Sixteenth century England was a turbulent time in the religious life of its citizens. The Reformation and Henry VIII’s ‘Great Matter’ had turned Catholic against Protestant. This was a time of greed, as well as, controversy. As Henry VIII neared the end of his rule over England, many became thirsty for power and awaited any chance to attain it, no matter what, or who, was at stake. It was into thia hectic time that Jane Grey was born. A Protestant and grandniece to Henry VIII, Lady Jane was almost destined for tragedy. Having been so innocent and so eager to please, Jane was the perfect target for manipulation. Lady Jane Grey was an innocent victim of greed who was born into royalty, forced into marriage, forced onto the throne, and executed for the crime of others.
Jane Grey was born into the royal Grey family in October of 1537. At the Bradgate Manor in Leicestershire Hills the Greys received their first daughter (Luke 25). Although Jane was the first child raised by her parents, childbirth was not uncommon to her mother. Frances Grey had already given birth to and lost two children, making her desperate to give her husband the son he desired (Luke 25). Although disappointed, Frances and Henry Grey decided to name their child Jane in honor of the Queen, which Henry hurried off to see (Hal 1). At this same time, Queen Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, was giving birth to the king’s son, Edward (Luke 26). By the age of three, Jane had begun her education. Being of nobility, it was normal to begin that young (Hal 2). When Jane was nine years old she went to live with Queen Catherine Parr. Queen Catherine was the sixth of Henry VIII’s wives. This experience was to teach Jane the ways of the Royal Court (Hal 3). Queen Catherine was overtaken with childbed fever after giving birth at Sudeley Castle in September of 1548. Jane was assigned chief mourner at her funeral (Luke 103). Although this may seem difficult for a young girl to handle, Jane was strong.
When Jane was fourteen years of age she was forced into marriage against her will. King Edward VI was sick with tuberculosis and nearing the end of his life at only fifteen. Edward needed to be married and produce an heir in order to keep Protestant rule over England(Hal 3). Mary and Elizabeth, daughters of Henry VIII, were listed in Henry’s will as the next two in line to the throne. Both women were Catholic(Hal 3). It was John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who found an interest in Jane, her being the fourth in line to the throne. Being chief minister to Edward, Dudley knew he may lose his power due to his fierce anti-Catholic ways. To Dudley, Jane was his only chance in retaining the power and status he had acquired(Hal 3). The Duke of Northumberland then conspired a plan, in which his first step was to befriend Henry and Frances Grey. By May he had convinced them to formalize their alliance through marriage. Jane was summoned to see her parents where she was informed that she was to marry Guildford Dudley, son of John Dudley(Hal 4). Jane Grey protested sharply because of her strong dislike for the Dudley family, but she was assured that life would not change and go on as usual. Jane and Gulidford were wed at the old Durham House on May 25, 1553(Luke 229). In the same ceremony Jane’s two younger sisters were married as well. This tied John Dudley to three of the most powerful families at court(Luke 230).
Within two months of her marriage to Dudley, Jane was forced onto the throne, again against her will. John Dudley had informed the Greys of his plan within ten days of the wedding. Jane and Guildford began living together at the Durham House(Hal 4). Jane had protested living with him as man and wife. The Duchess of Nothumberland had gotten very angry about Jane’s complaining when she had to leave home. Jane was also informed of Edward’s illness at this time. She was told to be prepared for anything the king may ask of her. John Dudley knew he needed to complete his plan soon(Hal 4). First, he convinced Edward to change the line of succession. He claimed that his father would have wanted to continue Protestant rule over England. Secondly, he needed to convince the Council to allow the change. He did this, basically, with verbal threats(Hal 4). Once everyone had agreed, a formal document was written up which officially removed the two daughters from the line of succession. Frances Grey was summoned to see the king where she declined the crown. This made Jane the successor. King Edward died on the gloomy Thursday morning of July sixth(Luke 252). Jane was not informed of the king’s death until Sunday. She was at the Chelsea Manor House, where she had been sick for a few weeks. It was her sister-in-law who delivered the news and told her she had been summoned to the Syon House(Hal 5). Upon her entrance to the room, everyone began to kneel before her. Not knowing why, she began to blush. John Dudley then approached her and knelt as he announced that she was the new Queen of England(Hal 5). Jane was reluctant, repeating over and over that she was not pleased. She insisted that she did not want to take the throne. Northumberland began telling Jane that it was her royal duty, saying this was of the late king’s wanting. Her parents also insisted she take the position. Finally, Jane accepted and asked everyone to pray, “if to succeed to the throne was indeed my duty and my right, that He would aid me to govern the realm to his glory”(qtd. in Luke 268). With that said, Lady Jane Grey was officially declared Queen of England.
After nine days of being queen and a short time of imprisonment, Jane was beheaded for the crimes of others. Large crowds gathered on the tenth of July at the Tower of London. There was very much excitement due to the new queen’s arrival. On this same day, Mary received a letter from council informing her that she had been named illegitimate(Hal 6). Having been informed that somebody was coming to take her into custody, Mary fled to Framlingham Castle in Norfolk. On the eleventh, the Lord High Treasurer brought the crown to Jane to see how it fit. Jane refused, saying she had no desire to see any royal jewels(Hal 6). It was at this time that Jane realized Dudley’s plan. Jane discovered that John Dudley had only wanted for his son to be crowned king. This would give him supreme power. Once Jane learned of this she announced that she would not grant Guildford kingship(Hal 6). During the next week, Northumberland was chosen to go for the capturing of Mary. While Dudley was gone, the councillors began to speculate on his loyalty. On Tuesday, July eighteenth, the entire council met at Baynard’s Castle. Here they proclaimed John Dudley a traitor and Mary the rightful queen(Hal 6). The following day, in Cambridge, Dudley was arrested. Jane and Guildford were at the same time imprisoned. After all of his efforts, John Dudley could not avoid death. On August 23, he was beheaded(Hal 6). Jane and Guildford went on trial on November 13. They were both found guilty and sentenced to death. Yet, their death warrants were not signed by Mary until February seventh. On February 8, Jane was visited by Dr. Feckenham, who gave her one last chance to convert to Cathlocism(Hal 7). She declined the opportunity.On the twelth, Jane looked out the window and watched as Guildford was taken away. No more than two hours later, the guards came for Jane. She was very strong and did not cry. She untied her own neckerchief and recited the fifty-first psalm. Jane covered her own eyes and found her way to her head’s final resting place(Luke 289). When the task was done the executioner held up her head and said, “So perish all the queen’s enemies. Behold, the head of a traitor”(qtd. in Hal 7).
Indeed, the sixteenth century was a time of much turmoil. For the citizens it was a difficult time, but for those of royalty it was even more so. A perfect example of this is Lady Jane Grey. By her own parents and the Duke John Dudley, whom I believe is the true villian of this story, Jane was betrayed. Lady Jane Grey was a brave young woman who was manipulated by others and had to pay the ultimate price of death for a crime in which she was innocent.