A little over 450 years ago, Lady Jane Grey, a young girl of sixteen, was proclaimed Queen of England. She became famous not only because her reign was to last only for nine days, but also as she became the helpless victim of some greedy power mongers to meet a tragic end. Born on 13 October 1537 in Bradgate Park, England, she was the oldest daughter of Henry Grey and Lady Frances Brandon and the great-granddaughter of Henry VII, through his younger daughter Mary. In other words, Jane`s mother, Frances Brandon, was a niece of Henry VIII, the elder daughter of King Henry VII’s younger sister, Mary. Thus, Jane Grey was the first cousin of King Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII.
Jane`s mother, Frances Brandon, married Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset, who was later created Duke of Suffolk. The birth of Jane frustrated them, as they wanted a son and an heir. Later, they realized that their daughter could also be useful to them, as she has the royal blood of the Tudors in her veins and all through her life, poor Jane was somewhat of a little pawn in a big game of her parents. In her early days, she was a tiny sweet girl with fair, freckled skin and sandy red hair, plain rather than pretty. Her parents made her go hunting, which she disliked. They dressed her in rich silks, but warned her not to go far on looks alone. However, she received a humanist education, studying Latin, Greek and Hebrew with John Aylmer.
In early February 1547, Jane was sent to Chelsea Palace to live with Edward VI's uncle, Thomas Seymour, who married Henry VIII’s widow Catherine Parr. Catherine loved and helped the sweet and intelligent girl in her studies. Like her teacher, John Aylmer, Catherine was also a staunch Protestant and probably due to their influence, Jane became a committed Protestant. However, Thomas Seymour was a cunning man, who joined forces with Jane’s parents in plotting to marry her to the King Edward VI.. He paid the Dorsets a lot of money to make Jane his ward and told them they would soon see their daughter Queen of England. But his project failed, as Edward VI was interested to marry Mary, Queen of Scots or a French princess with enough money and was not at all interested in making Jane his wife.
After the death of Henry VIII, the nine year old little Prince Edward took the throne and ruled only a few years, until he passed away at the tender age of fifteen. Edward had two half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. Before his death, Henry VIII had written a will to the effect that, in the event he had no other son, his eldest daughter Mary should succeed Edward. However, Mary was a Roman Catholic, while young Edward a staunch Protestant and before his death Edward made a will to choose his cousin Lady Jane Grey as the next queen, who on 25 May 1553 had married Lord Guilford Dudley, a younger son of Edward’s chief minister John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland. He removed his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, from the line of succession on account of their illegitimacy, as they were the daughters of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, respectively, whose marriages were annulled and destroyed by Henry VIII, banishing Catherine and beheading Anne for alleged adultery and conspiracy.
In fact, the accession of Lady Jane Grey as Queen was engineered by the powerful Duke of Northumberland, President of the King's Council, in the interests of promoting his own dynastic line. Somehow he convinced Edward VI that as one of the great-nieces of Henry VIII, the young girl was a genuine claimant to the throne. He also persuaded Jane’s parents, now the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, to agree to a marriage between Jane and his son. But Jane did not want to marry. She was a bookish intellectual and wanted to leave alone with her books. She hated the Dudley family and told her parents she would not have Guildford for a husband. Even so, Jane had no choice but to submit, as she was physically abused. However, it was not a happy marriage and Jane was always indifferent about her husband. Later, when she became the queen, she refused to name her husband as the king and agreed only to make him Duke of Clarence.
Edward VI died on 06 July 1553, but his death was not announced until four days later. On July 9 Lady Jane was informed that now she is the queen and although she was unsure of herself and shaky, Jane accepted the crown reluctantly. Next day, on 10 July, she was moved to the Tower of London, where English monarchs customarily resided from the time of accession until coronation and was proclaimed Queen of England, France and Ireland.
However, John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, was apprehensive about Mary Tudor and wanted to capture her to prevent her from gathering support. But as soon as she became sure of King Edward's demise, Mary left her residence at Hunsdon, in Hertfordshire and traveled to East Anglia, where she began to rally her Catholic supporters. John Dudley got some troops together to capture Mary, but he failed. Soon Mary gathered lot of supporters, since there were many catholic strongholds in the country and even Protestants backed Mary, as they believed she was the rightful heir to the throne. Public support for Jane’s rule evaporated when it was learned that the unpopular Dudley was behind the scheme. Under pressure from the public and other forces, the Privy Council switched their allegiance and proclaimed Mary as queen on 19 July 1553 and on the same day Lady Jane was imprisoned in the resident of Gentleman Gaoler in the Tower.
As the opposition was mounting against Jane Grey, many supporters quickly abandoned her, which included her father, who futilely attempted to save himself by supporting Mary as queen. However, the council did not buy it and declared him a traitor. John Dudley was condemned for high treason and executed on 22 August. Lady Jane, her husband Guildford Dudley and two of his brothers were also charged. On November 13, Jane and her husband, Guildford Dudley, were likewise found guilty of treason and sentenced to death, but their sentences were not carried out immediately. Jane’s guilt was evidenced by a number of documents that she had signed as the queen. As burning was the traditional English punishment for treason committed by women, she was sentenced to be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded, as the Queen pleases.
However, the sentence seemed to be too harsh to many, as Jane was only a young girl of 16, she was still loved by many and she even seemed to have little to do with her own fate. The Imperial Ambassador submitted a petition in her favor, pleading to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, to spare the life of Lady Jane. Even Queen Mary herself seemed to be reluctant to sign her death warrant and some historians believe that if Jane would have agreed to accept Catholicism, she could have won Mary’s heart and saved her own life. However, during her imprisonment Jane remained a dedicated Protestant.
However, the situation changed completely, when the Wyatt Rebellion, a plan instigated by Thomas Wyatt the Younger began in January 1554 to destroy Queen Mary’s reign and Jane’s father, Henry Grey joined the rebellion, along with his two brothers. It led the government to assume that they could never trust Jane and it would be unwise to let Jane live. At their advice, Mary reluctantly signed the death warrant for both Jane and her husband Guildford. But Mary was deeply troubled about sending her young cousin to her death. Although her beheading was scheduled for 09th February 1554, it was deferred by Mary for three days more to give Jane another chance to convert to the Catholic faith, as she sent her chaplain John Feckenham to her cousin. However, Jane did not convert, but became friends with Feckenham and requested him to accompany her to the scaffold.
On the morning of 12th February 12, Guildford was taken from his rooms at the Tower of London to the Tower Hill. Instead of a simple beheading, he had to suffer the sadistic punishment of being drawn and quartered, a cruel process in which the victim was kept alive while his entrails were cut out. As a horse drawn cart brought his remains past the rooms where Jane was staying, she cried out loudly by taking his name, as she saw the mutilated corpse of her husband. After that Lady Jane was taken out to the Tower Green and the 16-year-old young and innocent woman walked to the block that awaited her pale neck, her weak body clad in silk, her long hair streaming loose. In her last speech she said in the16th century way of saying that she never wanted the crown in the first place. When the executioner asked her forgiveness, she pleaded to dispatch her quickly. She then blindfolded herself, but could not find the block with her hands and cried out know its position. As Sir Thomas Brydges, the Deputy Lieutenant helped her, Jane spoke the last words with her head on the block, ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’
Her father was beheaded not long after, on Tower Hill. Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley were buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula on the north side of Tower Green. However, no memorial stone was erected at their grave.
Lady Jane Grey, also known as the Nine Days Queen, is one of the most romanticized monarchs of Tudor England and in all the bloody legacies of the Tudor family, perhaps there is none quite so tragic, as her execution.