Jane Grey, the eldest surviving child of Henry Grey, the Marquess of Dorset, was born in October 1537. Her mother, Frances, was the daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Mary Tudor, younger sister of Henry VIII. Jane was therefore a cousin of Edward VI. Jane was therefore fourth in line to the throne, supposing none of the King's children left any heirs. (1)
Elizabeth Jenkins has pointed out that the marriage had produced three children, Jane, Catherine and Mary. "The two younger were unremarkable, except that the youngest had the unfortunate distinction of being a dwarf. All the moral and intellectual endowments and all the graces of the family were concentrated in the eldest daughter. Like her cousins, she had been very carefully taught." A young Cambridge scholar, John Aylmer, was appointed as the family tutor when Jane was four years old. "He had carried her in his arms and taught her to pronounce words. He had given her a thorough education in Greek and Latin, but his chief concern was with her spiritual development, over which he watched with anxious devotion." (2)
Aylmer reported that Jane showed exceptional academic ability and was sent to join the household of the widowed Queen Catherine Parr in the spring of 1547 she was able to "benefit from the educational opportunities then available in court circles for girls as well as boys... she was also encouraged to absorb the teachings of the evangelical protestantism of which Catherine was a leading devotee." (3)
Jane complained to one of her teachers, Roger Ascham, about the way she was treated by her parents: "For when I am in 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… even so perfectly as God made the world, or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently some times with pinches, nips and bobs… that I think myself in hell." (4)
Jane was friendly with Mary despite their growing religious divergence. She tended to share the same views as Elizabeth on the religious reforms taking place. Presented with a rich gown of tinsel cloth of gold on velvet by Mary, she refused to wear it, saying that "it were a shame to follow my Lady Mary against God's word and leave my Lady Elizabeth which followeth God's word". (5) According to Alison Plowden " Elizabeth at this time affected a severely plain style of dress, setting the fashion for other high-born protestant maidens." (6)
In April 1552 Edward VI fell ill with a disease that was diagnosed first as smallpox and later as measles. He made a surprising recovery and wrote to his sister, Elizabeth, that he had never felt better. However, in December he developed a cough. Elizabeth asked to see her brother but John Dudley, the lord protector, said it was too dangerous. In February 1553, his doctors believed he was suffering from tuberculosis. In March the Venetian envoy saw him and said that although still quite handsome, Edward was clearly dying. (7)
In order to secure his hold on power, Dudley devised a plan where Jane would marry his son, Guildford Dudley. According to Philippa Jones, the author Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010): "Early in 1553, Dudley... began working to persuade the King to change the succession. Edward VI was reminded that Mary and Elizabeth were both illegitimate, and more importantly, that Mary would bring Catholicism back to England. Dudley reasoned that if Mary were to be struck out of the succession, how could Elizabeth, her equal, be left in? Furthermore, he argued that both the princesses would seek foreign husbands, jeopardizing English sovereignty." (8)
Under the influence of the Lord Protector, Edward made plans for the succession. Sir Edward Montague, chief justice of the common pleas, testified that "the king by his own mouth said" that he was prepared to alter the succession because the marriage of either Princess Mary or Princess Elizabeth to a foreigner might undermine both "the laws of this realm" and "his proceedings in religion". According to Montague, Edward also thought his sisters bore the "shame" of illegitimacy. (9)
At first Jane refused to marry Guildford on the grounds that she had already been promised to Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford, the son of Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset. However, her protests were overcome "by the urgency of her mother and the violence of her father, who compelled her to accede to his commands by blows". (10) The marriage took place on 21st May 1553 at Durham House, the Dudleys' London residence, and afterwards Jane went back to her parents. She was told Edward was dying and she must hold herself in readiness for a summons at any moment. "According to her own account, Jane did not take this seriously. Nevertheless she was obliged to return to Durham House. After a few days she fell sick and, convinced that she was being poisoned, begged leave to go out to the royal manor at Chelsea to recuperate." (11)
King Edward VI died on 6th July, 1553. Three days later one of Northumberland's daughters came to take her to Syon House, where she was ceremoniously informed that the king had indeed nominated her to succeed him. Jane was apparently "stupefied and troubled" by the news, falling to the ground weeping and declaring her "insufficiency", but at the same time praying that if what was given to her was "‘rightfully and lawfully hers", God would grant her grace to govern the realm to his glory and service. (12)
On 10th July, Queen Jane arrived in London. An Italian spectator, witnessing her arrival, commented: "She 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." (13) Guildford Dudley, "a tall strong boy with light hair’, walked beside her, but Jane apparently refused to make him king, saying that "the crown was not a plaything for boys and girls." (14)
Jane was proclaimed queen at the Cross in Cheapside, a letter announcing her accession was circulated to the lords lieutenant of the counties, and Bishop Nicolas Ridley of London preached a sermon in her favour at Paul's Cross, denouncing both Mary and Elizabeth as bastards, but Mary especially as a papist who would bring foreigners into the country. It was only at this point that Jane realised that she was "deceived by the Duke of Northumberland and the council and ill-treated by my husband and his mother". (15)
Mary, who had been warned of what Dudley had done and instead of going to London as requested by Dudley, she fled to Kenninghall in Norfolk. As Ann Weikel has pointed out: "Both the earl of Bath and Huddleston joined Mary while others rallied the conservative gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk. Men like Sir Henry Bedingfield arrived with troops or money as soon as they heard the news, and as she moved to the more secure fortress at Framlingham, Suffolk, local magnates like Sir Thomas Cornwallis, who had hesitated at first, also joined her forces." (16)
Mary summoned the nobility and gentry to support her claim to the throne. Richard Rex argues that this development had consequences for her sister, Elizabeth: "Once it was clear which way the wind was blowing, she (Elizabeth) gave every indication of endorsing her sister's claim to the throne. Self-interest dictated her policy, for Mary's claim rested on the same basis as her own, the Act of Succession of 1544. It is unlikely that Elizabeth could have outmanoeuvred Northumberland if Mary had failed to overcome him. It was her good fortune that Mary, in vindicating her own claim to the throne, also safeguarded Elizabeth's." (17)
The problem for Dudley was that the vast majority of the English people still saw themselves as "Catholic in religious feeling; and a very great majority were certainly unwilling to see - King Henry's eldest daughter lose her birthright." (18) When most of Dudley's troops deserted he surrendered at Cambridge on 23rd July, along with his sons and a few friends, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London two days later. Tried for high treason on 18th August he claimed to have done nothing save by the king's command and the privy council's consent. Mary had him executed at Tower Hill on 22nd August. In his final speech he warned the crowd to remain loyal to the Catholic Church. (19)
Queen Mary told a foreign ambassador that her conscience would not allow her to have Jane put to death. Jane was given comfortable quarters in the house of a gentleman gaoler. The anonymous author of the Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary (c. 1554), dropped in for dinner, finding the Lady Jane sitting in the place of honour. She made the visitor welcome and asked for news of the outside world, before going on to speak gratefully of Mary - "I beseech God she may long continue" and made a fierce attack against John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland: "Woe worth him! He hath brought me and our stock in most miserable calamity by his exceeding ambition". (20)
Jane, together with Guildford Dudley and two more of his brothers, stood trial for treason on 19th November. They were all found guilty but foreign ambassadors in London reported that Jane's life would be spared. Mary's attitude towards Jane changed when her father, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, joined the rebellion led by Sir Thomas Wyatt against her proposed marriage to Philip of Spain. Although there is any evidence that Jane had any foreknowledge of the conspiracy, "her very existence as a possible figurehead for protestant discontent made her an unacceptable danger to the state". Mary, now agreed with her advisers and the date of Jane's execution was fixed for 9th February, 1554. However, she was still willing to forgive Jane and sent John Feckenham, the new dean of St Paul's, over to the Tower of London in an attempt to see if he could convert this "obdurate heretic". However, she refused to change her Protestant beliefs. (21)
Jane watched the execution of her husband from the window of her room in the Tower of London. She then came out leaning on the arm of Sir John Brydges, Lieutenant of the Tower. "Lady Jane was calm, although. Elizabeth and Ellen (her two women attendants) wept... The executioner kneeled down and asked for forgiveness, which she gave most willingly... she said: "I pray you dispatch me quickly." (22)
Jane then made a brief speech: "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." (23) Kneeling, she repeated the 51st Psalm in English. (24)
According to the Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary: "Then she kneeled down, saying, 'Will you take it off before I lay me down?' and the hangman answered her, 'No, madame.' She tied the kercher about her eyes; then feeling for the block 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." (25)
Stories circulated as to the piety and dignity on the scaffold, however, she did not receive a great deal of sympathy. (26) As Alison Plowden has pointed out: "The judicial murder of sixteen-year-old Jane Grey, and no one ever pretended it was anything else, caused no great stir at the time, not even among the militantly protestant Londoners. Jane had never been a well-known figure, and in any case was too closely associated with the unpopular Dudleys and their failed coup to command much public sympathy." (27)
Elizabeth was Edward's companion and friend, but he was also on good terms with his cousin Jane Grey, who joined his stepmother's household at the age of nine. Jane's mother Frances was the eldest daughter of the King's sister Mary, and had therefore inherited a tincture of the royal blood, which she passed on to her children with consequences to them which were very serious. Her marriage to Lord Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset, had produced three daughters: Jane, Catherine and Mary. The two younger were unremarkable, except that the youngest had the unfortunate distinction of being a dwarf. All the moral and intellectual endowments and all the graces of the family were concentrated in the eldest daughter. Like her cousins, she had been very carefully taught. A young Cambridge scholar, John Aylmer, had been appointed as the family tutor when Jane was four years old. He had carried her in his arms and taught her to pronounce words. He had given her a thorough education in Greek and Latin, but his chief concern was with her spiritual development, over which he watched with anxious devotion. When she was nine he was obliged to resign her for the time being, but the Queen's household was one in which her education would not be neglected, nor the practice of her religion according to the tenets in which Aylmer had instructed her.
It was to be John Dudley, by this time Duke of Northumberland, who posed one of the biggest threats to Elizabeth's prospects of eventually occupying the English throne. For, as Edward VI lay dying in spring 1553, Northumberland encouraged the young king to attempt to alter the succession in order to prevent the Protestant Reformation from being undone by Mary Tudor, then next in line. Although religion was obviously the motive for the attempt, it was not an acceptable reason. A pretext was therefore sought in Mary's illegitimacy under English law, which could plausibly be said to debar her from inheritance. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, this argument militated as strongly against her claims as against Mary's. Edward VI's hopes therefore focused upon the third in line for the throne, Lady Jane Grey, the eldest granddaughter of Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary. (Henry VIII's will, which enjoyed statutory force thanks to the third Act of Succession of 1544, had passed over the Stuart line, descended from his elder sister, Margaret, in favour of the Grey line.) It was no coincidence that Jane was married to Guildford Dudley, one of Northumberland's sons.
In the event, Mary Tudor reacted to this intrigue with unexpected vigour. As soon as she was certain of Edward's death, she headed for her landed estates in East Anglia and summoned the nobility and gentry to support her claim to the throne. Mary's support snowballed while Northumberland's melted away, and she achieved a bloodless victory. This first crisis of Mary's reign left Elizabeth safe enough. She was not Northumberland's main target in summer 1553, and therefore played a characteristic waiting game, gathering her own supporters at Hatfield. Once it was clear which way the wind was blowing, she gave every indication of endorsing her sister's claim to the throne. Self-interest dictated her policy, for Mary's claim rested on the same basis as her own, the Act of Succession of 1544. It is unlikely that Elizabeth could have outmanoeuvred Northumberland if Mary had failed to overcome him. It was her good fortune that Mary, in vindicating her own claim to the throne, also safeguarded Elizabeth's.
After Northumberland's surrender, the two sisters entered London together in August 1553, and Elizabeth for a while enjoyed a place second only to the queen at Court. As the Venetian ambassador noted, Mary at first treated her younger sister with every sign of respect. However, her first parliament regularised the legal uncertainties over the queen's own legitimacy, recognising HenryVIII's first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and in consequence condemning his union with Anne Boleyn as bigamous, and its offspring, Elizabeth, as a bastard. Now Mary had no further need of her support, and with the gulf of legitimacy between them spelled out, she spurned her sister with all the Tudor contempt of the true born for the base born.
The dice were loaded against Dudley. The majority of Englishmen were still, in some sense, Catholic in religious feeling; and a very great majority were certainly unbwilling to see - King Henry's eldest daughter lose her birthright. We must remember that Catherine of Aragon never ceased to be popular. Besides, most Englishmen feared France more than Spain. Dudley's Protestant reforms had been too rapid, too drastic and too patently cynical to win much popularity. The economic situation had not improved. Nothing had been done to reform the currency. Prices were still rising, and any attempt by the government to fix maximum prices only resulted in driving commodities off the market altogether...
Nor had Dudley many real friends even in the Council. He found it more and more necessary to visit the king by night, so as not be seen by colleagues who were jealous of his influence. He also found it more and more necessary to by-pass the Council and proceed by authority of the king alone. Lord Chancellor Rich resigned in protest; and the departure of so notorious a rat may be taken as a sign that Dudley's ship was sinking.
The scheme to make Lady Jane Grey Edward's heiress was so shameless that it had little chance of success. Ostensibly, the rights of Mary and Elizabeth were passed over on the grounds that the kingdom could not be entrusted to female rule; and both of them might conceivably be thought bastards. But at the last moment the words in the "Device" giving the succession to " the heirs male" of Lady Jane were changed to "the Lady Jane and her heirs male", thus openly making another female heir-apparent to the throne. This inconsistency, combined with forgery, was forced on Dudley because it had become clear that Edward would die before Lady Jane could have any heirs.
The person chosen to succeed Edward was the fifteen-year-old Lady Jane Grey, descended from Henry VII through the second marriage of his daughter Mary with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. The nearest protestant claimant was, in fact, Elizabeth, but she was ruled out on the nominal grounds that she might take as husband a foreign and papist prince. To avoid the same fate befalling Lady Jane she was ordered to marry Northumberland's fourth son, Lord Guilford Dudley. The marriage took place, much against Jane's will, on 25 May 1553. At about the same time Edward drew up his "device" in which he left the throne to Lady Jane and her male descendants: Mary and Elizabeth were both ruled out as illegitimate. The leading figures in the government - Councillors, judges and bishops - were called on to add their signature to the "device". Some tried to withhold their assent, but Northumberland and the King would not permit this.
Edward died on 6 July 1553, but the news was kept secret for three days until the Lady Jane could be proclaimed Queen. Mary was at Framlingham, in Norfolk, but no sooner did the news reach her than she raised her standard and called on all loyal subjects to rally to her. The eastern counties rose in support of Mary, and the Councillors at London, quick to scent the changing wind, proclaimed her Queen. The Duke, who had left the capital with a small force to bar Mary's progress, followed suit, for his army melted away. By the end of July he was a prisoner in the Tower, and on 3 August Mary entered London in triumph. The next day the Duke of Norfolk and bishop Gardiner were released from imprisonment in the Tower. The catholic reaction had begun.
Lady Jane was calm, although. Elizabeth and Ellen wept... The executioner kneeled down and asked for forgiveness, which she gave most willingly... she said: "I pray you dispatch me quickly." She tied a handkerchief over her eyes; then feeling for the block, she said, "What shall I do? Where is it?" One of the by-standers guided her... She laid down her head upon the block, and stretched forth her body.
His (Guildford's) carcase thrown into a cart, and his head in a cloth, he was brought to the chapel within the Tower, where the Lady Jane, whose lodging was in Partidge's house, did see his dead carcase 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 then, kneeling down, she turned to Feckenham (the dean of St Paul's) saying, "Shall I say this psalm?" And he said, "Yea." Then she said the psalm of Miserere mei Deus, in English, in most devout manner, to the end. Then she stood up and gave...Mistress Tilney her gloves and handkercher, 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 neckercher, giving to her a fair handkercher 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, madame." She tied the kercher about her eyes; then feeling for the block 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.
Lady Jane Grey was Queen of England for just 9 days until she was driven from the throne and sent to the Tower of London to be executed.
Jane became queen after the death of her cousin, Edward VI in 1553. As a Protestant, Jane was crowned queen in a bid to shore up Protestantism and keep Catholic influence at bay.
The plan didn't work. Jane's claim to the crown was much weaker than Edward VI's half sister Mary. Mary, a Catholic, had popular support and soon replaced Jane as queen.
Lady Jane Grey was executed at Tower Green on 12 February 1554. She was just 16 years old.
In this painting, she is guided towards the execution block by Sir John Brydges, Lieutenant of the Tower. The straw on which the block rests was intended to soak up the victim's blood. The executioner stands impassive to the right and two ladies in attendance are shown grieving to the left.
The painting was exhibited in Paris at the city's famous Salon in 1834, where it caused a sensation.