Jane Grey Dudley (1536/7-1554)

Jane Grey Dudley, commonly referred to today as Lady Jane Grey, was born in the winter of 1536/7. Her mother Frances Brandon Grey was the daughter of Mary Tudor Brandon, younger sister of King Henry VIII. Her father, Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset, was the great-grandson of Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Consort of King Edward IV. Woodville’s eldest daughter, also called Elizabeth, became Queen Consort to King Henry VII in 1486 and mother to the future King Henry VIII in 1491. Thus Jane, her mother, her father, and King Henry VIII were all close kinsman and all descended from Elizabeth Woodville.

Jane’s father provided her with an education that was exceptional among English women of the era. Her private tutors included the young Greek scholar and future Bishop of London John Aylmer, Oxford Regius Professor of Hebrew Thomas Harding, the Grey family chaplain James Haddon, and the Italianist Michelangelo Florio. By the time she was fourteen years of age, early in 1551, Jane had earned a reputation across Europe as a significant scholar. Even the pedagogue Roger Ascham, tutor to Elizabeth Tudor, acknowledged that Jane was second only to Elizabeth among feminine intellects. Shortly after Jane’s death, the English ambassador and poet Thomas Chaloner would extol her ability to function in at least eight languages, including English, Latin, ancient Greek, Hebrew (in which she was apparently self-taught), Spanish, French, Italian, and even Chaldean, or Aramaic. 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.

 The Execution of Lady Jane Grey
by Paul Delaroche, 1833
Oil on canvas
246 cm x 297 cm (8 ft 0 7/8 in x 9 ft 8 in)
National Portrait Gallery, London (NG1909)

Jane followed the reform religious movement that is today known as Protestantism. She corresponded with numerous international leaders of that movement, including Martin Bucer and Heinrich Bullinger. Jane even translated a large number of Bullinger’s sermons from Latin into ancient Greek. By 1553, Jane had become an uncompromising follower of a reformist confession of faith known today as Zwinglianism.

Early in 1553, shortly after Jane’s sixteenth birthday, England’s young Protestant King Edward VI fell ill and faced the likely prospect of dying without issue. Under the terms of the Third Act for the Succession (1543/4), Edward’s Roman Catholic half-sister Mary would succeed him. But the First Act for the Succession (1534) had declared Mary illegitimate, and illegitimate persons were barred under English law from inheriting from blood relatives. Additionally, Mary was also unmarried, raising the prospect of England falling under foreign domination were she to become queen and to marry a foreign prince. Edward therefore set about attempting to alter the succession in favor of his cousin Jane Grey.

Jane married Guildford Dudley on 25 May 1553. Guildford was the fourth son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and the king’s chief minister. Dudley was not well liked by the commons, for a variety of reasons, and many suspected him of plotting to exploit the king’s desires to alter the succession and thereby to establish a Dudley royal dynasty. Nonetheless, a majority of the political leaders of the period endorsed the letters patent of 21 June 1553 that attempted to transform Edward’s alteration of the succession into the law of the land.

Edward died on 6th July 1553, and Jane was proclaimed queen on 10th July. Most assumed during the first days of the reign of Queen Jane that Mary would not or could not resist the change. But within four days, support for Mary began to balloon, enabling her to challenge Jane’s place on the throne. The Privy Council therefore dispatched John Dudley at the head of a hastily assembled army to march on Mary’s stronghold of Framlingham Castle in Norfolk. But no sooner had Dudley left London than his fellow councilors turned against him and the new queen. The Council fractured, and a significant portion shifted their allegiance to Mary. Even Dudley’s own army quickly fell into disarray almost as soon as it passed out of the gates of London. Upon hearing of the dissolution of Dudley’s army, those Council members that had thus far remained loyal to Jane quickly declared instead for Mary. By 19 July, the reign of Queen Jane had ended and that of Mary had begun, with Mary proclaimed Queen in London to great public rejoicing.

Jane remained in the Tower, but as a prisoner rather than possessor. She was held in the private domestic quarters of two successive resident-employees of the Tower. John Dudley was executed for treason late in August 1553. Jane’s father Henry Grey was eventually pardoned and released, however, and most of Jane’s other supporters were likewise pardoned. But Jane was not pardoned. Instead, she was tried in November and found guilty of treason. Mary initially resisted allowing Jane’s execution, believing her to be a guiltless puppet of John Dudley. Only when a rebellion broke out late in January of 1554, known today as Wyatt’s Rebellion, did Mary consent to allow Jane to be executed. Jane’s father, Henry Grey, participated in Wyatt’s Rebellion and called for the restoration of Queen Jane, effectively sealing his daughter’s fate. Jane was duly executed on 12 February 1554 within the precincts of the Tower. Her remains are believed to have been interred inside the Chapel of St Peter-ad-Vincula within the Tower.

J. Stephan Edwards, PhD

J. Stephan Edwards left a 15-year career as a Registered Nurse to earn the degrees of Bachelor of Arts in European History (Summa Cum Laude) in June 2000 followed by a Master of Arts in Ancient European History in January 2002, both from San Francisco State University.

After matriculating at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the Fall of 2002, he pursued studies in the History of Tudor-Stuart Britain under the supervision of Marjorie Keniston MacIntosh, Distinguished Professor of History.

In recognition of the high quality of his ongoing research, the University awarded him the Joan L. Coffey Fellowship in 2004, as well as the Patricia C. Peterson Award and the Ogilvy Research Fellowship, both in 2005. His doctoral dissertation entitled ‘Jane the Quene’: A New Consideration of Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine-Days Queen received the prize for Best Dissertation in the Arts and Humanities for 2007, and he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History in June 2007.

He has published numerous articles in scholarly and academic journals on various topics in both the history of the English Tudor period and in art history (see Publications). He is included on the Understanding British Portraits Professional Network website created by the National Portrait Gallery (London) as an expert in portraiture of Jane Grey Dudley and of other women of the Tudor era. He has acted as a consultant to the National Trust (UK), English Heritage, Historic England, and the Arts Council of England.

He appeared as a “talking head expert” in the three-part documentary England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey on BBC4 (2017) and on the Nightlife with Sarah MacDonald radio program for the Australian Broadcasting Company, as well as several podcasts. He is an Associate Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (UK) and a Member of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

 Dr. J. Stephan Edwards presenting a talk at
Syon House, Richmond, UK,
on the portraiture of Jane Grey Dudley,
3 April 2024