On this day, 462 years ago, Lady Jane Grey was executed. Also known as the Nine Day Queen or Lady Jane Dudley, she was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII through his younger daughter Mary and a first cousin once removed of Edward VI.
Lady Jane Grey was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, and his wife, Lady Frances Brandon. The traditional view is that she was born at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire in October 1537, while more recent research indicates that she was born somewhat earlier, possibly in London, in late 1536 or in the spring of 1537. Lady Frances was the eldest daughter of King Henry VIII’s younger sister, Mary. Jane had two younger sisters, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary; through their mother, the three sisters were great-granddaughters of Henry VII, grandnieces of Henry VIII, and first cousins once removed of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
Jane received a humanist education, studying Latin, Greek and Hebrew with John Aylmer, and Italian with Michelangelo Florio. Through the influence of her father and her tutors, she became a committed Protestant and also corresponded with the Zürich reformer Heinrich Bullinger.
Jane preferred book studies to hunting parties and regarded her strict upbringing, which was well-meant and typical of the time, as harsh.
In early February 1547, Jane was sent to live in the household of Edward VI’s uncle, Thomas Seymour, who soon married Henry VIII’s widow, Catherine Parr. Jane lived with the couple until the death of Queen Catherine in childbirth in September 1548.
Lady Jane acted as chief mourner at Catherine Parr’s funeral; Thomas Seymour showed continued interest to keep her in his household, and she returned there for about two months before he was arrested at the end of 1548.Seymour’s brother, the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, felt threatened by Thomas’ popularity with the young King Edward. Among other things, Thomas Seymour was charged with proposing Jane as a bride for the king
In the course of Thomas Seymour’s following attainder and execution, Jane’s father was lucky to stay largely out of trouble. After his fourth interrogation by the King’s Council, he proposed his daughter Jane as a bride for the Protector’s eldest son, Lord Hertford. Nothing came of this, however, and Jane was not engaged until the spring of 1553, her bridegroom being Lord Guildford Dudley, a younger son of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. The duke was then the most powerful man in the country. On 25 May 1553, the couple were married at Durham House in a triple wedding, in which Jane’s sister Catherine was matched with the heir of the Earl of Pembroke, Lord Herbert, and another Katherine, Lord Guildford’s sister, with Henry Hastings, the Earl of Huntingdon’s heir.
The Third Succession Act of 1544 restored Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to the line of succession, although they were still regarded as illegitimate. Furthermore, this Act authorised Henry VIII to alter the succession by his will. Henry’s will reinforced the succession of his three children, and then declared that, should none of them leave descendants, the throne would pass to heirs of his younger sister, Mary, which included Jane. For unknown reasons, Henry excluded Jane’s mother, Frances Grey, from the succession, and also bypassed the claims of the descendants of his elder sister, Margaret, who had married into the Scottish royal house and nobility.
When the 15-year-old Edward VI lay dying in the early summer of 1553, his Catholic half-sister Mary was still his heir presumptive. However, Edward, in a draft will composed earlier in 1553, had first restricted the succession to (non-existent) male descendants of Frances Brandon and her daughters, before he named his Protestant cousin Jane Grey as his successor on his deathbed, perhaps under the persuasion of Northumberland. Edward VI personally supervised the copying of his will which was finally issued as letters patent on 21 June and signed by 102 notables, among them the whole Privy Council, peers, bishops, judges, and London aldermen. Edward also announced to have his “declaration” passed in parliament in September, and the necessary writs were prepared.
The King died on 6 July 1553. On 9 July Jane was informed that she was now queen, and according to her own later claims, accepted the crown only with reluctance. The next day, she was officially proclaimed Queen of England after she had taken up secure residence in the Tower of London, where English monarchs customarily resided from the time of accession until coronation. Jane refused to name her husband Dudley as king by letters patent and deferred to Parliament. She offered to make him Duke of Clarence instead.
Northumberland faced a number of key tasks to consolidate his power after Edward’s death. Most importantly, he had to isolate and, ideally, capture Lady Mary to prevent her from gathering support. As soon as Mary was sure of King Edward’s demise, she left her residence at Hunsdon and set out to East Anglia, where she began to rally her supporters. Northumberland set out from London with troops on 14 July; in his absence the Privy Council switched their allegiance from Jane to Mary, and proclaimed her queen in London on 19 July among great jubilation of the populace. Jane was imprisoned in the Tower’s Gentleman Gaoler’s apartments, her husband in the Beauchamp Tower. The new queen entered London in a triumphal procession on 3 August, and the Duke of Northumberland was executed on 22 August 1553. In September, Parliament declared Mary the rightful queen and denounced and revoked Jane’s proclamation as that of a usurper.
Jane and Lord Guildford Dudley were both charged with high treason, together with two of Dudley’s brothers and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Their trial, by a special commission, took place on 13 November 1553, at the Guildhall in the City of London. The commission was chaired by Sir Thomas White, Lord Mayor of London, and Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Other members included Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby and John Bourchier, 2nd Earl of Bath. As was to be expected, all defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Jane was found guilty of having signed a number of documents as “Jane the Queen”; her sentence was to “be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases” (the traditional English punishment for treason committed by women). However, the imperial ambassador reported to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, that her life was to be spared.
The Protestant rebellion of Thomas Wyatt the Younger in January 1554 sealed Jane’s fate, although she had nothing to do with it. Wyatt’s rebellion was a revolt precipitated by Queen Mary’s planned marriage to the future Philip II of Spain. Jane’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, and his two brothers joined the rebellion, which caused the government to go through with the verdict against Jane and Guildford. Their execution was first scheduled for 9 February 1554, but was then postponed for three days so that Jane should get a chance to be converted to the Catholic faith. Mary sent her chaplain John Feckenham to Jane, who was initially not pleased about this. Though she would not give in to his efforts “to save her soul”, she became friends with him and allowed him to accompany her to the scaffold.
On the morning of 12 February 1554, the authorities took Guildford from his rooms at the Tower of London to the public execution place at Tower Hill, where he was beheaded. A horse and cart brought his remains back to the Tower, past the rooms where Jane was staying. Seeing her husband’s corpse return, Jane is reported to have exclaimed: “Oh, Guildford, Guildford.” She was then taken out to Tower Green, inside the Tower, to be beheaded.
According to the account of her execution given in the anonymous Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary, which formed the basis for Raphael Holinshed’s depiction, Jane gave a speech upon ascending the scaffold:
“Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, indeed, against the Queen’s highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day.”
She then recited Psalm 51 (Have mercy upon me, O God) in English, and handed her gloves and handkerchief to her maid. The executioner asked her forgiveness, which she granted him, pleading: “I pray you dispatch me quickly.” Referring to her head, she asked, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?”, and the axeman answered: “No, madam.” She then blindfolded herself. Jane then failed to find the block with her hands, and cried, “What shall I do? Where is it?” Probably Sir Thomas Brydges, the Deputy Lieutenant of the Tower, helped her find her way. With her head on the block, Jane spoke the last words of Jesus as recounted by Luke: “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!”
Jane and Guildford are buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula on the north side of Tower Green. Jane’s father, Duke of Suffolk, was executed 11 days after Jane, on 23 February 1554. Her mother, the Duchess of Suffolk, married her Master of the Horse and chamberlain, Adrian Stokes, in March 1555 (not, as often said, three weeks after the execution of the Duke of Suffolk). She was fully pardoned by Mary and allowed to live at Court with her two surviving daughters. She died in 1559.
On this day in 1554, the ‘nine day queen’ - Lady Jane Grey - was beheaded at the Tower of London. Grey was born to noble lineage, as her great-grandfather was King Henry VII, and by aged ten secured a place at the court of Henry VIII’s wife Katherine Parr. In 1553, she married the son of the Duke of Northumberland, who was serving as regent for the young and ailing King Edward VI. The Protestant Northumberland feared the throne falling to Edward’s Catholic heir, Mary Tudor, and arranged marriages that allowed the crown to pass to the pious Protestant Jane upon Edward’s death. However, Mary did not take this slight lightly. Mary gathered her legions of followers, and support for Jane quickly fell in the face of the fearsome Mary - often referred to as 'Bloody Mary’. Either way, this was the first time England was faced with the prospect of a queen as sole ruler of the nation. Jane was never crowned and only reigned as Queen for nine days before she agreed to relinquish the throne and was imprisoned in the Tower of London by the then-Queen Mary. She pleaded guilty to the charges of high treason bought against her, and after her father supported a rebellion against Mary led by Thomas Wyatt, Grey and her family were executed. Her husband was executed first, and Grey watched from her window as he was beheaded, before heading to the scaffold herself; her father was executed eleven days after her. Grey, despite being only sixteen or seventeen years old, faced her imminent death with courage and dignity, refusing to convert to Mary’s Catholicism even if it meant her life. Queen Mary ruled with an iron fist, persecuting Protestant dissenters, until her death in 1558, when she was succeeded by her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth I.
“Live still to die, that by death you may purchase eternal life…As the preacher sayeth, there is a time to be born and a time to die; and the day of death is better than the day of our birth” - Lady Jane Grey in a letter soon before her execution
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth
In the tradition of Antonia Fraser, David Starkey, and Alison Weir, prize-winning historian Helen Castor delivers a compelling, eye-opening examination of women and power in England, witnessed through the lives of six women who exercised power against all odds—and one who never got the chance. Exploring the narratives of the Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou, and other “she-wolves,” as well as that of the Nine Days’ Queen, Lady Jane Grey, Castor invokes a magisterial discussion of how much—and how little—has changed through the centuri
Jane has become a bit of an enigma in history, mostly due to her extremely short reign and subsequent execution being her claim to fame. It is apparent that Jane was quite precocious. In 1550 Roger Ascham, a respected scholar and tutor to Elizabeth I, met Jane as she was reading Plato in Greek. Ascham said she read with “with such understanding as to win my highest admiration.” She was an accomplished scholar and far preferred books to hunting, dancing, or other courtly pastimes. Jane only became queen thanks to a document drawn up by her cousin Edward VI as he was on his death bed. As Edward was a fierce Protestant, he was fearful of his Catholic sister Mary taking the throne. His “devise for the succession” named the Protestant Jane and her sons as his successors. Edward might have done this under the influence of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who strategically married his Guildford son to Jane. When Jane was proclaimed queen it was believed that her husband would be named king, but Jane declared that she would make him a duke but not king. I believe this says something of her willfulness. It is well known how swift Jane’s fall was. She was executed between the ages of 16 or 17, so we can only guess at what kind of queen she may have made.
Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Princess Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, and was therefore a great-granddaughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Her mother Frances was Princess Mary’s eldest daughter. There are several portraits that are said to be of Jane, but none that are completely certain. The most likely shows her with red-brown hair and fair skin. One supposed description claims she had “small features and a well shaped nose, the mouth flexible and the lips red; The eyebrows are arched and and darker than her hair which is nearly red.” If this account is true, then Jane did posses a touch of the Tudor look.
On July 9th, 1553, Lady Jane Grey was informed that she was now the Queen of England, after the death of her cousin Edward VI three days previously.
He had named his Protestant cousin his heir instead of his Catholic half sister Mary, altering the document to include Jane herself as neither Jane’s mother, nor Jane or either of her sisters, had any male heirs at the time.
She very reluctantly accepted the crown and was officially proclaimed Queen the next day, beginning her reign as the “Nine Days Queen”