Queen for just nine days (or maybe 13), Jane Dudley eventually lost her head on this day in 1554.
Dudley was her married name, but she was better known as Lady Jane Grey. And on this day, she and her husband, the Earl of Guildford, faced their headless futures together, after they’d both been found guilty of treason.
The pair were really the hapless pawns of a controlling father. John Dudley had engineered a plot to become all powerful in England. He’d had a taste of power through Henry VIII’s son and successor Edward VI, so he sought ways to continue his pseudo-reign. And he found it through Lady Jane Grey.
Born at Bradgate Park in Leicester, Lady Jane Grey was the grand-niece of Henry VIII. Dudley the elder recognised the strength of her lineage to the throne, especially as both Mary and Elizabeth could easily be deemed illegitimate by law.
So with the help of her parents, he married Grey off to his youngest son. This was part of a slow-burn, but elaborate ploy to try to ensure the crown was bequeathed to his daughter-in-law.
Edward VI was dying and Dudley lost no time in getting the ailing king to renounce his half-sisters’ claims to the throne in favour of Jane. On the death of young Edward VI Dudley kept the fact quiet. He then got the Privy Council to send a letter to Mary (the next in line) summoning her in the King’s name.
Dudley hoped to capture Mary and imprison her en route, but she got wind of the King’s death and the plot. Instead she asked the council to recognise her as the Queen of England.
However, by then it was too late. Dudley had already done a hatchet job on her. He’d discredited her by saying she was illegitimate, female and a Catholic. And so he’d been able to persuade or maybe terrorise the Privy Council into turning to Grey.
So Grey was installed on the throne, despite her entreaties that ‘the crown is not my right and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir.’ But her parents and her father-in-law impressed the importance of her duty upon her and she gave in.
The week or so that followed was increasingly turbulent, topped by the fact that the people refused to back her as the new queen. Of course, Mary didn’t just give up either. The throne was rightful hers and she wasn’t about to sit back and let someone snaffle it right from under her.
Slowly, the plot fell apart. In-fighting and defection meant that slowly Grey was left with fewer and fewer allies as they turned to Mary.
Who’s the daddy now?
By the end of her reign only her father and husband had stood by her. Even her father-in-law and instigator of the plot, John Dudley had deserted her, but he didn’t get off scot free. He was executed in August 1553 for his instrumental role in trying to depose Mary.
As for the real victims of this plot, the Earl of Guildford and his young wife were imprisoned and sentenced to die for their treasonous roles. The Earl of Guildford was executed first and his wife saw the jigsaw bits of his body as they drove him back from Tower Hill past her cell.
When it came to her turn, Grey turned to the executioner and implored, ‘I pray you dispatch me quickly’. She used her hanky as a blindfold and then panicked because she couldn’t see where she was going. But someone guided her to the block where she rested her head. ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit,’ were her last words before her 17-year-old head was severed from her body.
Helen Bonham Carter (or Mrs Tim Burton to you) slapped the talc on to play the eponymous Lady Jane in the 2005 movie…but I’ve not seen it so I can’t tell you if it’s good or not.