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Lady Jane Grey ( 1537 - 1554 )  Category ( Royalty ) [suggest a correction]
 

Lady Jane GreyThe life of Lady Jane Grey is a tragic footnote in Tudor history. While she was the granddaughter of English King Henry VIII's sister and his best friend, and thus in line for the throne, her coronation was unlikely while any of Henry's three surviving children lived. However, at the death of the young King Edward VI, Henry's only male heir, a succession crisis developed. Sadly, Jane was used as a political pawn and lost her life in the process.

Before exploring her last days, her earlier life is worthy of consideration. Born to nobility, she was the daughter of Henry Grey, the marquess of Dorset and Frances Brandon, the daughter of Mary Tudor, King Henry VIII's sister. Jane had two younger sisters, Katherine and Mary. The name Jane is quite unusual for the times, and historians believe she was likely born the same year as the English heir, Edward, whose mother was named Jane and who died shortly after Edward's birth.

Unlike most young women of her time, Jane received a good education and could speak and read Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and English. When she was nine years old she was sent to court under the guardianship of Queen Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth and final wife. The queen and Jane grew quite attached to one another, with Catherine providing the love and nurturing Jane felt she never received from her parents. Catherine's second husband, Thomas Seymour, attempted to arrange a marriage between Jane and the young King Edward. Seymour was the king's uncle. During this time, Catherine became pregnant, and she and Jane prepared for the birth of the child. Sadly, Catherine died within a week of giving birth to a daughter. Jane was crushed, having lost the only real mother she had ever known.

Jane served as the chief mourner at Catherine's funeral. It was at that point that Jane truly began to be used as a pawn in the political games of her elders. She was put under the wardship of Thomas Seymour, who plotted to marry the Princess Elizabeth or even Jane herself. After only one year of guardianship he was arrested for treason, convicted, and executed. Once again abandoned, Jane's wardship was passed this time to the Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley. At around this time her mother came into a significant inheritance and the grand title of Duchess of Suffolk. Also during this time, Dudley was appointed chief councilor to King Edward; who, since still a child, made the Duke King in all but name.

Within a year, Edward became increasingly ill and was predicted to die. This allowed time for Dudley and his colleagues to think about the succession. Henry's two surviving children were both female and both controversial. Dudley and others felt the time was ripe to make a clean break from Henry's line and put Jane on the throne. Upon Edward's death, this is exactly what they tried to do. First, Dudley forced Jane to marry his son, Lord Guildford Dudley. Even Jane's mother was coerced into signing documents that relinquished her superior claim to the throne. Jane was unhappy with the plots and schemes enacted by Dudley, but had little say in the destiny that was forced upon her. She was overall unaware of just what was planned, and upon Edward's death she expressed confusion and embarrassment when those around her began to treat her in ways reserved for royalty.

When Dudley finally told her what was to take place, she expressed shock and anger. She announced to those assembled: "The crown is not my right and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir." Her remarks angered Dudley and her parents, who demanded that Jane obey and cooperate. She reluctantly agreed, and the following morning she was crowned Queen of England. Even after her coronation, Jane continued to object to the proceedings. When her husband demanded she make him King, she refused. Meanwhile, Jane's cousin (and the rightful heir), Mary, was leading an army to London to defend her claim.

Mary's coup was successful. She had larger and more powerful forces backing her, as well as the support of most of the English people. Jane reigned for only nine days. The final few days were frightening and sad, as Jane watched the plot built around her crumble and heard Dudley, her parents, and others argue and fight furiously. Then all but two of her Council abandoned her, leaving her alone in the Tower. Her father found her there, seated under the canopy of State. He gently asked her to step down, and the two embraced. In her naiveté, the teenager asked her father, "Can I go home now?" But her cousin, now Queen Mary, had already signed Jane's death warrant. She was executed that same year.


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