• Sophie Perissinotto

Forgotten women in history: Lady Jane Grey

Welcome to a new series that will remind you about some cool women who you should acknowledge. Allocate some of that brain space which is reserved for TikToks and impress your feminist friends with a CliffsNotes story of… Lady Jane Grey

If anyone has heard of Lady Jane Grey, it would likely be as the 'Nine Days Queen'. She was queen of England for nine days on 10-19 July 1553.

Jane Grey was the great granddaughter of Henry VII, so she did have royal blood and an extended claim to the throne. After Henry VII came Henry VIII (the one with the six wives), whose son was Edward VI. In case you don’t know, Henry 8’s intense wife search was for a male heir. Edward VI was born from the third wife of Henry 8 and was the first monarch to be raised Protestant. Don’t forget about that - we’ll come back to it later.

Lady Jane from Smithsonian Magazine

Edward VI wanted to acknowledge a Protestant heir (male obviously), but his older half-sister (Bloody) Mary was Catholic. And also a woman. She and Elizabeth I were also declared illegitimate before their father died. ANYWAY, Edward mostly cared about passing the crown on to another Protestant to keep the movement going.

Jane married a man named Guildford Dudley when she was about 16. Her new father in law was the Lord President of the King’s Council. Please hold your eyerolls at this time. This position is pretty much the most powerful in the country. The wedding was beneficial for the bride and groom - there is now royal blood in the Dudley family, and Jane’s family has a connection on the King’s Council.

Edward died on 6 July, and Jane was informed that she was the queen on 9 July. Most statements agree that Jane was very reluctant to become queen and said that she thought Mary should be the queen. But she was persuaded that she needed to accept the position, as wishes of the late king Edward. She was only 16 years old. Jane and Dudley moved into the Tower of London and she was officially proclaimed queen on July 10th.

Lady Jane Grey and Dudley's wedding from Wikipedia

Dudley (and assumedly his father) expected for Jane to proclaim him King. But, Jane refused to without a new Act of Parliament, so she only agreed to make him duke. She actually wrote that she was scared of being poisoned by Daddy Dudley.

As soon as Bloody Mary learned of Edward’s death, she began to rally her Catholic supporters throughout the country. Daddy Dudley and an army set out to capture her on 14 July, but then . . . he and the King’s Council mysteriously decided to switch their support to her as queen. People think that the change of support was because of the amount of public support, but I think perhaps his son being shunned as king was also a factor?

The public and a lot of the aristocracy held allegiance to Mary; feeling as though she was mistreated by Henry 8 and the declaration of her being illegitimate. The Lord Mayor announced that Mary was the queen, and that was that. While Jane and her husband were living in the Tower of London waiting for the formal coronation, they were moved into a different room and imprisoned. She was kept in a nice room instead of a cell, but still in a different room to her husband.

Queen (Bloody) Mary from History.com

Bloody Mary told Jane’s mother that Jane and her husband would be imprisoned in the Tower until enough time had passed for it to be acceptable to pardon them. She also said they would not be harmed.

In August, Daddy Dudley was charged with high treason, found guilty and killed. Then in September, the Parliament declared Mary as queen and Jane as a usurper. Jane and her husband, Younger Dudley, were tried and found guilty, and sentenced to death by being “burnt alive or beheaded, as the queen wishes”. But still, Mary didn’t enact the sentence.

Jane’s dummy dad took part in a rebellion against Mary when she planned to marry the King of Spain. Thanks to that rebellion, the government and crown were intent to enact the sentencing passed in September. Their execution was scheduled, but then postponed for three days. Mary gave Jane a chance to be spared if she converted to Catholicism. She refused.

Young Dudley was publicly beheaded and carried back to the Tower, where Jane apparently saw his remains from her rooms.

Execution day from Lady Jane Grey Revisited

Jane was then taken to a private execution, which was apparently quite an honour. There are a lot of romantic paintings and stories about Jane’s execution. She apparently admitted to treason, and that she was not innocent. She regally gave her gloves and handkerchief to her lady in waiting and then forgave the executioner. She blindfolded herself and knelt down, but couldn’t find the block.

Lady Jane's execution from History Extra

Lady Jane Grey was worshipped for a long time as a Protestant hero and martyr. She was also said to face her death very bravely, especially for her age. Records say that she was very intelligent, being fluent in French and Italian and also studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Her reign was the shortest in the history of all English monarchs.

Lady Jane Grey was one of many women in history to be manipulated and played as a pawn by her parents and surrounding adults. She was only seventeen when she was killed.