25 May 1553 – Lady Jane Grey Marries Guildford Dudley

On this day in history, 25th May 15531, a triple wedding took place at Durham House, the London residence of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Lady Jane Grey married Guildford Dudley, one of the Duke’s sons, her sister Lady Katherine Grey married Lord Henry Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke, and Guildford’s sister, 12 year old, Lady Catherine Dudley, married Lord Henry Hastings.

Leanda de Lisle describes how all three of the young couples were dressed in silver and gold, “fabrics forfeited to the King from the Duke of Somerset in 1551 and, figuratively at least, marked with his blood”2. King Edward VI was too ill to attend the marriage, and was in fact dying, but it was an “extravagant spectacle” and was attended by most of the English nobility and celebrated with jousting, feasting and masques.

Although John Dudley is often thought to have masterminded Lady Jane Grey’s marriage to his son, Guildford, in order to further his control of the country on the death of Edward VI, Leanda de Lisle3 points out that the marriage was, according to William Cecil, the brainwave of Elizabeth Brooke, second wife of William Parr, Marquess of Northampton, and Christine Hartweg, in her wonderful article “John Dudley the Family Man”4, writes that Dudley and Henry Grey, Jane’s father, were second cousins once removed and “more importantly, they were also good friends and Henry Grey owed both his place on the Privy Council and his dukedom to John Dudley. Thus, a match between their children was not unlikely or inappropriate.”5


There does not seem to be anything suspicious or underhanded in this marriage match. We can argue until we’re blue in the face about whether this marriage was “a plot to snatch the Crown from its rightful heirs or an example of “routine actions of dynastic politics” “5, but there is no evidence either way. Nobody was to know on that May day in 1553 that the bride and groom only had less than 9 months of marriage and life ahead of them.

Notes and Sources

  1. Leanda de Lisle says “The date is almost always given as the 21st but this is drawn from Commendone writing after the event. It was booked to take place on a Thursday (see Albert Feuillerat, Documents Relating to the Revels at Court, p306) and when I calculated the day from other known dates – e.g. Jane’s entry to the Tower – it confirmed my suspicion that it was the 25th.”, p328 in Notes of The Sisters Who Would be Queen, Leanda de Lisle, UK hardback
  2. Leanda de Lisle, p102 of UK hardback in Chapter “A Married Woman”.
  3. Ibid., p98 in Chapter “No Poor Child”.
  4. “John Dudley the Family Man”, Christine Hartweg
  5. Ibid.

5 thoughts on “25 May 1553 – Lady Jane Grey Marries Guildford Dudley

  1. Thanks, Claire, so glad you had a good time on your tour!

    Indeed this case can be argued until becoming “blue in the face”! The document you mention about the stuffs delivered was issued on 24 April 1553 (acc. to Eric Ives); while this may appear late, it must be considered that parliament had been in session throughout March, so why didn’t they try to change Henry’s Succession Act then? In fact Northumberland pushed even through his first subsidy bill (taxes!) ever, a measure he had been afraid of indeed. He also crashed Cranmer’s canon law reform and was busy with all kind of things. I’d think that the marriage was probably broached or in planning some time before April, so I think it happened before the great plot (as a number of professors did).

    Indeed the progress of Edward’s illness is difficult to make sense of, and Mary received the great and important fortress of Framlingham in Norfolk even in mid-May or so, Dudley would have been nuts to give it her if planning her undoing at the same time (he was arguably nuts to allocate it to her anyway). I think David Loades is right in thinking that Edward made known his wishes rather late and we must never forget that he was the king at that point.

  2. Does it really matter who thought of the idea? The more important question to me is who would have thought of trying to overturn Henry VIII’s will and put Jane on the throne. Jane’s dad would have left her out of this if he was such a caring father. You would not knowingly put your child in danger over a royal succession unless you were more concerned about your own welfare.

  3. I feel so sorry for these women/girls being used as pawns so that their families can become more powerful.
    I wonder if Janes’s Father thought through what could happen to Jane should things go wrong, or would he have not cared, just as long as the family had the shot of becoming the most powerful family at that time.

  4. The fact is that nobody thought things would go wrong — ask the ambassadors. And Tudor people of all classes were natural risk-takers; they had to be — no insurance companies yet. But like 20th century people they had ideologies, and Jane’s father seems to have been one of those despicable Protestant bigots, so perhaps he thought it worth a try. And this unspeakable hypocrite John Dudley who botched it all in the first place and went Catholic in the end! Only that Una Sancta Catholica et Apostolica Ecclesia doesn’t work that way: as long as you “creep before the cross” and and don’t go about criticizing ’em they aren’t squeamish, they take everybody! And didn’t Jesus, the good physician, say he came for the sinners not the righteous who don’t have need of him. So may they all rest in peace.

    Thanks, Claire for Tim’s e-mail yesterday, I am very happy!

  5. Who were the “rightful heirs” The throne had been fought over and disputed virtually since it had been established, and continued to be so for centuries after, although it became political rather than “might is right” Even the modern monarchy are “Usurpers” To me, if Dudley had been able to carry this off, Jane and Guildford would have become as accepted as the others before them. It could be argued that she had a better claim than Mary anyway, as both she and Elizabeth had been declared illegitimate at some point.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *