Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey, or Jane Dudley, (1537–54), a sincere Christian, was proclaimed Queen of England on 10 July 1553, against her will, by her father-in-law the Duke of Northumberland. Mary, the legitimate heir, refused to accept Jane's accension. Jane abdicated nine days later on July 19. As it was clear that she herself had never wanted to be queen, it was another year and a half before she was executed.
Family and Early Life
Jane was the eldest child of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and great-grandson of Elizabeth Woodville, queen to Edward IV, by her first marriage; and Frances Grey, daughter of Mary Tudor sister of Henry VIII. Under the terms of Henry VIII's will and Parliament's Act of Succession, her family would inherit the throne if all Henry's children died without issue.
Henry and Frances were both conniving political schemers who hoped to use their children to gain greater social advantage. Since King Henry had left one son (Edward VI) and two daughters (Mary and Elizabeth), however, they did not seriously expect Frances to become queen in her own right. However, they brought up Jane expecting her to marry the young Edward VI and trained her mercilessly for that goal.
At this time in Henry's reign, the Protestant party was in the ascendancy under his sixth queen, Catherine Parr, a sincere Christian. Therefore, the Greys found Protestant tutors for Jane who educated her in Scripture and the classics: John Aylmer and Dr. Harding, both sincere Christians themselves. To bring Jane to the court's notice, they later sent her to court as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine.
All their sport in the park is but a shadow to that true pleasure I find in Plato... One of the greatest benefits that ever God gave me is that He sent me so sharp and severe parents and so gentle a schoolmaster. For when I am in the presence of either Father or Mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand, or go, eat, drink, be merry, or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing any thing else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectly as God made the world, or else I am so sharply taunted... that I think myself in Hell, till time come that I must go to Mr. Aylmer, who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing whilst I am with him.
As King Edward lay dying, Dudley Duke of Northumberland, who had always snubbed Edward's half-sister and heir Mary, realized that all his plans would go awry and he himself might well be executed or killed if she succeeded. Therefore, he convinced Edward (a strong Protestant who had sponsored the Book of Common Prayer) that it was his responsibility to ensure, by whatever means necessary, that no Roman Catholic ascend the throne. As there was no time to summon Parliament, Edward himself disinherited both his sisters under the excuse that Parliament had previously declared them illegitimate. The throne would then pass to Jane Grey. Upon hearing this, the Lord Chief Justice immediately protested that it was illegal - only Parliament could change the succession. Only when Edward accused him of treason did he and the rest of the Council sign this "devise." Less than a month later, Edward died.
Dudley had kept the king's illness secret, so Jane (whose parents, at Dudley's urging, had forced her to marry his son Guilford) had no idea what had happened when she was summoned to the court at Syon House and proclaimed Queen of England. She burst into tears at the announcement, soon pulling herself together to declare, "The crown is not my right, and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir." Then she sank to her knees in prayer while the entire Council tried to cajole her. Finally, she prayed aloud, "If what hath been given to me is lawfully mine, may Thy divine Majesty grant me such grace that I may govern to Thy glory and service, to the advantage of the realm."
Mary, on the other hand, knew she was the legitimate heir, had resolved to restore England to the Roman Church, and refused to back down in support of someone whom she considered both traitorous and heretical. The English people received Jane's claim with ominous silence, considering her merely a puppet of the deeply unpopular Duke of Northumberland. (Though many of them were staunch Protestants, they did not understand Mary's plans to restore the Roman Church.)
Dudley tried to lure Mary with a message supposedly from Edward, but she was notified it was a trap. She fled to Kenninghall in East Anglia, a port from which she could easily retreat to the Spanish Netherlands, wrote to the Council demanding their allegiance, and began quickly gathering forces.
While Jane herself attended to palace supplies and began mapping out how she would continue establishing the Reformation, Dudley gathered an army to send against Mary. Recognizing his unpopularity, he planned to send Jane's father Henry Grey to lead it; however, Jane herself (in her one political decision) refused to let him stay behind with her. Dudley went, and his army quickly melted away. The Council likewise evaporated to go and swear allegiance to Mary, until finally Jane was left with only her father, Archbishop Cranmer, and Sir John Cheke (Edward's former tutor), while Queen Mary was openly being proclaimed in London. Finally, Jane's father, giving up, ordered the men-at-arms to lay down their weapons and flatly declared to Jane, "You are no longer queen!" She replied, "I willingly relinquish the crown. May I not go home?"
Queen Mary was reluctant to execute Jane, understanding that she (who wrote her explaining as much) had only been forced into being queen. While sentenced to death for high treason (to which she pled guilty), Jane was kept in comfortable prison in the Tower. Jane doubtlessly enjoyed her leisure to study, but she watched with concern as Mary proceeded to reestablish the Roman Church. However, when Thomas Wyatt rebelled in the names of both Elizabeth and Jane, and Queen Mary's fiance Philip of Spain refused to set foot on English soil as long as Jane remained alive, Mary finally felt forced to have Jane executed.
Dr. Feckenham, the Roman Catholic Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, delivered Jane the news and unsuccessfully tried to persuade her to convert to the Roman church. Jane replied that she would rather spend her last hours in prayer than debate. Upon hearing this, Queen Mary replied that she would give Jane a full reprieve if Jane would embrace Roman Catholicism. Jane immediately refused, but consented to debate Feckenham on their points of difference. (This debate is recorded in Foxe's Book of Martyrs.)
Jane and Guilford were both finally executed on 12 February 1554. On the execution block, Jane said:
|“|| Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, indeed, against the queen's highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day.
I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman. I do look to be saved by no other means, but only by the mercy of God, in the blood of His only Son Jesus Christ. I confess that when I did know the word of God, I neglected the same, loved myself and the world, and therefore this plague is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins; and yet I thank God, that of His goodness He hath thus given me a time and respite to repent. And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you assist me with your prayers.
- She then repeated Psalm 51 in English. Her last words were, "Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!"
It is said that when Jane died, the gardeners at her family's mansion stunted all the oaks in the forest in sorrow.
To this very day, the Anglican Communion honors her as a martyr.
- Alison Plowden, "Grey , Lady Jane (1537–1554)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004); major article.
- Lady Jane Grey: Nine Day Queen of England, Faith Cook. (While the author's frequent comments on people's motives and spiritual states intrude on the narrative, this book contains valuable information.)
- "Jane Grey" from englishhistory.net. Includes links to primary sources.
- "Jane the Quene" archived on the Wayback Machine. Contains biographical information about Jane's early life.