When 15 year old King Edward VI (Henry VIII’s son) was dying, he nominated his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor on the throne of England.
He had been persuaded to do so by the Duke of Northumberland, his trusted adviser, who was fiercely Protestant and knew he would be punished by Mary for his anti-Catholic views if she took the throne. In addition, his son had just married Jane.
Northumberland wanted to prevent the throne passing to Edward’s half-sister and heir, the Catholic Mary Tudor.
When Edward died Jane, who was only 16, was proclaimed queen. When she was informed, on 9 July, she fainted. She later told Mary “Which things, as soon as I had heard, with infinite grief of mind, how I was beside myself stupified and troubled”. Jane was a beautiful pious and intelligent woman and knew the crown was not hers. But she had to accept, with great reluctance.
“Declaring to them my insufficiency, I greatly bewailed myself for the death of so noble a prince, and at the same time, turned myself to God, humbly praying and beseeching him, that if what was given to me was rightly and lawfully mine, his divine Majesty would grant me such grace and spirit that I might govern it to his glory and service and to the advantage of this realm.” (Jane Grey’s account of learning the news of Edward VI’s death and her own accession)
The following day she was officially proclaimed Queen of England, France and Ireland and took temporary residence in the Tower of London, where English monarchs resided awaiting coronation.
However, the people of London, sympathetic to Mary’s claim to the throne, greeted Jane’s accession with hostility. Support for the direct and true royal line grew very quickly and most of Jane’s supporters soon abandoned her, even her father, in an attempt to save his life.
The Privy Council of England suddenly changed sides and Mary was proclaimed queen on 19 July 1553.
After nine days of rule, Jane and her husband remained in the Tower, prisoners in the same building that had so briefly been their palace. Jane was imprisoned in the Tower’s Gentleman Gaoler’s (Jailer’s) apartments, her husband in the Beauchamp Tower.
While Suffolk, her father, was pardoned, Jane and her husband were tried for high treason in November 1553. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death. The carrying out of the sentence was suspended by her Catholic cousin, Queen Mary I of England, later known as Bloody Mary.
However Suffolk’s support for Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion in February 1554 sealed Jane’s fate. On 12 February, she and her husband were beheaded. Her father followed them two days later.
…to be continued