Lady Jane Grey has become an iconic Tudor victim: virginal and sweet and known as the “Nine-day Queen”. This is the story about the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger, and favourite sister, Mary Tudor. Jane was a tiny, red-haired, red-lipped slip of a girl who accepted her new role wearing platform shoes to give her more height. Her complexion was freckled and her lovely smile showed off perfectly white teeth.
Jane’s mother Frances bore a strong resemblance to her uncle Henry VIII and was a stout, bejewelled woman who was determined to have her own way and greedy for power and riches. She ruled her husband and her daughters tyrannically and, in the case of the latter, often cruelly. A Tudor trait, it would seem.
By the time Jane was fifteen, her cousin Edward was a sick young man who knew he was dying, as did his experienced advisor, an ambitious man by the name of John Dudley Duke of Northumbria, one of the executors of Henry VIII’s will. As well as ambition, Dudley had two eligible unmarried sons, the eldest being Lord Guildford Dudley. All he had to do was hint to Jane’s parents that their daughter could be the first eligible female in the line of succession to the throne if Princess Mary were to be written out of the will. It shouldn’t be too hard since Mary was a Catholic and both Edward and Jane were staunch Protestants. Then if Jane should marry his son to help her rule the country, there was no end to the power both their families would have.
It didn’t take too much convincing and Frances agreed wholeheartedly and the wedding went ahead. At the time, we wonder if Jane actually had any idea of Dudley’s plans. Even if she did, there was nothing she could do about it anyway. She was quite literally, trapped.
Jane was barely married for six weeks when Edward died. Sure enough, he had named Jane as his heir to the throne in place of his Catholic sister Mary Tudor.
Jane was stunned. She trembled from head to toe as she stood speechless before breaking into tears. Her stomach must have been clenched in fear. Through the sobs she cried, “The crown is not my right and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir.” Regardless of her protestations, the following morning Jane was dressed in the green and white of the Tudors and her husband was adorned with white and gold.
Unfortunately for Jane, it seemed the country did not share Edward’s love for the Dudleys. It also seemed that at least nine-tenths were in Mary’s favour. Not only that, but since female rule was considered unnatural, it was assumed that Jane’s husband and her father-in-law would take effective command. Leaving the widely hated Dudleys ruling England.
The Marquees of Winchester knelt to present the keys of the tower to Jane but Dudley quickly stepped forward and took them, making it clear who was the power behind the throne. Guns rang out in salute and silk flags waved in the bright afternoon sunshine as Jane proceeded to the White Tower. Like several of her ancestors, she would never leave again.
Inside the Tower, Jane sat silently amongst the councillors as they argued on top of each other, each voice louder than the next. Finally, in the mayhem, it was Winchester who stood up and bellowed for quiet. In the silence, he walked forward and handed the crown to Jane and insisted she wear it ‘to see how it fitted’. It was with trepidation that Jane took the crown. As she placed it on her head, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Nine days later, Mary led her vast army into London wearing purple velvet trimmed with gold and a chain encrusted with gems to the cheers of everyone. When she arrived at the tower, Dudley’s supporters were already on their knees. She kissed each one of them on the cheek and said sweetly ‘You are my prisoner’. In that promise, she included Jane, her husband and her father. After only nine days, the reign of Queen Jane was over.
Mary never treated Jane as a prisoner. While waiting for her trial, Jane was allowed to walk the gardens within the Tower precincts with her two maids and she was also offered her life in return for her agreeing to follow the Catholic faith. As expected, Jane refused. While her father Suffolk was pardoned, Jane and her husband were tried for high treason in November 1553. Jane pleaded guilty and was solemnly sentenced to death.
Within nine days of being queen, she had been imprisoned by Mary Tudor, tried and convicted of treason, and at only 16-years-old, through no fault of her own, she was beheaded on February 12th 1554. For a timid sixteen year old who had only been married for two months and a crowned queen for a week, it must have been with exceptional strength to walk to the scaffold and lay her head on the block.
It isn’t hard to picture a beautiful summer’s day and imagine the sound of horses thundering by with the news that Jane would be Queen. And no one will ever know how England would have turned out under the rule of Queen Jane. One could only hope that it would have turned out less ‘Bloody’ than under the rule of her cousin Mary.
As it turned out, England would soon see that Mary had quite a bit of her father, Henry VIII, in her and not her gentle mother, after all.