First, to set the stage: A very simplified recollection of Tudor history centres on Henry VIII's desire for a male heir. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had produced a daughter Mary but not the male heir he desired. (Of course we now know that it is the father that determines the gender of his offspring, but Henry placed the blame squarely on his wives.) In order to marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Church of England so that he could obtain an annulment of his first marriage. However, Anne also suffered miscarriages and produced but a single living child, daughter Elizabeth. The marriage to Anne was also annulled. After Anne was beheaded, Henry went on to marry Jane Seymour who did produce the desired son, Edward.
When Henry died on 28 January 1547, succession to the English throne was governed by the Third Succession Act under which the order in the line of succession started as follows:
1. Prince Edward
2. Princess Mary
3. Princess Elizabeth
4. Lady Jane Grey
King Henry had also left a will with his wishes for his succession expressed; the first 3 names noted above were his first 3 choices but after that the lists diverged. After the early death of Protestant King Edward VI, still in his teens, Mary became queen. Mary, like her mother, was Roman Catholic while her sister Elizabeth was Protestant. Both sisters suffered the stigma of being considered illegitimate by the other faction! Much of the rancour that swirled around their reigns was as a result of the religious persecution between Catholic and Protestant supporters. Even among Protestant supporters, there were dissident groups who thought the Reformation had not gone far enough in purging the church of its Popish ways. (For example, see the story of another of my ancestors, Thomas Morse, who was definitely in this category.)
Now to get to Edward Lewknor's place in all of this: Edward was born about 1517 at Kingston Buci (now Kingston by Sea), Sussex, to another Edward Lewknor and his wife Margaret Copley.
Robert Wroth had a son Thomas Wroth of a similar age to Edward. The Wroth household were Protestant sympathizers. Robert Wroth was a friend of Thomas Cromwell and from 1534 shared with Cromwell the stewardship of Westminster Abbey.
At the requirement of Robert Wroth in his will, Edward married Wroth's daughter Dorothy prior to 1542 and had a large family with her, including four sons (Edward,Thomas, Stephen and William) and six daughters (Lucrece, Ann, Dorothy, Jane, Elizabeth and my 10th great-grandmother Mary). (It should be remembered that in this time, marriages were not generally love matches but a way to cement family relationships and property rights. Robert Wroth's will had contemplated that both Edward and Dorothy would have the right to refuse this marriage, but in that case, Dorothy would receive the financial benefit from the dissolution of her father's wardship of Edward.)
On the death of his mother Margaret, Edward came into possession of the manor of Kingston Buci. In 1553 young King Edward VI granted him the manor of King's Barns (in Upper Beeding) and another estate called New Park (in Lower Beeding), Sussex.
Edward was elected as a Member of Parliament for Horsham in March of 1553 but lost his seat when Queen Mary came to the throne later that year. Mary, of course, was intent on returning England to Roman Catholicism and history reveals the methods she employed to have been very "bloody". During her 5 year reign she had some 280 people burned at the stake.
Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554 resulted from Mary's decision to marry the Catholic King Philip II of Spain (and likely breed a family of devout Catholics to ensure Catholic succession to the throne). Lewknor was not implicated in this failed plot but because of his wife's family ties to Sir Thomas Wyatt's wife, there were suspicions about his loyalty. His wife's brother Thomas Wroth was not so fortunate, but did manage to escape to France where he remained in exile. Some 90 nobles were executed, including Wyatt himself, Jane Gray and Guilford Dudley.
Two years later Edward Lewknor was to find himself entangled in a new web of intrigue in an affair known as the Dudley Conspiracy. This was another unsuccessful attempt to depose Mary and replace her on the throne with her half sister Elizabeth. With his brother-in-law Thomas Wroth still in exile, there is no doubt that Edward was in communication with Protestant dissidents. He complied with a request to use his position in Queen Mary's court to obtain a copy of Henry VIII's will in the hope that it would prove Mary's ineligibility to hold the throne. It was also said that he held meetings both in London and at his home in Sussex with other sympathizers. There was even some talk of a plot to kill the Queen during a card game. All of this culminated in his being taken to the Tower of London on 6 June 1556. Nine days later he was tried at Guildhall and found guilty of treason. He was among those whose sentences were deferred and he might well have ultimately been released. However, his health failed during his imprisonment. Wife Dorothy and one of his daughters had been allowed to look after him in prison, but he died in the Tower on 6 September 1556 and was buried in the Tower Precinct.
His final request was to ask for Queen Mary's forgiveness and for her to spare his wife and children. This she did, quickly restoring to widow Dorothy Lewknor the properties at Kingston Buci and Hamsey. Son and heir (yet another!) Edward Lewknor was restored in blood in 1559 and went on to become a leading Puritan Member of Parliament during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Sources:R.J. W. Swales entry in "History of Parliament" located online at https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/lewknor-edward-151617-56
Wikipedia article on Edward Lewknor located online at
Website located at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~dearbornboutwell/fam578.html accessed October 24, 2012