Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey

Grey, Lady Jane, 1537-54, queen of England for nine days. She was the daughter of Henry Grey, marquess of Dorset (later duke of Suffolk), and Frances Brandon, daughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary. She became a ward of Baron Seymour of Sudeley, who tried unsuccessfully to bring about a marriage between her and Edward VI. After Seymour's execution (1549) for treason, she fell under the control of John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, who married (1553) her to his youngest son, Lord Guilford Dudley. Northumberland persuaded the boy king, Edward, to change the order of succession and name Lady Jane, a Protestant, to follow him on the throne. After Edward's death Lady Jane, only 15 years old, was proclaimed queen on July 10, 1553. The English people, however, rallied to the cause of Mary I, and Northumberland's army deserted. After nine days as nominal queen, Lady Jane was imprisoned. Because of her youth and innocence her life would probably have been spared had not her father joined the rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt (1554). Lady Jane, her husband, and her father were beheaded.

See J. D. Taylor, ed., Documents of Lady Jane Grey: Nine Days Queen of England, 1553 (2004); H. W. Chapman, Lady Jane Grey (1962); A. Plowden, Lady Jane Grey and the House of Suffolk (1986) and Lady Jane Grey: Nine Days Queen (2003).

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey is an oil painting by Paul Delaroche completed in 1833. It is currently housed in the National Gallery in London. The painting portrays, erroneously in some regards, the moments preceding the death of Lady Jane Grey, who was executed in 1554. Jane is also known as "Nine Days' Queen" due to the brevity of her reign as monarch of England.


Lady Jane (born 1537) was the daughter of Henry Grey, the Marquess of Somerset, and, more significantly, the great-granddaughter of Henry VII (this familial connection meant that she maintained close contact with the Royal family throughout her life). Aged 10, Jane entered the household of Katharine Parr, who was Henry VIII's final queen. In 1551, her father was given the title of the Duke of Suffolk; Jane's profile subsequently increased and she began to appear at court. Jane's father-in-law, the fervently Protestant John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, had the most power in the land as regent to Henry's son Edward VI, and he feared the accession to the throne of the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor, who was the rightful heiress. When it became apparent that Edward was mortally ill, Northumberland attempted to secure the throne for Jane, and Edward consented to it (passing the line of succession) in his will. Although the idea that Northumberland wanted to keep a Protestant on the throne is the prevaling theory, bringing the 16-year-old Jane to the throne would have seen Northumberland retain his power, and some have speculated that this was the primary motive behind his move.

Jane was proclaimed queen on July 10, 1553; nine days later, she was removed as monarch. It was Mary who was the overwhelmingly popular choice among the English people, so much so that Jane's father backed her. It was upon his advice that she relinquished the throne, and Mary, who had led the rebellion against Jane, had Jane, her husband (Northumberland's son), and her father, who received a temporary reprieve, put in the Tower of London on charges of high treason. Jane's trial was conducted in November, but the death penalty handed to her was temporarily suspended. However, in February 1554, her father was one of the rebel leaders in Wyatt's rebellion, and on February 12, Mary had Jane, aged 17, and her husband beheaded. Her father followed two days later. The man leading Jane to the block is the only other recognizable figure in the painting, John Brydges, 1st Baron Chandos. Brydges was a lieutenant at the Tower at the time of her execution.

Delaroche painted the work in 1833, nearly 300 years after the execution, and he drew mainly upon contemporary historical sources to help him portray an accurate rendition of the event. Delaroche was on familiar ground with a painting of this nature, as he had built his reputation in the Paris salon with large, realistic portrayals of famous events from the previous few centuries. Not all aspects of the painting are correct though; the execution is shown being clandestinely conducted in a dimly-lit dungeon, when it was actually conducted in the open air in the grounds of the Tower of London. Delaroche is believed to have done this to create dramatic effect, and may have used artistic license elsewhere to convey his own message.

The clothing Lady Jane is shown wearing is also inaccurate: it resembles French undergarments of the time, which were laced at the front, while the English equivalent (which Lady Jane would have worn) were laced at the back.

The psychological impression that the painting was attempting to create, and the emotions that it intended to evoke, were explored by the Head of Education at the National Gallery, Ghislaine Kenyon, for a Channel 4 programme entitled National Gallery in 2008. Kenyon commented on the sense of foreboding that the darkness was intended to create. He also thought that the clean hay, which was commonly placed near the site of an execution to soak up blood, and the white dress, were deliberately left blank to make the observer suppose what would happen to them next.


The painting was made after the July Revolution of 1830 which deposed Charles X of France, the last of the French Bourbon monarchs. Charles X's brother was Louis XVI of France whose throne was "usurped" and who was executed during the French Revolution. It is also redolent of the execution of Marie-Antoinette of Austria. Unsurprisingly, the emotive painting caused something of a sensation. However, the painting was highly popular in the Paris salon, where it was first showcased in 1834.

It was originally bought by Anatole N. Demidoff, 1st Prince of San Donato. It later came into the possession of Lord Cheylesmore, who bequeathed it to the Tate Gallery in 1902.

The painting was thought to have been destroyed in the disastrous Tate Gallery flood of 1928 and was only rediscovered in 1973 by curator Christopher Johnstone. He was writing a book on the British painter John Martin and going through the damaged canvases remaining from the flood in search of a missing painting by the artist. He found the Martin (albeit damaged beyond repair) rolled inside the Delaroche painting which was in perfect condition and transferred to the National Gallery where it should have gone when the national art collections were rationalized following the establishment of the Tate Gallery.


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