Mary, Marriage and Rebellion

Mary, Marriage and Rebellion

Mary, Marriage and Rebellion

Mary was decided on marriage once she was securely Queen of England. She had not married in the years before for fear that this may stand in her way of claiming the throne. All this despite her being 37.

There were 3 main contenders for her hand. These were:

  1. Reginald Pole (who himself had a claim to the throne. He was in Rome, but as yet had not been ordained).
  2. Edward Courtenay (an English nobleman, a descendant of Edward IV, who had been incarcerated under Henry's reign. His father had been executed for his adherence to the 'old ways').
  3. Prince Philip of Spain (who was strongly encouraged by his father, the Holy Roman Emperor, who in turn was Mary's nephew).

For various reasons Mary decided on Philip. Pole wasn't really an option, although Mary was very fond of him, and Courtenay, in spite of his good looks and support from Gardiner, had no political and inter-personal skills. So Philip it was. He was already a prince, with extensive experience in government, he had money, his father was a close ally of Mary's (whom she had relied on for advice in the past). The council agreed the match, and the marriage was approved by Parliament in its second sitting in April 1554. Many courtiers feared that Philip would want to be called King of England, and as such exercise royal prerogatives. They feared that their positions at court would be compromised by an influx of foreign favourites.

As a result of these fears, the council attached a number of conditions to the Marriage Treaty:

  1. England's laws must be respected in every respect.
  2. No foreigner would be allowed to hold an English office.
  3. The eldest son resulting from his marriage to Mary would inherit the throne, but a son from any other (in the event of Mary's death) would have no claim to the throne.
  4. If Mary died then his affairs in England would cease.

Prince Philip was humiliated and offended by these restrictions placed upon him, he vowed in secret to his courtiers to reverse them at the first opportunity.

The terms of the treaty were issued to the realm in January 1554.

In late 1553 a number of nobles and gentlemen began to conspire against the Spanish match. They planned for and co-ordinated a number of risings to take place in the summer of 1554. There would be a rising in the West, on the Welsh borders, in Leicestershire (under the leadership of the Duke of Suffolk), and in Kent (under the leadership of Thomas Wyatt). Originally, there was a plan to assassinate Mary, but this was removed from their aims later on.

However, in January 1554 Gardiner called Courtenay to him and forced him to confess all. Because of this, and the fact that Philip was due to arrive earlier than had been previously thought, the rebels decided to act immediately.

Wyatt managed to gather a number of men (initially 30,000) in Kent, including leading landowners like Sir James Croft and Sir Edward Warner, rousing them with talk of a Spanish invasion (on their coast!). The Duke of Suffolk raised only 150 men in the midlands. The Welsh border and the West did not rise.

On the 25th January Wyatt raised his standard in Maidstone, Kent.

The council decided that it had to act immediately. The Duke of Norfolk was called to arms, rounding 800 under his control. Unfortunately, the Duke was quite senile, and for this reason, and because of sympathy with Wyatt's cause many of the 800 deserted and joined forces with the Kent rebels.

Wyatt, by this time had a number of men, but not much in the way of aristocratic support.

Wyatt had a number of successes. He captured some of the Queen's ships at Gravesend, and he took Cooling Castle, on the Thames Estuary.

London Bridge

He reached London on 6th February. He found that he could not pass London Bridge, and for this reason he marched around London, through Richmond, Putney, through Kensington, and on to the Tower. He met with little resistance until he reached the Tower.

This diversion had given the newly appointed Earl of Pembroke plenty of time to prepare. Mary gave a rousing speech to the people of London, and they rallied behind her.

Wyatt found the city gates impenetrable, and the rebellion collapsed.

As with all rebellions it is difficult to pinpoint the real causes. It's hard to know what really motivated the rebels, and its leaders, as they often seem to hide behind their own propaganda.

According to P. Clark, there are three main reasons for the rebellion, and he stresses that all of them are local in origin:


The marriage would mean the exclusion of certain political groups from power and this would have a knock-on effect on the customs of the land, thus affecting the commons.


Fear that Spanish resources would be used to increase the speed and ferocity of the Marian reaction.


Fears that with political changes there might be changes in land ownership.

These ideas are expanded on below:

Political Factors

The leaders were all knights from the Medway Valley area.

Many members of the gentry, who feared for their power and influence in the face of a Marian counter-reformation, wanted to put Elizabeth on the throne and have her marry Edward Courtenay. According to Fletcher and McCulloch, this was the main aim of the rebels. There are other historians who hold the view that the rebels would have forced Mary to cancel the marriage treaty and that was it.

Religious factors

There were many Protestants amongst the Kentish ranks. No doubt many of them were hostile towards Mary's religious policies as well as the marriage. There was a general consensus that the marriage would speed up the Marian reaction. (Indeed this was most probably Mary's plan!)

Many were Protestant in the manner that they preferred an erastian, secular kind of government, than religious. They were close to the Low countries, a geographical fact that was enhanced by the cloth trade. Many of the merchants were able to get their hands on Protestant literature, which they brought home and promulgated amongst their fellow men.

Maidstone had been at the centre of the Edwardian Reformation with its godly grammar school. Wyatt found most of his supporters from this area, and most of the Marian martyrs came from this area. Do we see a connection?

Also, there is evidence of Protestant supporters in the ranks, such as John Ponet, the Bishop of Rochester. Another churchman offered to sell his plate for Wyatt if he would restore the 'true religion'.

In private Wyatt made comments that his motives were religious: "we mind only the restitution of God's word".

Wyatt was considering taking his family into exile prior to the rebellion to avoid persecution - does this show how strong his Protestant convictions were?

After his arrest he greatly offended the Queen when he mocked the Catholic Easter service while in the tower.

But the 'Protestants' were not united as a group. In the period 1550-51 Wyatt had persecuted some Protestants who followed the teachings of Thomas Cole.

Economic Factors

During the reign of Edward, the Weald had suffered economically due to the decline of the cloth industry. There had been a period of falling demand for goods at home and a restriction on exports.

Nonetheless, the immediate circumstances before the rebellion had been quite positive: there had been a good harvest in 1553 and 53/54 had seen an upturn in the cloth trade. But the debts and rent arrears caused by the depression of the previous years had not been resolved.

Geographically, almost all of the leaders came from the Medway valley. The areas were urban, and if not exactly that, they were certainly involved in industry. (Maidstone, Rochester and Cranbrook, Pluckley, Ashford and Lenham.) These areas were cloth producing, and suffered from unemployment and vagrancy. Matters which had been exaggerated by disease. The merchants of the towns were probably very wary about the possible effects of Spanish competition on prices.

No real tenurial tie between the leaders and the followers in the rebellion. Seigneurial power was not as great in Kent as in other parts of the country. In fact, Wyatt a few years earlier had had an argument with his tenants. The tenants it seemed either followed or did not. Many of the rebels in fact came from magnates' lands when the Lord themselves did not rise. Pointing to grievances being of a landed nature, and perhaps in some way directed as much against their landlords as their monarch. (Not that these issues are raised in the 'Demands').

Initially, Mary looked as if she would take reprisals for the rebellion on a grand scale, but then her approach switched to one of leniency, possibly because of fears of further rebellion in the weeks before her marriage.

The control for the persecution of the rebels fell to the hands of William Paget. In all 480 were convicted; 90 were executed, after trial. Twenty of these were gentry leaders. Six hundred were pardoned.