On the Date of Birth of Jane Grey Dudley

This first article on the subject of Jane Grey Dudley’s date of birth originally appeared on pages 240-242 of the scholarly journal “Notes and Queries,” volume 54, issue number 3 (September 2007), published by Oxford University Press.

Lady Jane Grey Dudley remains one of the more popular figures from the Tudor period in English history. The exact date, even month, of Jane’s birth are not known, however, though the year was certainly 1537. She is usually thought to have been born in the late summer or early autumn of that year, with tradition placing the date close to that of the birth of Prince Edward on 12 October 1537. Neither is the exact location known, though again tradition has it that she was born at or near the Grey family seat at Bradgate near the ancient village of Newton Linford, Leicestershire. The evidence presented below suggests that she was instead born much earlier than Edward, perhaps as early as May or June of 1537.

Jane may have been born at Bradgate Manor or any of the many Grey family properties in the vicinity, including Groby Hall. Jane would have been baptized shortly after birth, either in the family chapel attached to Bradgate Manor House or in the nearby parish church. But Jane was born one year before Thomas Cromwell issued his injunction of 1538 requiring that local parishes register all baptisms, marriages and funerals. It is therefore doubtful that Jane Grey’s baptism, and thus her birth, was recorded. Even if it was recorded, Bradgate House is now a ruin and no household or chapel records have survived. The nearest parish church at the time of Jane’s birth was All Saints Church in the village of Newton Linford, immediately adjoining the Bradgate estate. The modern church no longer retains any pre-modern baptismal records.[1] Documents for parishes within Leicestershire now on deposit in the Leicestershire and Rutland Record Office contain scant few baptismal records pre-dating the Civil Wars of the 1640s, and none for the parishes around Bradgate.

The lack of documentary evidence has led to considerable speculation as to the exact date of her birth. Richard Davey, writing in 1909, placed Jane’s birth ‘in the first days of October.’[2] Hester Chapman and Alison Plowden give the same general period for Jane’s birth: early October 1537.[3]

Writers in the early modern period largely avoided the kind of speculations made by modern popular historians. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors seldom mentioned the timing of Jane’s birth, with one notable exception. The mid-seventeenth-century religious historian Peter Heylyn states that Jane was ‘ some Moneths older then the late King Edward,’ meaning she was born ‘some months’ before October 1537. This pushes Jane’s date of birth back into the summer of 1537.[4]

Heylyn is seemingly correct in his assertion. In documents related to arrangements for the christening of Prince Edward, there is a notation that neither of the Greys attended Edward’s christening, contrary to modern claims by Richard Davey.[5] The Greys were specifically barred from attending because they were thought to have recently been in contact with plague at Croydon.[6] The Greys did, however, attend the funeral ceremonies for Prince Edward’s mother, Jane Seymour, on 12 and 13 November 1537. Frances Grey rode in the first coach with the Lady Mary at the funeral observances. She is unlikely to have participated in such a conspicuous capacity without first having undergone ‘churching,’ a religious purification ceremony held forty days after giving birth.[7] If Frances had been churched by 12 November, Jane must have been born sometime prior to 3 October 1537.

The correspondence between Fitzwilliam, Paulet, Cromwell and Maltravers indicates that the Greys hoped to attend Edward’s christening on 15 October, however. This suggests that Frances had been churched not only before 12 November, but also before 15 October.[8] Just as she is unlikely to have participated in Jane Seymour’s funeral without having been churched, she is equally unlikely to have been present at the christening of Henry VIII’s sole legitimate male heir to the throne while in a state of ritual impurity. Thus if Frances had already been churched by both 12 November and 15 October, Jane must have been born at least forty days prior to the first of those dates, i.e., no later than 5 September 1537.

A delivery date in early September is unlikely, however. In a letter from Croydon dated 12 October 1537, Lord Maltravers stated that Frances Grey had actually been at the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury ‘all summer,’ not at Croydon as Fitzwilliam had claimed.[9] There is no indication to which of the Archbishop Cranmer’s many residences Maltravers was referring, whether Lambeth Palace in London or an estate outside of London. Archbishop Cranmer moved about during the summer of 1537 and wrote letters from at least two locations, including Lambeth.[10] London and Lambeth during the month of August were unhealthy places to be during the sixteenth century, especially for a woman in the weeks surrounding child delivery. Maltravers was thus probably signifying that Frances Grey was with the Archbishop at his residence in Ford, a much healthier environment for a perinatal woman.

Frances Grey is far more likely to have given birth at Bradgate, as tradition claims, than to have delivered while visiting Cranmer at Ford, however. She would undoubtedly have chosen Bradgate over Ford for many reasons, not least of which was personal convenience in observing established childbirth customs. Bradgate would have been a more comfortable and familiar environment in which Frances could pass the weeks associated with the common aristocratic practice of pre-delivery confinement.[11] It was also a more logical place to remain secluded post-delivery while awaiting churching. If Frances abided by both of these two customs, she would have been in relative seclusion for at least ten and perhaps as many as twelve or fourteen weeks. Frances’ own home at Bradgate would have been the most appropriate environment for this.

Assuming Frances did indeed deliver at Bradgate, that she observed the practices of confinement and churching, and that she also visited the Archbishop of Canterbury during ‘the summer,’ Jane is likely to have been born still earlier in 1537.[12] Even if she did not join Cranmer until he arrived at Ford around 13 August, late summer, she must have given birth to Jane before 5 July 1537. If she was with Cranmer at Lambeth in late July, the peak of summer, Jane’s date of birth must then be moved back still further into June.

Lastly, Jane’s tutor John Aylmer notes Jane’s age in a letter he wrote to Heinrich Bullinger dated 29 May 1551. In this letter he describes Jane’s many positive attributes and potential shortcomings and attributes the shortcomings to the temptations associated with her age. He states that Jane’s age ‘now … is fourteen’.[13] Jane may therefore have been born in or before May 1537. As her tutor for several years, Alymer was in a position to know with precision Jane Grey’s birthday. He is therefore unlikely to have accidentally misrepresented her age. Aylmer’s observation also corresponds closely to the time constraints associated with Frances’ probable period of seclusion and her post-seclusion itinerary.

In the absence of solid documentary evidence in the form of a baptismal record or family letter, we will never know the exact date on which Jane Grey was born. The tradition that places her birth within days of that of her cousin Prince Edward on 12 October 1537 seems clearly erroneous, however. The collective circumstantial evidence supports Heylyn’s early assertion that Jane was born ‘some months’ before her cousin Edward. Lady Jane Grey was probably born before July, perhaps even in or before May, of 1537.


J. Stephan Edwards, PhD
September 2007



  1. My thanks to the Rev. Richard Worsfold of All Saint’s Church, Newtown Linford, for his assistance in this regard.
  2. Richard Davey, The Nine Days Queen: Lady Jane Grey and Her Times (London, 1909), 14.
  3. Hester Chapman, Lady Jane Grey, October 1537–February 1554 (London, 1962), 19; Alison Plowden, Lady Jane Grey: Nine Days Queen (Stroud, 2003), 22.
  4. Peter Heylyn, Ecclesia restaurata, or, The history of the reformation of the Church of England (London, 1660), 148. ‘Summer’ was defined in England in the sixteenth-century as spanning the months of June, July and August. See Anon., The debate and stryfe betwene somer and wynter (London, 1528), f. 3r; A. Askham, A lytel treatyse of astronomy declaryng the leape yere (London, 1562), f.18r.
  5. See note 2.
  6. Fitzwilliam and Paulet to Cromwell, 12 October 1537, Letter and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of HVIII, edited by J. Gairdner (London, 1891 and Vaduz, 1965), XII, Part II, 311.
  7. On the religious purification ritual of churching, see David Cressy, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford,1997); Will Coster, ‘Purity, Profanity, and Puritanism: The Churching of Women, 1500-1700,’ Women in the Church, edited by W.J. Sheils and Diana Wood (Oxford, 1990), 377–87; Gail M. Gibson, ‘Blessing from Sun and Moon: Churching as Women’s Theater,’ Bodies and Disciplines: Intersections of Literature and History in Fifteenth-Century England, edited by Barbara A. Hanawalt and David Wallace (Minneapolis, 1996), 139–54.
  8. There are only thirty-three days between 15 October and 12 November, an insufficient time span within which Frances could both deliver and be churched.
  9. See Lord Maltravers to Thomas Cromwell, 12 October 1537, Letter and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, edited by J. Gairdner (London, 1891 and Vaduz, 1965), XII, Part II, 311.
  10. British Library Cotton Manuscripts Cleopatra E. V, f.52 is a letter addressed from Lambeth by Archbishop Cranmer to Thomas Cromwell dated 21 July 1537. In this letter, the Archbishop notes the occurrence of sickness in London. Cotton MS Cleopatra E.V, f.329, a letter from Archbishop Cranmer to Thomas Cromwell, is dated just over three weeks later on 13 August 1537. This second letter, however, is from Ford in Northumberland. Cranmer remained at Ford until at least 28 August 1537, evidenced by a letter that he again addressed to Cromwell on that date, also from Ford. See Cotton MS Cleopatra E.V, f.292. Cranmer was thus in Lambeth in late July but moved to Ford sometime between 12 July and 13 August 1537, probably to avoid the sickness in London. He remained in Northumberland until at least 28 August.
  11. On the practices of pre-delivery confinement, see Janelle Day Jenstad, ‘Lying-in Like a Countess: The Lisle Letters, the Cecil Family, and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside,’ Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, xxxiv (2004), 2, 373–404; David Cressy, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 1997).
  12. Frances is highly unlikely to have visited the Archbishop of Canterbury while in a state of ritual impurity. She must therefore have been churched before visiting him, before August 1537.
  13. John Aylmer to Heinrich Bullinger, 29 May 1551, Epistolae Tigurinae de rebus potissimum ad ecclesiae Anglicanae reformationem pertinentibus conscriptae A.D. 1531-1558 (Cambridge, 1848), 182. ‘… iam … est 14 annos nata.’ The Latin adverb ‘iam’ might also be translated, in the context of emphasizing a numeric value, as ‘precisely.’



Lady Jane Grey’s Prayer Book

The prayer book that Lady Jane Grey carried with her to the scaffold on the day of her execution on 12 February 1554, now part of the British Library’s collection as Harley Manuscript 2342.