Lady Jane Grey, a member of the Royal House of Tudor, is known for her brief reign as Queen of England during the mid-16th century. Fifteen-year-old Lady Jane served as Queen for a span of nine days in July of 1553, just prior to the reign of Queen Mary Tudor.
Lady Jane Grey was born in October of 1537. Henry VIII was King of England at the time. By coincidence, Lady Jane was born in the same month and year as Edward I, Henry VIII's long-awaited son and heir. Henry VIII was Jane's great-uncle, and Henry 's children Edward, Mary and Elizabeth were her cousins. Lady Jane Grey lived during the final stages of Henry VIII’s rule, and throughout the six-year reign of Henry’s son Edward VI. Her brief but eventful life spanned only sixteen years.
Lady Jane Grey was born into the Tudor line of succession to the English throne. Lady Jane's mother Frances was the daughter of Henry VIII's younger sister Mary. Mary was a legendary beauty who had once been married to the King of France. When the old French king died, Mary eloped with Charles Brandon, King Henry VIII's boyhood companion and close friend. Henry VIII was initially angry with his sister for marrying without his permission, but he soon forgave the couple, and restored them to favor. Charles Brandon later became the Duke of Suffolk, and one of the most powerful men in England.
Mary and Charles Brandon had one son, Henry, and two daughters, Francis and Eleanor. Unlike Eleanor, Frances Brandon did not inherit her mother's famed good looks. Frances was rather course and plain, with a passion for athletics and gaming. She was not known for her intellect, and enjoyed gossip and intrigue. Like many of the Tudors, Frances loved luxury, and kept a lavish household. Frances cultivated the friendship of her cousin Mary Tudor, and was frequently at Court. Mary Tudor was Henry VIII's eldest daughter, and the presumed heir to the throne after Henry's son Edward.
Lady Jane Grey’s father, Henry Grey the Marquis of Dorset, was an ambitious nobleman who sought power and prestige from his marriage to Francis. Frances Brandon was in her teens when she married Henry Grey. Henry saw an opportunity to gain power and prestige by marrying into the royal family, and broke a pre-contract (marriage engagement) with another woman in order to marry Francis. Henry Grey later became the Duke of Suffolk, after Charles Brandon died with no surviving male heirs to inherit the title.
Henry and Francis Grey were extremely power and status-hungry, and highly conscious of Francis’s royal blood. The two were fairly well-matched in terms of personality, interests and ambition, although Frances was more forceful than her genial, easily-influenced husband. The lethal combination of ambition and a willingness to follow others would ultimately lead to Henry Grey's downfall. Unfortunately, he would also bring his daughter Jane down with him.
Francis and Henry Grey had three children, all girls. Jane was the firstborn, followed by Catherine and Mary. Francis and Henry were not good parents. The couple, who badly wanted sons, took out their frustrations on their daughters. Francis and Henry were impatient and impulsive, and lacked empathy for people unlike themselves. They were particularly strict, and at times downright brutal, with their oldest daughter Jane. They had trouble understanding their quiet, studious eldest child, who was so different from themselves.
The outdoorsy, boisterous, socially-ambitious Henry and Francis saw Jane as a major disappointment. Unlike her parents, Lady Jane was quiet, intellectual, gentle and studious. She was not naturally athletic, and showed little interest in hunting, gambling, and other games that the family loved. Jane was also fairly reserved, and uncomfortable in many social situations. Jane's shyness was made worse by her parents' unrealistic expectations of how children should behave. After meals, gatherings and social events, every move, word and deed was scrutinized and analyzed by Francis, and reported back to Jane. Jane's behavior was usually found wanting, and extreme punishments such as beating and pinching often followed. This must have made Jane even more reluctant to attend social functions, and she took refuge in her studies. Fortunately, she was able to turn to her nurse, Mrs. Ellen, for comfort and reassurance throughout much of her life.
Her tutors also became a source of solace and encouragement for Lady Jane. She possessed a keen mind and an intellectual curiosity of great renown. Lady Jane's academic accomplishments surpassed those of much older children, and she amazed her tutors with her prowess. Jane Grey was particularly interested in the study of religion, philosophy, ancient history, and the Classics. She became fluent in several languages as well.
Lady Jane's tutors delighted in her brilliance, and gave her the positive feedback and affection she so sorely needed. As a result, Jane developed close bonds with her teachers, who introduced her to the study of new reformed Protestant religious movement that was beginning to sweep England in the mid-1500's. One tutor in particular, John Aylmer, was particularly influential in Jane's intellectual and religious development, and became a close friend and confidant. Lady Jane Grey embraced the "new religion", and would hold firmly to her religious convictions all her life.
Lady Jane Grey was unlike her mother physically as well as in other respects. Unlike the rather course, plain Francis, Lady Jane was reported to be quite attractive. She had red hair, freckles, hazel eyes and fine features. Lady Jane was petite in stature, and reportedly very graceful.
Lady Jane was often at King Henry VIII’s court, and shared the schoolroom with the King’s two youngest children, Edward and Elizabeth. Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Queen Katherine Parr, took an interest in Lady Jane, and served as one of Jane’s principal mentors. Katherine was kind to Jane, and gave her the love and attention she so badly needed.
Under the guidance of her tutors and Queen Katherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey's devotion to the reformed religious faith flourished. Lady Jane and her cousin Edward shared a passion for scholarship and the new religion. Edward, like Jane, preferred quiet pastimes to athletics and gaming. Unlike his father Henry VIII, Edward had never been strong, and spent a great deal of time indoors. Because the two shared royal Tudor blood, and were compatible in so many other ways, it was speculated that Lady Jane Grey and Edward might marry when they reached maturity.
Although Edward and Elizabeth shared Jane's interest in the Protestant reformed religion, their older sister Mary was a devout Roman Catholic. Mary Tudor's mother, Catherine of Aragon, had instilled in Mary a fervent devotion to the Catholic faith that would remain a driving force throughout Mary's life. Although Lady Jane Grey and Mary Tudor did not agree on matters of religion, they generally got along well during the Lady Jane's years at Court. Mary was old enough to be a mother to her two siblings and to Lady Jane, and had strong maternal feelings. Mary could be impulsive and generous at times, and often showed signs of a tender heart.
Lady Jane Grey was, generally speaking, a kind, gentle girl who was well-liked by others. As Lady Jane grew older, however, she became more outspoken about her religious beliefs and lifestyle, which occasionally put her in conflict with her cousin Mary. Jane began to dress more conservatively, following the example of her cousin Elizabeth. By contrast, Mary Tudor loved the glamorous, ornate fashions of the Tudor Court, and spent lavishly to maintain her royal status. On one occasion, Mary sent Lady Jane a beautiful silver tissue gown, only to have it returned with a message declining the gift. This distressed Mary, who was trying to be thoughtful and kind to her cousin. On another occasion, Lady Jane made a cynical remark about the Sacraments of the Catholic Church, which was repeated to Mary. Apparently this remark caused Mary much displeasure, and may have caused Mary's warm feelings toward Jane to cool slightly.
Lady Jane Grey enjoyed a quiet life of study and companionship under the patronage of Queen Katherine Parr. When Henry VIII died, and his son Edward became King, Lady Jane went to live with the former Queen Katherine after Katherine retired from Court. This continued even after Katherine married her longtime sweetheart, Thomas Seymour. Sadly, this peaceful, happy time ended when Katherine died shortly after the birth of her first child. Jane continued to live in Thomas Seymour's household for some time, but eventually returned to her family home, Bradgate Manor.
Not long after Jane returned home, the situation in England became precarious. King Edward, who had never been strong, fell seriously ill, and was not expected to survive. Edward suffered from a severe lung ailment, probably tuberculosis. At this point, a crisis occurred among the leaders of England concerning who should succeed the throne after Edward’s death.
In his will, King Henry VIII had named his oldest daughter, Mary, as heir to the throne after Edward. Mary was followed in the succession by Henry VIII's youngest daughter, Elizabeth. Mary was generally accepted throughout most of England as Edward’s successor, should Edward die before producing an heir of his own.
Mary Tudor's claim to the throne, however, presented a problem for some of the powerful Protestant noblemen and councilors who had helped King Edward rule. These particular nobles were afraid that if Mary became Queen, England would return to Roman Catholicism, and there would be no place for the Protestant religion in England. Furthermore, they were unwilling to give up the power and prestige they had gained during King Edward's Protestant regime. Worse yet, it was feared that Mary Tudor would marry Philip of Spain. Philip was a fervent Catholic, and could conceivably end up ruling England through Mary. Many were afraid that if Philip ruled beside Mary, he would bring the dreaded Spanish Inquisition to England. Although Catholic factions still flourished in England, most of the English people were followers of the English Church as it was structured during Henry VIII's time. They had no wish to return to a Church controlled by the Pope in Rome.
The fear of Mary Tudor and her Catholic beliefs gave rise to a plot to place someone other than Mary Tudor on the English throne. The leader of the plot was John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland and Lord Protector of England. Dudley was King Edward's chief counselor and virtual ruler of the country, having ousted Edward Seymour from the position of Lord Protector a few years earlier.
John Dudley's coalition wanted to place someone on the throne with royal blood, who would support the Reformed Protestant Church in England. It was also critical that the candidate's legitimacy be above question. The plotters considered Henry VIII’s younger daughter Elizabeth as a possible choice for Queen, as she supported the Church of England, and was popular with the English people. However, Elizabeth's claim to the throne was viewed as questionable, as she had been declared illegitimate after Henry VIII's marriage to her mother, Anne Boleyn, was dissolved. It is also quite likely that Dudley did not think he could control the independent-minded Elizabeth, who was already showing signs of political wisdom and sophistication. It was thus necessary for the conspirators to look beyond the children of Henry VIII for a candidate to promote as the next ruler of England.
The plotters’ attentions soon turned to the Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane was royal, a direct descendent of the first Tudor King Henry VII, and of suitable character to be a reigning Queen. Best of all, Jane was a staunch supporter of the reformed Protestant religion. Lady Jane's parents were all in favor of the plan to make their daughter Queen.
Lady Jane herself had no part in the plot to displace Mary. Jane had no wish to be Queen, or to deprive her cousin Mary of her throne. However, Jane was under the strict control of her parents, who were among the instigators of the plan. Jane’s mother and father had no qualms about sacrificing their daughter’s happiness for their own personal gain.
By the spring of 1553, it was evident that fifteen-year-old King Edward VI would not live much longer. John Dudley began to pressure King Edward to name a new heir to the throne in place of his sisters Mary and Elizabeth. Edward, a staunch Protestant, was persuaded to disregard his father Henry VIII's wishes regarding the succession, and to designate his cousin Jane Grey as the next ruler of England. Various arguments were used to convince Edward to do this. The legitimacy of both Mary and Elizabeth was open to question, as King Henry VIII’s marriages to both of their mothers had been nullified. Lady Jane’s legitimacy, on the other hand, was never in doubt. One could argue that Lady Jane’s mother Francis, who was more closely related to Henry, had a stronger claim to the throne than her daughter Jane. However, John Dudley felt that the English people would never accept the coarse, abrasive Frances Grey as their Queen. The gentle, intelligent and attractive Lady Jane was seen as a much more suitable choice.
Because of his position as chief advisor to King Edward, John Dudley the Duke of Northumberland was the most powerful man in England. He had now chosen someone to rule England whom he thought he could manipulate. To further consolidate his power, John Dudley decided that Lady Jane Grey should marry his youngest son, Guildford Dudley. That way, when Lady Jane became Queen, she could share her crown with Guildford, who was dominated by his father. Jane's parents were in full support of the proposed marriage, linking their fates to John Dudley's coalition.
Lady Jane Grey vehemently opposed the proposed match with Guildford Dudley. She disliked Guildford's father John Dudley, and resented the power wielded by the Dudley faction. Furthermore, Lady Jane and Guildford had absolutely nothing in common. Although Guildford and Lady Jane were the same age, they had totally different interests and personalities. Guildford was a rowdy, athletic young man with little or no interest in religion or academics. He was physically attractive, as were most of John Dudley's sons, but that was not sufficient to interest Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane's ideal mate would have probably been her studious, intellectual cousin Edward, who loved scholarship and the reformed faith as much as Jane did.
Francis and Henry Grey subjected Jane to physical punishment until she finally submitted to marriage with Guildford Dudley. The marriage took place in May of 1553. The historical records are unclear as to whether Lady Jane and Guildford ever developed any romantic feelings toward one another. They were very dissimilar, and had little time to get to know one another before their wedding.
In early July of 1553, King Edward died. Immediately after Edward’s death, Dudley and his faction put their plan in motion to make Lady Jane Grey Queen of England. They moved swiftly, before the news of Edward’s death reached Mary Tudor and her allies. On July 10, Lady Jane was informed that she was now Queen of England. Lady Jane protested that she had no right to be Queen, and insisted that she had no wish to deprive Mary Tudor of her crown. Lady Jane's supporters ignored her pleas, and made arrangements to present her to the citizens of London as their new sovereign. A day or so later, Jane Grey made her ceremonial journey by barge to the Tower of London, where she was proclaimed Queen of England. To make her appear taller and more commanding, Lady Jane was given wooden platform shoes, or "chopines", to wear for her presentation to the people of London.
Although Jane Grey was initially reluctant to accept the Crown, she soon began to accept her situation, and started making plans for her upcoming rule. During her brief reign, Jane behaved with dignity and courage, and showed promise of making a good queen. She also showed signs of independence from those who had placed her on the throne. John Dudley had planned to have his son Guildford share Lady Jane's crown. Jane, however, rejected all talk of making Guildford Dudley a King to rule beside her. Guildford was not royal, and no right to the English throne.
Jane’s time as Queen of England was destined to last only nine days. There was little support for Jane Grey as Queen among the vast majority of the English people. Hardly anyone had ever heard of Jane Grey, particularly outside of London. Many English citizens resented the Protestant nobles who had virtually ruled England during King Edward’s reign, and wanted no part of a puppet Queen controlled by the Dudley faction. Despite her Catholicism, Mary was the acknowledged heir to the throne in the minds of the people.
Within a few days, supporters of Mary Tudor rallied to Mary’s side, and a fighting force was created to help her regain her throne. Mary was successful in her quest for the crown, and was proclaimed the rightful Queen of England. Lady Jane was removed from the throne, and arrested for treason. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London along with her young husband, Guildford Dudley. Guildford's father John Dudley was condemned to death and executed for leading the plot to take Mary Tudor's throne.
Lady Jane was tried and found guilty of her role in the insurrection, but Queen Mary was inclined to be lenient. Mary had no immediate plans to punish Lady Jane or Guildford Dudley beyond a fairly comfortable form of house arrest in the Tower of London. The new Queen still had some fondness for her cousin, and felt that Jane had been the innocent instrument of ambitious nobles.
The situation changed, however, when a second plot to dethrone Mary Tudor was discovered. The goal of this new rebellion, lead by Sir Thomas Wyatt, was to prevent the marriage of Mary Tudor to Philip of Spain. Unfortunately, Lady Jane Grey's father was an active participant in the new scheme. Apparently he had learned nothing from his earlier experience. His feelings toward his daughter are apparent here, as he was willing to sacrifice Jane's life to achieve his own goals.
Although Jane had no part in the Wyatt Rebellion, Queen Mary’s advisors felt that Mary’s throne would not be secure until Lady Jane Grey was removed. Jane had already been a figurehead in one plot, and would always be a tempting focus for future revolts against Mary Tudor. Queen Mary reluctantly signed Lady Jane Grey’s death warrant, and plans were made for Jane's execution. At the last minute, Jane was given a chance to recant her Protestant beliefs, and convert to the Catholic religion. Lady Jane, however, refused to deny her religious faith. In February of 1554, Lady Jane Grey and Guilford Dudley were executed.
Mary Tudor married Philip of Spain in July of 1554, and ruled England for a little over five years. She declared Roman Catholicism as the official religion of England, and many Protestants were put to death under her reign. Mary died without an heir in November of 1548, and was succeeded as Queen by her sister Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth I restored the Church of England to the state it had been under Henry VIII's rule, and lived to become one of the greatest monarchs of all time.
Lady Jane showed great courage on the scaffold, and will be long remembered for her dignity and strength of character in the face of adversity. Her strong religious convictions and renowned scholastic abilities have kept her memory alive for centuries. Many believe that Jane Grey might have been a very good Queen if she had been able to keep her throne.
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