Biography of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Day Queen

Contested Queen of England in 1553

Lady Jane Grey
Hulton Archive / The Print Collector / Getty Images

Lady Jane Grey (1537 - February 12, 1559) was a young woman who was briefly the Queen of England for a total of nine days. She was put on the throne of England after the death of Edward VI by an alliance of her father, Duke of Suffolk, and her father-in-law, Duke of Northumberland, as part of a struggle between factions within the Tudor family over the succession and over religion. She was executed as a threat to the succession of Mary I.

Background and Family

Lady Jane Grey was born in Leicestershire in 1537, to a family well-connected to the Tudor rulers. Her father was Henry Grey, marquess of Dorset, later duke of Suffolk. He was a great-grandson of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV's queen consort, through a son of her first marriage to Sir John Grey.

Her mother, Lady Frances Brandon, was the daughter of Princess Mary of England, sister of Henry VIII, and her second husband, Charles Brandon. She was thus through her maternal grandmother related to the ruling Tudor family: she was a great-granddaughter of Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York, and through Elizabeth, a great great granddaughter of Elizabeth Woodville through her second marriage to Edward IV.

Well-educated as was fit for a young lady who was even distantly in line for succession for the throne, Lady Jane Grey became the ward of Thomas Seymour, fourth husband of Henry VIII's widow, Catherine Parr. After his execution for treason in 1549, Lady Jane Grey returned to her parents' home.

Family at a Glance

  • Mother: Lady Frances Brandon, daughter of Mary Tudor who was the sister of Henry VIII, and her second husband, Charles Brandon
  • Father: Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk
  • Siblings: Lady Catherine Grey, Lady Mary Grey

Reign of Edward VI

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, in 1549 became head of the council advising and ruling for the young King Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Under his leadership, England's economy improved, and the replacement of Roman Catholicism with Protestantism progressed.

Northumberland realized that Edward's health was fragile and probably failing and that the named successor, Mary, would side with the Roman Catholics and probably would suppress Protestants. He arranged with Suffolk for Suffolk's daughter, Lady Jane, to marry Guildford Dudley, son of Northumberland. They were married in May of 1553.

Northumberland then convinced Edward to make Jane and any male heirs she might have the successors to Edward's crown. Northumberland gained the agreement of his fellow council members to this change in the succession.

This act bypassed Henry's daughters, the princesses Mary and Elizabeth, whom Henry had named his heirs if Edward died without children. The act also ignored the fact that the Duchess of Suffolk, Jane's mother, would normally have precedence over Jane since Lady Frances was the daughter of Henry's sister Mary and Jane the granddaughter.

Brief Reign

After Edward died on July 6, 1553, Northumberland had Lady Jane Grey declared Queen, to Jane's surprise and dismay. But support for Lady Jane Grey as Queen quickly disappeared as Mary gathered her forces to claim the throne.

Threat to the Reign of Mary I

On July 19, Mary was declared Queen of England, and Jane and her father were imprisoned. Northumberland was executed; Suffolk was pardoned; Jane, Dudley, and others were sentenced to be executed for high treason. Mary hesitated with the executions, however, until Suffolk participated in Thomas Wyatt's rebellion when Mary realized that Lady Jane Grey, alive, would be too tempting a focus for further rebellions. Lady Jane Grey and her young husband Guildford Dudley were executed on February 12, 1554.

Lady Jane Grey has been represented in art and illustrations as her tragic story has been told and retold.