Lady Jane Grey’s Execution

Posted By on February 12, 2011

On this day in history, 12th February 1554, Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley, were executed by being beheaded.

The Execution of Guildford Dudley

At 10am on the 12th February, Guildford Dudley, brother of Robert Dudley and son of the late John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, was led out of the Tower of London and up to the scaffold site on Tower Hill. No priest accompanied him on to the scaffold and Eric Ives writes that this suggests that “Guildford had remained staunch to reform”1. On the scaffold, Guildford addressed the crowd briefly and then got down on his knees and prayed “holding up his eyes and hands to God many times”2. After asking the crowd to pray for him, he put his neck on the block and the executioner beheaded him with a single blow of the axe.

Of Guildford Dudley’s execution, Eric Ives writes:-

“Recourse to the axe did not win the Queen [Mary I] many friends. Richard Grafton, who very probably had known Guildford, recalled ten years later that ‘even those that never before the time of his execution saw him, did with lamentable tears bewail his death’.”3

Although his wife, Lady Jane Grey, had allegedly refused to see Guildford, she had insisted on watching the execution from a window and the chronicler, Raphael Holinshed, writes of how, as she was being led out of the Tower to be executed, Jane met the cart carrying Guildford’s body – how awful!

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Although her husband had been executed on Tower Hill, Lady Jane Grey was executed inside the Tower of London, on Tower Green. Once the executioner had had time to make his way back from Tower Hill, Jane was led out to the scaffold. Although her ladies “wonderfully wept”4, Jane, who was dressed all in black, managed to maintain her composure. She addressed the waiting crowd:-

“Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same; the fact indeed against the Queen’s Highness was unlawful and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency before the face of God and the face of you good Christian people this day.

I pray you all good Christian people to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman and that I do look to be saved by no other mean, but only by the mercy of God, in the merits of the blood of his only son Jesus Christ. I confess when I did know the word of God I neglected the same and loved myself and the world, and therefore this plague or punishment is happily and worthily [deservedly] happened unto me for my sins. I thank God of his goodness that he has given me a time and respite to repent.

Now good people, I pray you to assist me with your prayers. Now good people, while I am alive, I pray you to assist me with your prayers.”5

Eric Ives writes of how, in her speech, Jane was showing that “she was dying confident in salvation by faith alone”4 and that she believed that “praying for the dead was a Catholic superstition”. Jane was being true to her reformist faith.

After her speech, Jane knelt and said Psalm 51, the Misere, in English, “Have mercy upon me O God, after they great goodness: according to the multitude of thy mercies, do away mine offences”. She then embraced John Feckenham, Mary I’s chaplain and confessor, the man who had been sent to Jane to prepare her for her death, and said to him “Go and may God satisfy every wish of yours”6. Jane then gave her handkerchief and gloves to Elizabeth Tilney, and her prayer book to Thomas Brydges, the deputy lieutenant of the Tower, who had been charged with passing it on to her father. She then removed her gown, headdress and collar, refusing the help of the executioner. After forgiving the executioner and begging him “despatch me quickly”, Jane knelt at the block, tossing her hair forward and out of the way, and putting on the blindfold. It was then that she lost her composure and panicked, “What shall I do? Where is it?”. A bystander took pity on the floundering girl and guided her to the block where she lay her neck, praying “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” The executioner took her head off with one blow.

This time last year, I ended my article on Jane’s execution with the words of Jane’s biographer, Eric Ives, and I’m going to do the same this year. His words are better than any I could write about Jane and are incredibly moving:-

“The pages of history are asterisked with names which defy the erosion of time. Jane Grey is one such, but strangely so. Truth to tell she counted for little. She was important for barely nine months, she ruled for only thirteen days. She contributed little to writing and nothing to ideas. She founded no dynasty and left almost no memorabilia. Then what is it, keeps the story of Jane alive while many more significant figures in history are recalled only by scholars? For many years Jane was a saint in the Protestant pantheon, but martyrs are now out of fashion – and so too ideal Victorian maidens. In the West, growing secularization ensures that relatively few people even understand the issues which meant so much to her. And yet her name still lives. Something is due to a memorable sobriquet: “the nine days queen” – not any Jane, that Jane. Romance, too, is part of the explanation; along with Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Mary Queen of Scots, Jane completes a quartet of Tudor queens who died on the scaffold. Undeniable, too, there is the macabre attraction of the girl sacrifice. She died Jane Dudley, but is universally remembered as Jane Grey, Ariadne chained to the rock. All this and more. But the fundamental justification for remembering Jane is the justification for remembering Anne Frank centuries later. They speak for the multitude of brutality’s victims who have no voice.”7

While Eric Ives sees Lady Jane Grey as a “victim”, Leanda de Lisle writes of how “Jane died a leader, and not merely a victim”8 and sees her as “a Protestant Joan of Arc, calling up fresh troops to fight against Mary Tudor while her own generals betrayed her”9. Whichever view you have of this Tudor queen, her life deserves to be remember and her death commemorated. Visitors to the Tower of London today will be able to pay their respects in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where there is a memorial tile to Lady Jane Grey on the floor by the altar table.

RIP Lady Jane Grey, or Queen Jane, and Guildford Dudley.

Notes and Sources

  1. Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery, Eric Ives, p275
  2. The Marquis of Northampton quoted in Ives, p275
  3. Richard Grafton quoted in Ives, p275
  4. Quoted in Ives, p276
  5. Eric Ives, p276-277, quoting from “Here in this Booke”
  6. Eric Ives, p277, quoting Giovanni Francesco Commendone, “The Accession, Coronation and Marriage of Mary Tudor”
  7. Ives, p293
  8. The Sisters Who Would Be Queen, Leanda de Lisle, p282, US hardback version
  9. Leanda de Lisle, p286

24 thoughts on “Lady Jane Grey’s Execution”

  1. Rose says:

    I’ve always thought of Lady Jane Grey as a little like Anne Frank… RIP to them both.

  2. Robyn says:

    Ives is right; Jane can be easily overlooked by history. I always have to describe who she was when I mention her. As a woman who admires Jane deeply, I thank you for this wonderful telling of her story.

  3. Heather says:

    Such a tragedy for one so young. Why didn’t Edward realize what danger he was putting Jane in by naming her his successor? Not a very kind gesture for one who was named for his mother.

    1. Henry Westin says:

      Edward was bullied on his deathbed into making Jane the next ruler. He was a sickly adolescent.

  4. lisaannejane says:

    I like the summary Eric Ives gives. Maybe we remember them because they do remind us of the many people who died too young for reasons that they could not control. I hope Jane and Dudley found peace beyond this world.

  5. Tamise says:

    Lovely article Claire.

  6. DeAnn says:

    I wonder why she was called the 9-day queen rather than the 13-day queen?

    Elizabeth Tilney was the name of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard’s Howard grandmother. Elizabeth Tilney Bouchier married Thomas Howard, second duke of Norfolk (although she died before he was restored to that. She died the Countess of Surrey in 1497 at Sheriff Hutton).

    Was the Elizabeth Tilney with Jane Grey any relation? Anyone know? Thanks.

  7. Christine says:

    Jane was proclaimed on 10 July and deposed on 19 July, that’s why 10 days queen. She wrote later that she was forced to accept the Crown on what would have been the ninth, and the Lord Mayor and Brethren were apparently told on the eigth. The gap since Edward’s death is commonly attributed to Northumberland’s scheming; yet it was habitual to keep the king’s death secret for some days: Henry VIII’s case is famous, but this happened also after Henry VII’s death, which is less well known.

    I know nothing about the Tilneys, but Jane and Guildford were cousins. Their fathers were second cousins once removed, so the young people were third cousins once removed. Henry Grey was a great-great-grandson of Edward Ferrers Baron of Groby and his wife Elizabeth (Baroness of Groby in her own right), while John Dudley was their great-grandson. Sadly, I have never read this in any book, presumably it doesn’t fit well into the great Dudley conspiracy theme.

  8. Eliza M. L. says:

    My poor, sweet Lady Jane. She was quite simply born to die; her parents were ruthless and wished to use her royal lineage against her. They didn’t seem to care about her at all. When I first heard her story, I immediately guessed what the unfortunate outcome would be. May she rest in peace.

    1. Carol Ward Dudley says:

      Her parents were ruthless and his were also – maybe it was fortunate she and Guildford left this world together – she was a brilliant young woman – spoke many languages = well read – kind of a lesson on what went on in those days.

  9. Christine says:

    Sorry, I forgot the “Grey” component: Edward Grey, Baron Ferrers of Groby and his wife Elizabeth Ferrers, Baroness Ferrers of Groby were great-great-grandparents of Henry Grey and great-grandparents of John Dudley (his mother was born Elizabeth Grey). So these two were second cousins once removed, and their children (Jane and Guildford) third cousins once removed.

  10. Sara E. P. says:

    I truly admire that young girl’s strength. To be so brave and stand so firm on your beliefs in the face of death can not be a very easy task. Yet she made it look so. God bless her soul and may she rest in peace.

  11. Shoshana says:

    In composing her farewell messages to family and friends, Lady Jane wrote: “I am glad t end my woeful days.” When first I read these words, I almost cried. To embrace death at such a young age when life should be just starting; and to be as talented as Jane obviously was and restricted from further pursuit of it. Jane’s real murderer was ambition – the ambition of parents and in laws who wanted to be the power behind the throne, the ambition of a husband pushed into a loveless marriage in hopes of becoming a King instead of just a Consort, and the ambition of the lords who surrounded Jane to exclaim her queen only to turn their backs on her in the end. All her short, sad life Jane was used and abused by those who should have cherished her as a gift from G-d. One can only hope that Jane found paradise and those who abused her their just punishments. I pray that Jane’s spirit soars with the angels now, in peace.

    1. Jonathan C. Deeb says:

      Take heart, Shoshana; Jane and Guilford are truly-Alive in their souls before the Throne Room of JESUS their Savior and HIGHEST KING Forever. If You will choose to believe in JESUS as both Jane and Guilford did, then You also will be where They are now and forever.

      I myself am highly-motivated to see all of the Tudor-era people who Loved JESUS even to their deaths. They will rise-again when JESUS calls-out HIS Church from this earth one day.
      In fact, GOD sent me an inspirational-message that I wrote-down as a sort-of prophetic-promise concerning what will happen to Lady Jane in HIS Kingdom. If you want to read it, just e-mail me and I’ll send it to you.

  12. Christine says:

    According to the Chronicler of Queen Jane (probably a Tower employee) Northumberland warned his fellow councillors not to forget “this virtuous lady who by … our enticement is rather of force placed therein [on the throne] than by her own seeking and request.” This was reported by an eyewitness, this evidence would have been available to Mary’s regime had they been interested. Quite apart from this there were the statements from Northumberland after his arrest. The Imperial ambassadors assiduously report about the repeated interrogations in which he readily confessed to everything they wanted to hear. Irritatingly, the only thing he would not explain were the exact origins of his plot against Edward’s life and his conspiracy to attain the crown (as the Emperor was informed) .

    So, if we are playing the blame game, we must ask what system is this where you are guilty even if you are exonerated by the “chief perpetrators”? What if Jane and Guildford would have been only three years old, execute toddlers? Perhaps yes, the blood royal is a danger to the regime. But why execute Guildford then, was he royal or did he sit on the throne? It has nothing to do with logic, for most of the “perpetrators” like many of Mary’s councillors were never punished for it (they pressed for Jane’s execution instead). Jane’s father was only punished for the Wyatt thing which typically had nothing to do with Jane but with Elizabeth (who narrowly escaped). As in any other century, it was the easiest way to do away with the weakest. It has no logic, it’s relentless despotism, pure and simple. That’s why Ives is right about Anne Frank and Jane.

    1. Carolyn says:

      I’m not disagreeing with you, but I’m not sure it really mattered whether Jane and Guildford were guilty. Based on Mary’s initial plan to show them mercy, I don’t think she saw them as guilty, but ‘only’ a danger to her reign as a likely focus to incite future rebellions against Mary; so they had to be removed.

      1. kipper says:

        In fact, very similar to Mary, Queen of Scots, 30 years later, although there is evidence to suggest that Mary was more involved than the tragic Jane had ever been.

  13. joan e charles says:

    having never read much on lady jane grey, i really enjoyed all these comments written. i almost cried at the ghastly impressions of jane and husband on the block,what a horrible way to die,,,,rest in peace thanks claire for the great job you do..

  14. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Claire,Good read as allways I saw the movie,it seemed to me that she was just shoved into marriage to Guildford asap and then made a Queen. I do however think she meant well,but was far to young to rule,she really never had a chance once they desided to get her off throne,how tragic. Regards Baroness Von Reis

  15. Tanja says:

    I was both, Lady Jane and Anne Frank. It is the same soul:-)))*

    Greetings:-)

  16. Robert Fielding says:

    Has anyone come across a prayer written by John Knox as a reaction to her death?

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, it starts “Omnipote[n]t & euerlasting father of our lorde Iesus” and is in the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue (STC 7279.5) see http://estc.bl.uk/F/48C9XMX5U289XTI3DKEUBKIMICUXSGV4TV2TYRYXU34B8VTFKL-09546?func=full-set-set&set_number=035540&set_entry=000002&format=999

  17. Kylar says:

    460 years ago this year…unreal. What a terrible fate for one so young. I can’t imagine how painful it would be to watch. Anyone know who the executioner was?

    1. Christine says:

      I don’t think the identity of the executioners were known at that time, although a man named Bull executed Mary Queen Of Scots, I think Janes story is one of the saddest iv ever heard of, and she was only executed because Spain was kicking up a fuss then the Wyatt plot sealed her fate, in theory all she did was accept the crown and since Edward had named her his heir she was within her rights to do so, Edward was an anointed King it was upto him to name who he wanted to reign after him, Jane never committed treason at all and really logically it was Mary who usurped her throne not the other way round, after all the bloodshed that followed with Mary’s rule and then marrying Philip of Spain many people must have wished that Jane had been allowed to keep the throne, the judge who condemned her said on his deathbed he could see her, a stricken conscience maybe?

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