And you thought King Henry went through queens in a hurry. This is a brief yet interesting bio about Lady Jane Grey who was born in 1536 and died in 1554. Yep, Jane bit it when she was only 18 years old. That in itself wasn’t entirely unusual for many people during the Renaissance Era. After all, there was no such thing as penicillin and the sewage in England wasn’t the best, consisting of a full bed pan, an open window and the street below. Ick. It wasn’t fun being a passerby with bad timing. There was more than one reason to invent the umbrella, you know.
Anyway. Jane was King Henry VII’s great-granddaughter, and the only daughter of Duke Henry Grey and Lady Frances Brandon. They were a couple of jerks. They physically and verbally abused little Jane, but fortunately, the child spent most of the day with a nanny. She was once heard to say: For when I am in the presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything 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, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) … that I think myself in hell.
Who would have thought a privileged young woman living in luxury actually survived a house of horrors? You just never know. Her mother Frances was the daughter of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, who was Henry VIII’s younger sister. Blue blood just streamed through this family’s veins. As she grew, Jane gained a reputation as one of the most learned young women of her day.
There was a light at the end of Jane’s unhappy tunnel. In early February 1547, Jane was sent to live in the house of Thomas Seymour and his wife, Catherine Parr, the last wife of the late Henry VIII. That means Jane now lived with the Queen of England and her husband until the Queen’s death in childbirth in September 1548. Jane acted as chief mourner (the hostess with the mostess, I guess) at Catherine”s funeral, and Thomas let her keep living with him until he was arrested and executed at the end of 1548. Among other things, Thomas Seymour was charged with proposing Jane as a royal bride.
Finally it was Jane’s turn to wed. On 5 May 1553, she married Lord Guildford Dudley, the son of the Duke of Northumberland. So money really marries money. This was a big step up for Jane and her parents. Her father-in-law was then the most powerful man in the country. This, however, would prove to be Jane’s downfall. Henry VIII’s will had an interesting clause in it that reinforced the succession of his three children if they left heirs. If they didn’t, the throne passed to heirs of his younger sister, Mary Tudor, which included Jane. This sneaky move effectively nixed Jane’s mother Frances from becoming Queen, as she should have been next in line for the throne. I believe that’s what is known as Karma.
After Henry VIII died, his 15-year-old son by Jane Seymour, Edward VI, took over the throne. Hooray. Henry finally had his male heir and he went to his grave thinking his son would rule as King of England for many years. Alas, it wasn’t to be and when Edward became terminally ill, Jane’s father-in-law, Duke of Northumberland, made his move and influenced (read bullied) Edward into naming Jane as his successor. As the young man lay dying on his death-bed, he actually went ahead and nominated our little Jane as successor to the crown. Holy crap! Overnight Jane went from abused youngster to the Queen of England. Suddenly, her parents loved her and couldn’t do enough to keep her happy. I wonder if it had something to do with possibly being sent to the gallows?
On 9 July Jane was informed that she was now queen. You’d think Jane would jump with joy but she smelled a rat in the form of her father-in-law and she accepted the crown with reluctance. She had no choice. The next day, she was officially proclaimed Queen of England after she had taken up secure residence in the Tower of London. Jane didn’t have a good feeling about all of this and she went so far as to refuse to name her husband, Dudley, as King of England which was precisely what father-in-law Duke of Northumberland had been after in the first place. He must have been apoplectic with rage. Perhaps he even felt betrayed. He’d worked hard to get his daughter-in-law on the throne and she refused to return the honor and bestow the monarchy upon his son.
Never mind. There wasn’t time to dwell on this irksome move. Northumberland had to capture Lady Mary, Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, to prevent her from gathering support and overthrowing Jane from the throne. Northumberland set out from London with troops to claim his foe but in his absence the Privy Council (advisor to the King or Queen) traded their loyalty from Jane to Mary. While Northumberland was out trying to capture Mary and throw her in the dungeon, the Privy Council proclaimed her queen in London on 19 July. Sadly for Jane, the majority of supporters were on Mary’s side and they celebrated Mary’s succession. That didn’t bode well for Jane.
Jane was imprisoned in the Tower’s Gentleman Gaoler’s apartments, and her husband was imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower. The Duke of Northumberland was executed on 22 August 1553. Jane heard about his conduct on the day of his execution: he blubbered and fought like a coward as they dragged him up the steps to have his head axed off. She was quoted as saying with a sarcastic voice, “I hope I don’t die so poorly.” Jane’s parents visited her once while she was in the apartments. They admitted there was nothing they could do to help her and they hightailed it out of there before someone executed them, too. In September, Jane’s proclamation was that of a usurper, and she and her husband were charged with high treason.
Jane was found guilty of having signed a number of documents as “Jane the Queen.” Her harrowing sentence was to “be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases”. Jane’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, and his two brothers joined Wyatt’s Rebellion, a backlash against Queen Mary for declaring her intention to marry the King of Spain. Although Jane herself had nothing to do with the rebellion or her father’s decision to enter into it, this sealed her fate and the government set Jane’s execution date. Guildford was executed on 12 February, 1554.
Jane gave a speech upon ascending the scaffold where she was to be executed by (thank God) axe and not fire:
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.
The executioner asked her forgiveness, which she granted him, and in return she begged him, “I pray you dispatch me quickly.” Referring to her head, she asked, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?”, and the axe man answered: “No, madam.” Jane’s father was executed 11 days after Jane, on 23 February 1554. One year later, her mother married her Master of the Horse.
Jane was as much a victim as she was Queen, perhaps more so. She was a female of royal lineage and the monarchy married strictly for political reasons. Women in particular were pawns in this game. Jane was forced by her father and father-in-law into marrying Guildford Dudley as part of a plot to get her onto the throne as Queen of England. She lived only 9 days after she accepted the crown, fully aware that public support was against her, and that Mary was the rightful heir to the throne. She must have been a very frightened, helpless girl. One good thing: Jane was very devoted to the Protestant faith and after her death she was esteemed as a martyr. Her father and father-in-law were not remembered so well.