Was Jane Grey Dudley Really a ‘Nine-Days Queen’?

This essay addresses the popular-cultural claim that Jane Grey Dudley reigned for just nine days, a claim that led writers to bestow upon her the nickname ‘Nine-Days Queen.’

Popular culture has dubbed Jane Grey Dudley “the nine-days queen,” and she has been routinely referred to by that moniker for at least the past two centuries. Numerous books and articles about her, including my own, have incorporated the phrase into their titles specifically because it is associated exclusively with Jane and therefore identifies her quite specifically. And any time a politician or other public authority figure faces removal from office after only a brief period, most recently in the example of British Prime Minister Liz Truss, the mass media resurrects the ‘nine-days’ reference to emphasize the brevity of the modern individual’s term in office. As a direct result of such repeated use, it has become accepted as unquestioned fact that Jane Grey Dudley reigned for precisely nine days … no more and no less. But is that true?

These are the facts:

  • King Edward VI died on Thursday, 6 July 1553 at about 8 o’clock in the evening.
  • Jane Grey Dudley was officially informed by the Privy Council on Sunday, 9 July 1553 of her accession as queen.
  • The traditional public announcement of the death of King Edward and the proclamation of accession of Queen Jane was made on Monday, 10 July 1553.
  • The Privy Council subsequently changed allegiance and publicly proclaimed Mary Tudor as queen on 19 July 1553.
  • The reign of Queen Jane ended on 19 July 1553 upon the proclamation of Mary’s accession.

But how do we properly interpret those facts? Did Jane’s reign begin when Edward drew his last breath on 6 July? Or did it instead begin when the Privy Council informed her on 9 July that she was the new queen? Or did it begin at the time of the public reading of the proclamation of her accession on 10 July? If the first, Jane’s reign lasted thirteen days. If the second, it lasted ten days. Only in the last instance might we say that her reign lasted nine days. Which is correct?

A look at other transitions from one monarch to the next is instructive.

Henry VII is usually said to have died on 22 April 1509, though some sources give the date as 21 April. The news of the king’s death was concealed for about 24 hours until his son and heir, Henry VIII, could be informed on 23 April. The new king’s accession was publicly proclaimed on that same day, 23 April 1509. Most secondary sources give 22 April 1509 as the first day of the reign of Henry VIII, however, corresponding with the date of his predecessor’s death rather than with the date on which the successor heard the news or on which the proclamation of the new accession was read publicly.

Henry VIII, in turn, died at Whitehall Palace in Westminster on 28 January 1547. The Privy Council initially withheld the news from the public, in large part because Henry’s nine-year-old son and heir, Prince Edward, was then thirty miles away in Hertford. Edward states in his own Chronicle that he learned of his father’s death on 30 January 1509, or the second day following Henry VIII’s death.[1] The Privy Council publicly announced on 31 January that Henry VIII was dead and that Edward VI was the new king. All sources cite 28 January 1547 as the first day of Edward’s reign, however, again corresponding with the date on which the previous monarch died rather than with the date on which the successor learned the news or on which the proclamation of the new accession was read publicly.

Determination of the date of the accession Queen Mary Tudor is predicated on whether or not Jane Grey Dudley should be counted among the monarchs of England. No consensus has ever been reached on that issue, however, with even the authoritative Sweet & Maxwell’s Guide to Law Reports and Statutes conceding in relation to defining the regnal years of English monarchs that either may be counted as the immediate successor to Edward VI.[2] But the Guide does nonetheless stipulate in either case that the new reign began on 6 July 1553, the date of Edward’s death. Mary received confirmation of her brother’s death no later than 8 July, but she was not proclaimed queen until 19 July. Thus, once again, the date on which the previous monarch died is determinative.

Queen Mary Tudor died at St James’s Palace in Westminster at about 6AM on 17 November 1558. Her successor, Elizabeth Tudor, was still under house arrest at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, but most sources indicate that she learned of her sister’s death later that same day. The Privy Council proclaimed Elizabeth’s accession in unusually speedy fashion on that same day, 17 November 1558, as well.[3] The date given as the first day of Elizabeth’s reign thus corresponds with the date of her predecessor’s death, with the date on which she learned she had become queen, and also with the date of her public proclamation of accession.

Lastly, Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1603 between 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock in the morning. The Privy Council publicly proclaimed the accession of King James VI of Scotland as her successor on the same day. James was then in Edinburgh, but the Privy Council had already sent him a draft of the proclamation of his accession in England prior to Elizabeth’s death, providing James with advance notice that he would soon succeed Elizabeth. James learned of Elizabeth’s actual death and his accession through non-official sources on 26 March 1603.[4] But his reign is customarily said to have begun on 24 March 1603, the day of his predecessor’s death, even though he did not become aware until two days later that he had succeeded to the English crown.

In short, the modern convention correlates the ‘start date’ of the reign of a new monarch with the date of the death of their predecessor, even if the new monarch does not become aware of his or her accession until one or more days later and even if the public announcement of a change of reign likewise does not occur until days later.

So why is the reign of Queen Jane customarily said to have begun on 10 July 1553, the day of the public proclamation of her accession? That is four days after her predecessor’s death and one day after she officially learned of it herself. The answer lies in a grave misreading of the evidence from 6-10 July 1553 as well as in a later desire to propagandize the accession of Queen Jane as the treasonous goal and outcome of a nefarious coup attempt staged at the sole instigation of John Dudley, Edward’s chief minister in 1553.

As with so very many ‘facts’ related to Jane Grey Dudley, we must set aside what we think we know and return instead to what the primary sources actually tell us. Edward died on Thursday, 6 July 1553, and the government immediately began operating under the authority of Queen Jane. As was the case with the accessions of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and James VI & I, the date on which the new monarch learned of their accession is irrelevant, and the date of the public proclamation of the new monarch is equally irrelevant.

The reign of Queen Jane began at about 8 o’clock on the evening of Thursday, 6 July 1553, and it ended on Sunday, 19 July 1553.

Jane Grey Dudley was a Thirteen-Day Queen, not a nine-day queen.

 

J. Stephan Edwards, PhD
Palm Springs, California
13 May 2024

 

Notes:

  1. Edward VI, The Chronicle and Political Papers of King Edward VI, edited by W.K. Jordan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1966 ), 4.
  2. Sweet & Maxwell’s Guide to Law Reports and Statutes, 4th edition (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1962), 28. The Guide dates the reign of Queen Mary from 6 July 1553 to 17 November 1558, but an asterisk appears after her name. The corresponding note states that Queen Jane reigned from 6 July to 17 [sic] July 1553.
  3. Richard Cavendish, “The Accession of Elizabeth I,” History Today 58:11 (November 2008).
  4. Robert Carey departed London on 24 March against the orders of the Privy Council and arrived in Edinburgh on 26 March to inform James of his accession to the English throne.

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