The Tudor Society

21 June – Lady Jane Grey is Edward’s heir

On this day in Tudor history, 21st June 1553, letters patent were issued stating that the dying King Edward VI’s heir was Lady Jane Grey, eldest daughter of the king's cousin, Frances Grey (née Brandon), Duchess of Suffolk.

Why was Lady Jane Grey his heir when Edward had two half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and who else was listed in his "devise for the succession". Find out more about Edward VI's plan for the succession in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 21st June 1529, Queen Catherine of Aragon, first wife of King Henry VIII, stole the show with an incredible speech at the Legatine Court at Blackfriars, a court that was hearing the case for the annulment of her marriage to the king. Find out more about what she said in last year's video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1494 – Birth of George Cavendish, Cardinal Wolsey's Gentleman Usher. Cavendish wrote a biography of Wolsey, “The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey”, and a collection of tragic poems, “Metrical Visions”. His poetry and biography are widely used by Tudor historians as primary sources.
  • 1509 - Henry VIII travelled from Greenwich to the Tower of London in readiness for his and Catherine of Aragon's coronation procession on 23rd June. He was accompanied by "many a well appareled gentleman", including the Duke of Buckingham who "had a gowne all of goldsmithes work".
  • 1529 – Death of John Skelton, poet, clergyman and former tutor to Henry VIII when he was prince, at Westminster. He was buried in St Margaret's, Westminster. His works included “Garlande of Laurell” and “The Boke of Phyllyp Sparowe”.
  • 1596 – Death of Sir John Wingfield, soldier. He was shot in the head after being wounded in the thigh, and being unable to walk, in the attack on Cadiz. He was buried in the Cathedral at Cadiz.
  • 1612 – Death of James Elphinstone, 1st Lord Balmerino, administrator and Judge, at Balmerino. Elphinstone was James VI's secretary of state, but was attainted as a traitor and sentenced to death in 1609 after he tricked the King into signing a letter to the Pope. He escaped death, but was imprisoned until 1609.


On this day in Tudor history, 21st June 1553, letters patent were issued stating that King Edward VI’s heir was Lady Jane Grey, eldest daughter of the king's cousin, Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk.

Fifteen-year-old King 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.”

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.”

He also passed over the Stuart line (Mary, Queen of Scots), as his father, Henry VIII, had done in his will.

Edward’s devise was drawn up by Sir Edward Montague, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and John Gosnold, Solicitor General of the Court of Augmentations , and on this day in 1553, it was issued as “Letters Patent for the Limitation of the Crown”, and Lady Jane Grey became Edward VI's legal heir.

Here’s an extract from the devise:
“[...] the said lady Mary as also the said lady Elizabeth to all intents and purposes are and be clearly disabled to ask, claim, or challenge the said imperial crown, or any other of our honours, castles, manors, lordships, lands, tenements, and hereditaments as heir or heirs to us or to any other person or persons whosoever, aswell for the cause before rehearsed, as also for that the said lady Mary and lady Elizabeth be unto us but of the half blood, and therefore by the ancient laws, statutes, and customs of this realm be not inheritable unto us, although they were legitimate, as they be not indeed.”

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 didn’t actually exist 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 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.
So, the focus was on the Brandons and Greys.
When Edward VI died just two weeks later, on 6th July 1553, the crown passed to Lady Jane Grey because her mother, Frances, had not had a son. Jane was proclaimed queen on 10th July. Her reign, however, 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.

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21 June – Lady Jane Grey is Edward’s heir