Today in History: Lady Jane Grey Deposed

Lady Jane Grey

On July, 18, 1553, after only nine days as the monarch of England, Lady Jane Grey is deposed in favor of her cousin Mary. The fifteen year old Lady Jane had not really wanted to be on the throne but reluctantly agreed. This decision resulted in her execution.

The great granddaughter of King Henry VII, Lady Jane had nearly married King Edward VI in 1549, her cousin. In May 1553 she married Lord Guildford Dudley, the son of John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland.

When King Edward fell deathly ill with tuberculosis soon after Lady Jane’s marriage. John Dudley persuaded that he should choose Jane as the royal successor over Edward’s half-sister Mary because Jane was Protestant while Mary was a Catholic. Protestants and Catholics warred for much of England’s history. Jane was seen as desirable because as a Protestant she would support the Church of England. On July 6, 1553, Edward died and four days later Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England.

The Royal Council supported Lady Jane but the populace favored Mary, who was the actual rightful heir. Support for Mary grew very quickly and many of Jane’s supporters abandoned her.

Two days into Lady Jane’s reign, Dudley left London with an army to suppress Mary’s forces. Once he left, the Royal Council declared him a traitor and, quickly changing sides, recognized Mary as queen. This ended Lady Jane’s nine day reign.

By July 20, most of Dudley’s army had deserted him. The same day, Jane was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Her father-in-law was condemned for high treason, and was executed on August 23. On November 13, Jane and her husband were also found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Because of their youth and relative innocence (after all, it had been John Dudley who persuaded King Edward to name her queen), Mary did not carry out the death sentences.

However, Lady Jane’s luck would run out. In early 1554, her father, Henry Grey, joined Sir Thomas Wyatt in an insurrection against Mary after the queen had announced her intention to marry Philip II of Spain. While suppressing this revolt, Mary decided she needed to also eliminate her political opponents. On February 7, she signed the death warrants for Lady Jane and her husband.

On the morning of February 12, Jane watched her husband be carried away to execution from the window of her cell in the Tower of London. Two hours later Lady Jane faced her own execution.

An English lore states that after the death of the sixteen year old Lady Jane, her executioner held Jane’s head up and recited, “So perish all the queen’s enemies! Behold, the head of a traitor!”

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