whilst his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, still lived?

Having laid all his arguments before the King, Northumberland instructed Edwards's closest friend, Henry Sidney, to 'entertain' his master as often as possible with 'continual discourses of Lady Jane [and] the high esteem in which she was [held] for her zeal and piety'.

Edward did not need much convincing. Believing that he would soon stand before the dreadful Seat of Judgement, he commanded Northumberland to draw up a will entitled 'My Devise for the Succession', which he copied out in his own trembling hand. This vested the succession in 'the Lady Jane's heirs males'. The Duke assured Edward that, even though Jane was married to his son, 'I do not consider so much mine own interest as the benefit of the whole kingdom'. Around 10 June, the King made an alteration to the draft Devise in his own hand, leaving the crown to 'Lady Jane and her heirs males', and after them to Jane's sisters and their heirs. Edward's own sisters were described in this final version as 'illegitimate and not lawfully begotten' and 'disabled to claim the said imperial crown', being 'but of the half blood'. It was His Majesty's pleasure that his sisters 'live in quiet order, according to our appointment'.

On 11 June, as Scheyfve was reporting that Northumberland meant to make himself King, the King summoned Sir Edward Montague, the Lord Chief Justice, together with the Solicitor General and the Attorney General, to his bedside and commanded them to draw up Letters Patent incorporating his Devise for the Succession. The judges protested that to do so would be treason, for the will of the King could not overturn an Act of Parliament, and Henry VIII's Act of Succession had made it high treason to even attempt to alter its provisions. Northumberland insisted that obedience to the King's will could never be treason. But, said the Lord Chief Justice, a deed of settlement would have no validity in law. At this, the King had his attendants raise him from his pillows, and croaked, 'I will hear of no objections!' Montague begged for time to study the Devise at leisure, which Edward granted, and thereupon the judges rode back to London, greatly troubled in their minds. After a day or two of study and debate, they agreed with each other that to do as the King and Northumberland asked would be an act of treason.

Informed of this, Northumberland summoned the judges to Ely Place, where they found him 'in a great rage and fury, trembling with anger, and amongst his ragious talk [he] called Sir Edward traitor, and further said that he would fight in his shirt with any man in that quarrel'. The Lord Chief Justice and his fellow judges were 'in dread that the Duke would have stricken one of them'. King Edward was also furious that his order had not been obeyed, and on 15 June commanded Montague 'with sharp words and angry countenance' to 'make quick dispatch', at which Montague was 'in great fear as ever he was in his life before, seeing the King so earnest sharp and the Duke so angry'. Without further argument, he and his fellow judges retired in tears and arranged for a deed of settlement to be drawn up under the Great Seal of England.

On 21 June, when this document had been signed by the King, the Council were required by Northumberland, in Edward's presence, to give their consent to the new order of succession. Some showed great reluctance to do so, believing this new development to be entirely Northumberland's doing- as most people would erroneously come to believe. In fact it was the King who, on his sickbed and hardly able to speak, vehemently insisted that all his councillors approve his Devise. He looked so ill and distressed that no one dared refuse him, and by the end of the day, over a hundred councillors, peers, archbishops, bishops, members of the royal household, secretaries of state, knights of the privy chamber and sheriffs had appended their signatures to the document. Cecil later claimed he had signed only as a witness; Archbishop Cranmer, the last to sign, was the only man who did so 'unfeignedly'. Many lords had deep forebodings as to how the common people would react to this change to the succession, and most were aware that it was illegal, since the 1544 Act of Succession had not been repealed and the King, as a minor, was not legally capable of making a valid will. Moreover, Northumberland was generally disliked, even detested, and few wanted to see him remain in power. For all this, nearly every man present agreed to sign a second document, an 'engagement' drawn up by the Duke, in which they promised to support 'Jane the Queen to the uttermost of their power and never at any time to swerve from it'.

Foreign ambassadors had not as yet been told of the change to the succession. Northumberland knew that if Scheyfve heard of it he would warn Mary what was afoot. Of course, Scheyfve had guessed that something was going on. 'On every side there are plans and preparations,' he told the Emperor, but what they were for he was not certain. On 19 June, the ambassador received a request from a worried Mary that he would ask the Emperor's advice as to what she should do. Charles responded by telling her to accept whatever offer was made to her; if it was not the crown, then he regretted he could not help her, for he had not the manpower or resources to fight for her right to the succession. But by the time this message reached her, Mary would have taken matters into her own hands.

By the end of June, Scheyfve had discovered that Northumberland had succeeded in altering the succession, although he knew no details He told Charles V,

The Duke's and his party's designs to deprive the Lady Mary of the crown are only too plain. He will dissemble with the princess till the King dies, and then make a coup d'etat and kidnap her. He will say that her accession may bring ruin and establish popery. When it comes to the truth, Northumberland's party may desert him. He is hated and loathed for a tyrant, while the Princess is loved throughout the land. With her help, Northumberland may be worsted.

This appeared, however, to be a vain hope. Further confirmation of the way things were moving came on 23 June, when an order went out for prayers for the King's sisters to be omitted from church services.

Concerned about the situation in England, and worried about Mary's safety, Charles V dispatched three special envoys who would later replace Scheyfve. Simon Renard, a native of Franche-Comte whose mother-tongue was French, was by far the most accomplished and able of the three. He and his colleagues faced a difficult task. Ostensibly in England to convey the Emperor's commiserations to King Edward over his illness, their actual brief was to assure Northumberland of Charles's friendly intentions towards him whilst doing their best to persuade him to alter his plans for the succession. They were also to protect the interests of the Lady Mary, allaying the fears of the English by saying that the Emperor believed she should marry an Englishman and not a foreigner. Finally, they were to make contact with Mary and urge her to issue a declaration that she did not intend to make any sweeping changes with regard to foreign policy or religion, and that she would pardon all those councillors who had given her cause for offence during Edward's reign. If Mary agreed to take this advice, those who had objected to her succeeding on the grounds of religion or marital alliance, or simply through fear for their own skins, would have no further cause for opposition.

In the opposite camp, the French ambassador, de Noailles, was doing everything to assure Northumberland of his support. His country was at war with the Emperor, and he knew that Charles would try to thwart the Duke's plans. De Noailles promised that his government would do all that was needful to keep the Emperor fully occupied when the time came for the King's Devise to be put into effect. Guessing that the French would meddle in this way, Charles instructed his ambassadors to make use of every opportunity to counteract French influence at the English court.

Scheyfve knew that Northumberland meant to have Mary disinherited, but - like everyone else outside the Privy Council and the royal household - he had no idea who was to rule in her stead. It occurred to him that it might be Lady Jane Grey, but he rejected the idea on the grounds that she was too young. On 27 June he informed the Emperor that Northumberland probably meant to make his son Guilford king. The Duke's 'designs are obvious. God wishes to punish this kingdom.'

The next day, Northumberland concluded a secret treaty with France; in return for money and troops, it is believed that he promised to give back Calais, all that remained of England's lands in France. At the same time, the Duke forced the London merchants to lend him £50,000, and sent his captains and armed forces to man the chief strongholds thoughout the kingdom in case the populace should rise in Mary's favour when Jane was proclaimed queen.

By 2 July, the King was suffering agonies as a result of arsenical poisoning, and using his remaining strength to beseech God for a speedy release into the next world. His skeletal body had swollen like a balloon, and 'all his vital parts were mortally stuffed'. His pulse was weak and irregular, his skin was beginning to discolour, his extremities were being eaten away by gangrene, his hair and nails were falling out, his breathing was painful, and he could barely speak.

Northumberland had no further need to keep the King alive, so he dismissed the female quack who had been attending him, and recalled the royal doctors. Some historians believe the woman was murdered, since she disappears from the records at this date, but there is no evidence to support this.

Rumours abounded that the King was dead or dying, yet Northumberland had been issuing bulletins announcing that His Majesty was recovering and out of danger, and was able to walk in the galleries and gardens at Greenwich. When a prayer for his recovery was displayed on church doors in London, it provoked many citizens to make their way to Greenwich on Sunday, 2 June, demanding to see their sovereign. A gentleman of the bedchamber tried to fob them off by telling them that 'the air was too chill' for the King to come out and greet them, but they refused to go away until they had seen him, and, fearing their mood might turn ugly, Northumberland ordered the King's attendants to hold him up at a window. Seeing him 'so thin and wasted', the people were shocked, and 'men said he was doomed'. After this, no more optimistic bulletins were issued.

On or about 3 July, the Duchess of Northumberland visited Lady Jane Grey and Frances Suffolk at Chelsea.

'If God should call the King to His mercy,' she told Jane, 'it will be needful for you to go immediately to the Tower. His Majesty hath made you heir to his realm.'

Jane could not take this in; her mother-in-law's words, 'being spoken to me thus unexpectedly, put me in great perturbation and greatly disturbed my mind', she said in a statement afterwards. 'But I, making little account of these words, delayed to go from my mother.' Her refusal to leave Chelsea provoked a furious quarrel between the two duchesses, which resulted in Jane being sent to Durham House to await her accession. She was back three days later, however, having fallen sick once again.

Northumberland had provided Mary with regular false bulletins as to the state of the King's health. It was part of his plan to lure both her and Elizabeth to London, where they would be neutralised and rendered incapable of resistance; at best they would be imprisoned, at worst executed. To this end, on 3 or 4 July, the Council issued both sisters with summonses to Greenwich to attend upon the King. At the same time, Northumberland wrote to Mary at Hunsdon, telling her that her presence would be a great comfort to her brother during his illness. Thanks to Scheyfve, Mary was aware that Edward's condition was critical. She was also distrustful of the Duke's intentions, for Scheyfve had warned her that Dudley's attentions to her had been paid only in order to make himself out to be a disinterested party. At the same time, Mary was painfully conscious of the fact that she was a lone woman, in a precarious state of health, with little political influence and few powerful friends. She had no means of knowing that there were several councillors who were heartily sickened by Northumberland's misrule and would have welcomed her accession. She was 'in sore perplexity'. How should she respond to the summons?

At length, she decided to go to Greenwich. If Edward was indeed dying, it was her duty as a sister to go, and she left Hunsdon on 4 or 5 July. In London, Scheyfve waited anxiously to see what she would do. He believed that, if she went to Greenwich, she would be walking into danger. 'It is to be feared that, as soon as the King is dead, they will attempt to seize the Princess,' he told the Emperor. Then on 4 July, the ambassador found out that Lady Jane Grey had been named as Edward's successor.

If Northumberland was anxious to have Mary in his power, he was even more determined to lay hold of Elizabeth and prevent her from seeing her brother. Knowing how fond Edward was of her, and how clever she was, he was afraid that once she saw him she would persuade him to set aside the King's Devise and name her as his heir. And if that happened, it was farewell to John Dudley, for Elizabeth was not the type to allow him to rule her. Only a few weeks before, Elizabeth had set out from Hatfield, determined to visit the King; Northumberland's men had intercepted her and sent her back. She had then bombarded Edward with letters, expressing her concern for his health and begging him to let her come to him. The Duke ensured that none of them reached him.

It is not recorded that anyone warned Elizabeth that a trap awaited her at Greenwich, but when she received the summons to go there, she at once took to her bed and gave out that she was too sick to travel. Possibly her friend Cecil had counselled her secretly to remain where she was. Just in case the Council should enquire further, she made her doctor issue her with a letter certifying she was ill. Much as she would have liked to bid farewell to her brother, self-preservation took priority.

There was no doubt now that the King's last hours were approaching. The fearful progress of his disease was horribly apparent to all who approached him. Prolonged bedrest had resulted in an outbreak of bedsores; he had ulcers all over his body and a grossly swollen stomach. His digestive system had broken down, he vomited with alarming frequency, and coughed unceasingly. The 'suppurating tumour' on his lung gave him much pain, and he lay in a feverish delirium, reliant on opiates to relieve his sufferings and help him to sleep. His doctors prescribed new medicines they had concocted for him, but knew they would not work. One included nine teaspoonfuls of spearmint syrup, red fennel, liverwort, turnip, dates, raisins, mace, celery and pork from a nine-day-old sow. When William Cecil was told by a friend what was in it, he exclaimed, 'God deliver us from the physicians!'

The public now believed that Northumberland was deliberately killing the King with poison, for word of his employment of the female quack had spread. In vain, he tried to counteract the gossip by giving out that the Lady Mary had 'overlooked' her brother with the evil eye of witchcraft on her last visit.

On the afternoon of Thursday, 6 July, the Imperial ambassadors arrived at Greenwich and were 'bid welcome in the King's name' by Sir John Mason, a gentleman of the King's bedchamber, who made them 'courteous offers of entertainment'. It was a stormy afternoon, with the sky so dark that it seemed like night.

At three o'clock the King woke from a drugged sleep and began to pray: 'Lord, Thou knowest how happy I shall be may I live with Thee for ever, yet would I might live and be well for Thine elect's sake.' Then his eyes fell on one of his physicians, Dr Owen, sitting beside him. 'I had not thought you had been so near,' he murmured before drifting offence more into slumber.

When he awoke again, it was approaching six, and the storm was still raging, with thunder rumbling, lightning streaking across the sky, and hailstones red as clotted blood raining down. Dr Owen was still there, with Dr Wroth, the King's valet Christopher Salmon, and the ever-faithful Henry Sidney. When Sidney took his frail body into his arms, Edward knew that his life was ebbing away.

Too weak to cough or speak, he whispered a last prayer, one he had composed himself:

Lord God, deliver me out of this miserable and wretched life, and take me amongst Thy chosen; howbeit, not my will but Thy will be done. Lord, I commit my spirit to Thee. O, Lord, Thou knowest how happy it were for me to be with Thee; yet, for Thy chosen's sake, send me life and health, that I may truly serve Thee. O, my Lord God, defend this realm from papistry, and maintain Thy true religion, that I and my people may praise Thy holy Name, for Thy Son Jesus Christ's sake, Amen.

At six o'clock the young King's terrible sufferings finally ended. After his eyes had closed for the last time, the tempest raged on. Later, superstitious folk claimed that Henry VIII himself had sent it, and had risen from his grave in anger at the subversion of his will.

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