When Edward VI got sick and it was obvious that he wasn´t going to survive, the discussion of who was going to be his heir started. The obvious choice would have been his eldest sister Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon who had been restored to succession towards the end of Henry´s Life.
But while Henry´s break with Rome had more to do with Rome itself than with the catholic faith – Henry himself was never anything but catholic – his son by Jane Seymour had been raised to become a convinced protestant and it wasn´t conceivable to him or to the people around him to leave the throne to a devout catholic, which was exactly what Marys was.
The solution was Jane Grey – granddaughter of Henry´s sister Mary and his best friend Charles Brandon. She had received a humanist education, was very scholarly and was in correspondence with some of the most prominent European thinkers of the time. She was presented as an alternative heir to the throne by Edward´s own maternal uncle, Thomas Seymour, who was guardian of Lady Jane during his marriage to the dowager Queen, Katherine Parr, and allegedly even suggested Jane Grey as a wife of the young King.
Technically, Jane could have had a claim to the throne, but for reasons unknown, Henry had removed Frances – the mother of Jane Grey and daughter of Mary – from the line of succession.
Edward died on July 6th 1553, 16 years of age, and Jane, being the same age, found out three days later that she now was Queen of England. According to herself later on, and popular belief, Jane was strongly against being proclaimed Queen (this has been put into question by some latter day historians). Her opinion would however have mattered very little as she was under the authority of her father-in-law, John Dudley*, Duke of Northumberland and her parents.
Jane Grey only got to be Queen until July 19th and has because of this gone to history as the Nine Days Queen. It would become clear that Mary had a considerably greater support for her claim to the throne than Northumberland anticipated, and when he left London with armed force to met Mary and her forces at her manor at Hunsdon though East Anglia, the parliament shifted their support and declared Mary Queen of England.
When she arrived in London on August 3rd it was to the sound of cheering citizens. Jane was apprehended and brought to the Tower, as were her husband Guildford Dudley, the son of Northumberland. Northumberland himself was executed as early as on August 22nd.
Jane pleaded to Mary for mercy, and for the longest time it looked, as she would actually get to keep her life, as Mary seemed sympathetic to the assurances on Jane´s part that she had simply been a tool in the hands of Northumberland. Mary was however in the middle of marriage negotiations with the future Philip II of Spain. Spain made it quite clear that it was out of the question for Philip to set foot on English soil as long as Jane Grey was alive. To Mary, it was far more important to marry and if possible produce an heir than it was to keep her word given to the child of her cousin.
Lady Jane Grey was beheaded on this day, February 12th 1554; the same year she would turn 17. She is buried at St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower. Her husband was executed as well on this day.
The two letters published on this post is, first from the top, the declaration of Edward VI where he declare Jane as his heir and the second is a letter written by Jane Grey, signed with ”Jane the Quene”
*In the event the surname Dudley seems familiar, it´s no coincidence. The Duke of Northumberland had several sons, and one of those would later on enter the stage as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, with a very special role to play in the life of Elizabeth I.
The Sisters who would be Queen; Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey – Leanda de Lisle
Lady Jane Grey – A Tudor Mystery – Eric Ives
John Dudley Duke of Northumberland 1504–1553 – David Loades