When Lady Jane Grey stepped off the barge that had carried her and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, into the Tower of London, she wouldn’t have known that it was carrying her to her death.
Coronated on 9th July 1553, Jane ruled over England for only nine days before she was overthrown and imprisoned within the walls of the Tower. But who was Lady Jane Grey, and what cut her reign so short?
Here are nine facts you might not have known about the ‘Nine Days Queen’.
1. She was supposed to marry King Edward VI
Arranged marriages were common during the Tudor period. Children of noble birth were often used as bargaining chips for ambitious aristocratic families seeking more power and wealth. The third cousin to Edward VI, Jane’s family held high status in the Tudor Court. However, they still hoped they could access the crown directly through their daughter.
Well-versed in multiple languages and philosophy, Jane was said to have preferred reading Plato to hunting and playing with her friends in the park. Although a good match for the young King, plans suddenly changed when Thomas Seymour (who had kept Jane and her family close to the crown in the hopes of making the advantageous match) was executed for treason.
2. We don’t know what she looked like
While many artistic renditions and impressions from the time have been attributed to the young queen, the truth is that there were no official paintings of Lady Jane Grey.
Many of the artworks that were thought to depict her have since been debunked, and with such a short reign, there was neither time nor demand for an official portrait of the monarch to be made.
3. She was a legitimate heir to the throne of England
When Henry VIII died, the throne passed to his only legitimate son and heir, Edward VI. His two elder children, Mary and Elizabeth, were both passed over because they were women. But more than their gender, Henry had notoriously declared both of his daughters illegitimate at some point during his reign. Despite reversing his decision later in his Third Act of Succession, Henry forgot to officially declare that Mary and Elizabeth were born legitimately.
Thanks to a law that determined illegitimate children couldn’t inherit the throne, some argue that Jane should have been next to the English throne following Edward’s death. Worse still, Henry had previously declared that if his children should die without a legitimate heir, the line of succession should fall to the heirs of Lady Frances - Jane’s mother.
Technically, Jane had been inadvertently named heir to the throne by both Henry VIII and Edward VI.
4. She didn’t want to be a queen
Despite the strong argument that Jane was the next legitimate heir to the throne, she didn’t want to claim the crown for herself. When she learned of Edward's death, her mental and physical health was very poor, and she had already been struggling to deal with her overbearing in-laws.
In her shock and distress at discovering that she was the new Queen of England and Ireland, Jane was said to have proclaimed that the crown wasn’t her right and that it should have gone to Mary instead.
5. She ruled from the Tower of London
Jane’s arrival at the Tower of London in July 1553 might seem like a bad omen, given her sorry end, but it was a long-standing tradition. At that time, it was expected that new monarchs would stay within the royal chambers within the Tower of London between their ascension to the throne and their coronation.
Unfortunately for Jane, the time between her ascension to the throne and Queen Mary’s declaration that she was the rightful heir was so short that once Jane arrived that fateful day, she never left.
6. Queen Mary I didn’t want her executed
Despite the differences between the Catholic Mary and the Protestant Jane, when Mary reclaimed her birthright and ascended to the throne, she didn’t want to kill her cousin.
While she put Jane and her husband, Lord Guildford, to trial, Mary didn’t have any intention of having the pair executed. In fact, she felt sorry for Jane and gave her a lot of freedom around the Tower of London. Jane and her husband were both treated well, despite their imprisonment, and Jane was even allowed to stroll through the Queen’s gardens.
7. She might have lived
When Mary first took the throne, she pardoned Jane’s father, Henry, provided he renounced his Protestant faith. However, when he was later caught out in a Protestant rebellion, it became clear that allowing Jane to live would threaten Mary’s rule.
8. She was executed for treason
Both Jane and her husband were sentenced to death for treason. On 12th February, Lady Jane watched as the lifeless body of her husband was brought back into the Tower following his execution on Tower Hill. Later that day, she went to the executioner block.
9. She’s said to haunt the Tower of London
Just 16 at the time of her execution, Lady Jane Grey was said to approach her execution with grace and decorum. However, when she knelt by the block, she had already been blindfolded and could not find it. Terrified, she called out ‘What shall I do? Where is it?’ until someone stepped in to guide her to it.
Centuries on, the ghost of the devastated teen is said to haunt the grounds of the Tower where she spent her final days. She’s also apparentley a regular spectral visitor to Hampton Court, and the ruins of Bradgate House where she’s said to appear every Christmas Eve.