‘Lady Jane’ or ‘Queen Jane’?, ‘Jane Grey’ or ‘Jane Dudley’?

Should we refer to Jane Grey Dudley as ‘Lady Jane’ or as ‘Queen Jane’? As ‘Jane Grey’ or as ‘Jane Dudley’?

During the Question & Answer period following a lecture I presented in the UK in April 2024, an audience member asked whether it is correct to refer to Jane Grey Dudley as ‘Queen Jane.’ I responded in the affirmative on the grounds that she is included among the former monarchs of England on the Royal Family’s own website. If the twenty-first century wearers of the crown include Jane among their own number, then so should we. Similarly, the UK’s official governmental National Archives at Kew does maintain a file devoted to ‘Queen Jane.’ But the question and my answer caused me to consider further: queens regnant are never styled ‘Lady,’ so why do we consistently (and insistently) refer to Jane today as ‘Lady’ Jane rather than as ‘Queen’ Jane? And why do we commonly refer to her using her maiden name ‘Jane Grey’ rather than her married named ‘Jane Dudley’?

Jane bore the courtesy title ‘Lady’ from birth as the daughter of a marquess. But upon being proclaimed queen on 10 July 1553, she was universally styled ‘Queen Jane.’ Official documents created between 10th and 19th July reflect that specific style and title, even those documents created by persons and entities other than the Privy Council. Ambassadors, whether English, Spanish, or French, consistently refer to her in their letters as ‘Queen,’ for example, and not as ‘Lady.’ Official transcripts from the courts of justice likewise assert that they act in the name of ‘Queen’ Jane, not ‘Lady’ Jane.

Only after the end of her reign did those writing about her revert to using the title ‘Lady.’ But they did so specifically because she had been stripped of the crown, and to continue to refer to her as ‘Queen’ was to commit treason. Yet that is no longer the case, or the administrators of Royal.uk might face prosecution. The title used by her contemporaries after her reign reflected her continuing status as the wife of Lord Guildford Dudley, who was known by the courtesy title ‘Lord’ following his father’s elevation to the peerage in 1542 as Viscount Lisle, not her own status as daughter of a duke and marquess. They referred to her as ‘Lady Jane’ because she was the wife of a Lord, and the wives of Lords are Ladies.

So why does any of this matter? What difference does it really make which title we use to refer to Jane Grey Dudley? I believe it matters because words have meaning, and because I am personally a stickler for correct usages of both words and titles. It has long irritated me that historians refer to four of the wives of Henry VIII as Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Katherine Howard, and Katherine Parr[1]. They do so largely for convenience in distinguishing between the plethora of Annes, Janes, and Katherines, as well as of Marys and Elizabeths, in the Tudor period in England. Those women are more correctly Queen Anne, Queen Jane, Queen Katherine, and Queen Katherine. After all, we never referred to the late Queen Mother as ‘Queen Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon,’ and we do not refer to the current queen as ‘Queen Camilla Parker-Bowles.’ Anyone who does so is, I suspect, doing so specifically and deliberately as a subtle insult.

And just as I believe we should not refer to Henry VIII’s former queens consort (nor to modern queens consort) using their premarital surnames, I believe we should not refer to Jane solely by her premarital surname. She was ‘Jane Dudleyfollowing her marriage to Guildford on 25 May 1553. And in those aforementioned lectures, as well as in writing, I do always strive to remember to refer to Jane as ‘Jane Grey Dudley,’ though I do occasionally revert to old habit.

I do leave ‘Grey’ in place, doing so for two reasons. First, it helps listeners and readers to identify easily the person about whom I am speaking, since Jane is all but universally known as ‘Jane Grey.’ Second, including ‘Grey’ as a middle name helps to differentiate Jane Grey Dudley from her mother-in-law, Jane Guildford Dudley, who is herself commonly referred to today as simply ‘Jane Dudley’ when she is not styled Duchess of Northumberland.

Therefore, if one wishes to employ correct styles and titles, Jane should be referred to as Lady Jane Grey when discussing the period between her birth in 1536/7 and her marriage on 25 May 1553, as Lady Jane Dudley (or Lady Jane Grey Dudley) when discussing the period between 25 May 1553 and 6 July 1553, as Queen Jane for the period between 6 and 19 July 1553, and as ‘Lady Jane Dudley’ from 20 July 1553 until her death on 12 February 1554.

And to make things easiest, I will always in future refer to Jane as simply ‘Jane Grey Dudley’ in any context other than that of her brief reign, when I will refer to her as ‘Queen Jane.’ With any luck, perhaps others will do the same.

J. Stephan Edwards, PhD
12 April 2024

 

  1. Henry’s first wife was Katherine of Aragon, but Aragon refers to her country of origin, not her family. Her family’s dynastic surname was Trastámara, so that she was Katherine Trastámara of Aragon. Similarly, Anne of Cleves was from the Duchy of Cleves but her family’s dynastic surname was La Marck, so that she was Anne La Marck of Cleves.

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