With so many defining and intriguing Tudor characters throughout the 1485-1603 time periods; it was a little hard for me to pick just one person that I found fascinating with the exception of Anne Boleyn; of course that one is a given! However, one particular person stood out the most to me in the end; though some may not even think to look twice at her. The process of me reinventing my liking for this woman began a few weeks ago when flipping through the movies section of Netflix. Having noted that I was watching The Tudors on there, it suggested that I watch the 1986 film Lady Jane, among other “Tudor” related movies. I decided to watch it and while I know to take most of the movie with a grain of salt; I couldn’t help but be moved and reminded of her compassion, intelligence, and her will to stand up for what she believed in which was shown—not only in the movie, but also in the book I had read about a year ago by Alison Weir, titled Innocent Traitor. After watching Lady Jane and remembering how she was portrayed in Innocent Traitor and along with everything I have read about Lady Jane Grey throughout the past couple of years, I began to have a re-enlightened respect for her. She was and still is someone who deserves that respect because of not only what she went through at such a young age, but also what she did with the short life she had.
Lady Jane Grey was born to Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk and his wife, Lady Frances Brandon who was the daughter of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor (the sister of Henry VIII). Her exact date of birth is debated and unknown; however, it’s placed either in October of 1537, around the time Edward VI was born, or during the spring of 1537 (with some reports even saying she may have been born in late 1536). She was the oldest child out of the three girls born to Henry and Frances; the other two being named Catherine and Mary. Jane was extremely well educated and even learned to speak and read in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, French, and Italian—impressing everyone who came across her! Her tutor was John Aylmer, who played a significant part in molding her religious efforts (along with other scholars and her parents) towards the Protestant faith which she clung to faithfully throughout her life.
For a time Jane went to live with Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s widow, and Thomas Seymour, whom she married after the king’s death. Jane was said to have regarded Catherine as almost a mother figure because of the tender love that Catherine showed towards Jane—which was quite the opposite from Jane’s own parents, who were tremendously strict with her. Unfortunately for Jane, Catherine died soon after childbirth in 1548; Lady Jane was the chief mourner at her funeral. Shortly afterward, there were rumors and goings on that involved Thomas Seymour trying to propose a marriage between Jane and Edward VI. This plan never went through and cost Thomas Seymour a trip to the Tower, as well as his head. Jane returned back to her home, at Bradgate, soon after. It wouldn’t be until the spring of 1553 that an actual marriage proposal would follow through. This time it was to Guilford Dudley—the son of the ambitious John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and who also happened to be the chief advisor to Edward VI. By the time early summer in 1553 came about, Edward lay dying and had drafted up his will where it was made clear that although it had been previously noted by Edward’s father, Henry VIII, in the Third Succession Act of 1543 that Mary and Elizabeth would reign as Queens after him; Edward would now change history by disregarding his sisters and going directly to the line of Mary Tudor; passing up Frances Brandon (or as some scholarly debates might say: Frances “refused” to be Queen) and naming Lady Jane Grey as his heir. This was his “Devise for the Succession” so that the country would remain Protestant as opposed to being Catholic if Mary were to become Queen. Edward VI died, at age 15, on July 6, 1553. It was at this point that Edward’s last will in testament took effect, making Lady Jane Grey, the Queen of England. By the next day, important officials were called to make an oath of allegiance to Jane and once she was secured in the Tower of London, she was officially named the Queen.
Initially in the process, Edward’s death was kept a secret; however, once Mary found out about it as well as the plot to overthrow her, she traveled towards London gathering supporters along the way. She eventually entered the city and was proclaimed Queen on the 19th of July, 1553 after a total of thirteen days where Jane was Queen. Jane and Guilford Dudley were arrested and imprisoned within the Tower of London to await trial. Finally, on the 13th of November, both were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. Some sources have said, however, that Mary I thought Jane to be innocent and just another product of the day having been controlled by the people around her. Unfortunately for Jane, whether she was going to be spared or not, in January of 1554 her father became involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion which caused Mary I to be pressured by her husband, Philip of Spain, to end Jane’s life due to the fact that she could be dangerous in regards to more rebellions in the realm being focused around Jane and the turbulence caused by those thirteen days. On February 12, 1554, both Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guilford, were led separately to their deaths and were beheaded; thus ending a small, but important life.
I find Lady Jane Grey to be fascinating because of the will and determination she had to look past her upbringing and to become the person she wanted to be. She prided herself on her intelligence—which was so uncommon back then for a woman. She was feisty. She wanted to constantly know and learn more. She wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in. Even during her imprisonment in the Tower for treason, Mary I sent a priest to convert Jane to Catholicism; instead of giving in, Jane stood up for what she believed in—which was being a Protestant and in turn impressed this priest very much with her faith! She didn’t want to give in even if that meant death for her. She was just a girl; a girl who was caught in a time period where men ruled the realm and you had to do what you had to do in order to survive. It’s sad really, that there was such a prejudice against women, but that’s how it was unfortunately and the fact that she continued to be true to herself in the face of adversity says a lot about her character and true personality. I think, though, the thing that draws me to her is the fact that honestly she in some ways reminds me of Anne Boleyn and why Anne caught my attention in the first place. Both women died in such a high position that was in the beginning uncontrolled by them and controlled by the people around them. Both are women of their time; both were outspoken and unafraid to challenge anyone no matter what the subject was. I think it’s a quality to look up to in both women and even in any woman of that time period. It’s the fact that they weren’t afraid to speak their minds and to say what they wanted to say. It’s the fact that they stuck to their values and were extremely intelligent women. They weren’t afraid to learn or afraid to be smart and ask questions. Too many times, girls (and women!) these days are afraid to speak up for what they believe in. They are afraid to be who they are and instead look to those around them to see who they really should be. They strive to be “the perfect image” of a woman that we have unfortunately talked ourselves into when in fact they could be happy if they just looked inside themselves and loved themselves for who they are no matter what you look like, no matter how you talk or act or think. These women, Anne and Jane, strove to be individuals—their own person. They made history through the events that they died for instead of who they really were: strong people—but most importantly strong women. Remembering young girls like Lady Jane Grey is important because we are able to look at her and what she did with her short, but inspiring life. She showed us that in the face of strict parents, greedy men, and powerful Queens…we can stand up for what we believe in and show the world who we really are. We can strive to look past the differences that make all of us as individuals—race, religion, sex—and we can accept each other for our talents and personalities that make this world go around. Lady Jane Grey showed us how to live as a better person and as a better woman no matter what life throws at us.