Tragedy’s Queen: Jane Grey

yKnown famously as the Nine Days’ Queen, Lady Jane Grey was the tragic pawn of family ambition. Beautiful and intelligent, Jane would not live past sixteen. Jane was raised as a Protestant and was the daughter of Henry VIII’s niece. It is through this connection that Jane’s cousin, Edward, would be able to bequeath Jane the throne of England. This gift would become a Pandora’s Box that eventually led to Jane’s death warrant, signed by her own cousin, Mary. Widely popularized in literature and entertainment, Jane Grey is forever remembered as a royal causality in the fight for the English crown.

A hopeful beginning

Jane Grey was born in May of 1537. The daughter of Francis Brandon and Henry Grey, Jane’s birth was a hopeful event. After four years of marriage nineteen year old Francis was giving birth, and though the couple was upset to learn they did not have a son, the promise of a healthy child excited them. It is known that Jane was not her mother’s first birth and she would have had an older brother if he had lived. Jane was immediately christened after birth and named after her godmother and the new queen of England, Jane Seymour.

Jane was raised at her family home of Bradgate Manor in the Midlands. She would eventually be joined by two sisters, Katherine and Mary. From an early age Jane was recorded as an intelligent and sharp child. Educated in all subjects viewed as vital to a girl’s education (sewing, cooking, music, dance, etc.), Jane excelled in her academic studies and impressed her tutor John Alymer. Jane would enjoy the beginning of her life in a quiet study, but when the ailing King Henry VIII died, Jane’s life would turn to one of intrigue.

The compromising wardship

ywoAfter the death of Henry VIII and the coronation of Edward, Jane moved closer to the spotlight of English politics. Upon reading the will of Henry VIII it was discovered that Jane was closer to the throne. Henry had skipped the Stuart line, the line of his older sister Margaret, but chose to include the line of his sister Mary, Jane’s grandmother. Jane was now fourth in line to the throne.

With the increase in importance came an increase in visitors to the Dorset House. Starting in January, John Harrington, the representative of Thomas Seymour, came often to visit Dorset. The visits were in the hopes of forming a friendship with the leader of the Grey home. The friendship was cultivated and eventually used to move Thomas Seymour one step closer to the throne. After marrying King Henry’s widow, Catherine Parr, and acquiring the wardship of the princess Elizabeth, Seymour saw the value in acquiring the wardship of Jane Grey. Jane’s father was less than enthusiastic about the suggestion. At ten, Jane was a little young to be placed in another home. Further, since Seymour’s marriage to the King’s widow had caused such a scandal, it was compromising to Dorset to place his young daughter in this home. However, Seymour anticipated this reluctance, and reassured Dorset by ensuring he could find Jane an advantageous marriage. This was the hope for all girls during this time. Dorset was no fool though, and questioned who Seymour had in mind for his daughter. Countering in a way no father could refuse, Seymour’s representative claimed that Seymour could ensure the marriage of Jane to King Edward. Seeing the advantage, Dorset entertained the idea of Jane’s wardship and eventually agreed to place her in the home of Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr.

At ten years old Jane found herself living in Seymour Palace with Thomas Seymour, Catherine Parr, and the Princess Elizabeth. This would be one of the happiest times of Jane’s short life. Jane would often spend time at Chelsea, the home of Catherine Parr. Jane flourished under Catherine’s influence and continued to improve her mind, while also advancing her music and religious studies. Jane was also able to spend more time with her cousin Elizabeth, who was under the care of Catherine Parr. Unfortunately for Jane, Elizabeth had no interest in getting to know her cousin. Nonetheless, the time was pleasant for Jane, until events changed.

ywSeymour, ever ambitious, took a special interest in the Princess Elizabeth. They were often rather friendly and several incidents occurred that were questionable. The servants of the household began to gossip about the relationship developing between the princess and her stepmother’s husband. In May, after Catherine found her stepdaughter in an embrace with her husband she sent the princess to stay with another household. Jane alone would then accompany the sixth month pregnant dowager to Gloucestershire estate for the summer.

In August of 1548 Catherine went into labor and delivered a daughter, Mary. Jane rejoiced with her guardians for a few days, until Catherine became delirious and was diagnosed with puerperal fever. Jane read scriptures with Catherine while she lay in bed dying. On September 5, 1548 Catherine died, leaving Jane heartbroken. Jane would serve as the chief mourner at Catherine’s funeral. After the funeral Jane was sent back to her parents for it was too compromising for her to live with only Thomas Seymour. It was a blow and added to her sorrow over the death of her mother-like figure.

A Return Home

Jane had some difficulty returning to her mother’s home. After being largely independent under Seymour, Jane rebelled against her mother’s strict regimen. Her mother, Frances, was angered by her daughter’s defiant nature. Frances was not pleased by the way Seymour had handled her daughter. Seymour, on the other hand, begged to have Jane returned to his household. With the death of his wife Seymour had fallen in status as well as in wealth and was desperately looking for a way to regain what was lost. Seymour even went so far as to write Jane in an attempt to appeal to her emotions and levy her influence with her parents. Jane replied politely but revealed nothing in her letter. Her mother, however, was not willing to surrender her daughter again. Dorset and Frances agreed that Jane would remain at home.

Jane's Family Home

Jane’s Family Home

Seymour would continue in his attempts to convince the Grey’s to return guardianship of their daughter. Seymour kept his wife’s maids of honor for Jane and entreated his mother, Lady Seymour, to come live with him so Jane could return.

Making a trip to the Grey’s home, Seymour, along with the help of William Sharington, was able to finally convince the family to return Jane to his keeping. Jane returned to Seymour palace in 1548, but life was different from what it had once been.

Without Catherine and Elizabeth, Jane was the main female of the house. At twelve, and highly intelligent, Jane took notice of some peculiar things happening. For one thing, Jane no doubt noticed a servant of Princess Elizabeth at Seymour Palace. Jane could only have speculated the reason for his visit, but no doubt understood it was important. In truth, Seymour was attempting to make plans to marry the princess Elizabeth. Had Jane known this she may have anticipated the danger coming his way.

Things were steadily declining. In 1548, Thomas Seymour was called to a Privy Council meeting to explain himself. In January of 1549 Seymour, along with the princess Elizabeth and much of her household, was placed in the tower. Jane was returned to her family home and would later learn the fate of her guardian. Her father was also questioned during these interrogations, due to his close alignment with Seymour. Dorset however would come out of the situation rather unscratched. Thomas Seymour was not so lucky. He would be tried and executed. One again, Jane returned to life under her mother’s rule.  This time she had no hope of leaving.

Marriage Plans

Guilford Dudely

Guilford Dudely

Despite the disaster of her stay with Seymour, Jane’s parents still had high hopes for her marriage. It became very apparent to them that Seymour had not progressed at all in an attempt to marry Jane to the King, but it did not discourage her parents from seeking some type of advantageous marriage for their eldest daughter. After all, they would still have two more to marry off after Jane. For some time the prospect of Edward Seymour, the son of the Lord Protector, was toyed with. However, when the Protector was arrested shortly after his brother was executed it was decided the match would not be beneficial at all. Though some argue the Grey’s still hoped to marry Jane to the King; Edward it seemed had no inclination to marry an English woman. In fact, Edward was seeking a foreign bride to ally against the Holy Roman Emperor. No marriage would be possible, for it soon became evident that Edward was gravely ill. His councilors had to make plans for what would happen in the case of the King’s death. With Jane fourth in line to the throne at the King’s illness she became an even more desirable mate. It came about the John Dudley’s son, Guilford Dudley, was suggested as a husband. The Grey’s were not opposed to the match seeing that John Dudley had risen highly under King Edward’s reign. On May 25th, 1533 Jane was married to Guilford Dudley at Durham house. It was a triple wedding in which Jane’s sister was married too. After the wedding Jane remained at Durham house to live with her new husband under the watchful eye of her father-in-law. At this time plans had been put in motion to move the crown to Jane after Edward’s death, but Jane was unaware of these treasonous plans.

A Reluctant Queen

July 6th, 1533 King Edward died in his chambers. His death was kept a secret by his councilors, for news of his death could spark their enemy to act. The councilors, along with Edward, had ignored the will of Henry VIII, Edward’s father, and created a new will for the succession. In this new plan Edward had passed over both his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and bequeathed the crown to “Lady Jane and her heirs male”. Jane was unaware of this arrangement, but the councilors knew and were keeping the King’s death a secret to prepare for Jane’s ascension. In order for Jane to ascend the councilors knew they would need to have control of the Lady Mary, for if not she could easily launch the country into civil war and claim the crown as her own. Lady Mary was a devout Catholic and the councilors had no interest in her ascending the throne. Jane on the other hand was a staunch Protestant and the councilors falsely believed she was malleable and would be easy to control in the throne.

The King’s death was kept a secret for two days. During this time John Dudley sent his son, Robert, to apprehend the Lady Mary. Robert would be unsuccessful due to a tip Mary received from a supporter. Without Mary it would be difficult to ensure Jane could hold the crown. Nonetheless, the Dudley’s and Grey’s planned to try.

LadyJaneDecliningJane was brought to Northumberland’s house at Richmond by Mary Sidney. It is possible that by this time Jane had deciphered what was going to happen. She waited in the home as the King’s councilors poured in. Jane’s mother was also called in to attempt to comfort her daughter. Here Jane was given the news that the King, in worry for the religious state of his country, had named Jane as his heir. The assembly then knelt before Jane and swore allegiance. Jane however was not overjoyed, as would be expected. She fell to the ground and wept. Eventually the councilors convinced Jane was the rightful heir and she rose, accepting the kingdom and delivering a speech to showcase her piety, the very reason why Edward had named her heir. Though many say Jane was reluctant to take the crown, it appears that though reluctant, she agreed with Edward in the sense that it was best for the kingdom to be ruled by a firm Protestant.

Queen of England

The next day began early for the new Queen of England. Jane travelled to the Tower to prepare for her coronation while throughout the streets Jane was proclaimed Queen by the royal heralds. Most of the citizens did not respond or cheer, no doubt confused by the sudden jump in succession. Despite Mary’s staunch Catholic views she was very beloved of the English people at the time of Edward’s death. Jane was not aware at the time of the people’s cold reaction to her person and was greeted at the Tower by a gun salute. Jane then proceeded through the Tower with Guilford by her side. The procession was another formality in which Jane was to take formal possession of the tower. During this splendid affair there was only a minor hiccup: Lady Mary had taken matters into her own hands and proclaimed herself Queen and sent a letter to the council and Jane proclaiming her right to the crown. Jane was calm towards the letter and paid it little heed outwardly.

janeAs Queen, Jane’s life seemed to change very little. She did not sit in on the council meetings, and instead was informed later in the day of decisions made in her name. Jane would sit under a canopy of state during dinner. The only major decision she had made was to refuse her husband, Guilford the crown. She had angered him, as well as her mother, when she determined he would become a duke but the crown was hers alone. Nonetheless, Guilford did sit in on the council meetings and help make decisions.

A mutiny afoot

While Jane played the part of Queen, Mary continued to gather support and the council knew they would need to face Mary if they had any hope of maintaining Jane as sovereign. On July 14th Jane’s army set out to East Anglia. On the 15th Northumberland and Northampton also left, in an attempt to cut off Mary’s support from the Midlands. Jane soon learned that five of her ships had mutinied and declared for Mary. Jane responded by having a strong guard placed around the Tower to protect her person.  What Jane did not learn was that many of her councilors had already turned against her or were about to. On the 19th the short war for the crown would be over.

Throughout England Mary was being proclaimed Queen, and finally the supporters of Mary arrived at the Tower. Jane’s father knew his daughter’s cause was lost and had his men lay down their weapons. To save himself from arrest Suffolk proclaimed Mary Queen on Tower Hill, then he returned to his daughter to inform her of the news. Jane reacted calmly to the fact that she was no longer queen, and simply retired into an inner chamber in the Tower. Though Jane may have not seen an immediate shift in her position, she was now in fact a prisoner of the tower.

A Treasonous Queen

Jane was moved out of the royal apartments. The tide had turned quickly, as had people’s demeanor towards her. The guards were less than kind and often mocked Jane. Almost all of her servants were dismissed. She was however given some of her books and writing material.

Jane’s mother, meanwhile, was pleading for the life of her daughter and husband. At the time Mary agreed to spare Jane’s life. After all, Jane was her cousin and still only a girl. Jane herself was not permitted to plead her own course, even when Mary visited the tower on August 3rd. For now Mary was content to let Jane live, but not to let her go.

On August 21st Northumberland, Jane’s staunch supporter and father-in-law was beheaded. Jane was able to witness the event from her room in the tower. Her trial was still to go forth, but Mary claimed it was just a formality. She had no intentions of beheading her cousin. On November 13th, 1533, Jane, Guilford, two of his brothers, and Archbishop Cranmer were tried for treason. All five were charged with high treason and all five were found guilty. The men were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Jane on the other hand was to be burned or beheaded at the Queen’s pleasure. No date was set for carrying out Jane’s sentence at this time.  Mary would change her mind soon enough though.

The Protestant’s Rebel

With Jane locked in the tower, Mary falsely believed everyone had accepted her rule. However, factions of Protestant’s were discontent with their Catholic monarch and many were proposing uprisings. One revolt, in which Jane’s own father was involved, finalized its plans in December. The rebellion was set to begin in March, on Palm Sunday. Jane was unaware of these plans. The goal was to put Elizabeth on the throne and free Jane from the tower. The loose lips of Carew however revealed the plot and eventually the entire plot was extracted from the lips of Edward Courtney. One of the plotters, Thomas Wyatt, had no plans of abandoning his plot though, despite that it had lost the element of surprise. Instead, Wyatt just decided that the date to carry out his plot would have to be moved up. Wyatt raised his standard on the 25th of January.  He raised 3-4,000 men. Wyatt gained supporters as he moved towards London, and he led an army of around 7,000 strong. However, this was not enough to counter the large army the Queen had managed to obtain with a moving speech.

Thomas Wyatt, leader of the rebellion.

Thomas Wyatt, leader of the rebellion.

By February 7th the rebellion was over and Wyatt was captured and imprisoned. His rebellion however terrified the Queen and made her question her subjects’ loyalty. She was also now fearful of revolts to place someone else on the throne. After all, Mary had won her throne through raising an army, why couldn’t someone else do the same and take the throne from her? With some pushing from her Spanish Ambassador Queen Mary agreed not only to swiftly execute the rebels, but also to execute the Lady Jane and her husband Guilford. They were to be executed two days later, on the 9th.


Mary however, after signing the death warrant, could not leave her cousin to die without the true faith. She therefor sent Benedictine John Feckenham to attempt to convert Jane to Catholicism. After the first interview Feckenham begged the Queen for more time, three days. It was granted, though to no avail. For three days Feckenham and Jane debated matters of religion, but to Feckenham’s horror Jane remained adamant about her Protestant faith. In the end Feckenham was forced to admit failure. Jane would not convert. She would die a follower of the Protestant faith.

On February 12th, 1554 Jane was set to be executed. In the morning a panel of matronsexecution came in to examine Jane and ensure she was not pregnant. If she was then her execution would have been postponed, but she was not pregnant. Jane was then left to watch from her window as Guilford was executed first. Some historians claim Jane wept for the death of her husband, while others claim she was composed. In keeping with her faith, Jane must have been proud that her husband died a Protestant, like she herself would. After dispatching of Guilford the executioner waited for Jane. At ten o’clock Jane was escorted to the Tower Green to be executed. She was calm and composed as she mounted the scaffold. Jane made a speech as was typical, what was not typical was Jane’s recital of prayers in English. With the return of Catholicism prayers were to be said in Latin. Jane, even in her final moments, wanted to defy the Catholic religion and showcase her belief that the Protestant religion was the true faith.

Jane did not become frantic until the end. After placing the blindfold over her eyes she reached for the block and could not find it. She cried out in panic, shouting “Where is it?” At first no one moved to help her and she groped around blindly. Finally a bystander moved forward to help her and guided her hands to the block. She then laid her head down, waiting to receive the blow from the axe. Jane’s head came off in one stroke in what was described as “a fountain of blood.”

Jane’s death left Mary at peace, for the time being. Though she was only Grey sister to die, her other two sisters would always live with the threat of death because of their proximity to the crown. Jane, though young, saw herself as a martyr for her cause and was willing to die in the name of her religion, which was how she viewed her death. In the end, Jane was able to die at peace.



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