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Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor explores the town’s connections to the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey

It was through her grandmother, Mary Tudor, the younger sister of King Henry VIII.

Mary had been married via an arranged marriage by her brother, albeit very briefly, to King Louis XII of France. After his death she spent a quarantine period in Cluny Abbey in case she was pregnant, carrying the future king of France. She was not and Henry VIII sent a trusted courtier, Charles Brandon to fetch her back to England.

Mary and Charles Brandon
Mary and Charles Brandon

Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was a bit of a philanderer and was the son of Sir William Brandon, the standard bearer of Henry VII killed at the battle of Bosworth which brought the Tudor dynasty to power.

By way of thanks, Charles was brought up in the Tudor household and certainly knew the vivacious, Mary but as far is known there was no impropriety between them. Charles Brandon’s mission in 1515 was to recover the valuable asset for Henry, that of his sister as Queen of France. However, it ended with Mary asking Charles to marry her – he had one chance and that was it. Charles could hardly turn this offer down and took it, but in doing so the newly-wed couple incurred Henry’s wrath Marrying without the King’s permission was treasonable but both escaped execution and on their return to England were, in effect, banished from court to Westhorpe, a village about 13 miles from Bury.

The royal couple had four children. Frances, the oldest daughter married well, Henry Grey the 3rd Marquess of Dorset – they were the parents of Lady Jane Grey.

Sadly, Queen Mary Tudor aka Brandon died of the Tudor curse, the sweating sickness, possibly TB, in 1533. Her funeral was the last great event that took place in the Abbey of St Edmund before the dissolution in 1539, with her being laid to rest in a magnificent alabaster tomb. At the dissolution she was moved to St Mary’s where she resides today in a somewhat plain tomb.

With the death of Henry VIII in 1547 his son, the sickly Edward VI, came to the throne at the age of nine. An ardent Protestant, he was vehemently opposed to a return to the Catholic faith, his father having installed the Anglican Church of England in its stead. Unfortunately, Edward was to die unmarried, aged 15 years old, again probably from TB, and with no heirs a power vacuum was created, who was to fill it?

By the terms of his father’s will, his half-sister Mary, daughter of Catharine of Aragon, was the rightful heir but she was a Catholic. On Edward’s death bed he was persuaded by John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, to allow the crown of England to pass to a Protestant – the wife of his son Lord Guildford Dudley, none other than Edward’s cousin, Lady Jane Grey!

Lady Jane Grey at the block
Lady Jane Grey at the block

The Dudleys had not reckoned on the support the rightful heir had, as nether the Commons or Lords supported the usurper.

After Mary raised her standard at Framlingham, the country flocked to her and, gathering momentum, she marched into London triumphantly, the wrongdoers arrested and thrown in to the Tower of London.

The miscreant Duke was summarily executed on August 22, 1553, his son and daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, followed on February 12, 1554, after some soul-searching by the now rightfully crowned Queen Mary, the first regnant queen of England.

The youthful Lady Jane Grey, aged just 17, did not recant her Protestant, beliefs which probably coloured Mary’s decision. Jane joined two other headless queens, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, in the chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula at the Tower of London. As for Jane’s father, Henry Grey, he too was beheaded for his part in the intrigues, while her mother, Frances, was eventually pardoned.

Martyn Taylor
Martyn Taylor

-- Martyn Taylor is a local historian, author and Bury Tour Guide. His latest book, Bury St Edmunds Through Time Revisited, is widely available.