When I say, ‘think of the first queen of England’, you think of Queen Mary I, but you would be wrong, in a sense. In fact, the first woman to be declared queen of England was Lady Jane Grey, England’s forgotten queen.
I mentioned Lady Jane in my post all about women that deserved better, and she truly did. Forced into the role of a monarch and marriage at only fifteen-years-old. She was seen as an easy target to control by the men of the Tudor Privy council, they misjudged her.
Let’s start from the beginning. After the death of King Henry VIII, his son, Edward, took the throne as King Edward VI. The young king only ruled for six years before his death in 1553 at only fifteen. Edward was extremely Protestant and believed that the next monarch should be Protestant too, to prevent the country from returning to Catholicism. The only problem was that Edward didn’t have an heir. His eldest half-sister, Mary, was technically next in line to the throne, but she was Catholic. Edward was in a pickle because, for the first time in history, all of the eligible heirs were women.
A woman had never ruled the country before, many thought they shouldn’t. When Edward got ill he decided that the first son birthed by his women cousins would inherit the throne. As the King got more and more ill, it was clear that none of them were going to have an heir in time, so he decided that Lady Jane Grey was to be the next monarch as she was a Protestant. You’re probably thinking, ‘why didn’t he give the crown to Elizabeth, she was Protestant?’, well after the death of her mother, Anne Boleyn, she was declared illegitimate, just like Mary after Henry divorced her mother. Edward didn’t want Mary to rule so the Privy council told him that he couldn’t exclude just one of his sisters, they both had to go, even though Henry VIII himself wanted them to rule if Edward didn’t have an heir.
Princess Mary, Edward’s older half-sister, truly believed that she was next in line to the throne. She wasn’t technically wrong. Mary was a devout Catholic and practiced illegal mass all throughout her brother’s reign. The two had many a confrontation about her beliefs. Edward was her little brother, she didn’t want to listen to him, even if he was the King. Mary knew the young king was unwell and was summoned to London to say goodbye to him, but Mary heard about plans to imprison her so instead headed to East Anglia where she owned many estates. This was smart as many Catholics who opposed the Protestant reformation lived there and Mary could use them to her advantage.
Edward VI’s right-hand man was the Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley. Many people consider John Dudley as the puppet master, a power-hungry puppet master. It is thought that he had the idea to put Lady Jane Grey, an unknown girl, on the throne. It is likely that he thought that she was weak and would be easy to control. Six weeks before the young King Edward VI died, Northumberland arranged the marriage between Lady Jane and his son, Lord Guilford Dudley. Another move towards control and power. He had a plan to put Jane on the throne as queen, then to have her make Guilford king.
On July 6th, 1553, King Edward VI died. No announcement was made to the public, although rumours started to spread. Northumberland used this time to put his plan into action. He arranged armies and support, but he had not yet told the one person who mattered the most, Jane. Jane didn’t find out until three days after the King had died. There are reports that she cried after finding out she was now queen, but upon her own account to Mary, she wept for the death of the king. At first, she was reluctant to wear the crown, not that she really had a choice. On the 10th of July, Jane was officially pronounced Queen of England and Ireland and a public announcement was made.
It was clear that Jane was not popular among the people. She was this nobody that had come out of nowhere. Many people believed that Mary ought to be ruling, whether they were Protestant or Catholic. It was in Henry VIII’s will. Jane was moved to the Tower of London to reside. During the Tudor times, it is thought that whoever ruled the Tower also ruled the Country. Not only that, but the Tower had great weapons that could be used to protect Jane’s claim if Mary was to return.
After Mary found out about the death of her brother, she started to round up more and more followers and supporters. These men were primarily peasants. She was slowly gaining more and more support by people who believed she should be on the throne, not Jane. Her supporters were not military men, they had no experience at fighting, and they didn’t have expensive armour or weapons. At this stage, Mary would never win, she knew that and Northumberland knew that so he wasn’t worried.
The next step in Northumberland’s plan was to get his son, Guilford, a crown. At this point, Jane was less reluctant to the crown. When told to make Guilford a king, Jane refused. She said that the best she could do was to make him a Duke, not a king. Northumberland was furious. His plan for power was slowly slipping away from him. This shy girl he thought he could control wasn’t a pushover like he thought. Guilford told Jane that if she didn’t make him king then he wouldn’t have sex with her meaning no heirs. Still, Jane refused.
As Mary’s support started to grow she became more of a threat. Northumberland knew that something had to be done about her. Her support had grown so much that Mary had to relocate to a larger estate to accommodate all of her supporters willing to fight for her. On the 14th July, only four days after Jane had been proclaimed queen, Northumberland gathered troops and set off North to take down Mary. Without Northumberland in London, watching and dictating, the Privy Council decided that Jane had no chance of winning so they switched their allegiance and proclaimed Mary the Queen. Mary had made a statement that she would forgive anyone who named her Queen, no matter at what stage, just as long as they did. They did it to save their own necks.
Mary had the support of some huge players in this game. It was clear to everyone now that Lady Jane had lost. Jane was informed of her loss and almost innocently asked if she could go home now. Mary took London where Jane and Guilford were then imprisoned at the Tower separately. They were trialled and found guilty of treason. Both were sentenced to death. Mary initially didn’t want to execute them, but Jane’s father joined a rebellion against Mary’s marriage to Phillip II of Spain which ultimately sealed Jane’s fate. Why he did that when they were on such thin ice is beyond me. This also led to the execution of Jane’s father who was previously pardoned, eleven days after his daughter.
Guilford was publically executed at Tower Hill on the morning of February 12th 1554. After the execution, his body was carted back to the Tower of London where Jane saw and reportedly exclaimed ‘Oh, Guilford, Guilford’. Less than an hour later Jane was taken to Tower Green, a private execution area within the Tower, where she was beheaded.
Her reign lasted only Nine days (disputed), and she is regularly forgotten. To this day, many people think that Jane and her husband’s deaths were unjust as they were innocent. I think she was and she wasn’t. It is true that she didn’t really want to be queen, but she did accept it in the end. She would sign her letters ‘Jane the Quene’. Do I believe she deserved to die? Absolutely not.