Lady Jane Grey
Article abstract: Had her reign as queen of England been fully legal and more lengthy, Jane Grey would have been England’s first ruling queen and likely a successful monarch.
Lady Jane Grey was born in October, 1537, to Henry Grey and Frances Brandon, the duke and duchess of Suffolk. Jane’s mother was also a distant heir to the throne as the daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary. Her parents, being Protestant, saw to it that Jane, the eldest of three daughters, had a proper education in the “new religion,” as the Protestant faith was called. Jane was an intelligent, learned, clever, and scholarly girl; by the time of her death, she could read six languages, including Greek and Hebrew. She was well versed in the Greek and Roman classics, philosophy, and contemporary religious doctrine, and she early on developed a reputation as a precocious child nearly obsessed with her studies.
Jane’s parents, while not particularly well-schooled nor overwhelmingly enthusiastic about their eldest daughter’s dedication to learning, did not mind sending Jane off to court to study with her cousins, the Princess Elizabeth and the future King Edward. Such connections could potentially benefit Jane’s parents, for as provincial nobility, they were constantly struggling for political and social influence. These potential political connections could also benefit them in pursuit of a suitable husband for their daughter.
Jane’s availability and attractiveness as a marriage prospect, along with her religion, made her a pawn in the political power plays of the day. Henry VIII died in early 1547, and the throne passed to his nine-year-old son, Edward VI. The boy’s uncle, Thomas Seymour, duke of Somerset, became the “protector” of the realm and regent to the young king. Somerset suggested several times to Jane’s parents that a marriage between Edward and Jane would benefit all involved. There was also talk of Jane marrying Somerset’s son. Somerset, though, fell from power, primarily due to political maneuvering by John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, and thereafter the Seymours had little to offer.
The issue of religion was one that plagued all of the Tudor family monarchs. Henry VIII had split from the Catholic Church in order to divorce his first wife, unwittingly laying the groundwork for the Church of England. Many of his top advisers during his last years were moderate Protestants, as were virtually all of Edward’s counselors. As the succession stood, should Edward die before having children, the throne of England would pass to Henry’s eldest daughter, Mary. This possibility raised the religious issue again, for Mary was Catholic, and many of Edward’s advisers, especially Northumberland, were concerned that Mary’s accession would result in England’s return to Catholicism. The religious differences between Edward’s advisers and Mary also virtually guaranteed for the counselors at best the loss of prestige, at worst perhaps torture or death for their heretical beliefs.
The ill health of the king also became a major concern. Despite his love of outdoor activities, Edward had never been particularly healthy, and his health worsened as he aged. There was growing alarm that Edward’s sicknesses could become life threatening, and Northumberland knew his power rested solely with Edward. In 1553, when the young king was fifteen, a cold developed into a more serious lung ailment. Repeated treatments by doctors proved fruitless, and Edward slowly worsened. It was obvious that the boy-king’s days were numbered.
Northumberland, understandably worried about his position should Mary succeed her half-brother Edward, and perhaps also concerned about the likely return to Catholicism, agonized over possible courses of action. Edward was getting sicker and sicker, and Northumberland decided that Mary had to be somehow excluded from the succession. According to Henry’s will, the next successor after Mary was Elizabeth, his daughter with Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth was a Protestant, but Northumberland had little influence over her. Following Elizabeth was Frances Brandon, followed by Lady Jane. If Northumberland could alter the succession to elevate Frances or Jane to the throne, he could continue to exert his considerable influence over the government.
Lady Jane’s dedicated Protestantism and her place in the succession made her an attractive pawn. Jane had engaged in theological debates with numerous religious scholars and had even confronted her cousin Mary regarding the sanctity of the Catholic “host.” The details of Jane’s accession to the throne, however, are fairly complex.
Northumberland had Edward draft a will of his own that precluded his two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. (Elizabeth was excluded on the pretext that she might marry a foreigner, which the English did not want.) This left Frances as the heir, but Northumberland had her sign away her claim, essentially “abdicating” in favor of her daughter. Lady...
(The entire section is 2079 words.)