Next week Friday is the anniversary of Lady Jane Grey’s execution which took place on the 12th February 1554. Lady Jane Grey, “The Nine Day Queen”, was only around 16 or 17 when she was executed for high treason after Mary I successfully claimed the throne, bringing Jane’s reign to an end after just a week. Her youth and vulnerability is emphasised in Paul Delaroche’s beautiful painting “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey”, which was painted in 1833.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey - Delaroche 1833
The Execution of Lady Jane Grey - Delaroche 1833

Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey

24th February – 23rd May 2010

Sainsbury Wing, Admission Charge

If you want to see Delaroche’s “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” with your own eyes, and also enjoy his preparatory drawings and other famous works, you can go to the special “Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey Exhibition” which is taking place at the National Gallery between the 24th February – 23rd May 2010 in the Sainsbury Wing. Here is the National Gallery Press Release:-

“I am assured that I shall, for losing of a mortal life, win an immortal life.” (Lady Jane Grey, February 1554)

Since its rediscovery in 1973 and first exhibition at the National Gallery two years later, Paul Delaroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833, has become one of the nation’s best-loved paintings. For the first time, Painting History examines this iconic masterpiece in the context of Delaroche’s great historical paintings, particularly the poignant scenes from English history which made his reputation.

The exhibition features seven major international loans of paintings by Delaroche including The Princes in the Tower, 1830 and Young Christian Martyr, 1854–5 (both Louvre) and Strafford on his way to Execution, 1835 (private collection).

Displayed alongside are Delaroche’s expressive preparatory drawings for Lady Jane and a selection of comparative paintings and prints by his contemporaries, including Eugène Lami, Claude Jacquand and François-Marius Granet.

Monumental in scale, poignant in subject matter and uncanny in its realism, Delaroche’s depiction of the 17-year-old, who was Queen of England for just nine days, created a sensation when first unveiled at the Paris Salon of 1834. It appeared to usher in an entirely new form of painting. But what inspired a French artist in the 1830s to depict the final moments of a 16th-century English queen? In post-revolutionary France, artists began to combine monarchist sympathies with a Romantic interest in English literature and history. After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, a generation of artists including Delaroche, Bonington and Lami found inspiration in Shakespeare, Byron and, above all, Walter Scott. Yet for Delaroche, English history provided a still more powerful muse. In a society deeply scarred by the violent upheavals of the French Revolution, English history presented remarkable parallels with recent events in French history – particularly the execution of Lady Jane Grey, the death of the princes in the Tower, the English Civil War and the regicide of Charles I.

Delaroche (1797–1856) first visited England and possibly Scotland in 1822 but returned to London five years later to prepare for his work on The Princes in the Tower, 1830 (Louvre). It is probable he visited the Tower of London itself, an experience which may have moved him to develop his two further Tower compositions: The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833 (National Gallery, London) and Strafford on his Way to Execution, 1835 (private collection).

Close-up of Delaroche's The Execution of Lady Jane Grey
Close-up of Delaroche's The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Like many of his peers, Delaroche showed a keen interest in the themes of usurpation and martyrdom. In Cromwell
and Charles I, 1831 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nîmes), the artist depicts a sombre Cromwell contemplating the corpse of
his enemy, the executed Charles. Always veiled in myth, the death of Lady Jane Grey (1537–1554) gave Delaroche his
most poignant symbolic subject. Grey inherited the English crown amid a bitter political crisis following the death of
Edward VI on 6 July 1553. Her reign ended on 19 July when Mary, her Catholic cousin and rival to the throne, led a
successful counter-coup. Together with her young husband, Jane stood trial for treason. They were sentenced to death and Jane was re-imprisoned in the Tower, where she firmly resolved to become a Protestant martyr. She was beheaded on 12 February 1554. The events of that day have been fiercely debated ever since.

In Delaroche’s depiction, Jane is shown blindfolded and feeling for the executioner’s block. While emotionally the most compelling, this version of events owes more to 16th-century propaganda than to historical fact. Within six months of Jane’s death, her Protestant allies had her reinvented as an innocent martyr and victim of Catholic
tyranny. In London, a dossier of doctored papers was soon in circulation, complete with the pathos of her groping
for the block. Capturing the psychological moment of greatest intensity, Delaroche gave the Lady Jane myth an irresistible and seemingly unshakeable appeal. Appearing from the shadows in a dress of startling virgin white,
she becomes the very apotheosis of female innocence.

Delaroche’s image was a striking reminder, for those with memories of recent French history, of the fates of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and the Dauphin. Delaroche undoubtedly made such associations in his own mind, as is suggested by a sheet of studies in which thumbnail drawings for Lady Jane appear alongside a composition of the Dauphin and his sister, before July 1830 (Louvre). Towards the end of his life, Delaroche completed a startling memorial to France’s executed queen in Marie-Antoinette before the Tribunal, 1851 (The Forbes Collection, New York).

Throughout the exhibition, Painting History examines the singular intensity of Delaroche’s historical paintings in light of his close relationship with the theatre. From the 1820s, there was an increasing tendency in French theatre to draw on pictorial forms, and for plays to be divided into so-called ‘tableaux’ as well as acts. This new kind of theatre had a profound influence on Delaroche, who was also keenly receptive to the spatial possibilities offered by stage craft. Meanwhile, his own work lent itself to dramatic recreation and on several occasions, his paintings were represented on the stage, including Lady Jane Grey and The Princes in the Tower. By the time he was painting Lady Jane, Delaroche had also become romantically involved with Mademoiselle Anaïs, an actress now thought to be his model for the queen. A newly discovered portrait of Anaïs in coloured chalk, 1832 (private collection) is displayed here for the first time.

The exhibition also demonstrates how French and British artists such as Edouard Cibot (Anne Boleyn in the
Tower of London, shortly after her Arrest, 1835, Musée Rolin, Autun), Jean-Léon Gérome (The Execution of Marshal Ney, 1868, Museums Sheffield) and Jean-Paul Laurens (The Hostages, 1896, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon) continued to work in a manner directly inspired by Delaroche’s pioneering depictions.

Admission and Open Hours

Press view: 23 February 2010, 10.30am–1.30pm
Open to public: 24 February 2010 – 23 May 2010, Daily 10am–6pm, Friday until 9pm
Last admission 5.15pm (8.15pm Friday)

Enter by the Sainsbury Wing Entrance.
Full price £8
Senior/Concession/Disabled visitors £7
Carers FREE
Job seeker/Student/Art Fund £4
Family (2 adults and ≤4 children) £16
Under 12s FREE
Season Ticket £20
Senior/Disabled Season £18
Job seeker/Art Fund/ Student Season £10

For advance tickets to Painting History please visit (booking fee).
You can also book tickets by post and in person from the Gallery.
For public information, please contact 020 7747 2885 or email

While you’re at the National Gallery, you can also see the Room 1 exhibition “A Masterpiece Recovered: Delaroche’s Charles I Insulted” (admission free) and the gallery’s collection of over 2,300 works, including a host of fabulous Renaissance art.

Images used with permission of the National Gallery.

Related Post

14 thoughts on “Lady Jane Grey Exhibition”
  1. So pleased you have marked this tragic event with your article. It is a lovely and very poignant painting. I sometimes wonder if Delaroche got things mixed up a bit, perhaps intentionally, with the execution of Mary Queen of Scots – because Jane was executed outdoors on Tower Green, Mary indoors in Fotheringhay Castle. It’s as if he has placed Jane inside Fotheringhay! The French probably have always wondered at our preoccupation with executing our Queens – so many of them!

  2. Love this painting, and it’s so heartbreaking seeing her needing assistance to find the block. But what gets me in this work is the executioner standing to the side and waiting, just another day at the office. *shivers*

  3. I can heartily recommend the new Eric Ives book about Jane Grey Fascinating stuff, nobody really expected Mary Tudor be successful in obtaining the throne – the smart money was all on Jane. Just a heartbreaking story though, both she and Guildford were both so young.

  4. Hi Rochie,
    I will write more on Jane when it comes to the actual anniversary. I love the painting, so beautiful, but you’re right about the scene itself – totally wrong place!

    Hi Tudor Tutor,
    Yes, the executioner is looking rather bored by the whole thing!

    Hi Cranky,
    I love, love, love Eric Ives – such a wonderful and balanced historian. Have you read Leanda de Lisle’s book on the Grey sisters – “The Sisters Who Would be Queen”? I did a review over at – I know that Leanda and Eric disagree on some things so it would be worth a read to compare.

  5. I am so looking forward to reading Eric Ives new book about Lady Jane Grey – I have it on order so I hope that it will not be too long before I have a chance to read it. I also find him a very even handed historian. With some writers I feel that they allow their prejudices to surface, but with Eric Ives it is always a fair balanced opinion.

  6. The National Gallery is also showing a short season of history films to tie in with the exhibition. They will be showing Richard III, The Private Life of Henry VIII, Elizabeth and La Reine Margot.

    Check out the National’s website for further details if you are interested.

  7. I was wondering if Edward VI, being a minor when he died, had the authority of alter Henry’s will. Wasn’t his council really in charge? It is a legal question that bothers me.

  8. That is an interesting question, Lisa. I suppose he was King and he obviously had the support of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (because he was father of Guildford Dudley, Lady Jane Grey’s husband) and those of a protestant persuasion who did not want to see the Catholic Mary becoming queen.

    There’s an interesting bit on the Edward VI wikipedia page about whose idea the whole “Devise for the Succession” was:-
    “Whether the device was Edward’s own idea or the result of manipulation by his advisors has been a matter of debate. For centuries, the attempt to alter the succession was mostly seen as a one-man-plot by the Duke of Northumberland. More recently, many historians, taking into account Edward’s personality, have attributed the inception of the device and the insistence on its implementation to the king’s initiative. Diarmaid MacCulloch has made out Edward’s “teenage dreams of founding an evangelical realm of Christ”, while David Starkey has stated that “Edward had a couple of co-operators, but the driving will was his”. In contrast to this view, Dale Hoak has argued: “Contrary to what has been thought, the scheme to alter the succession originated in Northumberland’s camp and not in King Edward’s brain”. John Guy has suggested that the drafts of the device were presented by Sir John Gates, a follower of Northumberland, to Edward, who then copied them out. The young king, who believed that his word was law, would have understood and accepted the proposals for the succession, even if they were not his own idea.”

  9. Hi Claire,

    I haven’t read the de Lisle book but I will now. I think Eric Ives is one of my favorite historians for this period. I also really like David Loades ( I do enjoy Starkey and Weir too – in a different way-sort of entertaining history). Nothing wrong with that though. 🙂

  10. lisaannejane said:
    “I was wondering if Edward VI, being a minor when he died, had the authority of alter Henry’s will. Wasn’t his council really in charge? It is a legal question that bothers me.”

    I thought that was one of the main reasons it didn’t hold up. Quoting from Henry’s will (from Claire’s Feb. 1st post) Henry had appointed councilors who would “have the government of our most dear son Prince Edward and of all our realms, dominions, and subjects, and of all the affairs public and private, until he shall have fully completed the eighteenth year of his age….”

    So, he would have had to have reached his nineteenth birthday before he would have had the authority to put aside the provisions of Henry’s will. And even if his councilors were in charge, Edward’s will couldn’t legally overturn an act of Parliament, and Henry’s will had been passed by Parliament as the Act of Succession, and had specified that it was high treason to even try to alter its provisions.

    I tend to agree that Edward was aware of what he was doing. It’s always questionable when you have a very sick, minor child ‘deciding’ he’s going to change his will to favor a greedy, ambitious councilor. But I also agree that even though Edward may have not come up with the idea himself, he was agreeable when it was presented to him. He was adamantly against traditional Catholic teachings, although he probably would have referred to them as ’superstitious idolatry’, heresy or error.

    He’d had continuing issues with Mary refusing to obey his laws of religious conformity, with her even telling him he was too young to know what the ‘true’ faith was, and that she’d obey his orders with regard to religion if he still felt the same way once he’d come of age. And that really made him mad. I don’t think he wanted to leave the throne to her because he felt she would take the country backward into religious ‘error’ and doom the souls of her subjects by doing so.

    So, I think Edward knew that technically, he couldn’t change the succession, but he was dying and time was running out, and I think he tried to just ram it through anyway, and hoped that his councilors and the people would uphold his wishes.

  11. Thanks for your answer Claire! So I must admit that it raises the question of why Henry had gone to such great lengths to secure the succession if a young king or council member could disregard it, I can understand a Protestant council not wanting Mary. I feel sorry for Jane and her husband, since his dad’s plot ruined them.

  12. To Carolyn: Thanks for the explanation! So Edward tried to pull a rabbit out of his hat, so to speak, and it didn’t work.

  13. Lady Jane Grey didn’t want to be crowned in the first place, from what I understand. It is very unfortunate for her that her “father in law” had so much influence over Edward. I do not think that Edward wanted to go against his father’s wishes and never would have if Northumberland wouldn’t have pressured him. Was Norhumberland up to some kind of plan seeing that his son would be married to the queen??? Or was it all because he wanted to keep a Catholic from ruling???

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *