12 February 1554 – The Executions of Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley

The Streatham Portrait
The Streatham Portrait
On this day in history, 12th February 1554, Lord Guildford Dudley was beheaded on Tower Hill and his wife Lady Jane Grey, formerly Queen Jane, was beheaded at the Tower of London.

The teenage couple died with dignity and courage, sticking to their Protestant faith right to the end. They were laid to rest in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London.

You can read more about their executions in my article Remembering Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley and you can read a primary source account of their executions in The Executions of Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley: A Primary Source Account.

This month’s Tudor Life magazine is a Lady Jane Grey special – click here to read a sample of it and to find out more.

Rest in peace Queen Jane and Lord Guildford Dudley.

Today is also the anniversary of the death of Blanche Parry, Chief Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber of Elizabeth I, at the age of 82. Click here to read more about her.

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9 thoughts on “12 February 1554 – The Executions of Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley”
    1. I was lucky to see Hampton Court and how exciting to have a 500 year anniversary. I so respect how the British take care of their heritage.

  1. Being that Mary I probably knew Jane was innocent of trying for the crown herself I’ve often thought had she converted to the Catholic faith Mary would have allowed her to live.I have read Mary was more tolerant at the beginning of her reign.

  2. It could be argued that had the Duke of Suffolk and others not gone on and again rebelled to put Jane back on the throne six months after they had been pardoned by Mary, that Jane may have been pardoned at some later date or that she may have been placed on house arrest as Elizabeth was, after her release from the Tower. Jane was not innocent of the decision to put her on the throne; she did protest but only because she claimed her mother had a better claim, not against Mary’s claim. She ordered the rising of an army and gave statutes and proclamations in the name of herself as Jane Regina. She also would have ordered the death of Mary had she won the rebellions that followed; she gave a speech that was written down that confirms that she saw Mary as her enemy and her people as to be condemned without mercy. She was not an innocent victim.

    However, Mary did see her as innocent and as a pawn and was reluctant to execute her cousin. Having faced the Wyatt uprising and that of Jane’s father and father in law; she realized that Jane would never be someone she could leave peacefully at home; she would be used again and again to usurp the throne. Jane was mentioned in the will of Henry VIII after the three Tudor siblings, Lady Frances and Lady Eleanor Brandon and their children. Her sisters and her came after Lady Frances as the grand nieces of Henry VIII and grandchildren of the Princess Mary Tudor, his sister. But the public wanted a Tudor and Mary was very popular. Her marriage to Philip may have not had all the public support but the people still supported her and not the claims of the Greys. Mary had no choice but to try and execute her cousin, but that does not mean that she would have prefared not to have done so. Mary condemned her with reluctance and her husband as her co-conspirator for he had wanted to be King even though Jane had refused to make him so.

    The one thing that gains sympathy with audiances concerning Jane again is her youth; she was sixteen, just a young woman, today she would be considered a child; but not at that time. Jane and Guildford could be executed because they were legally adult and so responsible. This was a time when many crimes were met by the death penalty, some of them petty. This was a time when the definition of an adult was blurred and when young people of fourteen and fifteen could be executed for crimes, theft, murder, fraud, treason, heresy, and an entire list of many lesser crimes. In the 18th century over 200 crimes held the death penalty and still people we would consider children were victims of these terrible laws. Whatever we think of Jane, she was still a young woman and her death is a tragic loss, partly for herself, partly of a scholar. But these were times that took no account of such things. Finally, the classic image of Jane’s execution, that of a girl, young, pretty, youthful in her graceful demeanor is helped, blingfolded to find the block is one that raises the imagination and pity of the modern mind and so it should; for if we harden to the terrors of the past, then we do not learn from them or progress to a more forgiving time.

    1. Thank you for yr. contribution. However, it is not true that Mary was elected by popular consent. This is typical historical bias to which most historians propagate. if Jane had retained the queenship our histories would present an entirely different narrative on all counts. Read Ives and Loades, these are authentic historians. Reality is that Mary was decided by personal animosities and ambitions within the Privy Council, followed by some luck.

      A couple of much more minor points: Yes, Mary was reluctant to execute but her entourage panicked during the uprising, exaggerating the imminence of its success, and that is when the decision was made. It was not quite the reasonable one you suggest (again, historical bias in favor of the resulting status quo). Also, no one knows Jane’s age — sixteen or seventeen is just the usual guess.

  3. BanditQueen:

    I think Jane was quite innocent of everything.She may have given speeches and signed documents while being coerced by her father in law and the rest of her family.We will probably never be sure.I think judging from her reactions on being informed that she was made queen should testify whether she really wanted it or not.Most sources report of her being most reluctant to have anything to do with it.As to her claiming that her mother deserved the throne I think that’s rather unlikely as well if she declared for anyone it was most likely Mary I.

    1. Mrdfiennes, I don’t think you have too much to substantiate what you think. Jane was an ardent anti-Catholic so it is unlikely she would ever have declared for Mary and in fact, she never did. I agree she did not choose the role thrust on her by her father.

      I understand why Mary, like her father before her and her sister after her, was too afraid to forgive, but executing these children was a dreadful act and some alternative should have been sought. This is a shameful act like her grandfather’s execution of a mentally handicapped young man.

    2. Although some earlier authors have tried to show Jane as a victim, she was in reality nothing of the sort as the sources show. Her hesitation has been mistakenly taken to mean she protested that the crown belonged to Mary, when in fact she was protesting against her mother being overlooked. The sources show Jane as smart, a fanatic, strong in her convictions, and De Lisle compared her to Joan of Arc. Jane was neither coerced or bullied by her family, but acted on her own convictions and decisions. She proclaimed that the supporters of Mary Tudor should be destroyed in the proclamation to raise troops, she was capable of ruthlessness if needed. Mary Tudor did forgive the rebels, it was only when Jane’s father, having been pardoned, raised troops again that she was faced with the reality that Jane would always be the focus of rebellion and usurpation. The political reality faced by monarchs could be cruel, forcing them to make harsh, ruthless decisions. Most historians agree that Mary reluctantly put Jane and her husband on trial, several months after two failed attempts to place them on the throne. We cannot judge by modern standards, we can only analysis the political reality of the times. Neither should we see them as children, the law recognized them as fully adult and responsible for their own actions. It’s a tragedy that they were executed in the flower of young adulthood, Jane showed promise as a scholar and a woman. But neither should we judge anyone too harshly for the decision to execute them, they were offered a way out, it was their choice to reject that offer of life. As convinced Protestants neither Dudley or Jane could or would change their faith and live, they were as devoted to their beliefs as Mary Tudor was to hers. Both were guilty of seizing the crown, both were dangerous to the government, Mary made a reluctant, but necessary decision, to her it was a matter of survival.

      1. Helen Caster the author of She Wolves the women who ruled before Elizabeth, sees the lawful legitimacy as being with Mary, she also gives the best explanation of the My Device for the Succession, put together by Edward in the last weeks of his life. It had John Dudley, Jane’s father in law, behind it, but clearly Edward thought it out well, altering it until the urgency of his health failing, the final form sets aside Lady Frances, her mother and before Jane in the natural order of succession, in favour of Jane, and her heirs. Jane and her sister Katherine had been married the previous year, and Edward quickly got it that they were the best option for a continuous Protestant, legitimate succession. Lady Frances would be passed over on the basis of age and the future production capacity of her daughter.

        Both Leanda De Lisle and Helen Caster confirm that Frances was summoned to the palace and obliged to accept Jane over her, Jane was given the news, but her own words, documentary sources and letters confirm her shock was short-lived and protest in favour of her mother, not Mary. Dr Stephen Edwards confirmed that Jane had no regard but to accept the crown willingly and to use her powers fully. Modern historians agree that the brow beatings, the forced acceptance and marriage are nothing but a romantic myth. Your ideas may have been substantiated by authors who have populated this myth into the classic heroic story we know today from film and children’s books.

        Frances carried her daughter’s train when she came to the Tower in procession and made her acceptance speech. She was at her side when Jane gave the order to raise troops to attack Mary. She used her power to order that her husband, Guildford should not be king, acting independently, and to forbid the return of the Mass. We have several letters and written declarations from even her time in prison, showing her continuous role as an evangelical and leader. Articles on the blog of Helen Caster have several references to show that Jane was far from the innocent people have been led to believe. Yes, her death was a tragic passing that had its origins in the desperate paranoid fears of a teenage King who first could not countenance the fact that a woman would rule, but had no other choice, then could not name a sister to rule, nor a Catholic, as Mary Tudor was, nor any bastard sister, as he declared that both Mary and Elizabeth were. Realizing that he would not live another year, with the health that had so far been robust, declining suddenly from Autumn 1552, and failing by Spring 1553, Edward knew that he had to ignore the law, the will of his own father and Parliament and do what he believed would secure his reforms and a Protestant succession. He died in that belief that July, but his vision lasted a mere thirteen days. Edward reckoned without the population who supported Mary, the strength and determination of his sister, and the fact that the majority of people were still Catholic. Mary Tudor was Henry’s daughter and she easily rallied support that saw her legitimately on the throne. She was gracious in victory, she forgave and released most of the plotters, including Jane’s parents. Jane gave Mary a problem, but it is certain that had she not continued to be the focus of plots to replace Mary with her that she may well have been pardoned. Mary Tudor, in the end had no choice but to try and execute Jane and Guildford Dudley, who was not a child, or an innocent victim but something of a leader, made out of the desperate fight to win out against fear born from inherent Tudor paranoia.

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