Lady Jane Grey The Forgotten Queen
Lady Jane Grey was an English noblewoman, who became queen of England for a very short time in history – 9 days to be precise. Though proclaimed a queen, she has hardly been referred to as one! Shrouded in conspiracies, political and religious conflicts, her path to greatness was short-lived. The story of Lady Jane Grey the forgotten queen is compelling. Her life, brief reign and tragic end remains one deserving of revisit. She was one of the three queens imprisoned at the Queen’s House in Tower of London.
This article is an introduction to the young, beautiful and intelligent Lady Jane Grey’s life and there are some resources embedded in this post, should you wish to delve deeper to learn more.
About Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey was the first daughter to Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset (later 1st Duke of Suffolk) and Lady Frances Brandon. She was the great grand-daughter of Henry VII, through her mother who was herself the older daughter to the younger of Henry VIII two sisters, Mary. Hence, her direct link to King Henry VIII. She was the first cousin, once removed of Edward VI.
She was also known as Lady Jane Dudley following her marriage to Lord Guildford Dudley, the younger son of Lord Dudley, Duke of Northumberland who was the chief minister to Edward VI.
Lady Jane Grey – Her early years
The general view is, Jane Grey was born in October 1537 at Bradgate Park, Leicestershire. Her family were high status and were frequent at the royal court. Jane was the eldest of three siblings. Her second sibling was Lady Katherine and her youngest was Lady Mary.
Lady Jane received excellent but strict education. She could speak and write in Greek and Latin from an early age. She learnt French, Italian and Hebrew and spoke these languages in a highly skilled manner. Through the influences of her father and her tutors, Lady Jane Grey became a committed and devout Protestant.
Jane did not like sports or hunting parties very much, an activity typical of the era for young girls of her status. Instead, she preferred book studies, in particular, the works of Plato. She had seemingly said to have responded to a question by her tutor, as to why she is not outdoors with the others with the following:
I wist all their sport in the park is but a shadow to that pleasure that I find in Plato. Alas, good folk, they never felt what true pleasure meant.Lady Jane Grey | Historic Royal Palaces
Jane also regarded her upbringing as harsh. She is said to have complained to her tutor, Roger Ascham, an English Scholar and Writer, of what is expected of her.
“For when I am in the presence either of 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, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) … that I think myself in hell”Lady Jane Grey | Ives, Eric 2009
Around February 1547, when Lady Jane Grey was barely ten years old, she was sent to live in the household of Queen Catherine Parr, the final queen consort to Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour, Uncle to Edward VI at Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire. It was customary in the Tudor era for children to be brought up in other households of higher status where they learn the etiquette and be in a suitable position for a patron to make good marriage. Jane attended to Catherine until Catherine’s death in September 1548.
After Catherine’s death, Lady Jane Grey was made ward of Thomas Seymour, who soon afterwards curated a plan to marry Jane to his nephew, Edward VI who was also Jane’s cousin. His plan did not go much further as Thomas Seymour was beheaded for treason in 1549. Thereafter, Lady Jane Grey returned to her childhood home at Bradgate.
Lady Jane Grey at Bradgate
When Lady Jane Grey returned to Bradgate, she resumed her studies. A couple of years later, her father was created the Duke of Suffolk resulting in a beautiful and talented girl frequenting the royal court.
Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley – “a wife who loves her husband”
Jane caught the attention of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, the most powerful man in the land at that time, advisor to Edward VI. He did not want to lose his favoured position. He curated a master plan, with the agreement of Jane’s father for his son, Guildford Dudley to marry Jane. His intention was to make his son and Jane, the King and Queen of England upon the death of Edward VI, whose health was already failing. Jane was just sixteen and Guildford, eighteen.
The couple were married on May 25 1553 at Durham House in a triple ceremony – alongside her sister, Catherine Grey and her sister-in-law, Catherine Dudley.
Not much is known of Guildford and Jane’s relationship but Jane is noted as saying that she is “a wife who loves her husband”
Lady Jane Grey and Edward VI
Edward VI inherited the throne at the very young age of nine following the passing of his father, Henry VIII. With just five years on the throne since, he contracted fever and cough in January 1553 (later suspected to be tubercolosis). He fell terribly ill and at times appear to recover only to succumb to his illness again. He realised that his health was volatile and he may not survive much longer. He wanted so much for his heir to be a male Protestant but this was not possible. The next in line to the throne in accordance to Henry VIII’s Will were Edward’s half-sisters, Mary who was Catholic and Elizabeth, along with Lady Jane Grey whose Protestant faith was strong.
Edward set about writing his instrument for succession – “Device for Succession”
Edward VI – ‘Device for Succession’
To ensure his successor would be a male Protestant, Edward VI devised a Will, taking inspiration form his own father’s Will, Henry VIII. He disinherited his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I) in favour of male heirs of his cousin, Lady Frances Grey or her children, Jane, Catherine and Mary.
When by June 1553, it became clear that Edward VI was terminally ill and none of his cousins had produced a male heir, he altered his instrument of succession in favour of Lady Jane Grey solely.
In this instrument of succession, Edward VI set out that although Lady Jane Grey would reign as queen, her successor would be a male heir. If Lady Jane were to die without male heirs to the throne, then the crown would pass to one of the sons of her sisters. This instrument was signed by the Privy Council, bishops, peers and at least ten of the country’s senior advocates of the time.
One can’t help but think that this is all part of a grand masterplan by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland who was also the Lord Protector to Edward VI. Afterall, he did marry-off his son with young Lady Jane.
A little background to Third Succession Act 1544
The Third Succession Act 1544 restored Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession.
During the reign of Henry VIII, both Mary and Elizabeth were declared illegitimate by statute after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn were declared void. The Act also empowered Henry VIII to alter the succession by his Will. Henry VIII reaffirmed the succession of his three children but altered the succession to include the heirs of his younger sister, Mary should his children leave no descendants. No one knows why but he did not include Jane’s mother, Lady Frances Grey in the succession.
How did Lady Jane Grey become Queen of England
King Edward VI died on July 6 1553. However, his death was not announced till four days later, on July 10. Lady Jane was told she was now queen on July 9.
On July 10 1553, Lady Jane was officially proclaimed to be Queen of England, France and Ireland. She took up secure residence in the Tower of London as was customary of English monarchs to reside from the time of accession until the time of coronation.
Lady Jane Grey – from accession to execution
Meanwhile, with the death of the King now public, Mary, daughter to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon devised her own plan to garner support of the public. She was much popular amongst the people of England, especially Catholics and those who believed in her claim to the throne as Henry VIII’s daughter. On the other hand, Lady Jane Grey was unheard of. Seeing her popularity, the Privy Council switched allegiance and proclaimed Mary, the Queen on July 19th 1553.
On July 19th, Lady Jane Grey became a prisoner within the walls of the fortress, after taking residence in preparation for her coronation, and her husband, Guildford Dudley became prisoner at Beauchamp Tower in the Tower of London.
Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley was tried for high treason in November 1553 and were found guilty. Guildford Dudley was executed on February 12 1554 at Tower Hill.
Later the same day, February 12, 1554, Jane was granted a private execution within the Tower of London grounds – at Tower Green. Dressed in black, Jane remained calm, making her way to the scaffold. These were her final words:
‘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…I do wash my hands thereof in innocency before the face of God and the face of you good Christian people this day.’Anonymous (1997) . “1554, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley”. In Nichols, John Gough (ed.) The Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two years of Queen Mary, the Camden Society; Marilee Hanson
Lady Jane then read Psalm 51, in her prayer book, gave her gloves and handkerchief to one of her ladies, her prayer book to the Lieutenant of the Tower, her gown, headdress and collar to her ladies. She asked her executioner to ‘dispatch of her’ quickly and she tied a blindfold around her eyes. She scrambled blindly for the block, panic overtook her, and she cried, ‘What shall I do? Where is it?’
Someone helped her find her way, and she laid her head on the block and said her last words, ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit’. The axe fell.
Jane was just 17 years old. Queen for 9 days.
Jane and her husband, Guildford are buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, on the northside of Tower Green in Tower of London.
Lady Jane Grey – her legacy
Following her death and the unsuccessful reign of Queen Mary I, Lady Jane became to be known as a Protestant Martyr, and as an innocent victim in the nineteenth century. Her story grew to legendary proportions in popular culture, producing romantic biographies, novels, plays, operas, paintings, and films.
In the Beauchamp Tower, to the right of the fireplace, there is a coat of arms, deeply cut into the wall, representing the Dudley family, possibly carved by Guildford or his brother, Robert when they were prisoners at the Tower. Across the fireplace, there is another graffiti that says ‘IANE’ which stands for ‘JANE’.
On a final note…
The story of Lady Jane Grey is both fascinating and a tragic one. A very young girl caught up in the political and religious conflict of her time but so little is known of her, that it is a challenging task to describe her completely. Nevertheless, her story is one worth revisiting – she was the Queen of England, France and Ireland for nine days, the shortest reigning monarch in English history.
Lady Jane Grey at a Glance:
Alternative title: Lady Jane Dudley
Born: October 1537, Bradgate, Leicestershire
Parents: Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk | Lady Frances Brandon
Married: Lord Guildford Dudley
Reign: July 10 1553 – July 19 1553
Inherited from: Edward VI
Succeeded by: Mary I
Childhood home: Bradgate
Died: February 12, 1554 (between 16-17 years old).
Other resources: Historic Royal Palaces