Who Was Lady Jane Grey?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Lady Jane Grey was a woman who is probably best remembered for holding the British throne for the shortest-known period in history. She ruled England as queen for only nine days before being imprisoned in the Tower of London for treason, and she was ultimately executed. Jane Grey is sometimes called the “Nine Days Queen,” in a reference to her brief rule, and she is a subject of fascination among some historians, many of whom view her as a victim of circumstance.

Lady Jane Gray and her husband Guilford Dudley, were held in the Tower of London from 1553 until February 1554, when they were ordered to be executed by Queen Mary I.
Lady Jane Gray and her husband Guilford Dudley, were held in the Tower of London from 1553 until February 1554, when they were ordered to be executed by Queen Mary I.

Jane Grey was born around 1537 to Henry Grey and Lady Frances Brandon, who was related to Henry VII through her mother, Princess Mary. This put Jane Grey in the potential line of succession for the British throne, although technically she would have been behind Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, the children of Henry VIII. When Henry VIII died in 1547, his son Edward VI ascended the throne, and Jane Grey's family started plotting to put her next in line for the succession, playing on anti-Catholic sympathies which worked against the Catholic Mary Tudor, who was next in line for the throne by right.

Lady Jane Grey was married off to Lord Dudley in the hopes of securing her position, and upon the death of Edward VI in 1553, her followers proclaimed her to be the queen. At the same time, her supporters attempted to isolate the princesses Mary and Elizabeth before either could gain enough power to claim the throne. Jane Grey managed to hold the throne for nine days in July before Mary Tudor rode into London at the head of a triumphant procession to claim her rightful throne, deposing Lady Jane and imprisoning her.

Lady Jane Grey might have been pardoned by Queen Mary, but unfortunately another uprising in her name sealed her fate. Despite the fact that Lady Jane Grey was not involved in the second uprising, Queen Mary realized that she and her husband would pose a risk as long as they were allowed to live, so she signed Jane's execution order. As a mark of respect for her relative, the Queen ordered that Lady Jane Grey should be executed on the Tower Green, a privilege reserved for royalty alone.

This extremely well educated young woman was only 16 or 17 when she died in February 1554, leading some contemporaries and many future historians to believe that she was probably manipulated by people who wanted to use her birth and religion. In letters she wrote shortly before her execution, Lady Jane Grey expressed remorse for her attempt to gain the throne, and pointed the finger at some of the people who had conspired with her. Jane became a figure of tragic romance in many novels, plays, and works of art produced after her death, which is perhaps why she is better known than other English monarchs who ruled for much longer periods than she did.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


The truly sad part about Lady Jane was what happened to her two sisters. Because of Jane's supposed role in the uprisings, not only was she considered suspect, but also her sisters. Mary and Katherine lived under what amounted to house arrest for most of their lives, partly due to Mary's paranoia over the security of her throne, and afterward, because Elizabeth couldn't afford any threats, either, being the last of the Tudor line, unmarried, and in the vernacular of the day, "without issue." She was a little paranoid, herself. The book, "The Sisters Who Would Be Queen" is an excellent biography of Jane and her sisters, and is probably as comprehensive a work as has been written to date about the Grey family.

Their lives were largely ordered by powerful men who saw them as pawns in a deadly serious chess game.


It's is believed that Lady Jane Grey's final words were the same last words of Jesus Christ. Just before being beheaded she said, "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit."


Helena Bonham Carter plays Lady Jane Grey in the 1986 film Lady Jane.


That is so sad that she had to rule for only nine days. However, it is a lesson to many rulers.

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