Lady Jane Grey was born in October 1537 and died in February 1554. Lady Jane is most remembered as the “Nine Day Queen” before Mary Tudor was confirmed as queen in 1553 after the death of her half-brother Edward VI.
Jane’s father was Henry Grey, who was to become the Duke of Suffolk, and her mother was Lady Frances Brandon, who was the daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary and the great grand-daughter of Henry VII.
Jane had a strict upbringing and she never developed a close relationship with her parents. She did, however, develop a close friendship with Catherine Parr. Academically, Jane excelled in languages. She had been tutored by John Aylmer and she spoke French, Greek, Latin and Italian fluently.
Jane became a ward of Baron Seymour of Sudeley who tried unsuccessfully to arrange a marriage between Jane and Edward VI. Seymour was executed for treason in 1549.
After the death of Seymour, Jane fell under the influence of John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland. Dudley was Edward’s chief advisor. In 1553, Jane married Dudley’s son, Lord Guilford Dudley.
Northumberland managed to persuade Edward VI to change the order of succession so that Jane would succeed to the throne. His argument was that Jane was Church of England and Mary was Catholic and any change back to Catholicism would be disastrous for England. Northumberland’s plan was simple: if Jane, his daughter-in-law, was queen and his son king, Dudley’s influence over royal policy would be strong and he could enhance the power he already had.
When Edward died on July 6th 1553, Lady Jane Grey succeeded to the throne aged 15. The proclamation was read out on July 10th 1553. Her ‘reign’ lasted nine days.
However, the people of England rallied around Mary Tudor. England had enjoyed decades of stability under the Tudors and the name had become synonymous with England’s growing European standing. Mary’s surname alone would have been enough to gain her the support of the vast majority. On July 19th, Mary was proclaimed queen of England and Jane was sent to the Tower of London.
Dudley was not helped in his plan by the fact that his army deserted him, clearly fearing a Tudor backlash against which they would be severely beaten in combat. To make matters worse for her, Jane’s father, probably out of desperation, joined the failed rebellion led by Sir Thomas Wyatt in 1554.
Had her father not joined the rebellion, it is probable that Mary would have spared the life of the fifteen year old who was clearly out of her depth but did as she was told. The rebellion convinced Mary that Jane, while alive, remained a threat to her. Mary was also concerned that Jane, when given the chance to convert to Catholicism, refused to do so.
Lady Jane Grey and her husband were beheaded on February 12th,1554, after being found guilty of treason. Guilford was the first to be executed followed by Jane. Before she was executed, Jane said that she had never wanted the throne of England and that she would die a “true Christian women”.
A contemporary account of Jane’s execution: