Lady Jane Grey’s Early Life
Lady Jane Grey was born in around 1537, at the height of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Traditionally, she is believed to have been born at Bradgate Park, Leicestershire (above), but recent research has alternatively suggested that her birthplace was in London. Lady Jane’s was a noble and well-connected family. Her mother, Lady Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, was the daughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister, Mary Tudor. Interestingly, Mary’s marriage to Frances’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, had actually come about because of an annulment of his first marriage on the grounds of consanguinity by Pope Clement VII.
Lady Jane’s father, Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, was the great-grandson of Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, by her first marriage. Henry Grey was a fixture at Henry VIII’s court after becoming the Marquess of Dorset in 1530. In fact, so close was he to Henry that he not only attended the coronation of Anne Boleyn in 1533 but was the king’s sword-bearer. He was also sword-bearer at the arrival of Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, in 1540, and was made a Knight of the Garter – the highest accolade for a nobleman at the time – in 1547.
It goes without saying that the Grey family were firmly Church of England. Henry Grey was so zealous a Protestant that the Swiss reformer and theologian, Heinrich Bullinger, an influential figure in the European Reformation, corresponded often with the family and even dedicated a book to Henry in 1551. Grey’s enthusiasm for Henry’s new church was vitally important, as he secured Leicestershire as a reliably Protestant county and pressed for more church reforms. We know less about Lady Frances’s religious beliefs but, given her marriage and closeness to the royal family, we can assume that she was also decidedly anti-Catholic.
Thus Jane grew up in a firmly Protestant household. Lady Frances was adamant that her three daughters be educated to a high standard, and in 1541 employed Bishop John Aylmer to tutor Jane in Greek, when she was no more than 5 years old. She also learned Italian with the priest Michelangelo Florio, and generally received the finest Renaissance Humanist education available, studying philosophy and theology. Surrounded by such committed Protestants, Jane became a pious follower of the faith, and even corresponded with Bullinger. Her upbringing was very strict, and contemporaries described her as a bookish and quiet young woman.
Through her mother’s influence at court, Jane secured a place at the household of Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife. There she got to know Henry’s son, Edward, son of his third wife, Jane Seymour, and heir to the English throne. When Catherine was widowed and married Thomas Seymour, Jane followed the former queen to her new home, and was a chief mourner at her funeral in 1548. Although Seymour was keen to keep Jane at his household, she decided to return to Bradgate, which turned out to be a lucky escape as he was arrested two months later.