Jane Grey: The Nine-Day Queen of England

The Streatham portrait, discovered at the beginning of the 21st century and believed to be a copy of a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey.
The Streatham portrait, discovered at the beginning of the 21st century and believed to be a copy of a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1553, the disputed nine-day reign of Lady Jane Grey as Queen of England ended.

Here are some things you may not have known about the shortest reign in British history.

Jane Grey was born in either 1536 or 1537, possibly in Leicestershire or possibly in London. She and her sisters Catherine and Mary were the great-granddaughters of Henry VII; this also made them first cousins once removed of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

At the age of 10 or so, she was sent to live in the household of Thomas Seymour, Edward VI’s uncle, who would go on to marry Henry VIII’s widow Catherine Parr.

In 1553, Jane was married to Lord Guildford Dudley, the son of the Duke of Northumberland, who at the time was the most powerful man in the country.

Here’s where things start to get messy for Jane Grey.

Let’s introduce the other players:

Mary, the Catholic daughter of Henry and Catherine of Aragon, was made illegitimate upon the annulment of her parents’s marriage. Elizabeth, Mary’s half-sister, was the daughter of Henry by Anne Boleyn. She was made illegitimate by her mother’s execution and subsequent annulment.

Henry’s only surviving son, Edward, was born to Jane Seymour. Elizabeth and Edward were born Protestants, after the Church of England split with the Catholic church.

Three years before Henry’s death, the Third Succession Act, restored Mary and Elizabeth to the order of succession, behind Edward and any of Edward’s potential offspring.

In 1547, Henry VIII died and Edward ascended to the throne at the age of 10. The English Reformation continued for the next five years until Edward became ill.

At the age of 15, Edward had yet to marry, much less produce offspring. Upon his death, Mary, a Catholic, would inherit the throne, threatening the Reformation. Edward tried to avoid this by drafting a document, possibly under the influence of the Duke of Northumberland, which passed over Mary and Elizabeth, and settled on Jane Grey, Northumberland’s daughter-in-law, as Edward’s successor.

Edward VI died on July 6, 1553 at the age of 15, likely of pneumonia and related infections. On July 10, Jane was taken to the Tower of London, which was traditional for monarchs before their coronation. Mary, meanwhile asserted her right to the throne and demanded the Privy Council proclaim her queen. The Council replied that Jane was queen as a result of Edward’s will and that Mary was illegitimate.

This didn’t sit well with Mary, and she began building support, eventually rallying an army of nearly 20,000 men. Realizing their strategic error, the Privy Council reversed course and named Mary queen on July 19.

Northumberland was beheaded the next month.

Jane and her husband were charged with high treason. She was found guilty of having signed documents as “Jane the Queen,” and they were both sentenced to death. However because of their ages, their lives were to be spared.

That changed the next winter when Jane’s father participated in a rebellion against Mary. Jane and her husband were beheaded on February 12, 1554 at Tower Hill in London.

Mary would reign until 1558. She restored Catholicism and become known as Bloody Mary for her execution of Protestants. Elizabeth followed her, restored the Church of England, and reigned for 44 years; the last Tudor monarch.

Our question: Which monarch of the United Kingdom, which has existed since 1801, had the shortest reign?

Today is Martyrs’ Day in Myanmar and Liberation Day in Nicaragua.

It’s National Daiquiri Day, and National Raspberry Cake Day.

It’s the birthday of accused murderer Lizzie Borden, who was born in 1860; musician and physicist Brian May, who is 69; and actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who is 40.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1966, the top song in the U.S. was “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and The Shondells.

The No. 1 movie was “Torn Curtain,” while the novel “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What was the site of the last Confederate surrender? A hint, it wasn’t at Appomattox Court House.


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