Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey

As Guildford Dudley’s body was brought back from Tower Hill, his wife Lady Jane Grey waited with the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir John Brydges, his brother and deputy – Thomas Brydges, her two ladies and John Feckenham, Mary I’s chaplain and confessor, who had been sent to Jane to prepare her for her death.

According to Eric Ives, Sir John had arranged for Jane to give her prayer book to Thomas, his brother, to then be taken to her father, the Duke of Suffolk, but first asked her to write something in it. Jane obliged and wrote:-

“Forasmuch as you have desired so simple a woman to write in so worthy a book, good Master Lieutenant, therefore I shall as a friend desire you, and as a Christian require you, to call upon God to incline your heart to his laws, to quicken you in his way, and not to take the word of truth utterly out of your mouth.

Live still to die, that by death you may purchase eternal life, and remember how the end of Methuselah, who, as we read in the scriptures, was the longest liver that was of a man, died at the last: for as the Preacher [Ecclesiastes] says, there is a time to be born and a time to die; and the day of death is better than the day of our birth.

Yours, as the Lord knows, as a friend, Jane Dudley”

Lady Jane Grey was then led out by the Lieutenant, followed by the others, to a scaffold in Tower Green, where she was to have a private execution, unlike her husband who had been executed on Tower Hill. Ives writes that Jane’s ladies wept as they walked but Jane controlled her emotions. He describes her as:-

“Dressed as for her trial, all in black, she carried her prayer book which she read from all the way”.

Ives also makes the rather sad comment that “Jane’s death was little more than an exercise in refuse disposal” and that it is not likely that she had as many spectators as someone like Anne Boleyn. How awful that Jane’s short life made such little impact.

He then goes on to describe her execution in detail. As she climbed the scaffold, Jane askedThomas Brydges if she was allowed to speak her mind, he agreed and she made the following speech:-

“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.”

In this speech we can see that, at first, Jane was following the usual convention of conceding that her sentence was legal but she then goes on to talk of her innocence. She then talks of how she believes in salvation by faith alone (the Protestant belief), that she deserves her death, for her sins, and then finishes by asking for prayers; however, she makes it clear that she does not need prayer for her soul after her death because she believes that she is already saved. “To the last Jane was determined to witness to the truth – and in Greek, her beloved Greek, the word for witness was martyr” Eric Ives.

After her speech, Jane then knelt and said Psalm 51, the Misere, in English “in a most devout manner to the end”:-

“Have mercy upon me O God, after they great goodness: according to the multitude of thy mercies, do away mine offences.”

Jane then thanked her companions, embraced Feckenham saying “Go and may God satisfy every wish of yours” and then prepared herself for her execution by removing her gloves and handkerchief, handing her prayer book to Thomas Brydges, removing her gown, headdress and collar, and then forgiving the executioner who knelt before her.

When the executioner asked her to move onto the straw and she saw the block, Jane asked “I pray you, despatch me quickly” and then when she knelt before the block “Will you take it off before I lay me down?”. “No, madam” was the answer and we can only imagine how the executioner felt as he saw this teenage girl before him. Ives then writes that Jane tossed her head forward, out of the way of her neck, and put on the blindfold. It was then that she panicked: “What shall I do? Where is it?” as she searched frantically for the block. Seeing her panic and seeing that her companions were helpless, a bystander had to approach Jane and guide her to the block. She then put her neck on the block and said “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit” and head was taken off with one blow of the axe.

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

Ives writes that after her death “the shock drained the Tower of all resolution. Hours later Jane’s headless body still lay on the scaffold in a welter of blood.” It seems that people were shocked by the bloody end of this innocent young life.

I’m going to end this article with Eric Ives’s poignant conclusion from his final chapter “Envoi”, I can’t do any better!

“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.”

Ives then finishes with Jane’s own words:-

“If my faults deserve punishment, my youth at least, and my imprudence were worthy of excuse; God and posterity will show me favour.”


Recommended Reading

There are two books I would highly recommend you read to get a balanced view of Lady Jane Grey and the events that led to her execution in 1554 – “Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery” by Eric Ives and “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen” by Leanda de Lisle. Leanda and Eric are both respected historians who have meticulously researched the Greys and they both have different views on Jane and also on her family. Both books are great reads.

If you want to read my reviews of both these books then click the links below:-

Lady Jane Grey Exhibition

See Paul Delaroche’s painting “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” with your own eyes at the National Gallery’s Lady Jane Grey exhibition – click here for details.

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23 thoughts on “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey – Part Two”
  1. Its so sad. All these woman suffered because of men, Mary should have been Queen, she was Henrys daughter however then Edward changed the law, so was Jane commiting treason? I don’t think so. Also Mary was delcared a bastard so did she have a right to be Queen? Who knows!! I do see Jane as been a Queen even if only for a short period. Another woman who lost her life because of Henry VIII in an indirect way!

  2. I agree with Gemma. Jane Grey’s story is really sad and I believe that she was unjustly executed. However, I’m sure that if she would’ve been allowed to live she would have continued to be a threat to Mary I’s reign, so she had to die. It kind of reminds me of how Edward V and his brother Richard were killed to secure Richard III position on the throne. So many innocent lives lost…

  3. Claire, this is a touching and vivid scene. It is doubtful that Mary Tudor would have executed Lady Jane except for the Wyatt rebellion, which also caused Mary to imprison her sister Elizabeth in the Tower. As long as a claimant to the throne existed Mary was in danger. This was true for all reigning royalty for centuries.

    Jeane Westin, His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester, August, 2010

  4. There is another thing that has to be mentioned as to why Mary chose to execute Jane when it was assumed that Jane and her husband would be pardoned after a time – Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and Jane’s father, supported Wyatt’s Protestant Rebellion. Even if Jane had no desire to take Mary’s throne, her father’s behavior – after he was initially pardoned by Mary and allowed to live outside of the Tower and return to court, sealed her fate.

  5. Jane Grey’s story and her end is really sad.. The words of Eric Ives are so beautiful and true… She was so young and innocent, I don’t think she could have done anything different that would alter her fate.

  6. i think the lady jane grey was so young to die like that and queen mary the 1st (bloody mary) was an awful queen i thank god she was old when she went on the thrown becuase there was a lot of death in there time thank god for the lady jane grey and thank god for her cusin Elizabeth the 1st
    i’m in moring for the lady jane grey she had an awful end ;[

  7. Dear Claire, just noticed your mention of the Delaroche exhibition at the National Gallery, London. I am giving a talk in a theatre at the gallery on March 5th, 6.30 pm entitled ‘Death Becomes Her: the Life & Afterlife of Lady Jane Grey, I will discuss some of the myths about Jane inspired and reflected in the painting, and try and fit in something about her sisters too! admission £5.00, concessions £3.00. I will be signing books afterwards, best wishes, Leanda de Lisle

  8. Nancy, I agree that Jane’s father caused her death by his actions both immediately after Edward VI’s death and six months later by his role in Wyatt’s Rebellion (while his daughter was sitting in the Tower under sentence of death!). Jane thought so, too, but forgave him. Alison Weir, in “The Children of Henry VIII”, relates that Jane’s father, who was to die himself 11 days after his daughter, “…began sending her piteous messages begging for forgiveness.” Jane replied:

    ‘Father, although it hath pleased God to hasten my death by you, by whom my life should have been lengthened, yet can I so patiently take it that I yield God hearty thanks for shortening my woeful days. …The Lord continue to keep you, that at the last we may meet in Heaven. Your obedient daughter till death.’ I don’t think I could be that forgiving.

    Interesting tidbit: Jane’s father was only 39 when he died. For some reason, I had always imagined him older.

  9. If I remember correctly, H8 wlled his throne to 1)) his son Edward and descendants and if no issue 2) to Mary and descendants and if no issue 3) to Elizabeth and if no issue 4) to the descendantes of his sister Mary Tudor who married Chales Brandon and only had daughters, Lady Jane grey being th eldest. After the demise of the Earl of Hertford, the Earl of Warwick kept a tight control on Edward VI and his “spare” unmarried son, Guilford married Jane grey (again, I feel it was a forced marriage). Under Edward, England was becoming more and more protestant so the Earl of Warwick thought he had a good chance of setting Jane up as Queen over Mary because she was “legimate” in everyone’s eyes and if she married one of his sons, then he would definitely have control. The will of the ordinary peoplem was not taken into consideration and on the death of Edward, the majority seemed to go towards Mary Tudor as the legimate successor even though she was catholic (and the north of England remained very catholic) but also felt she would be lenient, which she was to a certain extent. If I remember corretly, the Earl of Warwick died in a battle, Guildord and Robert Dudley were taken prisoner and eventually Jane and Guilford were executed before/after (?) the WEyatt rebellion which seemed to push for Elizabth, not Jane to take teh throne. Was the execution of Jane something to do with Mary’s proposed marriage to Philip of Spain. Toung George, Duke of Clarence, was execuited by H7 to show the Spanish Royal family who was in xharge of England.

    Carolyn, you say you were surprised at the “tender age” of Jane’s father when he was executed at 39 – In those days that would have been into Middle age.

  10. Jenny, Jane was not Mary Tudor’s eldest daughter, she was Mary Tudor’s granddaughter. Jane’s mother was Frances Brandon who was the daughter of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. So in essence Jane was the great-niece of Henry VIII :-).

  11. Thanks for all the wonderful comments! It is very sad that Jane (and Guildford) died because of Henry Grey’s actions and probably would have been spared if he hadn’t got involved.
    I find it interesting that not only was Jane a Tudor, being the grand-daughter of Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister), but she was also descended from Elizabeth Woodville and her first husband Sir John Grey. Pretty good heritage! Plus she was legitimate, whereas Mary and Elizabeth were both deemed illegitimate.

    At the start of Eric Ive’s book, there are figures showing the succession as Henry VIII willed it and then the different versions of Edward VI’s “deuise”. When Edward was first thinking about his successor he did not think of Jane, but of her male issue, but obviously as his health deteriorated and Jane had no children he had to change this. What was his thinking behind it? He obviously did not want to let the throne pass to the Catholic Mary after all his/his council’s work to make England Protestant, plus Mary and Elizabeth were illegitimate. He didn’t just pluck Jane out of the air, she was a Tudor and had a strong claim. Unfortunately for Jane, Mary was a strong character, had support and could also refer to her father’s will to get support. A messy situation.

    Yes, Jenny, Jane was executed in the February following Wyatt’s Rebellion in the January. Philip of Spain and his council did put put pressure on Mary to deal with the threat that Jane posed, the fact that she could be used as a figurehead for further rebellion as Protestants sought to restore her to the throne which Edward VI had willed to her. Elizabeth was lucky to escape really as she was also imprisoned and interrogated after Wyatt’s Rebellion.

    Thanks for the comment, Leanda, I’ve added your talk to the Events 2010 page and will also blog about it. I’m just sorry that I can’t be there as it sounds like a great talk.

  12. Alexis,

    Yes you are right and I knew it – just writing far too quickly as usual.

    But the question arises in my mind, if Mary Tudor wanted rid of the Dudleys, why was Robert Dudley spared especially as he originally did take part in the rebellion against Mary when she was due to take the throne?

  13. I didn’t think Mary wanted to get rid of all the Dudleys, mostly just John, the Duke of Northumberland, who was seen as the prime mover and shaker behind persuading Edward to leave the throne to Jane instead of Mary. The others were quietly released over a period of months. Even Jane and Guildford, who had been sentenced to death, were plainly hoping to be released by Mary, and probably would have been if not for Jane’s father (who had also been released by Mary) showing his willingness to stir up revolt again after Mary showed him mercy. At this, Philip II’s councilors threatened to not let Philip travel to England for the marriage unless Mary could demonstrate that she was in control of her own country and there was no danger to Philip. At that point, Jane, her father, and her husband had to go.

  14. Jenny, I didn’t say I was “surprised” and I didn’t say “tender age”. I just said my mental image was older. I’m aware that it is because the age I live in commonly sees a parent with grown children as being older than in one’s 30s. I was laughing at my own preconceptions more than anything, and wondering if anyone else felt the same way.

  15. Hi Carolyn,

    In those days, 39 was getting on abit – These days people are still “Spring Chickens”. I had much older parents and when I was much younger, was actuallt shocked at seeing the youth of my friends’ parents!!!

    Most women in the Tudor era were giving birth in their earlly teens (okay it is now happening again in certain parts of Britain) but nowadays a lot of women leave childbirth until their 30s. I had a very arty cousin who wanted children early (from 19 onwards when she got married) so she could enjoy her later life – Others do it in reverse – but if peopel want children, at any age they are a joy.

    And I think you are right in that Jane and Guilford would have remainedliving (although possibly in custody) if Pa had not put his foot in it. The fanous “wheel turns” as the price of the lives was similar to theh price of the life of the young Duke of Clarence when H7 was negotiating with Isabel and fernidad of Spain over Cathrine of Aragon’s marriage

  16. being interested in English history, the schemes, lies, jealousies, and just plain insecurity played a big part in these executions. what did Mary 1 have to gain by executing her cousin Edward VI made it clear who would follow him on the throne. I see where beliefs in certain religions plays a part. Myself, am a Lutheran and glad I didnt live back then. who knows what would of happened if Mary I would have converted. she was determined to take England back to the true faith Catholic faith. stay tuned. too bad Henry died in his middle ages.

  17. Mary may have been Henry VIII’s daughter and named by him as one of his heirs, but the fact still remains that Edward overrode that by leaving his throne to Jane, which as King himself, he had every right to name his own willful heir. Mary had more support, but the crown rightfully belonged to Jane in my eyes. Of course, though it saddens me that a young girl lost her life and Bloody Mary became queen, both events paved the way for Elizabeth to inherit the throne after her sister, which was arguably worth it.

  18. Can I just recommend to all Jane Grey and Tudor fans alike, please read ‘Innocent Traitor’ by Alison Weir. It’s fiction, but what a BRILLIANT book, so emotional, so upsetting, so powerful. You really feel for poor Jane. What a brilliant girl she was, but so used, so hurt, people were so indifferent to her.

    I think Eric Ives sounds great, I will have to try both his books. All 4 Tudor queens died in the saddest of manners. Although Katherine Howard and Jane Grey were both aged 17-18 at the time of their death, Jane – let’s be honest – was much more innocent, much more clever, and much more used by cruel men. However I don’t think we can compare them. They had completely different circumstances.

    Her story is so distressing, and I must say I feel such pity for her. I think we should admire the bravery and courage of this woman, who refused to give up a Protestant death and instead died for it – had she became Catholic, it is said Mary I would have forgiven her.

    1. I’m reading it now it is as you say Conor a brilliant book, and yes it is awful that she chose to die for her beliefs rather than convert to Roman Catholic , they took religion so seriously in those days it’s very sad that a young girl thought that more important than her own life, it was a different age and so grim but in these days she would be thinking of nothing more than parties and boyfriends, thank heavens now religion doesn’t play such a big part in people’s lives, it used to rule theirs in the 16 th century.

  19. In Eric Ives book Lady Jane A Tudor Mystery he states that she was the rightful Queen of England, having been named so by King Edward, he had the legitimate right to do so as he was the King, therefore she was not committing treason by accepting the crown, and I think it was morally wrong that she was executed after all, Queen Matilda was the rightful heir to her father Henry 1 and when Stephen took it he wasn’t executed for it after Matilda won the battle and he was put in prison, it was the pressure put on her by Spain and the Catholics, yet I would just have banished her abroad and the rest of her ignoble family, Henry V111s will stated that he didn’t want the crown passed to the heirs of his sister Margaret yet that is what Elizabeth did when she named James 1 as her successor, I don’t see why Jane should have died and her mother go free, had I been Queen Mary I’d never have spoken to her again

  20. Jane must have known what was coming, given the thirst for power her husband’s family had always nurtured. Her only remaining strength and solace was her souls’ rock solid faith. She is eternally among the angels now, as so many believers who came before and since. The very elements of a world everlasting.

  21. Was Jane Grey a traitor? Probably not, but maybe that’s the wrong question? Was Jane dangerous should be the correct question?

    Jane came to the crown in response to her cousin’s will called My Devise for the Succession, which was the last thing executed by Edward vi before he died, although it was never completely lawful because it wasn’t ratified by Parliament, which wasn’t meant to meet until after Edward died. Nor was it entirely accepted by the Council who were reluctant but won over nor did the Judges fully accept it, although it was passed by Letters Patent. Jane was therefore Queen by his decree and as such she was proclaimed and took up her position in the Tower of London to await her coronation.

    Mary, meanwhile, the legitimate heir, restored by the Third Succession Act of King Henry Viii, in 1544 was warned to escape and went to her estates and soon raised support on land and sea. Within 13 days Mary had been proclaimed Queen, the Council abandoned Jane, the army withdrawn and Jane was no longer Queen. Northumberland was a traitor, her father was as well. Mary had the former executed and pardoned the latter. Jane and Guildford were found guilty of treason in November 1553 but spared. However, Henry Grey was a fool and supported the Wyatt Rebellion aimed at putting Princess Elizabeth on the throne and killing Mary. The condemned were now in danger.

    There is evidence that Mary intended to pardon Jane, whom she believed was innocent and a pawn, although her signature on certain proclamations and orders had implicated her in her own treason. Mary was now Queen, crowned and anointed, proclaimed by popular demand and right, triumphant and Henry Viii’s daughter. Nobody even knew who Jane was, let alone how or why she was being proclaimed Queen, and above her own mother as well. It looked as if she would free her young cousin and her husband, who she regarded as a fool, but also a pawn. However, the actions of Henry Grey and others showed that Jane was fanatical and dangerous. She could be used again to try and transplant Mary. Reluctantly Mary agreed to her execution. How could someone in the Tower be dangerous? Remember King Henry vi, although mad had been removed by the Earl of Warwick to be put back on the throne, while in the Tower and Edward iv had fled. He was the only deposed monarch ever to make a triumphant comeback. Edward was triumphant and Henry murdered. Mary’s grandfather faced threats from those who wanted to use the young Edward, another Earl of Warwick against him and Henry Tudor had to fight to keep his throne on more than one occasion. Warwick was eventually considered too dangerous and killed. Maybe these were the arguments her Council used and persuaded Mary to agree to her execution. Traitor in the real sense, probably not, too dangerous to be set free and a perceived threat, most certainly.

    In the end her story is a real tragedy. However, she wasn’t simply a victim and was fanatical in her own beliefs. In a reversed situation, her choice regarding Mary would have been exactly the same. After all, she was a Tudor, even if her blood was watered down. None of them were entirely safe on the throne, not without seeing someone as a threat or rival. We do this intelligent and devout and scholarly young woman little justice by merely seeing her as either victim or pawn. She was so much more than that and should be celebrated as such.

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