Referred to as the ‘forgotten’ or ‘lost’ Tudor king, Edward VI is regularly overshadowed by the reputation of his father and siblings. While his brief reign featured a strict approach to Protestant reform and power-struggles within his regency council, his wishes for the succession ultimately caused a series of dramatic events to play out after his death. In 1553 Edward chose to exclude the heir apparent - his Catholic half-sister Mary Tudor - in favour of his Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey, resulting in Jane being deposed just nine days after her coronation, and Mary ruling for the next five years. Was Edward’s dramatic decision solely a matter of religion? Like so many succession cases throughout history, 1553 may not be so simple.
Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister, making her Edward’s first cousin once removed. Excluding their gender, she and Edward shared many characteristics. She was less than a year older than Edward and had been raised as a dedicated Protestant. She had two sisters and no children, but her marriage in May 1553 gave the potential for future sons. In comparison, Mary Tudor was 37 years old, still unmarried, and a strict Catholic. In Edward’s eyes, Jane was better suited to continue his legacy. Unfortunately, several legal documents created by Edward’s father stood in the way – Henry VIII’s will and Third Succession Act of 1553/4 had officially reinstated the claims of Edward’s half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. Edward and his most influential councillor, the Duke of Northumberland, created several arguments to overcome this, and Edward had finished drafting his ‘Devise for the Succession’ by June 1553.