The Streatham Portrait of Lady Jane Grey.
The Streatham Portrait of Lady Jane Grey.

Lady Jane Grey is best known as history as the Nine Days Queen. She survived an unhappy childhood only to become a pawn in a conspiracy to usurp the throne.

Jane was born in 1537 at her family’s estate, Bradgate Manor, in Leicestershire. She was the eldest of three sisters born to Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset, and his wife, Lady Frances Brandon. (Mary, Henry VIII’s younger sister, was Frances’ mother.)

Frances was a cruel, abusive and domineering woman who found fault with her eldest daughter. Jane was often bullied and whipped so she sought solace in her studies.

Edward VI

Catherine Parr, last and sixth wife of Henry VIII
Catherine Parr, last and sixth wife of Henry VIII

Henry VIII died, leaving his young son Edward as king under the control of his uncle Somerset, the Lord Protector.

Somerset’s younger brother, Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour, persuaded Jane’s parents to sell her wardship for £2,000 to arrange a marriage to the King. Jane was sent to live in Seymour’s household. Dowager-Queen Catherine Parr secretly married Seymour shortly after Henry VIII’s death and her household was similar to a finishing school. Elizabeth I was also under Catherine’s care.

Catherine provided the best reformist scholars and a rigorous curriculum and encouraged Jane’s education in a loving, nurturing environment. They shared similar intellectual interests, a love of learning and a passion for the “new” religion-Protestantism.

Unfortunately, Catherine died on 5 September 1548, a week after giving birth to a daughter. Jane was the chief mourner at Catherine’s funeral, as she sorely missed her kind benefactress, when she was returned to her parents’ home.

Edward VI of England, Jane's cousin
Edward VI of England, Jane’s cousin

Seymour’s plans came to naught when he was executed for treason a year later.

Edward was dying of tuberculosis so John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland persuaded him to change his will so Jane inherited the throne, rather than the fanatically Catholic Mary.

He conspired with Jane’s parents and she was forced into marriage with Northumberland’s son Guildford. Jane objected as she was already contracted to Edward Seymour. Her parents whipped her until she agreed to marry Guildford.

They were married amidst pomp and ceremony at Durham House, Northumberland’s riverside London mansion on 25 May 1553. Edward VI sent gifts as he was too ill to attend.

Queen of England

Edward died on 6 July 1553 but Northumberland concealed his death as long as possible. Jane was proclaimed Queen four days later. Jane was horrified as she had no desire to wear the crown. She prayed God would help her govern England.

Jane was only fifteen, so her parents and Northumberland assumed she would do exactly as she was told. However, Jane had a mind of her own as she took her new responsibilities far more seriously than Northumberland anticipated.

Jane refused to make her husband king, much to her in-laws’ fury, because he was not of the blood royal.

Credit: Historic Royal Palaces/
Credit: Historic Royal Palaces/

Mary I

Mary gathered her many supporters in East Anglia, declared herself Queen and defeated Northumberland. (Many defected to her side as they detested Northumberland.)

Jane’s father, now the Duke of Suffolk, declared for Mary. Jane parents had deserted her, as they left London. She was now a prisoner in the Tower of London.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, by the French painter Paul Delaroche, 1833
The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, by Paul Delaroche, 1833

Northumberland was executed. Jane was tried and condemned for treason, but Mary spared her life.

Thomas Wyatt opposed Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain so he and his supporters took up arms against the Queen. Jane was regarded as a Protestant figurehead so Mary reluctantly agreed to her execution. Jane’s mother, who remained a close personal friend of Mary’s, made no effort to intercede on her behalf.

Jane was beheaded on 12 February 1554 on Tower Green. She was buried in the chapel of St Peter-ad-Vincula between Henry VIII’s two Queens, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.


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© 2009 Carolyn M Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 29 May 2009.

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