Often listed as merely an asterisk in history, Lady Jane Grey did have a part in the tale of the Tudors and in the succession of the crown. A teeeny tiny part, but a part nonetheless. Her young life and limited time on the throne may have been short, but it was long on drama. Did she end up remembered as the Nine Day Queen because of manipulation and lust for power? Whose? Was she a puppet or did she know what she was doing? The brief life and rule of this teenage royal is worth a bit of a chat, don’t you think? We did.
Jane Grey was born in October of 1537 (or perhaps in 1536) to Lord Henry and Lady Frances Grey. If you like a little title with your history, that would be the Marquees of Dorset and Frances Brandon, niece to King Henry VIII. Frances’ mother was Mary- the sister of Henry- and her father was Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and life long frat bro of Henry. Later, after his and Frances’ brothers’ deaths, Frances would inherit the titles and she and Henry would become the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk .
Jane was also born about the same time as her cousin Prince Edward, son of Henry VIII. Linking Edward to Jane was an easy move on the part of her parents. Cousins marrying was far from unheard of, and Jane was raised with this goal in mind. To add a little more incentive to the mix – as the only son of the king, Edward was next in line to the throne. They had so much in common- Edward was was raised Protestant- just like Jane. If you have paid any attention to our ongoing Tudors series (and you should, it’s very interesting) religion plays a big part in the story. (And we always explain more in our podcast than in these notes).
Jane and her sisters Katherine and Mary (yes, we have heard those names before) were educated at home, taught to read Latin, Greek, French, Italian and groomed for well placed marriages that would bring the family more power. At nine, Jane’s guardianship was given to Katherine Parr, the then-wife of Henry VIII. Upon his death, and Katherine’s subsequent marriage to Thomas Seymour (we cover this in the Four Wives podcast) Jane’s wardship was turned over to the Seymours. Why? Because it was thought that this was the best way to arrange a marriage between Jane the new king, Edward VI- a marriage that would suit all parties involved.
But Katherine died in childbirth a short time later. And Thomas followed her to death when he was executed a year after that. Jane’s guardianship was up for grabs again, and who better to secure her future as queen than the chief counselor to King Edward, John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland.
Dudley was a very powerful man in a sweet position, who wanted to remain that way. He knew that if Edward produced an heir, Edward’s sisters, Mary or Elizabeth, would not rule, toss him out…or worse. But if he could marry Jane to the king- who was also in line to the throne (via her mother who was willing to let it pass to Jane) he might just be able to hold onto all that was near and dear to him. Like his head.
But his plan was flawed. Edward became very ill and it was clear he would not live to marry, let alone produce an heir.
So in a swift coordinated effort with Jane’s parent’s-Dudley married 15 year-old Jane off to his only marriageable son, Guilford. It was a hot mess of a wedding that also married off his daughter and one of Jane’s sisters to well-placed men. When Edward died very shortly afterward, Dudley did a fancy dance of deceit – badda bing, Jane is Queen. Everyone is happy.
Except just about everyone who wasn’t related to Jane. The people were scratching their heads, “Queen Who?”
Except Jane who never wanted to be Queen and was frightfully unprepared for the position.
Oh, yeah, and except for Mary who foiled a plot of Dudley’s to have her thrown in the Tower of London and knew that it was her turn to rule. Mary knew that she was entitled to the crown, and she had the support of the people behind her (We do cover all of this time in the Mary I podcast).
For nine days Jane was Queen Jane. And then Mary took care of that.
Mary tossed Jane and Guilford in the tower, where they remained for several months. It wasn’t horrible living conditions, but it was imprisonment. Rumor has it that this tribute, in the Beauchamp Tower, was carved for his wife by Guilford himself . This humanizes him a bit ( which his legacy totally needs).
At first, Mary did not want to execute them. However, an ill-fated attempt to over-throw Mary -led by Jane’s own father- made Mary think that this decision was necessary.
On February 12, 1554, less than a year after being imprisoned, Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guilford were beheaded.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
An website with an easy read of her life, Ladyjanegrey.org .
Or this one with a very lengthy description, as well as some links to outside sources (although not all the links are currently functioning) EnglishHistory.net .
And finally, a really thorough one about all things Tudor, Tudorhistory.org
Want to travel around through the Tower of London (and other historic places of England?) not exactly like being there, but much simpler. HistoricRoyalPalaces.org
Ooh, an internet museum? Love that, lots of clicking to do on this one, although it doesn’t look like it has been updated recently. But really, unless there is new information, that’s not entirely necessary, right? Lady Jane Grey Internet Museum
Tweet what, you say? We love it when we find an active twitter for one of our women- Lady Jane Grey Info.
Of course we have some book recommendations, have you just met us?
And a movie, that isn’t exactly historically accurate (are any of them?) and we dare you not to have Princess Bride quotes running in your head if you watch it!