LADY JANE GREY (1537-1554), a lady remarkable no less for her accomplishments than for her misfortunes, was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII. of England. Her descent from that king was traced through a line of females. His second daughter Mary, after being left a widow by Louis XII. of France, married Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, who was a favourite with her brother King Henry VIII. Of this marriage came two daughters, the elder of whom, Lady Frances Brandon, was married to Henry Grey, marquess of Dorset; and their issue, again, consisted of daughters only. Lady Jane, the subject of this article, was the eldest of three whom the marquess had by Lady Frances. Thus it will appear that even if the crown of England had ever fallen into the female line of descent from Henry VII., she could not have put in a rightful claim unless the issue of his elder daughter, Margaret, had become extinct. But Margaret had married James IV. of Scotland; and, though her descendant, James VI., was ultimately called to the English throne, Henry VIII. had placed her family after that of his second sister in the succession; so that, failing the lawful issue of Henry himself, Lady Jane would, according to this arrangement, have succeeded. It was to these circumstances that she owed her exceptional position in history, and became the victim of an ambition which was not her own.
She was born at her father's seat named Broadgate in Leicestershire about the year 1537. Her parents, though severe disciplinarians, bestowed more than ordinary care upon her education, and she herself was so teachable and delighted so much in study that she became the marvel of the age for her acquirements. She not only excelled in needlework and in music, both vocal and instrumental, but while still very young she had thoroughly mastered Latin, Greek, French and Italian. She was able to speak and write both Greek and Latin with an accuracy that satisfied even such critics as Ascham and her tutor Dr Aylmer, afterwards bishop of London. She also acquired some knowledge of at least three Oriental tongues, Hebrew, Chaldee and Arabic. In Ascham's Schoolmaster is given a touching account of the devotion with which she pursued her studies and the harshness she experienced from her parents. The love of learning was her solace; in reading Demosthenes and Plato she found a refuge from domestic unhappiness. When about ten years old she was placed for a time in the household of Thomas, Lord Seymour, who, having obtained her wardship, induced her parents to let her stay with him, even after the death of his wife, Queen Catherine Parr, by promising to marry her to his nephew, King Edward VI. Lord Seymour, however, was attainted of high treason and beheaded in 1549, and his brother, the duke of Somerset, made some overtures to the marquess of Dorset to marry her to his son the earl of Hertford. These projects, however, came to nothing. The duke of Somerset in his turn fell a victim to the ambition of Dudley, duke of Northumberland, and was beheaded three years after his brother. Meanwhile, the dukedom of Suffolk having become extinct by the deaths of Charles Brandon and his two sons, the title was conferred upon the marquess of Dorset, Lady Jane's father. Northumberland, who was now all-powerful, fearing a great reverse of fortune in case of the king's death, as his health began visibly to decline, endeavoured to strengthen himself by marriages between his family and those of other powerful noblemen, especially of the new-made duke of Suffolk. His three eldest sons being already married, the fourth, who was named Lord Guilford Dudley, was accordingly wedded to Lady Jane Grey about the end of May 1553. The match received the full approval of the king, who furnished the wedding apparel of the parties by royal warrant. But Edward's state of health warned Northumberland that he must lose no time in putting the rest of his project into execution. He persuaded the king that if the crown should descend to his sister Mary the work of the Reformation would be undone and the liberties of the kingdom would be in danger. Besides, both Mary and her sister Elizabeth had been declared illegitimate by separate acts of parliament, and the objections to Mary queen of Scots did not require to be pointed out. Edward was easily persuaded to break through his father's will and make a new settlement of the crown by deed. The document was witnessed by the signatures of all the council and of all but one of the judges; but those of the latter body were obtained only with difficulty by threats and intimidation.
Edward VI. died on the 6th July 1553, and it was announced to Lady Jane that she was queen. She was then but sixteen years of age. The news came upon her as a most unwelcome surprise, and for some time she resisted all persuasions to accept the fatal dignity; but at length she yielded to the entreaties of her father, her father-in-law and her husband. The better to mature their plans the cabal had kept the king's death secret for some days, but they proclaimed Queen Jane in the city on the loth. The people received the announcement with manifest coldness, and a vintner's boy was even so bold as to raise a cry for Queen Mary, for which he next day had his ears nailed to the pillory and afterwards cut off. Mary, however, had received early intimation of her brother's death, and, retiring from Hunsdon into Norfolk, gathered round her the nobility and commons of those parts. Northumberland was despatched thither with an army to oppose her; but after reaching Newmarket he complained that the council had not sent him forces in sufficient numbers and his followers began to desert. News also came that the earl of Oxford had declared for Queen Mary; and as most of the council themselves were only seeking an opportunity to wash their hands of rebellion, they procured a meeting at Baynard's Castle, revoked their former acts as done under coercion, and caused the lord mayor to proclaim Queen Mary, which he did amid the shouts of the citizens. The duke of Suffolk was obliged to tell his daughter that she must lay aside her royal dignity and become a private person once more. She replied that she relinquished most willingly a crown that she had only accepted out of obedience to him and her mother, and her nine days' reign was over.
The leading actors in the conspiracy were now called to answer for their deeds. Northumberland was brought up to London a prisoner, tried and sent to the block, along with some of his partisans. The duke of Suffolk and Lady Jane were also committed to the Tower; but the former, by the influence of his duchess, procured a pardon. Lady Jane and her husband Lord Guilford Dudley were also tried, and received sentence of death for treason. This, however, was not immediately carried out; on the contrary, the queen seems to have wished to spare their lives and mitigated the rigour of their confinement.
Unfortunately, owing to the general dislike of the queen's marriage with Philip of Spain, Sir Thomas Wyat soon after raised a rebellion in which the duke of Suffolk and his brothers took part, and on its suppression the queen was persuaded that it was unsafe to spare the lives of Lady Jane and her husband any longer. On hearing that they were to die, Lady Jane declined a parting interview with her husband lest it should increase their pain, and prepared to meet her fate with Christian fortitude. She and her husband were executed on the same day, on the 12th of February 1554, her husband on Tower Hill, and herself within the Tower an hour afterwards, amidst universal sympathy and compassion.
See Ascham's Schoolmaster; Burnet's History of the Reformation; Howard's Lady Jane Grey; Nicolas's Literary Remains of Lady Jane Grey; Tytler's England under Edward VI. and Mary; The Chronicles of Queen Jane, ed. J. G. Nichols; The Accession of Queen Mary (Guaras's narrative), ed. R. Garnett (1892); Foxe's Acts and Monuments.
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