Grey, Lady Jane (1537–1554)

views updated May 11 2018

Grey, Lady Jane (1537–1554)

Teenaged usurper of the English throne who reigned for nine days before being executed in the Tower of London. Name variations: Lady Jane Dudley. Born in October of 1537 at Bradgate, Leicestershire, England; executed on February 12, 1554, in the Tower of London; eldest surviving daughter of Henry Grey (d. 1554), marquis of Dorset (later duke of Suffolk), and Frances Brandon (1517–1559, granddaughter of King Henry VII); sister of Lady Catherine Grey (c. 1540–1568) and Mary Grey (1545–1578); married Lord Guild-ford Dudley, on May 21, 1553; no children.

Entered the service of Queen Catherine Parr (1546); coerced into marrying Lord Dudley by his father, the duke of Northumberland (1553); convicted of high treason against Queen Mary and executed (1554).

On a brisk February morning in 1554, a petite, black-garbed figure emerged from the gentleman-jailer's lodgings in the Tower of London. As she proceeded slowly toward the scaffold erected on Tower Green, Lady Jane Grey passed a handcart bearing the headless corpse of her husband, Lord Dudley. Clutching her Prayer Book, she mounted the scaffold and addressed the spectators:

Good people—I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. My offence against the Queen's Highness was only in consent to the devices of others, which is deemed treason; but it was never my seeking, but by counsel of those who should seem to have further understanding of things than I…. I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear witness that I die a true Christian woman.

After a few moments spent in prayer, the 16-year-old made her way to the block—and the piles of straw which surrounded it. All too familiar with the tales of botched beheadings, she implored the executioner, "I pray you—dispatch me quickly." The straw rustled as she knelt in it. Blindfolded, she reached out for the block she could no longer see. Finally placing her neck across its curved aperture, she stretched out her arms. The masked executioner performed his grisly task with one blow of the axe. Then, holding up the severed head by its blood-soaked hair, he proclaimed: "Behold the head of a traitor! So perish all the Queen's enemies!"

Born in 1537, during the reign of King Henry VIII, Jane Grey lived out her brief life as a pawn of her ambitious parents and their political connections at court. Her mother Frances Brandon was the daughter of Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, and Mary Tudor (1496–1533), younger sister of Henry VIII. Jane and her mother stood next in line to the throne after Henry VIII's three children, Edward [VI], Mary [I] and Elizabeth [I] . This fact—and the use made of it by her ruthless kith and kin—largely determined the course of Jane Grey's tragic life.

A highly intelligent as well as unusually beautiful child, Lady Jane Grey acquired an exceptional humanistic education. Tutored primarily by Cambridge-educated John Aylmer (later bishop of London under Elizabeth I), she became proficient in Latin, Greek, French, and Italian, and in her teens added Hebrew in order to augment her study of the Scriptures. That she loved learning, and found in Aylmer an inspiring school master, is apparent from her lifelong preference for reading, writing, and music over the more ostentatious pastimes of the Tudor aristocracy. At age 14, she began corresponding in Latin with continental reformers (including the learned pastor of Zurich, Heinrich Bullinger), a clear indication that her training and up-bringing had drawn her into Protestant circles.

Grey, Mary (1545–1578)

English noblewoman. Name variations: Lady Mary Keys or Keyes. Born in 1545 (some sources cite 1540); died on April 20, 1578, in London, England; daughter of Henry Grey, marquis of Dorset (later duke of Suffolk) and Frances Brandon (1517–1559, granddaughter of King Henry VII); sister of Catherine Grey (c. 1540–1568) and Lady Jane Grey (1537–1554); married Thomas Keyes, on August 10, 1565.

Born a dwarf, Mary Grey retained her position at court, despite the behavior of her sisters, until she too married in secret in the summer of 1565. A month after the wedding, Mary was placed in the custody of a married couple in Buckinghamshire while her husband Thomas Keyes was incarcerated until his death in 1571. Mary Grey died penniless in 1578, age 33.

Brandon, Frances (1517–1559)

Duchess of Suffolk. Name variations: Frances Grey. Born on July 16, 1517, in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England; died on November 21, 1559, in London, England; daughter of Charles Brandon (1484–1545), duke of Suffolk, and Mary Tudor (1496–1533, younger sister of Henry VIII); married Henry Grey, marquis of Dorset (later duke of Suffolk), in 1535 (d. 1554); married Adrian Stokes, on March 9, 1554; children: (first marriage) Jane Grey (1537–1554); Catherine Grey (c. 1540–1568, later Catherine Seymour); Mary Grey (1545–1578, who married Thomas Keyes); (second marriage) Elizabeth Stokes (1554–1554, died at birth).

While scholars and religious reformers lauded young Lady Jane's character and intellect, her parents held an entirely different view. Severe and demanding, Henry Grey and Frances Brandon took every opportunity to chastise their daughter. In 1550, in a rare private conversation recorded by Roger Ascham (Princess Elizabeth's tutor), Lady Jane spoke of the nightmarish home life she endured:

When I am in the presence either of 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, else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs [blows], and some ways I will not name for the honour I bear them, so without measure misordered that I think myself in Hell.

No wonder she waited anxiously each day "till the time comes when I must go to Master Aylmer, who teacheth me so gently."

Though clearly more vicious than most parents, the Greys' behavior reflected standard 16th-century child-rearing practices. Sons and daughters

of the English nobility and gentry could expect harsh discipline—even physical abuse—at the hands of their parents, guardians, and teachers. Viewed as miniature adults, youngsters experienced little freedom of action or expression. Children were frequently beaten or flogged in order to crush their wills and teach them absolute obedience to authority. Lady Jane was not a rebellious child, but like so many of her class, she came to fear and loathe her parents.

At age nine, Lady Jane entered the service of Queen Catherine Parr , who treated her with kindness and affection. Here, Lady Jane became acquainted with her royal cousins, including the future King Edward VI who was exactly her own age and much impressed by her. Following the death of Henry VIII in 1547, the widow Parr married Thomas Seymour, Lord High Admiral and uncle of the new king. Seymour, a charming but unprincipled schemer, purchased Lady Jane's wardship from her father, promising to arrange a marriage between Lady Jane and King Edward. Parr's death in childbirth in 1548, and Seymour's political downfall a year later, forced Lady Jane to return home; thus ended the only happy years of her life.

John Foxe, martyrologist">

Great pity was it for the casting away of that fair lady, whom nature had not only so beautified but God also had endowed with singular gifts and graces.

John Foxe, martyrologist

Nine-year-old Edward's accession to the throne in 1547 unleashed the inevitable power struggle among the regents who ruled England in his name. The first half of the reign was dominated by King Edward's older uncle, Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset and Lord Protector. While Somerset's younger brother connived at a Lady Jane-Edward VI match, the Protector made very different plans to marry his own daughter to the king, and his son, the earl of Hertford, to Lady Jane. Soon after Thomas Seymour's execution for treason in 1549, Lady Jane's parents agreed to a marriage contract between their daughter and young Hertford, whom Jane knew and liked. But Somerset's grip on King and Council slipped badly in 1550; his enemies at court engineered his arrest, trial for treason, and ultimately, his beheading in 1552. Henry Grey, now duke of Suffolk, quickly allied his family with the new ruling faction led by John Dudley, duke of Northumberland. Radical Protestantism and personal greed characterized the Northumberland government. Lady Jane's destiny henceforth lay in the hands of utterly un-scrupulous men.

By early 1553, it was obvious to both Northumberland and Suffolk that the frail young king's days were numbered. In an effort to exclude Edward's sisters from the succession and secure the throne for his roguish teenaged son, Northumberland proposed a marriage between Lady Jane and Guildford Dudley. Now 15 and pledged (or so she thought) to Hertford, Jane vehemently refused. Her enraged parents physically beat her into submission, and the marriage to Dudley took place on May 21. Forced to reside with her hated in-laws, Lady Jane suffered a collapse and soon withdrew from public life. Most authorities agree that she knew nothing of the plot Northumberland had hatched, or the role in it she was expected to play.

Having given his assent to the altered succession, a consumption-ridden Edward VI died on July 6, 1553. Three days later, Northumberland and the Council proclaimed Lady Jane queen of England. When informed of her new status, she fainted. Over the next nine days, a reluctant "Queen Jane" resided in the Tower of London, far more a prisoner of Northumberland's attempted coup than a willing participant in it. In a singular act of courage—and royal prerogative—Jane adamantly refused the violent demands of the Dudley family that she make her husband, Guildford, king. Meanwhile, the English people—Catholic and Protestant alike—declared for the Princess Mary. By July 19, Jane knew the plot had failed and bitterly informed her father, "Out of obedience to you and my mother, I have grievously sinned. Now I willingly relinquish the crown."

Lady Jane Grey remained a prisoner in the Tower until her trial on November 14, 1553, at which time she pleaded guilty to treason and was sentenced to death. Queen Mary seemed inclined to spare her cousin, despite pressure from her advisors to execute this heretical rival forthwith. An ardent Catholic, Mary nonetheless pardoned the Suffolks, and probably would have released Jane in due course had not Henry, duke of Suffolk, rashly joined in Wyatt's Rebellion in January 1554. In so doing, Suffolk sealed his daughter's doom. Writing to him on the eve of her execution, Jane expressed her abiding religious faith, but also acknowledged her sense of injury at his hands:

Although it hath pleased God to hasten my death by you, by whom my life should rather have been lengthened, yet can I so patiently take it that I yield God more hearty thanks for shortening my woeful days than if all the world had been given into my possession.

She refused to see her husband who faced similar punishment. On February 12, 1554, 16-year-old Lady Jane was beheaded on Tower Green. She was buried, along with Lord Dudley, in the church of St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London.

Lady Jane Grey was only one of many female casualties of the turbulent Tudor age. Yet she remains perhaps its most pitied aristocratic victim, in part because of her unhappy life and youthful innocence. Had she been less pious and scholarly and more clever and worldly—like her wily cousin Elizabeth—she might have developed some much-needed survival skills. Later chroniclers capitalized on her steadfast adherence to the Reformed Faith and transformed Lady Jane into a Protestant martyr. Her staunch Protestant views certainly contributed to her downfall, but they mattered far less than her gender and family ties. Patriarchal authority and dynastic ambition inevitably placed high-born Tudor women at risk. It should be remembered that Lady Jane Grey's remains shared their final resting place in St. Peter's Church with two other headless queens: Protestant Anne Boleyn and Catholic Catherine Howard .


Plowden, Alison. Lady Jane Grey and the House of Suffolk. NY: Franklin Watts, 1986.

Routh, C.R. Who's Who in Tudor England. London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1990.

Stephen, Leslie, and Sidney Lee, eds. Dictionary of National Biography. Rev. ed. 22 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1937–38.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800. NY: Harper and Row, 1979.

suggested reading:

Chapman, Hester. Lady Jane Grey: The Nine Days Queen. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1962.

Luke, Mary. The Nine Days Queen: A Portrait of Lady Jane Grey. NY: William Morrow, 1986.

Mathew, David. Lady Jane Grey: The Setting of the Reign. London: Eyre Methuen, 1972.


Calendar of State Papers (Domestic Series) of the Reigns of Edward VI, Mary Elizabeth (1547–1603). Edited by R. Lemon, Mary Everett Green, et al. London, 1856–70; The Chronicle of Queen Jane and Two Years of Queen Mary. Edited by J.G. Nichols for the Camden Society. London, 1850.

related media:

Lady Jane Grey (also titled Nine Days a Queen), produced in England by Gainsborough-Gaumont, starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke, John Mills, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Mary Tudor, and Nova Pilbeam as Lady Jane Grey, 1936.

Lady Jane (VHS, 140 min.), fictionalized costume epic, starring Helena Bonham Carter , Paramount Pictures, 1985.

Constance B. Rynder , Professor of History, The University of Tampa, Tampa, Florida

Grey, Lady Jane (1537–1554)

views updated May 23 2018

Grey, Lady Jane (15371554)

The reigning queen of England for nine days, Lady Jane Grey was the great-granddaughter of King Henry VII and the grandniece of King Henry VIII. She was born in Leicester, the daughter of the Marquess of Dorset, who sent her to the royal court when she was nine to tend to Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII. In July 1553, she was proclaimed as queenalthough never officially crownedafter the death of Edward VI, the young Protestant son of Henry who had passed the monarchy to Jane in his will. Under the protection of the Duke of Northumberland, she was supported by English Protestants who opposed the Catholic princess Mary, a daughter of Henry who was threatening to return property seized by the Church of England to the Catholics. When her accession was found unlawful, Grey was deposed from the throne. In 1554, a rebellion against Queen Mary broke out. Suspecting Grey of taking part in the plot against her, Mary had her young cousin arrested, imprisoned, and beheaded.

Grey, Lady Jane (1537–1554)

views updated May 29 2018

Grey, Lady Jane (1537–1554)

Teenaged usurper of the English throne. Name variations: Lady Jane Dudley. Born Oct 1537 at Bradgate, Leicestershire, England; executed Feb 12, 1554, in Tower of London; eldest surviving dau. of Henry Grey (d. 1554), marquis of Dorset (later duke of Suffolk), and Frances Brandon (1517–1559, granddau. of King Henry VII); sister of Lady Catherine Grey (c. 1540–1568) and Mary Grey (1545–1578); m. Lord Guildford Dudley, May 21, 1553; no children.

Reigned for 9 days before being executed in the Tower of London; lived out brief life as a pawn of her ambitious parents and their political connections at court; entered the service of Queen Catherine Parr (1546); coerced into marrying Lord Dudley by his father, the duke of Northumberland (1553); with the death of the king, proclaimed queen by Northumberland without her knowledge; convicted of high treason against Queen Mary I and executed (1554).

See also Alison Plowden, Lady Jane Grey and the House of Suffolk (Watts, 1986); Hester Chapman, Lady Jane Grey: The Nine Days Queen (Little, Brown, 1962); Mary Luke, The Nine Days Queen (William Morrow, 1986); David Mathew, Lady Jane Grey: The Setting of the Reign (Eyre Methuen, 1972); films Lady Jane Grey, starring Nova Pilbeam (1936) and Lady Jane, starring Helena Bonham Carter (1985); and Women in World History.

Grey, Lady Jane

views updated May 23 2018

Grey, Lady Jane (1537–54). Jane was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, marquis of Dorset, later duke of Suffolk, and a cousin of Edward VI. An intelligent and well-educated girl, she joined the household of Catherine Parr. After Catherine's death in 1548 she became a ward of Catherine's fourth husband, Thomas Seymour of Sudeley, who hoped for a marriage between her and Edward VI. After Seymour's execution in 1549, Jane returned to live with her parents. The duke of Northumberland then planned to use her to seize the succession when Edward should die. Against her own wishes, she was married on 21 May 1553 to Guildford Dudley, fourth son of Northumberland. After Edward's death on 6 July 1553, she was proclaimed queen and Guildford declared himself king. Mary Tudor's supporters rallied and on 19 July Jane's father admitted defeat and recognized Mary's succession. Lady Jane's reign had lasted a mere nine days. She hoped to return to private life but was held in the Tower and executed on 12 February 1554. She was the innocent victim of her family's heartless ambitions.

Sue Minna Cannon

Grey, Lady Jane

views updated May 14 2018

Grey, Lady Jane (1537–54) (Nine-Day Queen) Queen of England (1553). Great-granddaughter of Henry VII, she was married to the son of the Duke of Northumberland, regent for the ailing Edward VI. On Edward VI's death, she was proclaimed queen, but the rightful heir, Mary I, was almost universally preferred. Lady Jane and her husband were executed.