Anthropology and History

Lady Jane Grey: The Beheaded Child Queen

The story of how Lady Jane Grey came to be executed…

posted on 08/10/2010
AleahT
Scribol Staff

Execution Jane GreyPhoto: Paul Delaroche

Possibly one of the most celebrated tragic tales of old is the story of The Nine Days’ Queen, Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane was called The Nine Days’ Queen but in fact reigned for a fortnight. She sat on the throne of England after her cousin, King Edward VI, died at a very young age. Her claim to the throne was dubious at best, but she was placed unwillingly on it due to her Protestant faith – so that her cousin, Mary Tudor, who was next in succession, did not bring staunch Catholicism back to England.

Lady Jane’s early life has always been romanticised by the idea that her mother Frances Grey beat her and was in general violent and painfully strict. The only evidence of this, however, lies in a letter written by Jane which stipulates that her mother treated her very badly but could also be taken as a teenager’s sulky rant against the usual parenting of her time.

lady jane greyPhoto: unknown artist

Jane grew up on beautiful estates, getting the best education a woman of those times could get, and played with her sister Katherine and her tiny dwarf sister Mary. Jane was the oldest of the three and so had the usual pressures of the eldest child upon her to make a grand match in marriage and do her family proud.

Jane’s parents where a Marques and Marquee, and from her mother’s side she inherited precious royal blood. Frances was King Henry VIII’s niece and was indeed in line to the throne because of it. In King Henry’s succession, validated by an act of parliament, it was proposed that Frances take the throne if Edward Tudor, Mary Tudor and then Elizabeth Tudor were to die; and as Frances’s eldest daughter, Jane Grey was then next in line.

Lady Jane Grey portraitPhoto: unknown

Jane’s parents Frances and Henry Grey had no son, and so the precious family bloodline had to be passed through an extraordinary marriage for Jane and the children born of that match. Jane’s parents had a glorious match in mind while King Henry still sat large upon his throne, a match between Jane and Prince Edward. The match was hard to make. Frances and Henry could not be seen to be attempting such a miraculous match but had to make King Henry come to the conclusion himself. During King Henry’s lifetime this conclusion did not come about, but when King Henry died and Edward became King, suddenly the task seemed a whole lot more simple.

Queen Dowager Catherine, King Henry’s widow, was very close to the new young King, and between Queen Catherine and her Lady in Waiting, Frances Grey, an agreement was made. Jane Grey was to be sent to Queen Catherine’s estate to be tutored and cared for, while Catherine’s new husband Sir Thomas Seymour arranged the match with his nephew, King Edward VI.

The Dukes of Northumberland and Suffolk praying Lady Jane Grey to accept the CrownPhoto: Giovanni Battista Cipriani

The match, however, seemed doomed to fail as Edward, like his father, felt a duty to marry a bride from another grand kingdom to unite England with an ally. Sir Thomas Seymour was an ambitious man, however, and tried, too hard perhaps, to bring the match off for his own glory and that of his little ward. Sir Thomas Seymour was soon caught in his intrigue and was beheaded by his royal nephew. Soon after, a close favourite of the King, The Duke of Northumberland, informed the new Duke and Duchess, Frances and Henry Grey, of the young King’s severe illness, and a new plot to put little bookworm Jane on the throne was hatched.

Jane was soon betrothed to marry The Duke of Northumberland’s son, Guilford. The reason for this was that the favoured Duke had convinced the newly ill King to write a new act of succession which skipped over Edward’s half sisters, who were considered bastards by their mother’s disgrace. Thus the crown would go to Frances, who agreed to waive her right in favour of her daughter Jane and Jane’s new husband, Guilford.

Lady Jane Grey van de PassePhoto: Willem van de Passe

The Duke of Northumberland not only sought his son’s elevation to the throne, but was adamant that England should not suffer Catholicism again through Mary Tudor, but rather stay Protestant as with King Edward VI and through Jane.

When Edward VI died, he left a very controversial succession behind him that, though dubious, was carried through. Jane became the next monarch of England, although her hated husband Guilford was not given the title of King.

When Mary Tudor heard of this disgrace to herself she built up an army and stormed through England collecting followers. Jane’s party had made a terrible mistake: they had picked a leader little known to the sentimental English, and so when asked to choose, the people of England chose the daughter of old King Harry, Mary Tudor.

Flagg - Lady Jane GreyPhoto: George Whiting Flagg

Jane was overthrown and imprisoned as her cousin stormed London and by overwhelming numbers won her throne back. The new Queen Mary gave her word that she would not take little pious Jane’s life, but took back this grand gesture of mercy at the request of her cousin, and future husband, Prince Philip of Spain. Jane was told that if she converted to Catholicism she might still be spared her life, but little Jane was strong in her Protestant beliefs and would not convert.

Queen Mary was devastated by the horrible task of killing her own cousin and begged Jane to desist in her ‘heresy’, but Jane was steady in her convictions, and Mary was too much in love with Philip to deny him.

At the tender age of fifteen, the small, frail Jane was beheaded. Beheaded for a throne she never wanted and a future which she had never aspired to attain.

AleahT
Scribol Staff