This Day In History: Lady Jane Grey Is Executed

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by the French painter Paul Delaroche, 1833. The National Gallery Online

After a series of remarkable and unfortunate events, one of England’s most educated and well respected woman was recognized as the de facto queen of Ireland and England. Lady Jane Grey was bequeathed the crown from the King when he was on his death bed — he was only fifteen years old.

The provocative decision by the dying boy-king left Jane in a heap of trouble with the king’s half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, both of whom were furious over their brother’s actions. The sisters had already been troubled since birth. They were haunted by outside questions concerning the legitimacy of their royal claims. Perpetual doubt left them in a continuous defensive state of mind, eternally warring within themselves and with the outer world.

On the contrary, Jane had a disarming disposition. She enjoyed a humanist education and was exceptionally well read. She was thoughtful, confident, and had a mature mind and manner that influenced how others perceived her. The crown going to Jane enhanced Mary and her sister’s fears of illegitimacy.

1590 Painting of Lady Jane. Wikipedia

In the meantime, the Privy Council sweepingly decided to plot against Lady Jane Grey. They switched sides and threw their support entirely behind Dudley’s half-sister Mary. The deal sealed Jane’s fate. Mary was given the crown in July 1553. By November of the same year, Jane was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.

A rebellion erupted in early 1554, directed at Mary and her plan to marry Philip of Spain. This renewed insecurities surrounding her post as the head of the monarchy. Lady Jane Grey was only sixteen or seventeen-years-old at the time she was executed on February 12, 1554. Today, she is recognized as a martyr, and has been the muse of many works of art, including literature, paintings, and plays.

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