When Henry VIII of England died in 1547, his will and the Third Succession Act dictated who should follow him on the throne. His son Edward VI and his heirs would be first in line. However, Edward would die childless at the tender age of 15 without heirs. Although Henry’s eldest daughter Mary had been declared a bastard in 1533 upon Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn she had been returned to the line of succession by the Third Succession, as was her half-sister Elizabeth who was likewise declared a bastard in 1536. Thus when Edward VI died, his sister Mary followed him on the throne. Mary married and wished to produce heirs, perhaps so badly she possibly had two phantom pregnancies, but heirs never came, and she died childless in 1558. Elizabeth then followed her on the throne and a stabilising reign of over 44 years brought England closer together.
Though Elizabeth was only 25 when she ascended the throne, she never married and never produced heirs, and for most of her reign, she would be hounded by her advisers to marry or name an heir. She never named an heir to perhaps save them from the dangerous situations she was in when she was the heir. There were not a lot of options. Either her father’s will or primogeniture would decide who the heir was. Most probably favoured her father’s will as primogeniture left the throne to the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a descendant of Henry’s elder sister Margaret. Henry’s will left the throne to the descendants of his younger sister Mary, completely cutting off Margaret’s line as she had married a foreigner (the King of Scots).
Mary’s descendants’ proximity to the throne cost them a lot. Mary’s first marriage was to Louis XII of France, but he died after only a few months of marriage. Her second marriage was to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and was not approved by her brother. After paying a hefty fine, they were finally officially married. They would have four children, of which two would live to adulthood, Frances and Eleanor.
Francis was the mother of the Grey sisters. Lady Jane, who would become known as the Nine Day Queen, Lady Catherine, whose unapproved marriage would land her in the Tower and her children illegitimate and Lady Mary, who also married without approval and was held under house arrest. Francis’ line would end there.
Mary’s second surviving child Eleanor married quite honourably to Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland and she had three children of which only the eldest survived, and it is through this daughter we finally get to Elizabeth’s heiress. Lady Margaret Clifford married Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby and had four children with him. Two would die young. Her eldest surviving son was Ferdinando Stanley, who also became the 5th Earl of Derby, but both he and his mother would not survive Elizabeth’s reign and by the time Elizabeth was near death in 1603 her heiress according to Henry VIII’s will was Ferdinando’s eldest daughter Lady Anne Stanley. At the time Anne was unmarried, and she was probably never truly considered a serious claimant to the throne as all eyes had been focused on Mary, Queen of Scots’ son James VI.
On 28 February 1607 Anne married Grey Brydges, 5th Baron Chandos of Sudeley and they had five children. Her husband died in 1621 and Anne remarried three years later to Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, and they had a single daughter, who died young. She was later involved in a trial against her husband where his manservant testified that she ‘was the wickedest woman in the world, and had more to answer for than any woman that lived’. In the end, her husband and his manservant were executed for sexual crimes upon Tower Hill.
Anne survived him for 16 years; she died in October 1647. Anne’s legacy and her claim to the throne lived on until 1826, when no more descendants of her were recorded living. It is quite possible that her line lives on, but if her line did die out, her succession rights are considered to have passed on her sister Lady Frances Stanley, whose line still lives on today.
It’s an interesting what-if of history. We might have had a Queen Anne instead of a King James I!