November 13 – The trial of Lady Jane Grey (Queen Jane)

On this day in Tudor history, 13th November 1553, in the reign of Queen Mary I, Lady Jane Grey was tried for treason.

The former Queen Jane was tried at Guildhall in London along with her husband Lord Guildford Dudley, his brothers Ambrose and Henry Dudley, and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who were accused of treason for helping to put her on the throne.

Let me explain what happened at their trial and also what happened to them after they were found guilty and condemned to death…

You can find out about Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley’s executions in my video from 12th February –
and you can find about Thomas Cranmer’s end in my video from 21st March –


On this day in Tudor 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.

The accused were led from the Tower of London on foot, in a procession led by a man carrying an axe turned away from the prisoners, to show that they had not yet been found guilty of a capital crime.

The Chronicle of Queen Jane describes the procession, although some of the wording is missing:
“Next followed the lorde Gilforde Dudley, between (blank)
Next followed the lady Jane, between (blank), and her 2 gentlewomen following her.
Next followed the lord Ambrose Dudley and the lord Harry Dudley.
The lady Jane was in a black gown of cloth, turned down; the cape lined with friese velvet, and edged about with the same, in a French hood, all black, with a black billiment, a black velvet book hanging before her, and another book in her hande open…”

The late historian Eric Ives wrote of how the trial opened with a Catholic liturgy, for the Catholic Queen Mary I was now on the throne, having removed Queen Jane, and that the commission chosen to try Jane and the men was headed by Sir Thomas White, the Lord Mayor, and also Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Ives noted that the commission “was overwhelmingly Catholic in sentiment”. Ives explains that Jane, Guildford, Ambrose, Henry and Cranmer were all charged with high treason, “the archbishop for entering the Tower on 10 July and proclaiming Jane, and also for sending troops to Cambridge; Jane and Guildford for taking possession of the Tower and proclaiming Jane while she faced the additional charge of ‘signing various writings’.”

The Archbishop pleaded ‘not guilty’ at first, but after the case had been presented, and before the jury delivered their verdict, he changed his plea to ‘guilty’, like that of the others. They were all found guilty as charged, with the men being sentenced to being hanged, drawn and quartered, and Jane to be burned alive, or beheaded. Historian Leanda de Lisle writes of how Jane was recording as having remained cool and calm during the proceedings, and ithat she did not react at all to the sentence, perhaps her faith sustained her. Jane had used her months of imprisonment studying the Bible and writing prayers, as well as letters. In his book on Jane, Ives goes into detail on Jane’s writings and how she “revealed more about herself than ever before”. Her “intimacy with the scripture” was clear and she was determined that her death should have meaning. Ives believes that Jane saw her imprisonment and suffering as “a test of her election” by God, writing “Jane faced imprisonment in the Tower positively. The loss of liberty was irksome, but the more she could, by God’s grace, triumph over hardships, the more confident she could be of her eternal destiny.”

Although Jane had been condemned to death, no date was given for the sentence to be carried out and it appeared that Mary would spare her. Things changed, however, in 1554 with Wyatt’s Rebellion. Although Jane was not personally involved in this uprising against the Queen and her proposed marriage to Philip of Spain, her father, the Duke of Suffolk, was. Leanda de Lisle points out that although the rebellion sought to depose Mary and to replace her with her half-sister, Elizabeth, if Jane and Guildford were left alive then they were potential figureheads for rebellion. It was time to enact their death sentences.

A 3 day reprieve was granted to give time for Benedictine John Feckenham to convert Jane to Catholicism, perhaps in an attempt to save her soul even if her body could not be saved. Jane stood firm in her faith.

Jane and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley were executed on 12th February 1554, Guildford on Tower Hill and Jane within the Tower confines.

But what happened to the others who were found guilty on this day in 1553?

Ambrose Dudley was released in late 1554 and went on to serve Elizabeth I as her Master of Ordnance and a Privy Councillor. He died in 1590.
Henry Dudley was also released and was killed fighting for Mary I’s husband, King Philip II of Spain, against the French at the Battle of Saint-Quentin in August 1557.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was tried for heresy in September 1555 and then burned at the stake in Oxford on 21st March 1556.

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