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Lady Jane Grey: Execution, History & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the life and death of Lady Jane Grey, monarch of England, and test your understanding about English history, religious politics, and the complex world of 16th century monarchies.

The Nine-Day Queen

Being the Queen is stressful. It's even more stressful when you're caught up in a religious crisis and your cousin is after your throne.

Lady Jane Grey, the Nine-Day Queen
Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey (1536-1554) was queen of England for nine days during July of 1553. She was declared queen after the previous king, Edward VI, died, but she never reached her coronation, meaning she was never formally given the monarchy. Jane Grey was a devout Protestant at a time when England was fighting about being a Protestant or Catholic nation. Her Catholic cousin, Mary, took the throne and had Jane Grey beheaded. Rough family.

Background

In 1527, King Henry VIII of England asked the Pope to annul his marriage to Anne Boleyn since she had not given him a son. The Pope refused, setting England on a path that would sever it entirely from the Catholic Church. Only 10 years earlier, a German priest named Martin Luther had started the Protestant movement in his 95 Theses that questioned Church practices. This new faction of Christianity was sweeping across Europe by the time of Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, and it provided him with a new option when the Pope refused to annul the marriage. By breaking from the Church, Henry did not need permission to divorce or remarry.

Throughout the 1530s, Henry VIII instituted changes that separated the Church of England and the monarchy from Catholicism and moved towards Protestantism, challenging the power of the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor. The debate was both ideological and political. Catholics risked losing taxes and land to Protestants, and they believed Protestants to be heretical. The English Reformation, the political-cultural transition in England from Catholic to Protestant, was in full swing when Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, gave birth to a son, Edward VI.

Mary I, a.k.a. Bloody Mary, earned the moniker due to her execution of Protestants
Mary I

Edward VI, who became king at the age of nine, was the first English monarch to be raised in a Protestant home, and as king he introduced more Protestant-inspired reforms to England. Edward fell seriously ill at age 15 in 1553. He and his Council drew up plans for who would succeed him as the next monarch. Rather than selecting his half-sister Mary, who was famously Catholic, they picked his cousin, Jane Grey, who was a devout Protestant. Jane was a highly educated woman and committed to keeping England from returning to the Catholic Church.

Long Live the Queen...Or Not

Lady Jane Grey was declared Queen of England on July 10, 1553. She accepted reluctantly, but was immediately the center of controversy because normally the crown would pass to another of Henry VIII's direct heirs. Edward VI changed this to prevent the Catholic Mary from gaining control of England. Edward's chief minister and Jane's father-in-law, John Dudley Duke of Northumberland, started trying to consolidate power under Jane. At the same time, Mary began rallying her forces. On July 14, Northumberland left London with his troops to face Mary. Soon after he left, the principle advisors to the monarch, called the Privy Council, switched allegiance and declared Mary the rightful Queen of England. Jane Grey was imprisoned on July 19, ending her 9-day monarchy.

Execution of Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey

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