Although my fault be such that but for the goodness and clemency of the Queen, I can have no hope of finding pardon.

Lady Jane Grey was born in 1537, the same year as Prince Edward. Her mother was Frances Brandon, the daughter of King Henry’s sister Mary. Her father was Henry Grey, Earl of Dorset, later Duke of Suffolk. She was given the education befitting a princess. John Aylmer, a young Cambridge scholar and strict Protestant, became her tutor and treated her kindly. Later Dr. Harding taught her French, Greek, Spanish and Italian and she also learned music and dancing. She was dressed as befitted a lady of royal blood and told she had a destiny more noble than her younger sisters.

Possible portrait of Lady Jane Grey (or her sister Katherine), Syon House

In 1547 she moved in with the Queen Dowager, Katherine Parr, and her new husband Thomas Seymour. She was joined by Princess Elizabeth. Jane’s father had given her as ward to Seymour in hope of advancing her marriage prospects. There was an understanding that she would marry King Edward. Seymour’s liaison with Elizabeth, and the death of Queen Katherine, brought Jane’s future in his household in doubt. As Jane acted out her role as chief mourner for Katherine her parents had already requested her return. Thomas Seymour ended his days on the block accused of treason.

Although descriptions of Jane’s appearance are unverifiable she probably tended toward the Tudor coloring of red or fair hair and pale skin. She was modest and cultivated and was renowned in intellectual circles on her learning. She was the polar opposite of Mary in religion being as devout a Protestant as Mary a Catholic. Both were intolerant of those who held different beliefs from themselves. When Jane visited Mary in 1550 she was horrified at the regular masses celebrated in the chapel and denounced this as superstitious idolatry. Mary was not amused but continued to think kindly of her cousin and send her gifts. On the state visit of Mary of Guise, regent of Scotland, Mary heard Jane was to attend court and sent her a dress of gold and velvet with parchment lace of gold. Jane, who was now following an austere and simple form of dress, asked what was she to do with it. Her parents made her wear it. “Nay that were a shame to follow my Lady Mary against God’s word, and leave my Lady Elizabeth, which followeth God’s word,” was her answer. Unperturbed, that Christmas, while staying with Jane’s family, Mary presented Jane with a necklace of gold and pearls. Their relationship changed abruptly in 1553.

The Duke of Northumberland, trying to retain the reins of power, succeeded in persuading the dying Edward to alter the succession in favor of Jane. Both Mary and Elizabeth were excluded on account of their unaltered ‘illegitimacy’, as was Jane’s mother Frances, probably on the grounds that she could not be so easily ruled as her young daughter. With the blessing of her parents, and against her own protestations, Jane was wed to Northumberland’s son Lord Guilford Dudley on May 25, 1553. On July 9th she was taken by barge to Syon House. There she was surprised to see the whole council waiting and was even more astonished when they knelt before her. Northumberland informed her of the death of the king and, because of Edward’s new devise for the succession, she was now Queen Jane. After a spell of faintness, she announced, “The crown is not my right, and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir.” Northumberland was angered and her parents reminded her of the duty she owed them. In this atmosphere of coercion Jane finally submitted saying “If what hath been given to me is lawfully mine, may Thy Divine Majesty grant me such spirit and grace that I may govern to Thy glory and service, and to the advantage of the realm.” She was not yet sixteen.

The next day she continued to London by barge to take residence in the Tower of London as was customary for sovereigns before their coronation. The citizens of London took the news silently, feeling Mary should be queen, but wary of the strong military presence in the city. Jane was settled in the Tower where the crown jewels were brought to her. She once again rebuked but again was forced do Northumberland’s bidding by trying on the crown. That evening, though, she showed her Tudor colors by declaring to her husband that he would never be King, instead she would create him a duke, much to his distress.

For the next few days her routine consisted of meetings with her councillors, signing state papers, and living in fear and dread of Northumberland. By the 12th of July, it seemed inevitable that there would be an armed confrontation with the forces that Mary was quickly amassing. Northumberland assembled troops and promised them a month’s pay in advance. He ordered war ships up the coast to prevent Mary from escaping. Silent crowds watched the army and Northumberland leave the city. Almost as soon as he was gone, the councillors who were still undecided on the validity of Jane’s accession, quickly abandoned her and took up with Mary’s supporters. Queen Jane had continued to hold audiences and began her plans to bring a rigid form of Protestantism to the Church of England, but by the 19th she heard the cheers of the city and the peeling of bells and could not have assumed they were for her. When her father arrived and told her she was no longer queen she was relieved. Northumberland was arrested on the 20th before there had been any armed conflict. Jane’s mother, Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk found her way to Mary and begged mercy. Mary told her that she and her husband and Jane would not be harmed. Jane, though, was still prisoner, installed in the Gentleman Jailer of the Tower’s house next to the Beauchamp tower where the Dudley family were held. 

Mary was adamant that she would not execute Jane because she believed that Jane as a pawn of Northumberland. “My conscience,” said Mary, “will not permit me to have her put to death.” Jane had written Mary a letter giving an account of her nine days as queen and made no excuses for herself only expressing regret that she had accepted the crown. Mary was hopeful that things would quiet down and she could release Jane back to her private life. I am sure Mary remembered herself at sixteen and how she too had been persuaded to act against her will in order to save her life. Jane’s confinement was relaxed and she was allowed to go on walks with her husband. She was told she was going to stand trial but also that a royal pardon would be promised.

On November 14, 1553 Jane and her husband and his brothers were tried in the Guildhall in London and all were condemned to death. They returned to the Tower and Mary continued to say that she would not have the sentences carried out. Unfortunately for Jane it was a rebellion in which she played no part that sealed her fate. On news that Mary was to marry Philip of Spain, an anti-Spanish revolt, Wyatt’s Rebellion, threatened Mary’s rule. Jane’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, gave his support if Wyatt agreed to overthrow Mary and place Jane on the throne. With Wyatt’s arrest Mary’s council urged her to be rid of all others who could be a focus of future rebellions. Mary reluctantly agreed and signed the death warrant for Jane, her father, and Guildford. In one last attempt to save Jane’s soul, Mary sent the Abbott of Westminster to try to persuade Jane to convert to Catholicism. Although he wrote to Mary to delay the execution a few days as Jane gave evidence of capitulating, in the end Jane stood by her beliefs. Her father sent her letters of remorse of his treatment of her and she told him that she remained his obedient daughter.

On the 12 of February 1554 she was led to the Tower Green where the block was waiting for her. She said her prayers and seemed very composed until she was blindfolded and felt unsuccessfully for the block. She panicked and cried, “What shall I do? Where is it?” A bystander helped her hands to the block on which she laid down her head. She was buried under the altar of St Peter ad Vincula, in the Tower, next to queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delroche 1833
Books about Lady Jane Grey: Crown of Blood by Nicola Tallis, Lady Jane Grey Nine Days Queen by Alison Plowden, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen by Leanda De Lisle