Who Was Lady Jane Grey?

Examine the life of Lady Jane Grey who was Queen of England for a mere 9 days.

Lady Jane Grey has fascinated historians for centuries - not just because she was Queen of England for a mere nine days, but because her life and death represented the political and religious climate of her day. She has been widely acknowledged as the quintessential Protestant Martyr, who died because of her failure to reject her religious beliefs. There is much more to her story however, and this article will examine her life and the circumstances that surrounded her death.

She was born in 1537, the eldest daughter to Henry Grey (who later became the Duke of Suffolk) and Frances Brandon, at Bradgate Manor near Leicester. Her birth however was overshadowed by another event occurring some miles away - the birth of her mothers' cousin Edward, to Jane Seymour, and King Henry VIIIs' long-awaited male heir. The baby girl was hastily named 'Jane' in honor of the Queen, before her father left to pay his respects to the Royal Court.

As a child of Royal blood (her mother Frances was the daughter of King Henry VIIIs' youngest sister Mary), she probably began her education at the tender age of three, and lived a sheltered life with her sisters (Katherine and Mary) at Bradgate until she was nine or ten years old. At this point Henry was dead, Edward VI was king, and she was accepted into the household of Catherine Parr. Catherine had been Henry's last wife but she had remarried when Henry died (Thomas Seymour). Jane had only been in Catherine's household for a year when her mistress died and she became a ward of her surviving husband. Seymour paid Jane's father 2000 pounds in order to keep her at the Royal court. Shortly afterwards, however, Seymour fell from grace and Jane returned home to Bradgate.

By 1551 Jane was corresponding with a number of religious scholars in Continental Europe, the chief among whom was Bullinger, the chief pastor at the Zurich school, and all of these learned men praised Jane's intelligence and her religious piety. She undoubtedly was intelligent but many also believed, indeed hoped, that she would one day marry the King.

Unfortunately, Edward was sickly, and by 1553 was in the advanced stages of tuberculosis. The powerful Duke of Northumberland (Edward's chief minister) rightly believed that if Mary (Henry VIIIs' eldest, and Catholic daughter) succeeded Edward (as had been decreed in Henry's will), he would lose his power and possibly be executed for his Protestant beliefs. He therefore set a plan in motion, which would directly involve Jane and ultimately lead to her destruction.

Northumberland realizing that Jane was fourth in line to the throne (after Mary, Elizabeth, and Jane's mother Frances) began to suggest to Edward that a Protestant heir would better serve England. He also focused on getting close to Jane's parents and by May of 1553 had succeeded. They readily accepted that Jane should marry Northumberlands' son Guildford Dudley.

Jane protested the marriage stating that she was already promised to Edward, Lord Hertford, despite the fact that no formal arrangements had been made. The real reason she was opposed to the marriage was because she fervently detested Northumberland and, by extension, his entire family. However, her parents assured her that she would remain at Bradgate and so she was married to Guildford at Durham House in London by the end of May. During the same ceremony her sister Katherine was also married (to Lord Herbert, son of the powerful Earl of Pembroke) and Northumberland's own daughter (also Katherine) was married to Lord Hastings. That day, Northumberland had managed to ally himself to three of the most powerful families in the Royal Court.

By early June, Northumberland disclosed his main plan - to make Jane Queen, to her parents, and, at that time she was moved to Durham House to live with her husband. Jane herself was unaware of the plotting, but was informed that the King was 'extremely ill' and that she should 'prepare herself' for whatever Edward might plan for her. By this stage, Northumberland had managed to convince the sick, bed-ridden Edward to change Henry's will and name Jane as his heir.

Although Edward died on Thursday 6th July 1553, Jane was not aware of the fact until the Sunday. She had been ill herself and had been recuperating at Chelsea Manor for the past few weeks. That Sunday, her sister-in-law, Lady Mary Sidney, came to collect Jane and bring her (as per Northumberlands' orders) to Syon House, her father-in-laws residence on the Thames. She was not allowed to refuse the journey despite her illness.

As she walked into the Great Hall at Syon House, to her amazement everyone began to bow before her. Northumberland announced that Edward was dead and had decreed that Jane should be his heir. She did not take the news well - she fainted and when finally revived declared 'The Crown is not my right, and pleaseth me not'. In the end though, she had no say in the matter.

The next day (Monday 10th July, 1553) she was transported by barge down the Thames to the Tower of London, the banks of the river crowded with people trying to get a glimpse of their tiny Queen. She was crowned in the White Tower and took up residence in the Royal Chambers at the Tower. Much to Northumberland's displeasure she refused to give Guildford kingship.

To say Mary Tudor was not pleased with this turn of events would be a major understatement. Both Mary and Elizabeth had been declared Henry VIIIs' 'illegitimate bastards'. Robert Dudley was sent to take Mary into custody, but she had already fled to Framlington Castle, and to her ardent supporters, in Norfolk. Once there she sent a message demanding Jane renounce her title or she would take her crown by force.

Jane had met Mary before, the latter giving her elaborate presents. She certainly had no desire to upset the formidable Mary now, nor did she want the throne. During her short reign, Jane was extremely stressed, and when the Council decided that her father should go to capture Mary she pleaded that he stayed with her. This was to prove fatal - Northumberland went in his place. While he was gone, the Council began to question his authority, promptly leaving the Tower for Baynard's Castle, where they proclaimed Northumberland a traitor and Mary, the Queen. Jane willingly resigned, but she was not allowed to leave the Tower.

On the 20th of July Northumberland was arrested and Jane's parents fled the Tower leaving their daughter and her husband behind. Jane and Guildford were promptly taken into custody and moved out of the Royal Chamber - Jane to 5 Tower Green and Guildford to neighboring Beauchamp Tower. They were forbidden to see each other.

Despite the fact that Northumberland recanted Protestantism he was beheaded on the 23rd August 1553. Jane remained in the Tower, despite the fact that Mary realized she had simply been a pawn in the whole affair. The two women even dined together at the Tower. Mary gave her the choice - recant Protestantism and live. Jane refused but she still did not expect to die. Another event however sealed her fate - her father was found to be part of the Wyatt Rebellion (a group led by James Wyatt) who were adamantly against Mary choosing Philip of Spain as her husband. Mary began to believe that if she kept Jane alive the threat would always be present.

On the 12th February 1554 Guildford was executed first on Tower Hill, and Jane wept openly when his body was returned to the Tower. Jane herself was not executed publicly, but within the confines of the Tower itself. She went calmly to her death with the last words Jesus had uttered on the cross: "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit".

Her body lay unattended for four hours while they decided where they should bury her. Eventually, she was laid to rest, without ceremony, beside the beheaded former wives of Henry VIII (Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard), beneath the floor of the Chapel Royal, St. Peter-ad-Vincula, at the Tower of London.

In conclusion, Lady Jane Grey, Queen for nine days, was beheaded at the age of sixteen. A pawn in Northumberlands' greed for power, an example of the fanatical, religious feelings of the time, and a young woman mercilessly killed before her time. Who knows what might have happened if Mary had been captured? Instead, Jane became a Protestant Martyr and a young woman who was a cruel victim of a powerful man's lust for power.

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