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:
|His (Guilford’s) carcass thrown into a cart, and his head in a cloth, he was brought to the chapel within the Tower, where Lady Jane, whose lodging was in Partidge’s house, did see his dead carcass taken out of the cart, as well as she did see him before alive on going to his death – a sight to her no less than death. By this time was there a scaffold made upon the green over against the White Tower, for the said Lady Jane to die upon……The said lady, being nothing abashed…with a book in her hand whereon she prayed all the way till she came to the said scaffold….First, when she mounted the said scaffold she said to the people standing thereabout: “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.” and therewith she wrung her hands, in which she had her book. And kneeling down she turned to Fackenham (the dean of St Paul’s) saying “Shall I say this psalm?” And he said “Yea”. Then she said the psalm of Misere mei Deus in English, in most devout manner, to the end. Then she stood up and gave Mistress Tinney her gloves and handkerchief, and her book to Master Bruges, the lieutenant’s brother; forthwith, she untied her gown. The hangman went to her to help her therewith; then she desired him to let her alone, and also with her other attire and neckerchief, giving to her a fair handkerchief to knit about her eyes.Then the hangman kneeled down, and asked her forgiveness, whom she gave most willingly. Then he willed her to stand upon the straw: which doing she saw the block. Then she said “I pray you dispatch me quickly.” Then she kneeled down saying “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” and the hangman answered her “No, madam”. She tied the neckerchief about her eyes: then feeling for the block she said “What shall I do? Where is it?” One of the standers-by guiding her thereto, she laid her head down upon the block, and stretched forth her body and said “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” And so she ended.
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