On This Day In History: 12th February 1554

On this day in history, Lady Jane Grey was executed on Tower Green following the execution of her husband Guildford Dudley.

Lady Jane Grey, who personally I believe should be known as Queen Jane I, is famously known as the Nine Days Queen however Eric Ives in his wonderful book “Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery” states that the correct figure for her reign is more like 13 days (Ives 2009, 2). Jane’s story is one of the saddest in Tudor history, she was written into the succession by Edward VI in his “advice for the succession” and came to the throne upon his death, something which she did not want. The story goes that when she was told she was now Queen of England, she collapsed in tears, and that she refused to wear the crown. Shortly after she and her council received news that Mary had been proclaimed Queen in Norfolk and was on her way to London to take her throne. And it didn’t take long for her council to desert her completely and go over to Mary. Support for Mary was widespread, and Jane found herself imprisoned in the Tower along with her husband Guildford.
After being proclaimed Queen, Mary deliberated over having her young Cousin executed but found herself increasingly under pressure. But it was Wyatt’s rebellion in 1554 that sealed Jane’s fate, when her father took part in the attempt to remove Mary from the throne. Following the rebellion, Mary had the death warrants of Lady Jane and Guildford signed, realising that she could not risk any more threats to her throne, and people rallying to Jane’s course especially since her father had been involved in the failed rebellion.
And so, on 12th February 1554, Lady Jane Grey walked to the scaffold on Tower Green. There she gave her prayer book to the Lieutenant of the Tower, having written a note inside it for him:
Forasmuch as you have desired so simple a woman to write in so worthy a book, good Master Lieutenant, therefore I shall as a friend desire you, and as a Christian require you, to call upon God to incline your heart to his laws, to quicken you in his way, and not to take the word of truth utterly out of your mouth. Live still to die, that by death you may purchase eternal life, and remember how the end of Methuselah, who, as we read in the scriptures, was the longest liver that was of a man died at the last: for as the Preacher says, there is a time to be born and a time to die; and the day of death is better than the day of our birth. Yours, as the Lord knows, as a friend, Jane Dudley (Ives 2009, 275-276)
According to Ives, Jane was highly composed as she gave her final speech to the crowd whereas her ladies were weeping. Her nerves began to show as she turned to the executioner and asked, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” and the executioner answered simply, “No Madam”. Then as she knelt, blindfolded she reached out panic stricken and unable to find the block and cried out “What shall I do? Where is it?”. A bystander lead her gently to the block and it was over. Lady Jane Grey, Queen Jane I, was no more and England was ruled by Mary. Hours later, Jane’s headless body still lay on the scaffold, and according to Ives the Tower was “drained…of all resolution”. She was eventually buried in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula, where today her grave can be seen marked by the altar.
Jane Grey is one of my favourite Tudor women, and I see her as a pawn in a bigger political game. To me, and to many others I am sure, she was an innocent and her death was a terrible tragedy, she was a victim. There are certainly others who see her as more of a warrior, a woman who called an army to her to try and stop the onslaught of Mary, that Jane had a hand in everything that happened – for example De Lisle notes that when she noticed her councillors becoming discontent she continued sending out letters to Sheriff’s and Justices Of The Peace demanding their allegiance, as well as ordering further guards around the Tower and the gate keys be brought to her at 7pm each evening (De Lisle 2008, 120-122). But whatever your view of the young Queen, her end was certainly a tragedy, and this poor girl deserves to be remembered not only for her short reign and terrible end, but for her brilliant mind. I will be working on a post about her life at some point, as part of my “Inspiration” series so please do keep an eye out for that. Until then I really recommend checking out Eric Ives “Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery” as it is an absolutely fantastic book and meticulously researched. Another good one, although written with a much more different viewpoint is “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen” by Leanda De Lisle, whilst I did not enjoy this one quite so much it is still a pretty good read if you are looking for an overview of Jane’s life as well as that of her sisters.
Ives, E, 2009, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery, Wiley-Blackwell, Sussex
The Anne Boleyn Files, http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/8409/lady-jane-greys-execution/ accessed 12th February 2012
De Lisle, L, 2008, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine & Lady Jane Grey, Harper Press, Oxfordshire.
Photo credit: The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche from http://www.kingsacademy.com/mhodges/11_Western-Art/20_Early-19th-Century-Romanticism/Delaroche/Delaroche.htm, accessed 12th February 2012.

1 thought on “On This Day In History: 12th February 1554

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s