Sunday, November 02, 2008

Question from PJW - Mary I and Suffolk

Hi, can anyone explain why Mary I didn't have Suffolk sent to the block immediately after she became Queen? It's difficult sometimes to understand why some 'traitors' were treated so leniently whilst others were swiftly and harshly dealt with. I think I can see various political reasons, particularly around the time of the Wyatt uprising in relation to Mary marrying Philip of Spain, but I'm not sure why Sufflok seemed to get off lightly, particularly when Jane was still alive and there was the possibility he may try the same thing again. Many thanks in anticipation!

5 comments:

PhD Historian said...

Despite the modern perception that many of the Tudor monarchs were bloodthirsty and keen on executing people for the slimmest of reasons, the reality is somewhat different. PJW correctly alludes to politics as a principle reason for not executing high-ranking people in particular.

In the case of Mary I and Henry Grey (Duke of Suffolk after October 1551), she actually needed him alive. Monarchs were entirely dependent upon the goodwill of their subjects in order to maintain a firm seat on their throne. Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III had each learned in the preceding century what can happen when a monarch alienates his nobles, as Charles I would likewise later learn in the 1640s. Each nobleman led an affinity group ... a large collection of people who held a personal allegiance to the particular nobleman. The collection included not only the nobleman's many hundreds or thousands of tenants and liveried servants, but also people who owed their livings and good fortunes to the largesse of the nobleman. Scholars refer to these followers as "clients." A client's sense of personal connection to the nobleman, or patron, was often stronger and more durable than his sense of connection to the more distant monarch. Executing a nobleman always entailed the risk of alienating that nobleman's affinity group and clients. With the issue of religion already alienating many subjects from the Crown, Mary needed to avoid making matters any worse unnecessarily.

In the case of Henry Grey, had Mary executed him ... as she had executed John Dudley ... she would have run the risk of alienating both of the two largest affinities in the realm, rather than just one. By executing only Dudley as the perceived ringleader, she minimized the broader fallout.

Further, each nobleman either held or had direct control over local offices in one or more counties. By carefully parceling out grants of offices to more than one noble family in a single region, it was possible for the Crown to prevent any one family from dominating that region and thereby becoming emboldened to challenge the throne itself. "Over-mighty subjects" were something every monarch feared.

In the case of Henry Grey, his power within Leicestershire was checked and balanced by that of the Hastings family, Earls of Huntingdon. Had Mary executed Grey immediately, the power of the Hastings family would have been unchecked within Leicestershire. Mary needed Henry Grey alive to provide a balance of power not only in Leicestershire, but in each of the other counties where Henry held extensive lands.

And there was always the question of money. As today, some criminals in the sixteenth century might be allowed to go free if they first posted a bond guaranteeing their future good behavior. In the case of Henry Grey, Mary required him to post a bond in the amount of £20,000 ... a vast amount of money for that period. Mary thus generated a little much-needed income by gambling on Grey's good behavior.

And of course it did not hurt that Grey was married to Mary's first cousin and potential heir, Frances Brandon.

In the end, of course, Henry joined Wyatt's Rebellion in late January 1554, for which he was executed two weeks later.

Tamise said...

The Duchess of Suffolk was granted an audience with the Queen (they were cousins) and pleaded for her husband.

Suffolk might have also said that he would convert to Catholicism?

kb said...

I believe it was because his wife Frances Brandon begged Mary for his life. Frances was her 1st cousin, they were roughly the same age and most likely had shared parts of their childhood. At a time when Mary needed to amass supporters, it would have been prudent to put family in her debt in this way. Mary, I believe, was a forgiving sort, except in matters of religion.

PhD Historian said...

I agree that Mary was the forgiving sort. After all, she resisted executing Jane Grey until the Spanish made it a pre-condition for marriage to Philip. But I am not convinced that Frances' pleading for her husband's life was a single major factor that influenced Mary to spare him temporarily.

Dudley's wife also pleaded directly with Mary for her husband's life, without success.

Promises of religious conversion probably also played little role in Mary's decision. John Dudley very publicly converted to Roman Catholicism after his conviction, a source of scandal among Protestants. But his conversion did nothing to spare his life. And while Henry Grey may have attended a few masses in the earliest days of Mary's reign, by the first of November he was being accused of again promoting Protestantism. He never made the kind of public conversion that Dudley had.

Again, I agree that Mary was by nature a forgiving sort of woman, especially when it came to family. I believe her initial forgiveness of Henry Grey was motivated by her innate desire to forgive, coupled with simple pragmatism, and did not spring initially from the pleadings of others. Simply put, had Frances remained silent, Mary would probably have spared Henry anyway.

Paula said...

Wow! Thanks everyone, I'm coming here again :-)