(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At the death of King Edward VI, there are several claimants to the English throne, among them Mary, Elizabeth’s older sister, and Lady Jane Grey, the wife of Lord Guilford Dudley, who is supported by her father-in-law, the duke of Northumberland. According to custom, Lady Jane is brought to the Tower of London for her coronation. There, the supporters of Mary, while pretending to be in accord with Northumberland, wait to betray Lady Jane.

Among those present is Cuthbert Cholmondeley, Dudley’s squire, who has fallen in love with a beautiful young girl he has seen in the Tower. Through inquiries among his servants, Cuthbert learns that the girl, Cicely, is the adopted daughter of Peter the pantler and Dame Potentia Trusbut; the true circumstances of Cicely’s birth are unknown. The chief jailer of the Tower, Lawrence Nightgall, also loves Cicely. When Simon Renard, the Spanish ambassador, and Lord Pembroke, both Mary’s supporters, conspire to assassinate Cuthbert because they know him to be Dudley’s favorite, Nightgall eagerly agrees to help them.

Nightgall tells Cicely that her new lover has been taken from the Tower and that she will never see him again. Meanwhile, Cuthbert, a prisoner in a dungeon below the Tower, is accosted by a strange woman who cries out that she wants her child to be returned to her. When Nightgall visits Cuthbert, the prisoner asks his jailer about the woman, but Nightgall evades the question by stating that the woman is mad.

At Northumberland’s command, Gunnora Broase, an old woman, administered a dose of poison to the late boy-king, Edward VI. She is directed by a strange man to reveal Northumberland’s part in the murder and thus to defeat his intention to place Lady Jane on the throne of England.

Simon Renard and Lord Pembroke have instigated a conflict between Lady Jane and Northumberland by convincing Lady Jane that she should not consent to make Dudley a king. Northumberland desires this distinction for his son, but Lady Jane believes that making her husband a king will cause too much dissension in the kingdom. In anger at this slight from his wife, Dudley leaves the Tower. Lady Jane, who is surrounded by intrigue, is convinced that Renard and Lord Pembroke are her friends and that Northumberland is her enemy. Lord Pembroke next persuades Lady Jane to send Northumberland against Mary’s forces, which are reportedly advancing on London. With Northumberland separated from Lady Jane, Lord Pembroke and Renard are certain that they can destroy her rule. Lady Jane is easily persuaded because she does not suspect the treachery of her two advisers.

Cuthbert Cholmondeley escapes from his dungeon. Dudley returns to his wife and his queen in time to convince her of the treachery of Lord Pembroke and Renard, whom Lady Jane then orders imprisoned. Cicely comes to Dudley and Lady Jane with the tale of what has happened to Cholmondeley. Soon after Lord Pembroke and Renard are imprisoned, Nightgall helps them to escape from the Tower. Meanwhile, Lady Jane has made Cicely a lady-in-waiting.


(The entire section is 1263 words.)