Lady Jane Grey: The teenager who was Queen of England for just nine days
On February 6, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Platinum Jubilee. The Queen’s 70 years of service, which in all account is a mindboggling milestone, places her on top of the list of the longest-reigning monarchs of England. But have you ever wondered which English monarch sits at the bottom of the list? Well, that unenviable honor belongs to Lady Jane Grey, a devout Protestant teenager who ruled England for just over a week before she was ousted from power by her own cousin Mary Tudor, aka Bloody Mary.
Queen Jane Grey’s brief reign was not the only predicament that befell her. The deposed queen, along with her husband of two months, Lord Guildford Dudley, was locked in the Tower of London and later executed on the orders of Queen Mary, the bloodthirsty Catholic monarch of England.
The story of Lady Jane Grey is regarded as one of the most heartbreaking in the history of the English monarchy. However, there was a lot more to Queen Jane’s life and short reign. Read on to discover more about the life, family history, brief reign, and tragic fall of Lady Jane Grey.
Facts about Lady Jane Grey
Born: 1536 or 1537
Died: February 12, 1554
Place of death: Tower of London, London
Cause of death: execution on orders of Queen Mary I (“Bloody Mary”)
Buried at: Church of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London
Parents: Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Lady Frances Brandon
Siblings: Katherine Seymour; Lady Mary Keyes; and Elizabeth Stokes
Husband: Lord Guildford Dudley (1553-1554)
Also known as: “Nine Days’ Queen”
Reign: July 10, 1553 – July 19, 1553
Predecessor: Edward VI
Successor: Mary I (“Bloody Mary”)
Family tree of Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Mary Tudor (1496-1533), an English princess who was queen of France (from October 9, 1514 – January 1, 1515) through her husband Louis XII of France. Mary Tudor was the brother of Henry VIII of England (1491-1547). Mary’s second marriage (to Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk) brought forth four children, including Frances, Lady Jane Grey’s mother.
Edward VI, like his father Henry VIII, tried as much as possible to keep the English throne out of Catholic hands. This explains why both kings skipped Margaret Tudor’s descendant, who in all sense and purpose had a stronger claim for the throne than Mary’s descendants considering the fact that Margaret was seven years older than Mary. As a result, the throne of England became hotly contested position between Catholics and Protestants.
Lady Jane Grey was the first cousin once removed of three English monarchs
Lady Jane Grey was born to parents Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk (1517-1554) and Frances, Duchess of Suffolk (1517-1559). Her grandparents were Mary Tudor (1496-1533) and Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (c.1484 – 1545). Through her grandmother Mary Tudor, Lady Jane Grey was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England. And since Mary Tudor was the brother of Henry VIII of England, Lady Jane Grey was the first cousin once removed of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. Those three cousins of hers were the children of Henry VIII, England’s infamous king who broke away with the Catholic Church and ushered in the English Reformation.
The line of succession established by Henry VIII
In Henry VIII’s later years on the throne, the king restored (using the Third Succession Act of 1544) his two daughters – Mary and Elizabeth – to the line of succession. What that meant was that should Edward, Henry VIII’s third legitimate child and heir, should Edward fail to have any heirs of his own, the English throne would then pass to Edward’s older half-sister Mary and finally to Elizabeth.
Just before Henry VIII passed away, he made a few more additions to the succession line. He decreed that should Elizabeth die without an heir, the throne should pass to the offspring of Henry’s younger sister, Mary Tudor.
One of the most learned women of her time
Lady Jane Grey was the eldest of her parents’ children, which included Katherine Seymour, Countess of Hertford; Lady Mary Keyes; and Elizabeth Stokes. With no male child, the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk invested heavily in Lady Jane Grey’s education. The noblewoman received the best that princely education could offer at the time. She was tutored in host of subjects in the humanities by renowned scholars like Michelangelo Florio (1515-1566) and John Aylmer (1521-1594). It’s also said that Lady Jane Grey could speak about 8 languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Greek and Latin. As a result, she was considered one of the most learned woman of her time.
Lady Jane Grey and Thomas Seymour
An uncle to Edward VI, Seymour vied for influence over the young king. He would wrestle with his brother Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, for that influence. Edward had been appointed “Protector” regent (i.e. Lord Protector of England) during the minority years of Edward VI. Thomas, who was appointed Lord High Admiral, is said to have grown very jealous of the power his brother wielded. Therefore, Thomas schemed with royal courtiers to have his brother removed from the regency role. One of such schemes involved marrying Catherine Parr as he hoped to take advantage of the enormous fortune Catherine inherited from her deceased husband, Henry VIII.
Aside from being overly affectionate with the teenage Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I), Thomas Seymour tried as much as possible to win the favor of Lady Jane Grey. Upon the death of Catherine in 1548, Thomas Seymour inherited an enormous amount of wealth from his deceased wife. He even tried to arrange a marriage between Edward VI and Lady Jane Grey. Thomas Seymour’s schemes were unearthed by the Regency council. He was then charged with treason and executed in 1549.
Lady Jane Grey’s marriage to Lord Guldford Dudley
Following Thomas Seymour execution, Lady Jane Grey’s father tried to disassociate himself and his family from Seymour by proposing a marriage between Jane Grey and Lord Hertford, the eldest son of Edward Seymour. The proposed marriage never materialized.
In May, 1553, Lady Jane Grey tied the knot with Lord Guildford Dudley, the son of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland and then-Lord President of the King’s Council.
Death of Edward VI and the new line of succession
After ruling for about six years, King Edward VI died at the age of 15 of severe illness in 1553. As Edward VI laid in his deathbed, he ordered his courtiers to draft a will that would make his cousin, Lady Jane Grey his heir. The king’s will in effect removed his Catholic half-sister Mary and his other half-sister Elizabeth from the line of succession. It’s often said that Edward VI was persuaded into establishing a new line of succession by the people around him. Chief among those people was the king’s senior advisor John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, who was also the father-in-law of Lady Jane Grey. The will was signed by the entire Privy Council and other important nobles as well as bishops and aldermen.
The reason why Northumberland and other senior courtiers advised Edward to sideline his Catholic older half-sister from the line of succession was because they were concerned that Mary would reverse the gains made by Edward in term of the English Reformation. Therefore, Edward decided to pass the crown to Mary Jane Grey, who was a devoted Protestant.
It must be noted that Edward’s decision also meant that he in effect sidelined his other older half-sister Elizabeth from the succession line.
Lady Jane Grey is proclaimed Queen of England
Bent on seeing Lady Jane Grey proclaimed queen of England, Dudley intentionally delayed the announcement of the death of Edward VI for a whole four days. In that time, he was able to get Parliament to approve the deceased king’s will and declaration.
Lady Jane Grey is said to have been overwhelmed by flurry of emotions when she heard that she was to succeed to the English throne. The teenager was reluctant at first, but after some bit of persuasion from her father-in-law ultimately accepted the huge responsibility that had placed upon her.
On July 10, four days after death of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England. The teenage queen took up residence at the Tower of London, as she waited for her coronation ceremony.
Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”) rallies support from the public and fights back
Even before Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen, her father-in-law and the Privy Council tried their best to make the deceased king’s surviving half-sister Mary Tudor a very isolated figure. However, Mary was not the kind to easily back down. The English princess evaded capture and fled to East Anglia, where she rallied a great deal of her sympathizers and political supporters. Mary also raised a sizable army and thereafter stormed London unopposed. With their backs against the wall and fearing the possible break out of civil war, the Privy Council was left with no other option than to proclaim Mary, a devout Catholic, queen on July 19. Mary in effect had outsted her cousin from power. The new queen then set about exacting unimaginable reign of terror upon all the people who were involved in removing her from the line of succession. She began with the Dudleys.
Some historians are quick to point out that Queen Mary I did not necessarily have the unequivocal support of the public. So the question that begs to be answered is: how then was Mary able to remove Lady Jane Grey from power? It turns out that Mary had the full support of a very powerful earl called Henry FritzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel. It was FritzAlan’s way of evening the scores with Northumberland for past wrong done him.
Lady Jane Grey is imprisoned in the Tower of London
Newly crowned queen Mary I (later known as “Bloody Mary”) ordered the imprisonment of Lady Jane Grey and her husband Lord Guldford Dudley. The couple were imprisoned in the Tower of London. Queen Mary quickly did away with Jane’s father-in-law. Convicted of high treason, the Duke of Northumberland was executed on August 22, 1553. In spite of his strong pleas of mercy to Queen Mary, Northumberland’s son John Dudley as well two other sons were charged with high treason.
The trial of Lady Jane Grey
Throughout her trial (on the charge of high treason), Lady Jane Grey was referred to as Jane Dudley, wife of Guildford, by her accusers. Her guilty conviction was a forgone conclusion as she was slapped with a death sentence. The commission that found the deposed queen guilty ordered for her to be either burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded at a time of Queen Mary’s pleasing.
The Wyatt’s Rebellion – the event that sealed Lady Jane Grey’s miserable fate
Queen Mary truly contemplated sparing the life of Mary Jane Grey. However, that all changed following the Queen’s decision to marry Philip of Spain. Incensed by Mary’s decision, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger (1521-1554) kick started a rebellion, which came to be known as the Wyatt’s Rebellion. Known for his strong hatred for Spain, Wyatt was bent on seeing that the marriage did not take place. And so a fierce resistance to Mary’s reign broke out in January 1554. Mary responded to the rebellion by rallying her government and her supporters to quickly crush the rebellion in March that year. Wyatt was later tried for high treason and sentenced to death. Wyatt was executed on April 11, 1554.
The fallout from the Wyatt Rebellion and its suppression was massive. Hoping for the demise of Queen Mary, Lady Jane’s brother and her two brothers gave some bit of support to Wyatt. This revelation sealed Jane’s miserable fate, and it was decided that Jane and her husband’s executions be carried out on February 12, 1554.
Time as a prisoner in the Tower of London
Lady Jane Grey was locked up in the Tower of London from July 19, 1553. Initially, Queen Mary hoped to spare Jane’s life; however, Jane’s constant criticism of Mary’s Catholicism caused things to turn sour for Jane.
The Wyatt Rebellion in 1554 also compounded Jane’s already bad situation. She never endorsed the rebellion; however, her father, the Duke of Suffolk, supported the rebellion.
That coupled with her staunch opposition to Catholicism left Queen Mary with no other option than to order her for execution to proceed.
Execution of Lady Jane Grey
It is said that Queen Mary delayed the execution of Jane in hope that her cousin would have a change of heart and convert to Catholicism. Jane refused, preferring to go down clutching to her Protestant faith.
Lady Jane Grey’s husband Guildford was beheaded at Tower Hill. Upon seeing her husband’s corpse, she sunk to her feet. Hours later, she was led to the top of the scaffolding and then asked to blindfold herself. She is said to have walked the scaffold with a lot of dignity. Apart from the time when she got startled a bit after she could not find the block on which to rest her head, the former queen of England remained strong throughout the execution.
She handed her gloves and handkerchief to her maid and then recited Psalm 51 – “Have mercy upon me, O God”. It’s said that Lady Jane Grey pleaded with the executioner to quickly dispatch her with a clean strike.
After the execution was carried out, she and her husband Guldford were buried at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, which is on the north side of Tower Green. There were no memorial stones at their graves.
Did you know: At the time of her execution, Lady Jane Grey was around 17 years old?
A teenager who was reluctant to be queen
Owing to how far she was in the line of succession, she did not in her wildest imagination see herself becoming queen. When she was informed that she was to become queen, she felt very reluctant as she thought herself insufficient. She was simply a teenager who had no ambition of ruling. She also felt that new succession line was not legal.
Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley got married about two months before Jane was proclaimed queen. When Dudley asked to be crowned king, Queen Jane refused; rather, she offered to make him a duke instead. Safe to say the Dudleys were offended by this decision of Jane. They even threatened to deny Jane of an heir by not allowing Jane and Dudley share the same bed.
More Lady Jane Grey facts
Following her proclamation as Queen of England, Lady Jane Grey resisted pressures from her husband Dudley to make him king. The young queen’s intention was to make Dudley Duke of Clarence.
Lady Jane Grey’s tutor Michelangelo Florio, who was also a Protestant, fled England following the overthrow of Jane. Florio never forgot his young student, and his book History of the life and death of the illustrious Jane Grey was dedicated the deposed English queen.
It is commonly accepted that this English monarch was born at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. Her date of birth has been placed sometime between May 1536 and February 1537. However, some historians maintain that she was born sometime before May 1537.
It’s said that Lady Jane Grey maintained correspondence with Heinrich Bullinger, a famous Protestant Reformer.
Lady Jane Grey’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, was executed 11 days after the execution of his daughter. Her mother, the Duchess of Suffolk, was given a full pardon by Queen Mary I.
During and after the reign of Mary I, many Protestants saw her as martyr.
Lady Jane Grey is generally referred to as the “Nine-Day Queen of England” as her reign lasted from July 10 to July 19. However, assuming we were to count from the day Edward VI died, which was on July 6, 1533, to the day the she was removed from power, then Lady Jane Grey was queen for 13 days.
In her early childhood, Lady Jane Grey was praised as a very bright young girl whose intellect was far beyond her age. This was because her parents had given her the best that princely education could offer at the time.
Lady Jane Grey was not even queen long enough to get the traditional coronation at Westminster Abbey.
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