In September 2011 I visited Syon Park. It was here in July 1553 that Lady Jane Grey was told she was Queen of England.
Syon is the home of the current Duke of Northumberland and is situated on the banks of the Thames in Middlesex.
Founded by King Henry V, construction began on Syon Abbey in 1426 and by the time it was suppressed by Henry VIII ‘the abbey had a community of 73 members.’ (p.9, Syon Park) The abbey was visited by Catherine of Aragon and after it reverted to the crown, Katherine Howard was imprisoned here before her execution in 1542.
King Henry VIII’s coffin rested at Syon overnight, on the way to Windsor for burial, on the morning after, workmen found that it had burst open and that a dog was licking up the remains. This fulfilled the prophecy by William Peto (a Franciscan friar).
In 1547, King Edward’s uncle, the Duke of Somerset, became owner of the estate and ‘he is credited with starting the construction of the present house in the Renaissance style.’(p.10, Syon Park) After the Duke’s execution in 1552, ‘Syon was acquired by one of his rivals, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. The Duke’s son, Lord Guildford Dudley, had married Lady Jane Grey, great-granddaughter of King Henry VIII, and it was at Syon in 1553 that she was formerly offered the crown by the Duke. She accepted reluctantly, was conveyed to London by river and proclaimed Queen. Nine days later, she was displaced by Mary Tudor and the following year she was executed.’(p.10, Syon Park)
In ‘The Sisters Who Would Be Queen’, Leanda de Lisle writes:
‘The next morning, 7th July…Henry Sidney’s wife, Mary Dudley, who was close to Jane in age, as dispatched to Chelsea to bring her by river to Sion, Northumberland’s house at Richmond.
When they arrived the palace was empty and Jane was told only that she must wait there ‘to receive that which had been ordered by the King.’
…The next day, 8th July, Jane was joined at Sion by Northumberland, Pembroke, Northampton, Huntingdon, and the Earl of Arundel…As the noblemen knelt to her, Jane, still only sixteen, appeared overwhelmed by the enormity of what was happening, and seeing her confusion, they agreed to call for her mother to join them. Frances arrived shortly afterwards, with Northampton’s wife, Elizabeth Brooke, and the Duchess of Northumberland. Once the adults had succeeded in convincing Jane that she was, indeed Edward’s rightful heir, she had the night to prepare for the events of the following day. On that Sunday morning Northumberland, as President of the Council, gave Jane the official news that Edward was dead before the assembled Council, nobles and their wives…When he had finished the assembled company, her parents and the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, all knelt before her and swore to defend her with their blood. Jane’s response was a dramatic one. She fell to the ground and wept.’ (p. 108-110, de Lisle)
Eric Ives writes in ‘Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery’:
‘For the story of how the newly married Jane Dudley learned that she was to become Queen Jane, we again depend on the letter which she wrote to Mary in August 1553.’ (p186, Ives)
‘But on Sunday 9 July, while she was still not well, her sister-in-law Mary Sidney arrived with a solemn and mysterious summons from the privy council to go that very night to the former protector’s mansion at Syon ‘to receive that which had been ordered by the king.’
The two women were rowed up river, but when they arrived no one was there to meet them. Eventually Northumberland, Northampton, Arundel, Huntingdon and Pembroke appeared and stilted conversation ensued. Jane implies that she had no idea what was afoot and the nobles were confused about to behave…Huntingdon and Pembroke knelt to Jane and honoured her, but this only made her more embarrassed. In the end, in typical male fashion, the men called in her mother, along with the duchess of Northumberland and the marchioness of Northampton. The duke then reported that the king was dead, offered something of a tribute and announced that Edward had nominated Jane to succeed him. The councillors all knelt to Jane as the heir ‘of straight descent’ and said that they were bound by their oaths to Edward even to lay down their lives. At this Jane collapsed in a torrent of weeping, grieving for her young cousin.’ (p.187, Ives)
In August 1553, Simon Renard, ‘Charles V’s sole accredited representative in England’, wrote about his private audience with the Queen. ‘…as to Jane of Suffolk whom they tried to make Queen, she could not be induced to consent that she would die…Three days before they went to fetch her from Syon House to take her to the Tower and make her entry into the town as usurping Queen, she knew nothing of it, nor was she ever a party, nor did she give her consent to the duke’s intrigues and plots.’ (p.248, Ives)
Letter to Mary
Jane’s letter to Queen Mary survives in 2 different versions. ‘Substantial in length – over 1,000 words in translation – it first appears in an account written in 1554 by a papal official and future cardinal, Giovanni Francesco Commendone.’ (p.18, Ives)
‘Although my fault is such that it can only be pardoned by the Queen’s mercy, nor can I ask for reprieve, having listened to those who at a time appeared to me as wise, and now have shown that they were not so, as they were distributing gifts that did not belong to them, and that I should not have accepted; for these reasons I should feel ashamed begging to be pardoned for such a crime. Nevertheless as I now avow my lack of prudence for which I deserve the greatest punishment, failing the mercifulness of the Queen, thus I hope that as my fault is great, making this avowal at least I shall not be accused of crimes in which I have not incurred. Because, although I accepted that of which I was not worth, I never sought it.
…And there, having shortly afterwards fallen ill, the Council sent for me ordering that this same night I should go to Sion to receive that which had been ordered by the King. And she who brought me this news was my sister-in-law Sedine, (Selina) daughter of the said Duke, who told me that I had forcibly to go with her, as I did. But then we arrived we did not find anybody there, but afterwards arrived the Duke of Northumberland, the Marquess of Northampton, the Earl of Arundel, the Earl of Huntingdon, and the Earl of Pembroke, by whom I was entertained a long time, before they did tell me of the death of the King, and especially by the Earls of Huntingdon and Pembroke, who were doing me such homage, not in keeping with my position, kneeling before me, that greatly embarrassed me.
Finally they had my mother coming where I was, together with the Duchess of Northumberland and the Marchioness of Northampton, and the Duke, as President of the Council, made known the death of the King…By these words all the Lords of the Council knelt before me saying that they were doing me the honour which was due to me, being of straight descent, and that they were anyway to comply with what they had promised even if it had meant to lose their blood and lives. Of how I was overwhelmed hearing these words, may bear witness those who were present, who saw me fall to the ground weeping bitterly, and afterwards avowing my own inadequacy I deeply grieved over the death of such a noble Prince and in the end I turned to God and prayed him that if what was given to me was rightly mine, His Divine Majesty would grant me such grace as to enable me to govern his Kingdom with his approbation and to his glory.’ (p.45 onwards, Malfatti).
Ives write that ‘…in 1591 a similar text attributed to Jane surfaces in the Storia Ecclesiastica della Rivoluzione d’Inghilterra…Pollini…claims to have used a text obtained from London.’ (p.18, Ives).
‘I was summoned by the Council, giving me to understand that I must go that same night to Sion to receive that which had been ordered for me by the King. And she who brought me this news was the lady Sidney, my sister- in-law, the daughter of the Duchess of Northumberland, who told me with extraordinary seriousness, that it was necessary for me to go with her, which I did. When we arrived there, we found no one, but soon after came the Duke of Northumberland, the marquis of Northampton, the earl of Arundel, the earl of Huntingdon, and the earl of Pembroke. By which lords I was long held in conversation before they announced to me the death of the King, especially by the earls of Huntingdon and Pembroke, who, with unwonted caresses and pleasantness, did me such reverence as was not at all suitable to my state, kneeling down before me on the ground, and in many other ways, making semblance of honouring me. And acknowledging me as their sovereign lady (so that they made me blush with infinite confusion) at length they brought to me the duchess Frances my mother, the duchess of Northumberland, and the marchioness of Northampton. The duke of Northumberland, as president of the council, announced the death of King Edward…At which words, all the lords of the council kneeled down before me, telling me that they rendered to me the honour that was due to my person, I being of true direct lineage heir to that crown, and that it became them, in the best manner, to observe that which, with deliberate mind, they had promised to the King, even to shed their blood, exposing their own lives to death. Which things as soon as I had heard, with in- finite grief of mind, how I was beside myself stupefied and troubled, I will leave it to those lords who were present to testify, who saw me, overcome by sudden and unexpected grief, fall on the ground, weeping very bitterly ; and then, declaring to them my insufficiency, I greatly bewailed myself for the death of so noble a prince, and at the same time, turned myself to God, humbly praying and beseeching him, that if what was given to me was rightly and lawfully mine, his divine Majesty would grant me such grace and spirit that I might govern it to his glory and service, and to the advantage of this realm.’ (Appendix C, Stone)
The Long Gallery
This is the former ‘Tudor Long Gallery’ and it was here that Jane was told by the Duke of Northumberland that Edward had bequeathed her the crown. In Tudor times the room had dark wooden panelling and the ceiling is lower than it is today.
Syon was redesigned in the 18th century by the architect Robert Adam. Today the Long Gallery, ‘measuring 136 feet by 14 feet its length is ten times the width and takes up the whole of the east front, standing over the colonnade’ (p.46,Syon).
The Print Room
The Print Room forms part of the alterations along the north side of the house, made by the 3rd Duke. Portraits of many of the people who made the history of Syon hang in this room. ‘ (p.50, Syon)
Alongside portraits of the Duke of Somerset, his two wives, John Dudley (Duke of Northumberland), Katherine Grey and her son and a separate portrait of her husband, Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford, is one of Lady Jane Grey.
Lady Jane Grey Portrait
The Syon website and guide book describe the portrait as ‘the portrait of Lady Jane Grey is also thought to be Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth.’ (p.50, Syon). You can view the portrait at Syon’s website – Lady Jane.
However, research carried out by Dr Stephan Edwards earlier this year, has led him to believe that this portrait is of Lady Jane. He writes ‘it is likely the closest we shall ever come to getting an authentic image of Lady Jane Grey.’ (Some Grey Matter – Portraits of Lady Jane Grey: an Introduction)
You can read his report on the painting at his website Lady Jane Grey Revealed – The Syon Portrait
The guide in the Print Room told me that a children’s programme about Lady Jane had recently been filmed at Syon and that the Lady Jane portrait will feature in it.
The Oak Passage
‘The passage is another of the 3rd Duke’s additions made during the 1820s to provide a service corridor’ (p. 55, Syon). Today it houses many portraits. These include a smaller version of the Lady Jane Grey portrait, Margaret Beaufort, Mary I, Elizabeth of York and her 4 daughters, Henry VII, Prince Arthur, Henry VII and his 3 sons, Edward IV, Richard III, Mary Queen of Scots and Arabella Stuart.
Other portraits to look out for are ‘King Edward VI as an infant, attributed to a follower of Holbein’ which is in the Green Drawing Room’ (p 53, Syon).
The original of the portrait of Katherine Grey and her son is upstairs above a door at the end of the corridor beyond the Victoria bedroom.
De Lisle, L. (2010) The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey, HarperPress.
Ives, E. (2009) Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery, Wiley-Blackwell.
Malfatti, C V (1956) The Accession Coronation and Marriage of Mary Tudor as related in four manuscripts of the Escorial
Stone, J M (1901) The History of Mary I Queen of England, Sands & Co
Pailthorpe, R et al (2003)Syon Park, Heritage House Group Ltd
Some Grey Matter – Dr Stephan Edwards
Photos from Syon Park Website – Tour of Syon House