On this day in history, 13th November 1553, Lady Jane Grey (former Queen Jane), her husband Lord Guildford Dudley, his brothers Ambrose and Henry, and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, were tried for treason in a public trial at Guildhall in London.

They were all found guilty and were condemned to death, the men being sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, and Jane to be burned alive or beheaded.

Click here to read more.

Photo: Guildhall, London, by Tim Ridgway.

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14 thoughts on “13 November 1553 – A former queen condemned to death”
  1. I realize she was only queen for 13 days but I still feel she is more important than she seems to be treated. It seems she is barely thought of in the dearth of Tudor history books out there and none seem to agree on whether she was a willing participant in taking the crown or bullied into it by her parents and John Dudley.

    Regardless of who insisted on Jane’s execution this was an early black mark on Mary’s reign.

  2. Jane actually reigned for nine days, she is known as the nine day queen, we cannot say really if her execution was a black mark in Marys reign as according to her she was an usurper and therefore a traitor, and so Mary only treated her how previous kings and those that came after treated traitors, – with execution, she was reluctant to send her to her death and it was only after pressure from Spain and a foolish plot in her name to try to topple Mary from her throne that sealed her fate, and caused her sad death, she was a figurehead for rebellion through no fault of her own, it was her royal blood that caused her death, Jane did not want the crown she was a highly intelligent girl who loved to study, she was no pleasure loving giddy girl like the other equally tragic Queen Catherine Howard, she was also a fanatical Protestant, and her faith meant a lot to her and it was something she was not prepared to forego even when it could have saved her life, it was a complete shock when she was told Edward had named her his successor, her parents had thought they had mapped out a brilliant future for her as queen when in reality they had led her to the scaffold.

      1. History has called her “the Nine Day Queen” but as several historians have pointed out, a monarch rules from the death of the previous monarch and not from the moment that they are officially proclaimed monarch. Edward VI died on 6th July 1553 and Jane was deposed on 19th July 1553 so officially she ruled for 13 days.

        1. Hi Claire yes I recall now she did reign officially for thirteen days but she’s always known as the nine day queen, maybe she should be known officially as the thirteen day queen.

  3. When you think that today in major trials there are pre trial arguments to establish if a real case has been established and if there is a case to answer, then evidence is evaluated for months before an actual trial, holding the trial of five major conspirators on capital crimes in one day really is a rush to justice. Jane and her husband were condemned to death and the brothers, Ambrose and Henry were also condemned but later released and Thomas Cranner was condemned as a traitor for proclaiming Jane and for openly supporting her. He had continued in that support, promoting Jane and issuing tracts against Mary even as she was declared Queen. He was to be charged with heresy as well at a later date, because he had made the laws which turned England into a Reformed country, had declared those beliefs and converted the country to heresy, according to the charges against him. He would die as a Protestant martyr in 1556. Guildford and Jane were kept as comfortable prisoners in the Tower, given leave to walk the grounds and at one point it looked as if Mary intended to issue a pardon, but a second rebellion in which her father participated ended all chances of that.

    The Wyatt Rebellion 1554 was meant to put Princess Elizabeth on the throne but Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk supported it, after he was pardoned and released. It was considered that Jane was too dangerous and would have been a mark for Protestant discontent. Jane was offered her life if she converted to the Catholic faith which would make her useless to further plotters. However, Jane had a genuine personal faith and stood by it. Although John Knox claimed her as a Protestant martyr, Jane was not killed because of her faith, but her acceptance of the crown, to which it was deemed she had no right.

    Jane was not bullied into accepting the crown or marrying Guildford Dudley, for whom she developed real affection. Edward vi made Jane his heir with the help and advice of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who sold the idea to the rest of the Council. His Devise for the Succession overruled the lawful will of Henry Viii and the 1544 Third Act of Succession which left the crown to his three children, but didn’t restore the legitimacy of Mary and Elizabeth. It made special provision to allow their succession and that the King could make who he wished as successor. Provision was also made for each monarch to change things. Edward excluded Mary as a Catholic and because she was legally illegitimate, although the majority of people held her as legitimate and so the rightful Queen. He excluded Elizabeth also as illegitimate because of Anne Boleyn. He overlooked the claim of Jane’s mother, Lady Frances Brandon (Grey) Duchess of Suffolk and it was settled that his cousin was the next heir and her male heirs. The Devise was signed by a Council who later claimed Northumberland bullied them and abandoned Jane to proclaim Mary, was read and agreed by the Judges under Letters Patent and would have been made Law when Parliament met. However, Edward died before Parliament met and so the Devise never became Law. Therefore as Henry’s lawful daughter and next in line Mary was the rightful Queen and Jane a rebel and usurper and this is what Mary and the people believed. Mary had the popular support and was able to defeat Jane’s father and father in law with ease. In a bloodless coup she took London and was proclaimed before cheering crowds.

    As Jane had issued orders and willingly signed proclamations calling for the destruction of Mary and her supporters she was judged to have accepted the crown and acted in rebellion of the true Queen. Jane showed some reluctance to accept the crown, knowing that it was not hers by right, but very quickly accepted and issued orders for an army to stop Mary. There are numerous letters signed Jane the Quene and for thirteen days she sat and ate under the cloth of state and prepared for her coronation. This was the type of evidence that was used against her and her husband. However, Mary herself saw her young cousin as s pawn and was very reluctant to carry out the sentence. After the Wyatt Rebellion which was not in her favour, but could have been Mary was advised by her council, the Spanish Ambassador and others that Jane would be a target for the crown again. Mary’s life would not be safe and she couldn’t let her live. Reluctantly Mary signed the death warrant and both Jane and Guildford Dudley were executed in February 1554.

    Jane was a bright and well educated young woman. She was lively as well as an excellent scholar and she had potential to have a successful life. Unfortunately she found herself on the throne instead of Mary Tudor and any chance of a normal life was lost. Because a set of radical nobles, one with no noble blood, decided they couldn’t accept a Catholic Queen, Jane and her husband were set up by their parents to be the chosen heirs of King Edward. Edward was all too willing to make Jane his heir, although he said her male heirs at first but realised that he would not live long enough to see Jane have sons, so changed his will to name Jane first. Thrust into a role that she was not trained for or intended to have, Jane nevertheless took her powers as Queen seriously and possibly would have made a decent monarch. Her potential was lost with this Devise because Mary was never going to accept being set aside. The tragedy of Jane is that we lost a woman of high learning who had so much to offer. Jane was not just an innocent victim, but much more and the powerless lamb going to the slaughter of Victorian myth has given way to a real person, thanks to modern research. If I was going to recommend any study it would be Crown of Blood by Nichola Tallis and The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey by Leanne de Lisle and for a more in depth study of her motivation, the legitimacy of her claim, Eric Ives Jane Grey A Tudor Mystery is excellent. Jane was as devout and as fanatical about her religious convictions as Mary Tudor was and her debate with Father Freckingham in prison gives a clear picture of her learning and faith. He respected Jane and he remained to comfort her, at her own request, on the scaffold.

    1. I’d second your recommendations of the books by Leanda de Lisle and Eric Ives, and I’d also add the work of J Stephan Edwards (https://somegreymatter.com/) and Tamise Hills (Texthttp://www.ladyjanegrey.info/). All excellent.

      The situation in 1553 was a real quagmire. How can you find these people guilty of treason when they were following the instructions left by the king. Edward named Jane as his successor, he made his wishes plain and these people were simply following that. I always wonder what would have happened to Jane if Wyatt’s Rebellion hadn’t happened or her father hadn’t been implicated, but I’m sure there would have been another rebellion or trouble of some kind, plus Mary was being pressurised by Spain to deal with the situation.

      1. This is what I find reprehensible about Jane being tried and executed for treason as all she did was accept the throne having being named Edwards lawful successor, she had no hand in his devise for the succession as his will stated, she did not coerce him to name her his heir, Edward was Henrys lawful heir, he was born legitimate ,there were no issues over his birth like his two sisters, therefore he was perfectly in his right to ignore his fathers previous will and make his own, as you say Claire how can these people be found guilty of treason when all they were doing was obeying Edwards final wishes, how can that be construed as treason? I think to execute a young girl for simply obeying the late kings wishes and members of the council to is a dreadful travesty of justice as they were actually saying his will was of no account, how so? he had been Englands King, did not his word matter, it seems it didn’t but then it was a very real problem and one which Henry V111 himself didn’t help as he had declared both Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate yet put them in the succession, to the Catholics she was the legal heir after Edward and Elizabeth was the bastard, poor Jane did nothing wrong yet she paid the ultimate price because Edwards wishes were overruled, and if she were innocent then Mary was the one in the wrong and she was the one who usurped Janes throne, not the other way round.

        1. Apparently she when she was offered the crown she said “If it is God’s will and the late King’s I will accept the crown.” Jane was also reported to have, at her execution, made a speech, forgave the heads man for decapitating her, tied the blindfold over her eyes, knelt down and groped for the block. Not finding it apparently she cried out “What shall I do? Where is it?” Poor Jane.

      2. I don’t think Mary thought Jane was anything but a pawn, but then with pressure and possibly the realisation that she was always going to be a focus for an alternative rebellion, she did what the person on the throne does, has a rival executed. Mary saw herself as the lawful Monarch and that’s what a lawful Monarch does, declares the ‘wrong’ monarch a rebel and traitor. It was always so. The two sides in the Wars of the Roses both called the other lot traitors and Henry Vii even backdated his reign in order to declare anyone fighting for King Richard iii a traitor and Richard had declared him a traitor when as Earl of Richmond he made his move. It may have been Edward’s will but clearly as far as Mary was concerned it was wrong and acceptance of the crown a terrible sin. It might not make sense to us, but I am sure these King’s and Queens found a way to justify what happened. The trial could only have touched on the matter, for five people to be tried and condemned in one day, just how much evidence would be looked at. I am guessing the court is told yes Edward gave the instructions but this lot went along with it or even plotted it, so that’s it they’re guilty. There must be some theory that fitted. Certainly you can justify Northumberland being guilty of treason as he was partly the architect and wanted to try and stop Mary and Elizabeth by arresting them and using force. If Mary was the next heir, and I believe that she was, unless Edward’s will was backed by Parliament, then preventing her from being escorted to London and proclaimed was an act of rebellion. It is also interesting that in her despatched orders to raise an army Jane does declare Mary and her supporters rebels. Once Jane accepted the crown she did decide to rule and use her power as expected, because she believed it was God’s will that she was Queen. Whoever is in charge is making the rules, regardless of who was right. Once you have power and in Mary’s case, popular support, that’s it, you can call anything treason, even oif they are only carrying out your brothers instructions.

        1. She new Northumberland was the architect of it all and it was a battle between those of the old religion and the new, but Edward at sixteen was old enough to have a voice of his own and one thing he abhorred was Roman Catholicism, I doubt if he needed much if any persuasion, like any male he also did not believe women were fit to rule and yet if she was Protestant like Jane that wasn’t so bad, when Mary herself died she wished Elizabeth would retain the old faith but it wasn’t to be, Elizabeth herself was not fanatical about her faith unlike her brother, sister and cousin Jane, it was a dreadful thing what happened in England at that time, first she lost a young king in his prime so much talent withered and decayed, the King England had waited for for so many years, then she had a queen who was deposed, or usurped depending on what way you think, another talented young life perished with so much promise like Edward.

  4. She had no choice but to accept the crown having been named Edwards successor, it was not something you could barter with, yes I agree her end was dreadful and I don’t think her death was justice as she was innocent of the crime for which she was condemned, she was simply murdured an utter disgrace!

  5. According to what I have read the man Mary was to marry did not want ant threat to the throne and felt that Jane was and therefore Mary had her killed even though she and her husband were practically children. However, Mary also lost her head when Elizabeth came to power.

    1. Just what are you talking about? Mary didn’t die when Elizabeth came to power.

      Are you talking about Mary Queen of Scots? She was executed by Elizabeth in 1587. Mary Tudor, Mary I died of illness on 17th November 1558. Elizabeth I was her successor.

      From what little sense your comments make, I assume you are speaking about Prince Philip of Spain, future King Philip II, the husband of Queen Mary I? He wasn’t much involved in the ruling of England by means of a special treaty Mary made with Spain. Mary had not even married him during this time. He had nothing to do with Jane’s fate or her trial, that is a myth. Some older history books make this statement but Geoffrey Parker an expert on Philip and Henry Kelsey another expert on his time in England have dismissed this theory. After the second rebellion which involved Suffolk, Jane’s father, it was the Ambassador and her own English Council who advised Mary to finally execute her young cousin. Henry Kamen also makes this clear in his book.

      Jane and her husband were about sixteen or seventeen, so yes, adults according to the times but very young and easily manipulated, but also not entirely victims either. The second rebellion sealed their fates.

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