Remembering Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley – 12 February 1554

Lady Jane GreyOn 12th February 1554, Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley, were executed. Guildford was beheaded on Tower Hill and Jane was beheaded withing the walls of the Tower of London. Jane was sixteen years old and Guildford was around 18/19 years old.

You can read all about their executions in my previous posts:

But today I’d like to remember the courage of Jane and Guildford as they faced death, rather than thinking about the tragedy of their deaths. I’m a committed Christian and I’d like to think that I would stand up for my faith and die for it, if needs be, but here are two teenagers who went to their deaths with courage, faith and dignity.

Guildford Dudley
Guildford Dudley

Guildford and Jane had been found guilty of high treason at a trial on 13th November 1553 and sentenced to death. They were charged with taking possession of the Tower of London, proclaiming Jane as Queen and Jane for “signing various writings” as queen. They and their families had acted on Edward VI’s “devise for the succession”, in which he named Jane as the heir to the throne, but Edward’s half-sister, Mary, had challenged Jane and won. Jane was deemed a usurper and traitor. Their executions were scheduled for 9th February 1554, but extra time was given for Dr John Feckenham, Mary I’s Chaplain and Confessor, to try and save Jane’s soul by persuading her to recant her Protestant faith and return to the Catholic fold. Jane refused and stuck to her faith, spending her last days writing a treatise which Guildford added a prayer to.1

Little is known of Guildford’s feelings during those last days, but it appears that he too kept his faith. He was led out to the scaffold site on Tower Hill at 10am on the 12th February. The fact that no priest accompanied him suggests that he refused one and that he “remained staunch to reform”.2 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”. 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. Eric Ives quotes Richard Grafton, who very probably had known Guildford, recalling ten years later that “even those that never before the time of his execution saw him, did with lamentable tears bewail his death.”3

A beautiful carving in the stone wall of the Beauchamp Tower is a reminder of Guildford Dudley, his fathers and brothers, who were all imprisoned there in 1553 following Lady Jane Grey’s fall. It is thought to have been made by Guildford’s brother, John, or someone at his command, and it features the bear and ragged staff (the badge of the Earls of Warwick) and the double-tailed lion rampant (the badge of the Dudley family). It also features a floral border with oak leaves and acorns for Robert Dudley (quercus robur is the Latin for English oak), roses for Ambrose Dudley, honeysuckle for Henry Dudley (lonicera henryi) and gillyflowers for Guildford Dudley. The inscription reads:
“You that these beasts do wel behold and se, may deme with ease wherefore here made they be, with borders eke within [there may be found] 4 brothers names who list to search the ground.”


After Guildford’s execution, Lady Jane Grey was led out to the scaffold on Tower Green. 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.”4

Eric Ives writes of how, in her speech, Jane was emphasising that she was saved by faith alone, the doctrine of justification by faith, and that she did not need prayers after her death. In her few minutes on Earth, she was remaining true to her reformist faith.5

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, the man who had been sent to Jane to try and persuade her to recant, 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. 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 guided Jane to the block where she lay her neck, praying “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” She was then beheaded with one blow of the axe.

I love historian Leanda de Lisle’s view of Lady Jane Grey as “a Protestant Joan of Arc, calling up fresh troops to fight against Mary Tudor while her own generals betrayed her”,7 and that’s how I’ll be remembering her today, as a courageous young woman who saw being queen as God’s will and who kept true to her God right to the end. I’ll also remember her husband who kept true to his faith and his wife.

There is a carving in the stone of the Beauchamp Tower related to Jane too. It is simply the word “Jane”, or “IANE” as it is written, with a simple rectangular border. It is unlikely that it was carved by Jane, because she was imprisoned “in a small house next to the royal apartments”, but it may have been carved by Guildford or one of his family.


Notes and Sources

  1. Wilson, Derek (2005) The Uncrowned Kings of England, Robinson, p238
  2. Ives, Eric (2009) Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery, Wiley Blackwell, p275
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., p276-277
  5. Ibid., p276, quoting from “Here in this Booke”
  6. Ibid, p277, quoting Giovanni Francesco Commendone, “The Accession, Coronation and Marriage of Mary Tudor”
  7. De Lisle, Leanda (2008) The Sisters Who Would Be Queen, Ballantine, p286

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13 thoughts on “Remembering Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley – 12 February 1554”
  1. I’ve always thought of this as just a great a tragedy as the deaths of the Boleyns and their friends, particularly taking into account the ages of the victims. Such incredible bravery, but so sad.

  2. Victims of the ambition of their elders. They showed great courage in facing a horrible death.

    And Yale may have a miniature portrait of Jane. In my blog there is a greater discussion about this miniature. It is possible that we now have a solidly attributable portrait of Jane. She looks a feisty girl, with all the Tudor colouring. I’ll let you decide.

    And as a postscript – examine the A that Jane carved in the stone (above). It is like that seen in the miniature. If so, perhaps Guildford had this miniature with him in prison and it was he who carved her name.

  3. It was this tragic tale that aroused my interest in the Tudors and then more especially in Anne after my Godmother took me to the Tower of London whe I was about 8, and then my parents encouraged this with trips to Hampton Court on Sunday afternoons. It must have been cheap to get in then as we went quite often, and I remember the deeply worn stone steps in Henry’s kitchens. And this was over 55 years ago. I too am a Christian and find these stories of what amounts to martyrs for their beliefs to be inspirational.

  4. I read her story when I was fifteen in study hall in the library, and found it so poignant.

    I also admire your own convictions as this is not an easy world, or time.

  5. Their execution is heartrending. How must it have felt, realizing they’d been played as pawns in a power grab, and then faced the block because of it. Truly, one’s faith in God would be all that remained in the hours leading to the walk to the block. Lady Jane’s panic at the end is, of course, what makes the story unforgettable. I’ll freely admit I have cried more than once upon reading the accounts of 12 February, 1554.

  6. I’ve often wondered how we have scaffold speeches seemingly word for word. Did they have shorthand in those days? 🙂

  7. I have to admit I do not know that much about Guilford as a person, just the role that he was dragged into by his powerful brother to marry Jane Grey and as her consort to sit with her in the succession to the crown. I am not that familiar with his faith, but a lot has been written about the faith and courage of Jane Grey and her courage as a 16 year old girl facing execution was to be admired as was her personal convictions as a Christian. I do not believe that Mary really wanted to execute Jane. She had spared her and Guilford in the first round of treason trials after the Dudley family and her father attempted to replace Jane with the rightful Queen. She had hoped that her cousin would recant and wanted to save her life. But even though Mary had been prepared to see her young cousin as a pawn in the first attempt to prevent her legitimate succession and becoming Queen herself; she was not quite so foolish as to spare her father and John Dudley this time.

    She had now faced two rebellions by Wyatt and by Northumberland and Jane’s father with the intent to depose her; and was not prepared to forgive her enemies a second time. When Mary came to the throne six months earlier she had forgiven Jane’s father and father-in-law and others and had allowed them to siti on the council. Now they had rebelled again and her advisors told her not to make the same mistake. As for Jane: she was now in prison and had been ever since her 9 days as Queen. Mary was in two minds as to what to do with her. But there is a school of thought that Mary’s marriage to Philip may have been in jeapardy if she did not try and execute Jane Grey. But before Mary did this; she wanted to be certain that she could not convert her cousin and save her life. Even after her condemnation, Mary sent scholars to speak with Jane and tradition has it that she gave as good as she got in the debates and discusions on the nature of the sacrament and so on. Jane I think was not only intelligent, she also had a great whit and could argue as one beyond her age. I think she must have astonished a lot of people who met and spoke with her on both theology and other subjects.

    Jane was not the little innocent that she is often portrayed however, and de Lisle portrays her more of a fanatic than a pawn, a leader, and a focus of resistence. May-be Mary saw the danger of leaving her alive; she would continue to be the focus of resistence and rebellion and one of those may succeed one day. Mary would not be the first monarch to get rid of a rival in a brutal manner and she would not be the last. How much did Jane consent or wish the rebellion that emerged in her name? That is a subject for another time, but I also think that she was a real threat to Mary and so from the point of view of the Queen she had to die; for even as a prisoner she would be seen as a forcus for Protestant hopes and as the reign went on; a real legitimate alternative to Mary’s later unpopularity.

    Jane was certainly a young lady who had an inner courage and real faith; I do not believe that has any doubt. She faced death with the courage and fortitude that you would expect from one beyond her years; and the few accounts that describe it attest to this. Yes, she had one faltering moment, but blindfolded; it would be hard for anyone not to know what was happening or what they should do; but other than this she was not afraid and she declared her faith. I do believe she died as a traitor and not as a religious martyr. She had consented to take the crown and she had acted in her own right as Queen. She was surrounded by a family who had committed treason before and would do so again; and she had a powerbase within that family: the Dudleys. She did have a choice about her actions and she did have a choice about her beliefs and was faithful to her convictions. For that she needs to be given credit as that takes courage. I do not buy into her as a tragic figure or romantic figure: both are too simplistic; Jane is much more than either of those. These are Victorian fantasies that obscure the real Jane Grey; who believed firmly in her radical Protestantism and her ‘right to the crown’. She saw her position just as God chosen aa any other monarch and there are some histroians who believe we should include Jane in the official list of Queens. But that again is another debate.

    Jane may have been young, and it is a great loss that one so talented should have lost her life before that talent and intellect could have been tapped properly. Yes, Jane had a legitimate claim to the throne, but after that of her three cousins, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth and it is possible that had she lived either she or a son or daughter of hers may have reigned. I also think that Jane had the capacity to make a good Queen and a fair ruler. But in the eyes of the government she was guilty of treason, a fact she did not deny. Sadly, even though Mary may have wanted to save her; it was not politically prudent for her to do so. Mary was the first bonified Queen in her own right to be crowned and accepted as such; she had to be seen to be acting firmly and strong against acts of rebellion and treason. If Mary had have spared Jane a second time; she would have been seen to be weak. For her people to accept that like her father she too was destined to rule by God; she could not afford weakness or sentiment; compassion was one thing; allowing herself to be fookish was another. For this reason, I believe and with reluctance, Mary condemned her cousin to death and the myth of Jane Grey was born. She may have displayed faith and courage; but she was also guilty of treason, and the government had no other real choice but to consent to her execution. Sad, but that is the terrible reality of the age in which she lived.

  8. I have been fascinated by both Jane and Edward for many years, and based my Masters thesis on their time. I also have several stories and essays about the pair on my blog site (marktaren, Mr B’s Blog) I am much in agreement with de Lisle portrayal as a Protestant Joan of Arc and portray her that way in a couple of fictional stories about her in my blog. I too morn her and Edward each year, they were a fascinating couple who have been lost in the historical narrative.

  9. I am also a committed Christian, and Lady Jane Grey is one of my heroes for this exact reason. I can only hope that if faced with the choice of denouncing my faith to save my life, I would make the exact same choice as Jane.

    I wear black in her honor every year on February 12 (and when I toured the Tower of London, I wept upon entering St. Peter ad Vincula at the thought of being so close to her and Anne Boleyn’s graves), but after reading your lovely article, I wonder now if she would want us to mourn her. Her faith was so strong that she knew “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” as they say, so if we who share her faith also believe that she is in eternity with Christ, should we not celebrate?

    On the lighter side, I also purchased my car on February 12 a few years ago, and immediately dubbed it Jane. 🙂

  10. I sometimes wonder if Edward had lived just long enough for Jane to have a son, or at least be visibly pregnant whether that would have given her the edge over Mary. Maybe the idea of a Dudley child succeeding her would have meant she had less support. Just a thought.
    I think she’d have been a queen to rival Elizabeth though- I think she had the same intelligence but was possibly more level headed.

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