Lady Jane Grey

Biographical Sketch

by Adam Meadows, Biola University


Summary of life:

  • The exact day of Lady Jane Grey’s birth is unknown
  • For a long time people believed that she was born at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire in October 1537
  • However, more recent research indicates that she was born a little bit earlier, some speculate in London, either in late 1536 or in the spring of 1537
  • Her parents were Lord Henry and Lady Frances Grey
  • She was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII
  • Knowing that he was near death, King Henry VIII wrote his last will and testament
  • This will said that in the event that King Henry VIII’s children all die without children – meaning that there are no descendents left of King Henry VIII – then the throne should pass to the Suffolk line, the children of Henry’s younger sister Mary instead of his older sister Margaret.
  • When King Henry the VIII died, his only son was crowned as King Edward VI
  • Edward was only 9 years old when he ascended to the throne
  • Edward upon becoming sick and seeing his death as imminent, made the Device for the Succession
  • This document stated that Mary could not be crowned queen because she was the illegitimate child of King Henry VIII
  • Unfortunately the Device for the Succession almost would have prevented Elizabeth from sitting on the throne
  • John Dudley, a rich nobleman and the leader of King Edward VI’s council of advisors, moved quickly to prevent Mary from ascending to the throne
  • Dudley was an enemy of Mary’s and was also a protestant, so he was afraid for his life that Mary would become queen
  • Because King Edward VI’s Device for the Succession was not technically legal and was also in opposition to King Henry VIII’s will Dudley was essentially orchestrating a coup when he decided to put Jane on the throne
  • John Dudley decides to marry his son Guildford Dudley off to Jane Grey because he saw her as the best chance he had to get someone other than Mary on the throne
  • Jane’s parents were both eager to marry their daughter off to the Dudley’s because they were attracted to the Dudley’s wealth
  • Jane was opposed to marrying Dudley
  • Jane’s parents would beat and abuse her until she agreed to marry Dudley
  • Edward VI dies on July 6, 1553
  • He was 15 years old
  • Jane suspects the Dudley’s are trying to poison her
  • She leaves to stay with her cousin
  • Eventually they travel to Lyon where Jane is surprised to find her family waiting for her
  • They tell her that the king is dead
  • Waiting with them is a variety of nobles who tell Jane she is to become queen
  • She initially refuses to become queen
  • After some prodding Jane agrees to take the throne and they immediately leave to travel to the Tower of London
  • Once at the tower they meet the Lord Treasurer
  • He offers Jane the crown and royal jewels
  • She again refuses them, but eventually gives in
  • Upon being told they will have to have a new crown made for her husband Jane becomes fully aware of the fact that Dudley is using her as a pawn to make his son king
  • Jane, who does not like her husband Guildford, tells the Lord Treasurer that she will not make her husband king
  • She offers Dudley nothing higher than the title of duke
  • Upon hearing that Jane was to be made queen, Mary I went on the run
  • However, the commoners in England started to grow unsettled at Jane’s being named queen
  • The average English person of the time believed that Mary was the rightful heir to the throne and was largely unconcerned with the legal complexities of succession or with Mary’s catholicism
  • Those who had decided to put Jane on the throne go on the offense to settle the uprisings happening throughout England
  • The Bishop of London starts openly preaching against Mary
  • John Dudley decides to place Jane’s father – Henry Grey – at the head of a large manhunt for Mary
  • Jane, upset at the idea of her father being sent out to fight, pleads for the council to allow him to stay
  • At Jane’s request they allow Henry to stay and instead decide to have John Dudley be the one to lead the manhunt
  • In response to having both the church and the state condemning her and hunting for her Mary sends a letter demanding to be given her rightful title of queen on the same day as Jane’s coronation
  • John Dudley leads his army in an attempt to capture Mary
  • During this time most of the nobility abandons Jane
  • Most of these English nobles go to Charles V and try to persuade him that they had been forced to make Jane the queen
  • Mary is officially declared queen at 5 o’clock on Thursday, July 19, 1553
  • Mary takes England back
  • Jane is deposed
  • Jane is held prisoner in the Tower of London with her family and the Dudley’s
  • John Dudley’s wife is released from prison
  • Jane’s parents are both released from prison
  • While in prison Jane writes a letter to Mary admitting that she was guilty of taking the crown even though it did not rightfully belong to her, but claiming that she was merely a pawn in other people’s schemes
  • Mary feels sympathy for Jane
  • While she is held in the Tower of London, Mary treats Jane very well
  • Jane is provided an allowance, books, and she is free to roam the tower
  • Meanwhile, John Dudley is sentenced to die on August 18, 1553
  • Perhaps in an attempt to not be executed John Dudley decides to convert to Catholicism
  • John Dudley’s execution is stayed on day so he can have a final mass
  • He addresses the crowd and declares that he has converted and asks for prayer
  • Eventually Jane and all of Dudley’s children go on trial
  • At the trial they are all sentenced to death
  • Despite the sentencing, Mary chooses to not have Jane executed
  • During this period Mary announces her plans to marry Philip II of Spain
  • Afraid of Imperial influence in England, the commoners and many nobles now begin to lead a brand new uprising against Mary
  • Among the rebels is Jane’s father Henry Grey
  • After much prodding from her advisors, Mary decides to make an example of Jane
  • She orders Jane to be executed
  • Still not wanting Jane to die, Mary offers to let her live if she will convert to Catholicism
  • However, Jane, being strong in her protestant faith, refuses to convert to Catholicism and is sentenced to die
  • At a small private execution she is lead up the scaffolds
  • She was able to watch the scaffold being built from the window of her cell in the Tower of London
  • When she is standing at the scaffolds on her execution day, she addresses the crowd
  • “I do wash my hands in innocency, before God and the face of you, good Christian people this day. And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you to assist me with your prayers.”
  • She then proceeds to read psalm 51
  • The execution then asks her for forgiveness as is the custom
  • Jane gives the executioner her forgiveness
  • She puts on her blindfold
  • With her blindfold on Jane is unable to find the block to place her head
  • She becomes very distressed and cries out
  • Someone from the crowd comes up and assists her with placing her head on the executioner’s block
  • Jane’s last words are, “Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
  • After her execution she is buried between Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn.

Influence and Recognition:

  • Her parents gave her an excellent education
  • The name of her tutor was Mr. Aylmer
  • Both of Jane’s parents were incredibly strict
  • Mr. Aylmer was very kind to Jane and she was thankful for his gentleness compared to the way her parents treated her
  • She was a very good student and had become fluent in several languages including Greek, Latin, French, and Italian
  • She had frequent correspondence with other thinkers in the forms of letter
  • Amongst the people she would write to were: Heinrich Bullinger, Martin Bucer, and Roger Ascham
  • She was a strong Protestant that was very firm in her faith


  • Lady Jane Grey was not known for any major theological works
  • She mostly wrote letters which we can see her theology in
  • She had a reformed leaning and was influenced by much of the school of thought coming out of Zürich at the time

Secondary Works

  • I key place to look for secondary works is Documents of Lady Jane Grey and also to


Works Cited

“Grey, Lady Jane.” Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia (2016): 1p. 1. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Web. 8 Nov. 2016.

Hoffert, Sylvia D. Jane Grey Swisshelm : An Unconventional Life, 1815-1884. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 8 Nov. 2016.

Taylor, James D. Documents of Lady Jane Grey : Nine Days Queen of England, 1553. New York: Algora Publishing, 2004. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

“Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey.” Publishers Weekly, 2016., 69, Literature Resource Center, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).


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