On July 10, 1553 Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England four days after the death of fifteen year old King Edward VI. Only sixteen years old, she arrived in London and entered the Tower via barge in anticipation of her coronation. Protestant factions desperately wanted to maintain their hold of the throne but Mary Tudor, a devout Catholic, was meant to succeed her half-brother.
Though Mary was named in the Third Act of Succession as the rightful heir previous Acts signed by her father, King Henry VIII, declared Mary, and later her sister Elizabeth, illegitimate to clear the path for Edward.
During the final months of his life Edward, likely under pressure from his advisors, attempted to change the heir presumptive to Frances Brandon’s children. Brandon was Henry VIII’s Protestant niece making her children ideal candidates for the throne. As she had no male heirs the will was again edited to explicitly name Brandon’s eldest daughter, Jane Grey. Mary fled to East Anglia where she raised troops and rallied supporters. Loyalty to Mary far outweighed the support for Jane. Recognizing their inevitable loss, the Privy Council named Mary as Queen a mere nine days after Jane’s ascension. A victorious Mary entered London in August with enormous fanfare. Jane and her husband, Guildford Dudley, were imprisoned in the Tower.
The story of Lady Jane Grey holds a great deal of mysticism; in part because so little is actually known about her. Most sources about the young queen emerged after her death. She is viewed as the casualty of abusive parents who used their daughter as a political pawn and the victim of a cruel queen who brutally executed a young teenager. Documents show Mary appeared conflicted about how to handle Lady Jane. She recognized Jane did not instigate being placed on the throne, but she still signed numerous documents as “Jane the Quene” and would continue to be a figure for Protestants to rally around. Jane was not even charged with treason and sentenced until November. It was thought that Queen Mary planned to spare her life. Tragically for Jane her father, Henry Grey, took part in Wyatt’s Rebellion to depose Mary. It was only then did Mary green-light the execution.
Jane Grey was executed the morning of February 12, 1554. Along with Jane, Guildford and Grey were also executed.
(Left: Jane Grey, a 1590s copy of a contemporary portrait. Right: Mary Tudor c. 1544 by Hans Eworth)