Lady Jane Grey Dudley

1536/7 – 1554
 
     
     
 
     The sixteenth century is an enduringly popular period in English history among modern audiences, spawning whole libraries of books of both fact and fiction, innumerable films and television shows, and much more. It is even arguable that a significant portion of the modern British tourist industry, as it relates to history, consciously focuses itself on what we today call ‘The Tudor Period’. Within that 118-year span (1485–1603), a handful of historical individuals garner the overwhelming majority of attention. First among these, of course, is Henry VIII, who is utterly synonymous with ‘The Tudor Period.’ Second only to him is his youngest daughter, Elizabeth I. The remaining pre-eminent figures are similarly royal or quasi-royal: Mary Tudor, Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon, even Mary Stuart (though Scots, she ‘crosses over’ as an exceedingly popular person in Tudor English history). One more semi-royal female rounds out the list of ‘Most Popular Persons Of The Tudor Period’: Lady Jane Grey.

     More correctly called Lady Jane Dudley, she was a great-granddaughter of the founder of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII, and his queen-consort, Elizabeth of York. Through her mother Frances Brandon, herself the daughter of Henry VII’s fifth child and third daughter Mary, Jane was the grandniece of Henry VIII.[1] Through her father Henry Grey, she was also Henry VIII’s first cousin in the half blood, twice removed. In other words, Jane, her mother, her father, and King Henry VIII were all descended from a single common ancestor: Elizabeth Woodville (d. 1492), Queen Consort to King Edward IV (d.1483).

     Jane was most probably born in late 1536[2], entering the world at an exceptionally dynamic point in English history. The English Church had only recently (1534) ended its allegiance to the Roman Catholic system of church governance. English monasteries were beginning to be closed en masse, and new doctrines were challenging the long-established system of religious belief and practice. Those changes were fueled in part by the rapid expansion of education among the wealthy, aided by the newly-invented printing press. For the first time in English history, appreciable (though still very limited) numbers of women began to be academically educated. Politically, Queen Anne Boleyn had been executed just months earlier in May 1536, and a new queen, Jane Seymour, had taken her place. Henry VIII’s only children to survive from his two previous marriages, daughters Mary and Elizabeth, had both been declared illegitimate and removed from the royal succession. Despite a near-obsessive pursuit, Henry had as yet failed to sire a legitimate male heir that could survive infancy.[3] The Second Act of Succession (June 1536) had empowered Henry to set aside traditional inheritance patterns and to name a successor of his choice, and many believed his only acknowledged illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, was the likely candidate.[4] But Fitzroy died unexpectedly in July 1536, leaving only the descendants of Henry’s two sisters, Margaret and Mary, within the Tudor blood line. Yet many sixteenth-century theorists argued that persons born under a foreign allegiance or continuing to hold such allegiance could not inherit the English crown, which would have eliminated Henry’s elder sister Margaret Tudor Stuart Douglas.[5] In such case, Jane was, at her birth, second in line to the throne after her own mother Frances, as senior lineal descendants of Henry’s deceased younger sister Mary Tudor Brandon. Still, it was assumed by all that God would provide Henry with sons by Jane Seymour.[6]


     Tradition holds that Jane was raised almost exclusively at the Grey family seat of Bradgate in Leicestershire, and that she lived a life of “splendid isolation.”[7] Supposedly her only comfort was her studies, guided by her tutor John Aylmer. Jane was genuinely exceptional in that her education was relatively extensive in scope, especially since the literacy rate in England in the middle of the sixteenth century was as low as perhaps 10% of men and 5% of women.[8] Jane’s studies focused on languages, consistent with the new humanist methodology that advocated the study of texts in their original language rather than in translation.[9] She was well-versed in Latin and Greek, and functional in Hebrew. She probably also read and wrote French, a traditional court language in England. She studied Tuscan, a dialect similar to modern Italian, and may have studied Spanish. At least one contemporary stated that she also studied Chaldean, today called Aramaic.[10] She also studied rhetoric, theology, moral and natural philosophy, logic, and history while reading many of the ancient Roman and Greek classical authors, from Cicero and Livy to Plato and Aristotle.

     Tradition also holds that Jane was a life-long committed Protestant. She was, however, born and raised in a church that until 1549 still utilized mostly Roman Catholic doctrine and ritual.[11] Only after about 1545, when John Aylmer was hired as her principal tutor, did she begin to be exposed to the religious reform movement that would in later decades be called Protestantism. Between about 1549 and her death in February 1554, she corresponded with some of the leading figures of the reformist movement, both in England and on the European continent. These notably included Martin Bucer and Heinrich Bullinger. Her personal theology evolved over time, so that by the end of her life she was indeed committed to the new theology.

     Jane was influenced in her theological development as much by women as by men, and perhaps even more so by women. She spent most of the period between 1545 and late 1548 in the household of Queen Katherine Parr, where she had daily contact with Katherine’s coterie of educated women, all of whom were advocates of the new religion. These influential women included Katherine Willoughby Brandon, Elizabeth Brooke Parr, Anne Stanhope Seymour, Joan Champernowne Denny, and Elizabeth Stoner Hoby. Precisely during the time that Jane was resident in the Parr household, these women were engaged, both directly and as patronesses, in efforts to translate pro-reform texts into English. They also actively corresponded with and financially supported many of the male reformers.[12] Jane was at least an observer of these activities, and may well have actively participated in the translation efforts.

     Jane’s parents seem to have hoped that Jane would eventually wed her cousin the King, but by the spring of 1553 it was clear that the he was dying. Other plans were devised, plans that took into account King Edward’s own desire to alter the succession. Anxious to preserve his Protestant reformation of the English church, Edward attempted to remove as his heirs his half-sisters Mary (a staunch Roman Catholic) and Elizabeth (never fully committed to Edward’s version of Protestantism). Jane was put forward in their place, conspicuously skipping over Jane’s own mother. Jane was wed to Guildford Dudley, a younger son of the King’s chief minister and strongest supporter of the Edwardian reformation, John Dudley. The wedding occurred on 25 May 1553. At the same time, Jane’s sister Katherine was wed to Henry Herbert, the son and heir of another of the King’s principal supporters, William Herbert. Jane’s sister Mary was betrothed to her cousin Arthur Grey, while John Dudley’s daughter Katherine was married to Henry Hastings, son and heir of yet another of the King’s main allies, Francis Hastings. Together these marriages cemented a seemingly reliable alliance of several leading families of the realm that together should have been capable of carrying out Edward’s longterm plans. In the event, the alliance was a fragile one that failed all too quickly.

     Edward died on 6 July 1553. Jane was proclaimed Queen of England, France, and Ireland on 10 July 1553. Mary immediately announced her intent to pursue her own claim and began gathering supporters. Jane’s own supporters quickly began abandoning her. Nine days later, on 19 July 1553, Jane was deposed by the same alliance that had been formed to promote her, and Mary was proclaimed Queen in her place. Jane and her new husband Guildford became prisoners in the Tower of London. John Dudley was tried for treason and executed in late August.[13] Henry Grey and most of the others were pardoned and released. Jane and Guildford, however, remained imprisoned and were tried and convicted of treason in November 1553. Both were sentenced to death, but Mary chose initially to stay that punishment.

     Meanwhile, Mary returned the English church to Roman Catholic allegiance and practice. She also announced her decision to wed Philip of Spain, an action that would make him King of England. Mary’s decision to wed Philip produced considerable anxiety among Englishmen, who feared the imposition of foreign rule.[14] A plan soon developed under the leadership of Thomas Wyatt, Peter Carew, and Jane’s own father to prevent the marriage of Mary and Philip. Known as Wyatt’s Rebellion, it erupted in late Janaury 1554, sooner than planned and before it could be fully coordinated. The rebels reached the gates of London but were suppressed by Mary’s forces. The rebellion had forced Mary’s hand, however, so that she was compelled to allow the execution of Jane to go forward. Jane was beheaded in the Tower of London on 12 February 1554.[15]


     In the centuries following her death, a wide variety of myths and legends developed around Jane’s name. These myths and legends were born out of attempts by later writers to use Jane’s story to argue specific religious or political agenda. As a result, the historical figure called ‘Jane Grey’ has been largely overshadowed by the myths and legends. My research seeks to locate and restore the original historical figure Jane Grey Dudley. I hope soon to publish that research as a book.
 
     
     
 
[1]
 
Mary Tudor had been born in 1496 and was thus five years younger than her brother, the future King Henry VIII. She died in 1533.
 
 
 
 
 
[2]
 
Jane Grey’s date of birth is usually given as sometime in October 1537, but this is a modern invention not supported by the primary-source evidence. See Lady Jane Grey’s Date of Birth.
 
       
 
[3]
 
Henry’s first queen, Katherine of Aragon, bore six children, including three sons. The first son, named Henry after his father and grandfather, died after 52 days. A second son was stillborn, while the third died within days of his birth. Only Katherine’s fifth child and second daughter, Mary, survived infancy and reached adulthood.
 
 
 
 
 
[4]
 
Henry Fitzroy (1519–1536), born of Henry VIII’s mistress Elizabeth Blount, was acknowledged by his father, made Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and established in a household in semi-royal estate and style. Some historians today argue that, prior to his death in July 1536, Fitzroy was being groomed to succeed his father in the event no legitimate male heir was born. (See Beverley A. Murphy, Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son [Stroud: Sutton, 2001].) The Second Act of Succession, passed in the month before Fitzroy’s death, certainly allowed for that possibility, despite Fitzroy’s illegitimacy. The Act removed both Mary and Elizabeth Tudor from the succession and granted to Henry VIII the prerogative of designating his successor by means of letters patent or his last will and testament.
 
 
   
 
[5]
 
A Parliamentary statute of 1351 (25 Edward III c.1, more commonly referred to as De Natis Ultra Mare) limited inheritance of lands within England by persons born outside that realm to only those “whose fathers and mothers at the time of their birth be and shall be of the faith and allegiance of the King of England.” Though Henry VIII’s next heir-in-blood, his older sister Margaret Tudor, had been born in England to parents who were clearly English in allegiance, her own allegiance as an adult was contestable, since she was Dowager Queen of Scotland and mother of the reigning Scots king. Indeed, Margaret had sworn fealty to her son James V of Scotland upon his coronation in 1513. And were Margaret to succeed Henry, her own first heir would be her Scottish son. James himself was presumably excluded outright under the law of 1351, especially since England and Scotland were enemies of long standing (James V would later die at the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542 while attempting to invade England). Margaret’s daughter by her second marriage, Margaret Douglas, had been born in England (1515), thanks to her mother’s careful planning, making her eligible to inherit under the law of 1351. And Henry VIII had treated her as such until July 1536, when it was discovered that young Margaret had secretly entered into a betrothal with Thomas Howard without the king’s permission. The couple were immediately imprisoned, and Margaret remained in prison and out of favor until after the birth of Prince Edward on 12 October 1537.
 
         
 
[6]
 
Henry’s other heirs within the Tudor lineage and living in 1536 included Eleanor Brandon Clifford, younger daughter of Mary Tudor Brandon. Eleanor was unmarried and childless in 1536, though she married in 1537 and eventually bore two sons (both died as infants) and a daughter. Jane would in later years be joined by other potential successors born within the Tudor line, including, in order of precedence as determined by parentage (and without regard to the De Natis law of 1351), James V’s daughter Mary (Queen of Scotland essentially from birth in December 1542), Margaret Douglas’s first son Henry (b.1545), Frances Grey’s second and third daughters, Katherine (b.1540) and Mary (b.1545), and Eleanor Clifford’s daughter Margaret (b.1540). But in the months immediately preceding Jane’s birth, the heirs of Henry VIII were limited to his older sister, a foreign nephew-king often at war with England, the older sister’s imprisoned daughter, and the two daughters of his younger sister.
 
         
 
[7]
 
Richard Davey, The Nine Days Queen: Lady Jane Grey and her Times, ed. and intro. Martin Hume (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons and London: Metheun, 1909), 173. 
 
         
 
[8]
 
See David Cressy, Education in Tudor and Stuart England (London: E. Arnold, 1975).
 
         
 
[9]
 
‘Humanism’ is a much-misused and misunderstood term, thanks to co-opting of the term by the modern movement for social justice, so-called ‘secular humanism.’ True humanism derives its English name from the Italian ‘umanista’ and the Latin ‘studia humanitatis’, studies in the humanities (i.e., grammar , rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy). Those studies were intended to prepare the student for an active civic life. ‘Humanism’ may be contrasted with ‘scholasticism’, or the study of law, medicine, theology, logic, and natural philosophy in preparation for a professional career as a lawyer, physician, or theologian.
 
       
 
[10]
   
       
 
[11]
 
The quasi-Protestant First Book of Common Prayer was issued in 1549, though it met with considerable resistance at the local level.
 
       
 
[12]
 
For a detailed discussion of  the feminine court of Katherine Parr and its religious activities, see Susan E. James, Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love (Stroud: Tempus Publishing, 2008), 121–134 and 157–226.
 
       
 
[13]
 
Despite having personally championed Edward’s reformation of the English Church, Dudley famously publicly professed the Roman Catholic faith in the days before his execution. 
 
       
 
[14]
 
Fear of Philip taking over the rule of England was so great that Parliament passed an act that limited his powers and influence and that also limited the ability of his children by other marriages to inherit in England should Mary die before him. See The Act for the Marriage of Queen Mary to Philip of Spain (1 Mary 3.c.2).
 
       
 
[15]
 
Guildford was executed on Tower Hill, outside the Tower, just hours before Jane. Henry Grey, Jane’s father, was executed two days later, also on Tower Hill. 
 
       
     
 
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