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Lady Jane Grey (1536/1537 – 12 February 1554) was a claimant to the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Ireland. She was de facto monarch of England after the death of Edward VI for just over a week in July 1553. Residing in the Tower of Londonmarker during her short reign, she never left the premises again. Her execution in February 1554 was caused by her father's involvement in Wyatt's rebellion.

Lady Jane Grey's rule of less than two weeks is the shortest rule of England in its history. Historians have taken either the day of her proclamation as queen, 10 July, or that of her predecessor's death, 6 July, as the beginning. Hence her popular names of "The Nine Days' Queen" or, less commonly, "The Thirteen Days' Queen". She is sometimes reckoned the first Queen regnant of Englandmarker.

Lady Jane had an excellent Humanist education and a reputation as one of the most learned women of her day. A committed Protestant, she was posthumously regarded not only as a political victim but also as a martyr.

Early life and education

Jane, the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset and his wife Lady Frances Brandon, was born at Bradgate Parkmarker in Leicestershiremarker. The traditional view is that she was born around October 1537, but recent research has shown that she was born earlier, on an unknown date in late 1536 or early 1537. Lady Frances was the daughter of Princess Mary, the younger sister of Henry VIII, and was thus the first cousin of Edward VI. Jane had two younger sisters, Lady Katherine Grey and Lady Mary Grey; through their mother, the three sisters were members of the House of Tudor: great-granddaughters of Henry VII and grandnieces of Henry VIII. Jane could claim descent twice from 15th century royal consort Elizabeth Woodville; paternally through Woodville's first husband, Sir John Grey of Groby, and maternally through her second husband King Edward IV. Jane received a comprehensive education, and studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew as well as contemporary languages. Through the teachings of her tutors, she became a committed Protestant.
Jane had a difficult childhood. Even for the harsher standards of the time, Frances Brandon was an abusive, cruel, and domineering woman who felt that Jane was weak and gentle, so held her under a strict disciplinary regime. Her daughter's meekness and quiet, unassuming manner irritated Frances who sought to 'harden' the child with regular beatings. Devoid of a mother's love and craving affection and understanding, Jane turned to books for solace and quickly mastered skills in the arts and languages. However, she felt that nothing she could do would please her parents. Speaking to a visitor, Cambridge scholar Roger Ascham, tutor to the Lady Elizabeth, she said: For when I am in the presence of either Father or Mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it as it were in such weight, measure and number, even so perfectly as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yes presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs and other ways ... that I think myself in hell.

In 1546, at less than 10 years old, Jane was sent to live as the ward of 35-year old Catherine Parr, then Queen Consort of England, who married Henry VIII in 1543. At this time, Jane became acquainted with her royal cousins, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. Catherine was a sensible, maternal woman who was excellent with children, and with Jane, she was no exception. It is probable that Jane's days as Catherine's ward were the happiest of her life.

Contracts for marriage

After Henry VIII died, Catherine Parr married Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. Catherine died shortly after the birth of her only child, Mary Seymour, in late 1548, leaving the young Jane once again bereft of a maternal figure. Jane acted as chief mourner at Catherine's funeral. Jane returned to her parents after Catherine Parr's death, yet Seymour showed continued interest in her, and she was again in his household for about two months when he was arrested at the end of 1548. Seymour's brother, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, who ruled as Lord Protector, felt threatened by Thomas' popularity with the young King Edward, and was charged, among other things, with proposing Jane as a royal bride.

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 Privy Council, he proposed his daughter Jane as a bride for the Protector's eldest son, Lord Hertford. Nothing came of this, however, and Jane's next engagement, in the spring of 1553, was to Lord Guilford Dudley, the fourth son of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. Her prospective father-in-law was then the most powerful man in the country. According to tradition, Jane stated her preference for a single life, but her mother made her submit to the arrangement. On 21 May 1553, the couple were married at Durham Housemarker in a triple wedding, in which Jane's sister Catherine was matched with the heir of the Earl of Pembroke, Lord Herbert, and another Catherine, Lord Guilford's sister, with Henry Hastings, the Earl of Huntingdon's heir.

Claim to the throne and accession

According to male primogeniture, the Suffolks—the Brandons and, later, the Greys—comprised the junior branch of the heirs of Henry VII. The Third Succession Act restored Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession, although the law regarded them 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 then declared that, should none of his three children leave heirs, the throne would pass to heirs of his younger sister, Mary Tudor, who included Jane. Henry's will excluded the descendants of his elder sister Margaret Tudor, owing in part to Henry's desire to keep the English throne out of the hands of the Scotsmarker monarchs, and in part to a previous Act of Parliament of 1431 barring foreign-born persons, including royalty, from inheriting property in England.

At the time of Edward's death, the crown would pass to Mary, the elder daughter of Henry VIII, and her male heirs. If she died without male issue, the crown would pass to Elizabeth and her male heirs. If she also died without male issue, the crown would pass to any male issue of Frances Brandon. In the absence of male children born to Frances, the crown would pass to any male children Jane might have.

When Edward VI lay dying in 1553 at age 15, his Catholic half-sister Mary was still the heiress presumptive to the throne. However, Edward named the (Protestant) heirs of his father's sister, Mary Tudor as his successors in a will composed on his deathbed, perhaps under the persuasion of Northumberland. Edward and Northumberland knew that this effectively left the throne to Edward's cousin, Lady Jane Grey, who (like them) staunchly supported Protestantism.This may have contravened customary testatory law because Edward had not reached the legal testatory age of 21. More importantly, many contemporary legal theorists believed the monarch could not contravene an Act of Parliament, even in matters of the succession; Jane's claim to the throne therefore remained obviously weak. Other historians believed that the King could basically rule through divine right. Henry VII had, after all, seized the throne from Richard III on the battlefield.

Edward VI died on 6 July 1553. Four days later, Northumberland had Lady Jane Grey proclaimed Queen of England after she had taken up a secure residence in the Tower of Londonmarker, 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.

A Genoese merchant, Baptista Spinola, who witnessed Jane's stately procession by water from Syon Housemarker to the Tower of London, describes her in these words, "This Jane is very short and thin, but prettily shaped and graceful. She has small features, and a well-made nose, the mouth flexible and the lips red. The eyebrows are arched and darker than her hair which is nearly red. Her eyes are sparkling, and reddish brown in colour." He also noticed her freckled skin, and sharp, white teeth. On the day of her procession she wore a green velvet gown stamped in gold.

Northumberland faced a number of key tasks in order to consolidate his power after Edward's death. Most importantly, he had to isolate and, ideally, capture Lady Mary in order to prevent her from gathering support around her. As soon as Mary was sure of King Edward's demise, she left her residence at Hunsdonmarker and set out to East Angliamarker, where she began to rally her supporters. Within nine days, Mary had found sufficient support to ride into London in a triumphal procession. Parliament declared Mary the rightful queen and denounced and revoked Jane's proclamation as having been coerced. Mary imprisoned Jane and her husband in the Gentleman Gaoler's apartments at the Tower of London, although their lives were initially spared. The Duke of Northumberland was executed on 22 August 1553.

Trial and execution

Jane and Lord Guilford Dudley were both charged with high treason, together with two of Dudley's brothers. Their trial, by a special commission, took place on 13 November 1553, at the Guildhallmarker in the City of Londonmarker. The commission was chaired by Sir Thomas White, Lord Mayor of London, and included Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby and John Bourchier, 2nd Earl of Bath. The two principal defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Jane's sentence was that she "be burned alive [the traditional English punishment for treason committed by women] on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases." 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 late January 1554 sealed Jane's fate, although she had nothing to do with it directly. Wyatt's rebellion started as a popular revolt, precipitated by the imminent marriage of Mary to the Roman Catholic Prince Philip (later King of Spain from 1556 to 1598). Jane's father (the Duke of Suffolk) and other nobles joined the rebellion, calling for Jane's restoration as queen. Philip and his councillors pressed Mary to execute Jane to put an end to any future focus for unrest. Five days after Wyatt's arrest, Jane and Guilford were executed.

On the morning of 12 February 1554, the authorities took Guilford from his rooms at the Tower of London to the public execution place at Tower Hillmarker and there had him beheaded. A horse and cart brought his remains back to the Tower of London, past the rooms where Jane remained as a prisoner. Jane was then taken out to Tower Greenmarker, inside the Tower of London, and beheaded in private. With few exceptions, only royalty were offered the privilege of a private execution; Jane's execution was conducted in private on the orders of Queen Mary, as a gesture of respect for her cousin.

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. John Feckenham, a Roman Catholic chaplain sent by Mary who had failed to convert Jane, stayed with her during the execution. The executioner asked her forgiveness, and she gave it. She pleaded the axeman, "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 had resolved to go to her death with dignity, but once blindfolded, failing to find the block with her hands, began to panic and cried, "What shall I do? Where is it?" An unknown hand, possibly Feckenham's, then helped her find her way and retain her dignity at the end. 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!" She was then beheaded.

"The traitor-heroine of the Reformation", as historian Albert Pollard called her, was merely 16 or 17 years old at the time of her execution. Apparently, Frances Brandon made no attempt, pleading or otherwise, to save her daughter's life; Jane's father already awaited execution for his part in the Wyatt rebellion. Jane and Guilford are buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vinculamarker on the north side of Tower Green.

Henry, Duke of Suffolk, Jane's father, was executed a week after Jane, on 19 February 1554. His widow, Frances Brandon, did not make a good impression at court by marrying her Master of the Horse and chamberlain, Adrian Stokes. They married 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.

Cultural depictions

After the violent attempted suppression of Protestantism by Mary I, Jane being one of her first victims, and the succession of the Protestant Elizabeth I in 1558, Jane became viewed as a Protestant martyr for centuries. The romantic tale of Lady Jane grew to legendary proportions in popular culture.



Further reading

  • Bradford, Karleen. The Nine Days Queen.
  • Cook, Faith (2005). The Nine Day Queen of England. Evangelical Press. ISBN 9780852346136.
  • de Lisle, Leanda (2009). The Sisters Who Would be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine & Lady Jane Grey.
  • Plowden, Alison (1985). Lady Jane Grey: Nine Days Queen.

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