This day in Tudor history, 15th July 1553, was a key point in the events of summer 1553.
Royal ships that were supposed to be guarding the coast off East Anglia to stop Mary, half-sister of the late King Edward VI, fleeing England, or any of her supporters invading England, swapped sides. Instead of acting for Queen Jane, they declared for Queen Mary!
Let me explain exactly what was happening in July 1553 and what happened to make the crews of these ships swap sides…
Before I launch into today’s on this day in Tudor history, let me set the scene for you. It’s July 1553, Lady Jane Grey was chosen by Edward VI as his heir and became queen on his death on 6th July 1553. However, there was a problem: Edward’s eldest half-sister, Mary, believed that she was Edward’s true heir and the rightful queen of England, so she had declared herself queen at her home at Kenninghall following news of Edward’s death.
On 12th July 1553, Mary had moved from Kenninghall to Framlingham Castle, where she had begun to rally support, and between 12th and 15th July, Mary’s supporters and forces grew. These supporters included men like Sir Edward Hastings; Henry Radclyffe, Earl of Sussex; Sir Thomas Cornwallis; Thomas, Lord Wentworth; Sir Henry Bedingfield; John de Vere, Earl of Oxford; and many prominent families of eastern England such as the Rochesters, the Jerninghams and Waldegraves. Mary was proclaimed Queen in various counties and towns.
Now to this day in 1553, the 15th July. It was on this day that the royal ships guarding the Eastern coast for Queen Jane swapped their allegiance to Queen Mary. Their crews had not been paid, and they received a visit from Sir Henry Jerningham asking them to support Mary instead of Queen Jane. It was an easy decision for these unpaid men.
In “The Navy of Edward VI and Mary I”, C.S. Knighton explains that “Sir Henry Jerningham (d. 1572) had been in Mary’s service since 1528 and had gone at once to join her at Kenninghall; he then mustered support for her cause in Suffolk […] Jerningham heard of the ships in the Orwell from a drunken sailor late on the night of 14 July, and found them beached at Landguard Point early next morning.”
Robert Wingfield of Brantham, who accompanied Jerningham, recorded the following:
“Very early the next day Jerningham, accompanied by Tyrrell and Glemham, rode up to inspect the ships thus brought to the haven by a lucky tide and wind, as they say. When they had reached the haven he ordered Richard Brooke, the squadron’s commander, a diligent man and skilled in seamanship, to be called to him, and took him to Framlingham castle to bring news of this happy and unexpected arrival to the queen.
This happened on 15 July; next day Thomas, Lord Wentworth arrived, to avoid the appearance of breaking his pledge, clad in splendid armour and accompanied by a not inconsiderable military force, besides several gentlemen of the county who were wont to go in his company. I would like to record for this treatise the more notable men who led any of the military reinforcements for this loyal campaign. There was Sir Richard Cavendish, a veteran campaigner, with his two sons; Sir Henry Doyle, also with two sons; Robert Wingfield, son of the late Sir Anthony Wingfield K.G., with his two brothers Anthony and Henry; Lionel Tollemache, a man well-supplied with ancient lineage and wealth; Edward Withipoll, a man of diligence; John Southwell and Francis Nunn, both lawyers; Robert Wingfield of Brantham; John Colby, an experienced soldier, with his two brothers; Jennings, skilled in warfare, and others not less active whom I forget at the moment. That nobleman, most striking both in appearance and dress, came with a splendid force of both heavy and light horse and of infantry. There is no doubt that his arrival wonderfully strengthened the morale of the queen’s army and much dispirited the enemy.”
The Chronicle of Queen Jane records:
“About this time or thereabouts the 6 ships that were sent to lie before Yarmouth, that if she had fled to have taken her, was by force of weather driven into the haven, where about that quarters, one master Jerningham was raising power on queen Mary’s behalf, and hearing thereof came thither. Whereupon the captains took a boat and went to their ships. Then the mariners asked master Jernyngham what he would have, and whether he would have their captains or no; and he said, “Yea, mary.”
Said they, ” Ye shall have them, or else we shall throw them to the bottom of the sea.”
The captains, seeing this perplexity, said forthwith they would serve queen Mary gladly; and so came forth with their men, and conveyed certain great ordnance; of the which coming in of the ships the lady Mary and her company were wonderful joyous, and then afterward doubted smally the duke’s puissance.”
Just four days later, Mary was proclaimed queen, becoming Queen Mary I of England.