Edward VI was dying, having been ill for a few months, and in the original draft of his "Devise for the Succession" he stipulated that the Crown would descend through the male heirs of Frances, Duchess of Suffolk, if Edward died childless. The problem was that there were no male heirs yet, so when Edward made a turn for the worse he decided to change the document to read: "To the Lady Fraunceses heirs males, if she have any such issue before my death to the Lady Jane and her heirs males."1
On 12th June 1553, the judges of the King's Bench were shown Edward's "devise" and ordered to turn it into a legal will. The judges refused, as they were worried that overturning the succession would be considered treason, but Edward explained the reasons behind his decision:
"For indeed my sister Mary was the daughter of the king by Katherine the Spaniard, who before she was married to my worthy father had been espoused to Arthur, my father’s elder brother, and was therefore for this reason alone divorced by my father. But it was the fate of Elizabeth, my other sister, to have Anne Boleyn for a mother; this woman was indeed not only cast off by my father because she was more inclined to couple with a number of courtiers rather than reverencing her husband, so mighty a king, but also paid the penalty with her head – a greater proof of her guilt. Thus in our judgement they will be undeservedly considered as being numbered among the heirs of the king our beloved father."2
He also passed over the Stuart line (Mary, Queen of Scots), as his father, Henry VIII, had done in his will.
On 21st June 1553, Edward VI's "devise" was issued as "Letters Patent for the Limitation of the Crown", having been drawn up by Sir Edward Montague, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and John Gosnold, Solicitor General of the Court of Augmentations, and Lady Jane Grey became Edward VI's legal heir. You can read the full letters patent in the appendix of The chronicle of Queen Jane, and of two years of Queen Mary, and especially of the rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyat written by a resident in the Tower, edited by John Gough Nichols, but Edward clearly removed Mary and Elizabeth from the succession:
"[...] the said lady Marye as also the said ladie Elizabeth to all intents and purposes are and be clearly disabled to aske, claime, or challenge the said imperiall crowne, or any other of our honores, castelles, manores, lordeshipes, lands, tenements, and hereditaments as heire or heires to us or to any other person or persones who soevere, aswell for the cause before rehearsed, as also for that the said lady Mary and lady Elizabeth be unto us but of the halfe bloud, and therfore by the auntyent lawes, statutes, and customes of this realme be not inheritable unto us, although they were legitimate, as they be not indeed."3
Instead, the crown was to be passed to, in order of succession:
- "the eldest SONNE OF THE BODYE OF THE SAID LADY FRAUNCIS [Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk], LAWFULLY BEGOTTONE, beinge borne into the world in our lyfetyme [...]
- The Lady Jane Grey and her heirs male.
- Lady Katherine Grey, Jane's sister, and her heirs male.
- Lady Mary Grey, Jane and Katherine's younger sister, and her heirs male.
- "the eldeste sonne of the bodie of the fourth daughter of the said lady Frauncis", and his heirs male. - This fourth daughter actually not existing at the time the "devise" was drawn up.
- The eldest son of Lady Margaret Clifford, daughter of Lady Eleanor Brandon, the younger sister of Frances Brandon.
- The eldest son of the eldest daughter of Lady Jane Grey "and to the heires males of the bodye of the same eldest sonne", and, failing that, "from sonne to sonne as well of the body of the second daughter of the said lady Jane".
- The eldest son of the the eldest daughter of Lady Katherine Grey, "and for lacke of such heires that then the said imperiall crowne
and all and singuler other the premisses shall remaine, come, and be unto the eldeste sonne of the body of the seconde daughter of the said lady Katherine lawfully begotten" and so on.
- The eldest son of the eldest daughter of Lady Mary Grey, and, failing that, the sons of the second eldest daughter.
- The eldest son of the eldest daughter of the fourth daughter of Lady Frances, and so on.
- The eldest son of the eldest daughter of Lady Margaret Clifford, and so on.4
When Edward VI died on 6th July 1553, the crown passed to Lady Jane Grey because her mother, Frances, had not had a son, and Jane was proclaimed queen on 10th July. Of course, Jane's reign was cut short when on 19th July 1553 Edward's half-sister Mary was proclaimed queen and Jane was taken prisoner. Lady Jane Grey was executed for treason on 12th February 1554.
You can read Edward's full instructions at https://archive.org/stream/TheChronicleOfQueenJane/ChronicleofQueenJane_v48_Nichols_312647291#page/n99/mode/2up
Notes and Sources
- Skidmore, Chris (2007) Edward VI: The Lost King of England, Phoenix, p. 249.
- Ibid., p. 251.
- ed. Gough Nichols, John (1850) The chronicle of Queen Jane, and of two years of Queen Mary, and especially of the rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyat written by a resident in the Tower, p. 93.
- Ibid., p. 94-97.