For nine days, Lady Jane Grey, born in 1536, was the Queen of England. Her brief reign was filled with controversy as her ascension to the throne was untraditional. She had no desire to rule, no political agenda, and was pushed into the spotlight by parents with a strong upper-hand and a father-in-law with only one thing on his mind: power. As the grandniece of Henry VII, she was part of the royal bloodline on her mother’s side. Lady Jane Grey was used as a pawn in one of the most unusual royal rules in the history of England. Death by beheading was the price paid by The Nine Days’ Queen.
Born to Henry Grey the Duke of Suffolk and Lady Frances Brandon, Jane was a first cousin, once removed, of Edward VI. As the Reformation continued to make waves in England, under the influence of both her father and her tutors, Jane became a devout Protestant. She studied Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as part of her humanist education and enjoyed reading. At the age of nine, she was sent to live with Queen Catherine Parr, the widow of Henry VIII. A few months later, Catherine wed Thomas Seymour. She died two years later as the result of complications in childbirth. Jane was her chief mourner. At this point her father began to offer her up as a bride to secure his own position. Nothing came of these first attempts.
King Edward VI, only fifteen years old in 1553, had ruled England since he was nine years old. After coming down with a terminal illness, it became a priority for his Council to create a plan for an heir to the throne. John Dudley was the head of Edward VI’s Council and considered by most to be one of the most powerful men in England. Realizing that there was an opportunity to maintain his status and secure his position in the government, he came up with a plan. John Dudley arranged a marriage between his son, Guildford Dudley and Lady Jane Grey, knowing of her potential of taking over the throne.
Jane’s parents also saw this as a beneficial union. John Dudley had the ear of the King and influenced the decision to create a will that would make Lady Jane Grey his successor. Edward VI had two half-sisters that also had claim to the throne, but they were completely overlooked. Edward VI died on July 6, 1554. Jane was told three days later that she was now the Queen of England. A proclamation was released, announcing her new position and she was immediately moved to the Tower of London as was the custom. The Privy Council originally supported Jane as the country’s ruler, but the tides turned quickly.
They reversed their decision and on July 19, 1554, Edward VI’s half-sister Mary was named Queen of England. Lady Jane Grey was kept in the Tower of London as a prisoner. By November of 1554, the trial of Jane and her husband was arranged. The couple was charged with high treason. Both were found guilty, as well as Dudley’s two brothers and a former Archbishop of Canterbury. The sentence was death; however Jane’s life was spared. She remained a prisoner of the Tower of London.
In an ironic twist, the reason for her execution only a few months later was caused by no action of Jane herself. Wyatt’s Rebellion surfaced as a statement against Queen Mary. She was planning to marry Phillip of Spain. Some in England saw this as an opportunity to remove Mary from the throne. Jane’s father, as well as other nobles, joined the uprising. The execution of Lady Jane Grey was an opportunity for Queen Mary to stabilize the country and end any thought of future rebellions.
On February 12, 1554, Jane’s husband was taken to the public execution site where he was beheaded. His body was brought back to the Tower of London as Jane awaited her sentence. Out of respect for her cousin, Queen Mary required that Jane’s beheading be done in private. This was usually a right reserved only for royalty. An account of her final moments as provided by the anonymous author of Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary, notes that she made a short speech, recited the 51st Psalm, and prepared for her execution by tying her own blindfold. One week later, Jane’s father was also executed.
To learn more about Lady Jane Grey, consult the following links.
Tufts Digital Library: Portions of the book Memorials of the Tower of London by William Lennox De Ros. A summary of the life of Lady Jane Grey, her time within the Tower of London and contextual information about sixteenth century England.
The University of Oregon Library: A transcribed copy of The Proclamation of Lady Jane Grey as Queen of England in 1553.
The National Gallery: The oil painting by Paul Delaroche in 1833 entitled, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey.
The Collective Biographies of Women: Detailed information, including a timeline, on the life and death of Lady Jane Grey is included as well as a detailed bibliography of both printed and online materials.
A Celebration of Women Writers: Chapter 66 of Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall’s An Island Story: A History of England for Boys and Girls, published in 1920.
Jennifer Halligan, University of Western Australia: Detailed excerpts of writings by Lady Jane Grey. These include writings in a prayer book and letters to her family.
Tudor Place: The anonymous account of Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley’s execution. The text was originally found in Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary. The execution took place on February 12, 1554.
Historical Royal Palaces: A photo and description of the word, “Jane” carved into the wall of the Beauchamp Tower. It was here that her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley and some of his family members were held.
Jane Lambert’s Lady Jane Grey: A complete history of Lady Jane Grey separated by portions of her life. It also includes pictures of Jane, as well as the Tower of London where she waited for her coronation and later became imprisoned.
Henry Machyn’s Account of The Coronation of Lady Jane Grey, 1553: A London undertaker’s description of Lady Jane Grey’s transition to queen as well as her move to the Tower of London.
RoyaList Onine: Provides a complete family tree for Lady Jane Grey including her parents, siblings, and grandparents.
Historic UK: A history and heritage guide that covers the basics of Lady Jane Grey’s life and short-lived reign as Queen of England.
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