The Brief and Unfortunate Reign of Lady Jane Grey

The great-granddaughter of Henry VII and the oldest daughter of Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk was proclaimed as the Queen of England on July 10, 1553. Just nine short days later, she was deposed of her crown and sent to await her execution in the Tower of London.

The Life of Lady Jane

The English noblewoman Lady Jane Grey is one of the most romanticized monarchs of Tudor England. Her short rule as Queen was an unsuccessful attempt to maintain the Protestant rule in the land. This challenge unfortunately cost her not only the throne, but her life as well.

Lady Jane was born in 1537 in Leicester, England. Her life began full of promise and high expectations but it ended tragically due to her part in the ambitions of her father and the religious strife of the times.

Jane’s parents saw to it that she received a good education, and intended to make her a good match for the son of a well-positioned family. At the age of 10, Jane went to live with the conspiratorial Thomas Seymour, who was Edward VI’s uncle. He had only recently married Catherine Parr, the widow of Henry VIII. Jane was raised as a devout Protestant and proved to be a smart and engaged young woman. She remained very close to Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr until Catherine died during childbirth in 1548. Seymour was later executed for treason in 1549.

The Events that Led to Lady Jane Becoming Queen

Jane’s father, Henry Grey, who was now the Duke of Suffolk, introduced his beautiful daughter to the royal court in 1551. To consolidate his family’s power, Grey arranged for the marriage of two of his daughters to scions of two other prominent families. In a triple wedding in 1553, Jane married Lord Guildford Dudley, the son of the Duke of Northumberland, alongside the groom’s sister Katherine, who married Henry Hastings, heir to the Earl of Huntingdon. Jane Grey’s sister Catherine married the heir of the Earl of Pembroke in the same ceremony.

Lady Jane was the cousin of King Edward VI, who was only 10-years old when he wore the crown. Edward became ill with tuberculosis and relied on the advice of his regent, John Dudley, who was now Jane’s father-in-law. The young king was easily manipulated by advisers and went along with the plan to pass the crown on to Jane instead of one of his half-sisters.

And when it became clear that young King Edward was dying, he convinced the king to name his daughter-in-law as his royal successor instead of Edward’s half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.

Mary, who was next in line for the throne, was a Roman Catholic. Fearing that she would reverse the changes made during the Protestant Reformation, Edward was convinced to remove her from the line of succession by declaring her as illegitimate.

When Lady Jane was crowned as Queen after Edward’s death, the country had a difficult time accepting the news. Dudley was perceived to be the driving force behind a number of the government’s unpopular policies, and it was assumed by many that either he or his son would now take command of the throne.

But the Tudors Had Something Else in Mind

With many of the countrymen viewing Mary Tudor as the rightful heir to the throne, she was able to put together a military force, which overthrew Jane, and claimed her title as the queen regnant.

Queen Mary believed that Jane was innocent in the scheme and she allowed her to live in comfort in the tower for months after she was sentenced to death. But when Jane’s father took part in an insurrection against Mary, following her announcement to wed Philip II of Spain, Jane’s death warrant was signed. On February 12, 1554, the 16-year old former queen was beheaded on the Tower Green.

The Legacy of Lady Jane

Lady Jane has been viewed as a Protestant martyr for centuries. The “traitor heroine” of the Reformation has become a legend over the years as her tale has appeared in various forms of popular culture such as romantic biographies, plays, novels, paintings and films.

Even though her reign was short, she had no impact on the arts, science or culture. No laws or shifts in policy were passed during her brief rule. Many feel that this was due to her youth and willingness to be of service to the ambitions of others for what she believed was the greater good. That is her most impressive legacy.