Lady Jane Grey - An Engraving by Willem van de Passe
Lady Jane Grey - An Engraving by Willem van de Passe

On this day in history, 12th February 1554, Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford Dudley were executed for treason after being imprisoned in the Tower of London from the end of July 1553 when Mary successfully assumed the crown and was proclaimed Mary I of England.

The Nine Days Queen

Lady Jane Grey is famously known as “The Nine Days Queen” and in his biography of Jane, “Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery”, Eric Ives writes:-

“Over the centuries there has been almost a tacit agreement to play down Jane Grey’s revolt…The name by which Jane Grey is universally remembered says it all: “The nine days queen” – not so much because she ruled for nine days (the more correct figure is thirteen), but because her reign was a proverbial “nine days wonder”. Yet when Edward died, Jane’s succession had looked secure.”

and makes the point that “History is always written by the winners”. We don’t remember Jane as Queen Jane but as “Lady Jane” and she doesn’t even make it on to some lists of monarchs of England. How sad!

She is forgotten because she didn’t win, the crown was taken from her and so she was only monarch for 13 short days. We skip from Edward VI to Mary I and gloss over Queen Jane. This is summed up when Matthew Hale calls Jane’s reign “only a small usurpation…which lasted but a few days and soon went out”, but Eric Ives argues against this. He says that if we truly believe that then “we are faced with irrationality – men behaving like lemmings after lives spent successfully negotiating the uncertainty and murky thickness of Tudor politics”. With hindsight, we can see that Jane’s reign was not successful, but there was every reason at the time for people to believe that it would be, that Jane would reign until her death. Men did not throw their lot in with Jane to risk their necks for nothing, they did it because they supported Edward VI’s will, his “Device for the Succession”, and believed that Jane was the rightful queen.

I will write more about Jane’s short reign in the near future, but now let’s talk about the events of the 12th February 1554.

The Execution of Guildford Dudley

Guildford Dudley was the son of John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland and Edward VI’s chief advisor, and the brother of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth I’s future favourite. He married Jane Grey in May 1553, in a triple wedding which saw Jane’s sister Katherine marrying Lord Herbert and Guildford’s sister Catherine Dudley marrying Lord Hastings.

When Mary I seized the throne, Jane, Jane’s father, Guildford, his brothers and father were imprisoned in the Tower of London. John Dudley, Guildford’s father, was executed on the 22nd August 1553 for high treason. Jane and Guildford were tried for high treason on the 13th November 1553, found guilty and sentenced to death, but it seemed likely that they would be spared until Mary I was forced to act after the Protestant Wyatt’s Rebellion of January 1554.

Guildford Dudley
Guildford Dudley

At 10 o’clock on the morning of the 12th February 1554, Guildford Dudley was taken by Thomas Offley, the Sheriff of London, to a scaffold on Tower Hill. He had asked to see his wife to say farewell but she had refused “as their meeting would only tend to increase their misery and pain.” Instead of seeing this as proof that Jane was “an ice maiden who despised her weak husband”, Eric Ives believes that Jane was struggling “to retain her own focus” and could not bear to see Guildford.

There was no priest on the scaffold with Guildford, which implies that he stuck to his Protestant beliefs, rather than recanting like his father had. He addressed the crowd briefly and then knelt, praying and “holding up his eyes and hands to God many times”. He then asked the crowd to pray for him and then set his head on the block before him. His head was severed with one blow. Ten years after Guildford’s death, Richard Grafton wrote that “even those that never before the time of his execution saw him, did with lamentable tears bewail his death.”

Guildford’s body and head were then taken by cart back to the Tower for burial in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. It is said that Jane saw his body being unloaded and in his chronicle Holinshed writes that Jane met the cart as she herself was being led out to die. Ives writes that, despite her ladies trying to dissuade her, Jane insisted on watching the cart from a window and was said to utter “Oh Guildford, Guildford.”

Continued in The Execution of Lady Jane Grey – Part Two

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8 thoughts on “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey – Part One”
  1. From what I understand, Lady Jane Grey was treated badly by her mother and father. She had a short and not so happy life.
    It seems that Guildford Dudley was a decent man and that he and Lady Jane had a loving relationship, for the short time it lasted. I think that when the time came for the executions, they were comforted by the thought that they would be together for eternity in the next life in heaven.
    The fate of Lady Jane, was totally in the hands of her father in law who pressured Edward into going against the lline of succession.

    It is always amazing to me how people in those days, today even maybe, could be so cruel to their own children. There didn’t seem to be any moral rules against hurting or even having your own children murdered for power and postion.

    One more thing, curious, weren’t Lady Jane and Edward close? I think Edward had a special place in his heart for her.

  2. Hi Julie,
    Frances Grey (nee Brandon) has often been depicted as a tyrant and cruel mother due to a conversation between Roger Ascham and Jane, where Jane talked of her “sharp and severe parents”, being “cruelly threatened…with pinches, nips and bobs”, as opposed to the gentle treatment she received from Aylmer, her tutor. However, Leanda de Lisle challenges that perception of Frances in “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen”, saying that “Ascham’s image of a kindly Aylmer and bullying parents was never an accurate one” and “Since the 18th century she [Frances] has been used as the shadow that casts into brilliant light the eroticised figure of female helplessness that Jane came to represent”. While Jane read alone and then spoke to Ascham, the rest of the household were out hunting and de Lisle writes of how this event has been used against Frances to make her into a “bloodthirsty huntress”, the predatory woman and “ruthless destroyer” of Trevor Nunn’s film, “Lady Jane”, in which Frances is shown killing a deer on white snow, killing an innocent.
    Ives also talks of the myths that surround Frances, that she was cruel, predatory and scheming. He mentions that the portrait which has been used to back up the myths, the portrait of a “female Henry VIII”, is not Frances at all.
    So perhaps we have been misled by the words of a teenage girl who wanted to read a book instead of go hunting, a teenage girl who may have argued with her parents that day. I remember “hating” my parents on a regular basis and thinking they were cruel when they wouldn’t let me do what I wanted to do!

  3. Hi Claire,
    Yes, I do recall that in the movie “Lady Jane”, it depicted Frances to be a mean and harsh woman. The one part in particular when Frances beat Jane until she agreed to marry Guildford Dudley. And when Jane was queen, she and Guildford spoke about a world where “children are not beaten, but loved and nutured”.
    Who knows how accurate movies and books are, but I agree with you, Frances may not have been the tyrant she is made out to be.

  4. The movie, from what I understand, having not seen it, seems highly innaccurate. Although Jane did have abusive and proud politicking parents, they were not any more abusive than many of the families of the time. Concerning her husband Guilford, she did not ever truly “love” him, thinking him immature. On the other hand, one may conclude that Guilford loved Jane because of the carving of her name within his jail cell in the Tower of London. He was a devoted but demanding husband, also victim to the ambition of his father John Dudley. The real tyrant of the story of Jane Grey was John Dudley, who manipulated and constructed the whole plot, simply so he would not have to lose his power within the government.

  5. I dunno… I kind of believe that Lady Jane had cruel parents, at least her mother. I don’t know how “teenager-ish” adolescents were at that time, and I don’t think every teenager hates their parents, or throws temper tantrums. I certainly didn’t. I don’t know- just an opinion, I guess.

    1. In her portrait she doesn’t look very nice she resembles her uncle Henry V111, I don’t think she was a very maternal woman, and what I find so sad is that after Janes execution she was pardoned by the Queen and was allowed back at court she was able to continue her life even marrying again, whilst her poor unfortunate daughter was mouldering in her grave, Jane was highly intelligent and is said to have surpassed Princess Elizabeth she was a daughter any mother should have been proud of, Frances Brandon comes across as very selfish to me, she sacrificed her daughter for her own ambition I just pray that that thought haunted her to the grave.

  6. I personally think Jane and Guildford cared for each other as much as anyone in their situations could, maybe lust as they were both only young. did anyone in Tudor times really love each other?

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