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Lady Jane Grey


Lady Jane Grey (1536/1537–12 February 1554), also referred to as Queen Jane, a greatniece of Henry VIII of England, was a claimant to the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Ireland. Her claimed rule of nine days in July 1553 is the shortest rule of England in its history.

Background as Queen

Jane's accession, pursuant to the will of Edward VI, breached the laws of England as under the Third Succession Act: Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's eldest daughter, was the legitimate and rightful heir to the Crown. However, Mary had been declared illegitimate by her father, and the same ruling had been applied to her younger half-sister, Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I. (This declaration of illegitimacy was made to keep Mary, a Catholic, from receiving the crown, which Henry VIII had for a time wished to keep in Protestant hands.) Their positions in the line of succession had, however, been restored by the Third Act of Succession.

Nevertheless, many high-ranking nobles proved themselves pliable to having Jane as Queen of England. Acting largely out of financial self-interest, they supported her even if only as part of a power struggle to keep Henry's first-born, the staunchly Catholic Mary, from ascending the throne. Jane's rule ended quickly when the nobles abandoned their support once they realised Mary had won the day. Mary pardoned Jane; however after a subsequent attempt by her supporters to seize the crown, Mary had her executed for high treason.

Popular history sometimes refers to Lady Jane as "The Nine Days' Queen" or, less commonly, as "The Thirteen Days' Queen" owing to disagreements about the beginning of her claimed rule. Historians have taken either the day of her official proclamation as Queen (10 July) or that of her predecessor's death (6 July) as the beginning.

Lady Jane had a reputation as one of the most learned women of her day, and the historical writer Alison Weir describes her as one of "the finest female minds of the century".

Early life and education

Jane was born at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. The traditional view is that she was born around October 1537, but recent research has led to the claim that she was born earlier, on an unknown date in late 1536 or early 1537 the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset and his wife Lady Frances Brandon. Lady Frances was the daughter of Princess Mary, the younger sister of Henry VIII. 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. Frances Brandon was an abusive, cruel, and domineering woman who felt that Jane was weak and gentle and 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 as 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, yea 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 Katherine Parr, who had married King Henry VIII in 1543. Queen Katherine was a warm and loving woman who took the young Jane under her wing. Having never experienced any demonstration of love from her own mother, Jane basked in the warm affection she received from her Aunt Katherine and blossomed into a fine young woman. She also became acquainted with her royal cousins, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. Jane's spirits rose and she learned to assert herself.

Contracts for marriage

After King Henry VIII died, Catherine Parr married Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. Unfortunately, Catherine died shortly after the birth of her only child, Mary Seymour, leaving the young Jane once again bereft of a maternal figure. Jane acted as chief mourner at Catherine's funeral.

Thomas Seymour proposed marrying Jane to the newly-crowned Edward VI of England, but Thomas' brother, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, who ruled as Lord Protector, had already arranged a match for the king with Princess Elisabeth of France, the daughter of Henry II of France.

With two conflicting goals, the Seymour brothers engaged in a power struggle. However, primarily due to the ill health of the young king, the marriage between Edward and Jane never took place. The Seymour brothers were eventually both tried for treason and executed after a coup by the ambitious John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland.

Jane was next contracted in marriage to Lord Hertford, the eldest son of the late Duke of Somerset). However, ongoing negotiations between her mother, Frances Brandon, and Northumberland led to a proposed marriage to Lord Guilford Dudley, son of the newly powerful Duke. The couple were married, at Durham House, in a double wedding with Jane's sister Catherine and Lord Herbert, son of Lord Pembroke, on May 21 1553.

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 both Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession, although the law continued to regard both of them as illegitimate. Furthermore, this Act authorised Henry VIII to alter the succession by his will. Henry's last will reinforced the succession of his three surviving children, then declared that, should none of his three children leave heirs, the throne would pass to heirs of his younger sister, Mary Tudor, Queen of France, 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 Scots 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 and her male (not female) heirs. Should Mary die without male issue, the crown would then pass to Elizabeth and her male heirs. Should Elizabeth die without male issue, the crown would pass not to Frances Brandon, but rather to any male children she might have produced by that time. 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. Both Edward and Northumberland knew that this effectively left the throne to Edward's cousin 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 King Richard III on the battlefield.

Edward VI died on 6 July 1553. Four days later, Northumberland had Lady Jane Grey proclaimed Queen of England on 10 July 1553 - once she had taken up a secure residence in the Tower of London (English monarchs customarily resided in the Tower from the time of accession until their 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 House 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. Mary, however, learned of his intentions and took flight, sequestering herself in Framlingham Castle in Suffolk.

Within only nine days, Mary had managed to find sufficient support to ride into London in a triumphal procession on 19 July. Parliament had no choice but to declare 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 21 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 Guildhall in the City of London. 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. Both 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 the execution of Jane and Guilford took place.

On the morning of 12 February 1554, the authorities took Dudley from his rooms at the Tower of London to the public execution place at Tower Hill 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 Green, inside the Tower of London, and beheaded in private. With few exceptions, only royalty were afforded 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, Guilford faced the block first, and from her lodgings at Partridge's house, Jane viewed his body being removed from the Tower Green. Upon ascending the scaffold, she gave a speech to the assembled crowd:

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 blindfold, 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 Christ 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 Vincula on the north side of Tower Green. Queen Mary lived for only four years after she ordered the death of her cousin. She died in 1558.

Henry, Duke of Suffolk, Jane's father, was executed a week after Jane, on 19 February 1554. Merely three weeks after her husband's death and not even a month since her daughter's, Frances Brandon shocked the English court by marrying Master of the Horse and chamberlain, Adrian Stokes. Some historians believe she deliberately chose to do this to distance herself from her previous status. She was fully pardoned by Mary and allowed to live at Court with her two surviving daughters. She is not known to have mentioned Jane ever again and was seemingly as indifferent to her child in death as she had been in life.

Cultural depictions




The Tower by William Ainsworth

External links


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