Lady Jane Grey (1537 – February 12, 1554), a great-grand-daughter of Henry VII of England, reigned as uncrowned queen regnant of the Kingdom of England for nine days in 1553.
Though Jane's "accession" may have breached the laws of England, many powers of the land proved willing to accept her as Queen of England, even if only as part of a power-struggle to stop Henry's elder daughter, Princess Mary, a Roman Catholic, from acceding to the throne. Jane's brief rule ended, however, when the authorities revoked her proclamation as queen. The subsequent Marian régime eventually had her executed for treason.
Popular history sometimes refers to Lady Jane as "The Nine Days' Queen" (July 10 - July 19, 1553) or, less commonly, as "The Thirteen Days' Queen" (July 6 - July 19, 1553) — owing to uncertainties as to when she succeeded to the throne and when her formal deposition took place. Historians have taken either the day of her predecessor's death (July 6) or that of her official proclamation as Queen (July 10), as the beginning of her short reign.
Lady Jane had a reputation as one of the most learned women of her day, and the historical writer Alison Weir describes her as one of "the finest female minds of the century".
Jane was born at Bradgate Park near Leicester on an unknown date in early 1537, the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset and his wife Lady Frances Brandon. She had two younger sisters: Lady Catherine Grey and Lady Mary Grey. Jane was well educated, knowing Latin, Greek and Hebrew as well as modern languages. Through the teachings of her tutors, she became a devoted Protestant.
Jane's claim to the throne came through her mother, Lady Frances Brandon, the daughter of Mary Tudor (herself a daughter of King Henry VII of England) and of her second husband, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. The will of Edward VI excluded Lady Frances (who lived until 1559), so the succession passed over her and directly to her daughter Jane.
According to male primogeniture, the Suffolks - Brandons and later Greys - comprised the junior branch of the heirs of Henry VII. The 1543 Act of Succession restored both Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession, even though the law continued to regard both of them as legal bastards. Furthermore, this Act authorised Henry VIII to alter the succession by his will. His last will re-enforced the succession of his three surviving children, then declared that, should none of his three children leave heirs, the throne would pass to heirs of his younger sister, Mary. Henry's will excluded the descendants of his elder sister Margaret Tudor, whose claims had primacy over those of the Suffolks, owing in part to Henry's desire to keep the English throne out of the hands of the Scots monarchs, and in part to a previous Act of Parliament of 1431 barring foreign-born persons, including royalty, from inheriting property in England.
Several Protestant nobles had become wealthy when Henry VIII closed the Catholic monasteries and divided the Church's assets among his supporters. John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, figured prominently among the Protestant nobility, and in the last years of Edward's reign had acted as Edward's principal advisor and chief minister. Northumberland, when it became clear that Edward VI would not survive long, led the faction that feared accession by Mary Tudor. This fear stemmed from the knowledge that Mary would certainly revoke the religious changes made during Edward's reign, and that she might reclaim from the nobility all former church and monastic properties in order to restore them to the Roman Catholic Church. Many Englishmen also expressed concern that Mary favoured for herself a Spanish marriage which might bring in Spanish nobles to rule England in place of Northumberland and his colleagues. Northumberland arranged for his son Guildford Dudley to marry the Protestant (and anti-Catholic) Jane, hoping through him to gain control over his new daughter-in-law and the reins of England. When informed by her parents of her betrothal, Jane refused to obey: she regarded Guildford as ugly and stupid. Historians do not know what made this seemingly quiet and obedient girl turn against precedent to refuse her parents' marriage arrangements. Jane's refusal notwithstanding, her parents forced her into submission.
The question of the succession had arisen as a result of the religious unrest that had occurred during the reign (1509 - 1547) of Henry VIII. When Henry's Protestant son and successor Edward VI lay dying (1553) at the age of 15, his Roman Catholic half-sister Mary held the position of Heir Presumptive to the throne. However, Edward VI named the (Protestant) heirs of his father's sister Mary Tudor (not his own half-sister Mary) as his successors in a will composed on his deathbed, perhaps under the persuasion of Northumberland. He knew that this effectively left the throne to his cousin Jane Grey, who (like him) staunchly supported Protestantism and had a very high level of education.
At the time of Edward's death, without Edward's will (which had dubious legal standing, since it ran contrary to the Act of Succession of 1543), the crown would have passed, under the terms of both the Act of Succession of 1543 and of Henry VIII's will, to Mary and her male (not female) heirs. Should Mary die without male issue, the crown would pass to Elizabeth and her male heirs. And should Elizabeth die without male issue, the crown would pass not to Frances Brandon but rather to any male children she might have produced by that time. In the absence of male children born to Frances, the crown would pass to any male children Jane might have. Jane thus did not feature in the line of succession prior to the last draft of Edward's will of June 1553. Only in the last draft did Edward finally include Jane Grey as his heir presumptive, knowing the line of succession included no Protestant-born male children. This may have contravened customary testatory law because Edward, then just 15 years old, had not legally reached the legal testatory age of 21. But more importantly, many contemporary legal theorists believed the monarch could not contravene an Act of Parliament, even in matters of the succession; Jane's claim to the throne therefore remained obviously weak.
Edward VI died on July 6, 1553. Northumberland had Lady Jane Grey proclaimed Queen of England on July 10, 1553, just four days later — once she had taken up a secure residence in the Tower of London (English monarchs customarily resided in the Tower from the time of accession until their coronation). According to some fictional accounts, Northumberland tricked Jane into putting on the crown; however, she refused to name her husband as king by letters patent and deferred to Parliament. She offered to make him a duke instead.
Northumberland faced a number of key tasks in order to consolidate his power. Most importantly, he had to isolate and, ideally, capture Mary in order to prevent her from gathering support around her. Mary, however, advised of his intentions, took flight, sequestering herself in Framlingham Castle in Suffolk.
Mary I proved to have more popular support than Jane, largely because the English people regarded her as the rightful heiress, but perhaps partly because of the continuing sympathy for the memory of her mother, Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIII had had his own marriage with Catherine annulled). At Framlingham Castle Mary amassed a force of 20,000 men, which marched to London and deposed Jane. There then initially seemed some likelihood that Mary, who had now taken the throne, would spare Jane's life. Queen Mary sent John de Feckenham to Lady Jane in an attempt to convert her to Catholicism.
The Protestant rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt in late January 1554 sealed Jane's fate, although she had nothing to do with it directly. Wyatt's rebellion started as a popular revolt, precipitated by the imminent marriage of Mary to the Catholic Prince Philip (later King of Spain, 1556 - 1598). But Jane's father (the Duke of Suffolk) and other nobles joined the rebellion, calling for Jane's restoration as Queen. Philip and his councillors pressed Mary to execute Jane to put an end to any future focus for unrest. Five days after Wyatt's arrest the execution of Jane and Guildford took place.
On the morning of February 12, 1554, the authorities took Guildford Dudley from his rooms at the Tower of London to the public execution place at Tower Hill and had him beheaded. A horse cart carried his remains back to the Tower of London, past the rooms where Jane remained as a prisoner. Jane was then taken out to Tower Green, inside the Tower of London, for a private execution. With few exceptions, private executions applied to royalty alone; Jane's private execution occurred at the request of Queen Mary, as a gesture of respect for her cousin. John de Feckenham, who had failed to convert Jane, stayed with her during the execution. Jane had determined to go to her death with dignity, but once blindfolded, could not find the executioner's block. She had begun to panic when an unknown hand, possibly de Feckenham, helped her find her way and retain her dignity in the end.
The "traitor-heroine of the Reformation" died at the age of 16 years. No record survives to indicate that her mother made an attempt, request or otherwise, to save her daughter's life; and Jane's father already awaited execution for his part in the Wyatt rebellion. Jane and Guildford lie buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula on the north side of Tower Green. Queen Mary lived for only four years after she ordered the death of her cousin.