UK Constitution and Government/British Monarchs/Jane Grey

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Born: ABT Oct 1537, Bradgate, Leicestershire, England

Died: 12 Feb 1554, Tower of London, London, England, beheaded

Father: Henry GREY (1° D. Suffolk)

Mother: Frances BRANDON (D. Suffolk)

Married: Guildford DUDLEY 21 May 1553, Durham House, London, England






See her at The Queen Gallery

Lady Jane's father was Henry Grey, third Marquess of Dorset, the son of Thomas Grey, second Marquess of Dorset. In 1530 he took possession of Bradgate, a mansion which combined the amenities of a hunting-palace with the comforts of a private villa. The birthplace of Jane and her sisters overlooked six miles of park and is situated five miles from the city of Leicester. A rather uncertain and hazardous existence at court and in the French wars, alternating with abortive intrigue for further favours, had given Dorset ambition without stability of purpose. He had competed for wealth and position with only moderate success. In these days of the rising "new men" he counted himself to the old nobility: for his grandfather, the first Marquess, was the son of Elizabeth Woodville and therefore the stepson of Edward IV, Henry VIII's maternal grandfather.

Three years after he succeeded, young Dorset married Frances Brandon in the chapel of his London house in Southwark. This lady's ancestry combined royal and middle-class blood and, from her husband's point of view, her kinship with the King was of incalculable value; its results were to prove fatal to every member of the family but herself.

Frances Brandon was the elder daughter of Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk (a country gentleman ennobled by Henry VIII) and Henry's younger sister, Mary Tudor, formerly Queen of France, whose marriage to Louis XII lasted three months, leaving her free to give her hand to Suffolk as soon as her period of mourning was over. This young man, Lady Jane's maternal grandfather, was an extremely shady character. He had divorced two wives and buried a third before he married the Queen Dowager, by whom he had two daughters, Frances and Eleanor. In 1533 Mary died and about two years later, in 1535, Brandon married a fifth wife, Lady Catherine Willoughby, B. d'Eresby, by whom he had two sons.

By that time Frances and Henry Grey had been married two years and she had borne him a son who died a few months later; a daughter followed, who also died. Lady Jane was born in the same year and the same month - the exact date in Oct 1537 is not recorded - as Edward VI, Henry's son by his third wife, Jane Seymour. Although the Dorsets were disappointed at not having a son, they had important plans for Jane. From their point of view, the dynastic situation was promising, and they were bent on getting the most out of it.

Edward VI, who was to succeed Henry VIII in 1547 at the age of nine, was regarded by many and possibly by Henry himself as his only rightful heir; for his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, had both been declared illegitimate. Some years before Henry died he caused Parliament to pass an Act which enabled him to leave the crown by will and thus, if he saw fit, to cut out his two daughters. In fact, he did not do so. In his will he left the crown to Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, in that order. In the event of none of them having any heirs the succession came to Frances Dorset and her children, and then to her younger sister Eleanor, and hers. So in 1547 Jane was, presumptively, fifth in line for the English throne. (Henry cut out the descendants of his elder sister, Margaret Queen of Scotland, for reasons that have never been explained. But his war with Scotland and the Franco-Scottish alliance may have been the cause).

Jane's parents brought her up, not only with the rather remote possibility of her becoming Queen Regnant in view, but also with the idea that she might marry her Cousin Prince Edward - for althoug Henry VIII was negociating a foreign alliance for him within a few months of his birth, none of these schemes materialized. And so, during the last years of Henry's reign, the Dorsets' hopes for Jane rose very high, and her education was conducted accordingly. Intellectually, she was trained as if she had been a boy; but her parents' treatement of her destroyed much of the happiness she might have derived from such a training; for Frances Dorset was a harsh, grasping, brutal woman who dominated her capricious husband. That these characteristics were shown comparatively early is proved by her attitude towards Jane and her sisters - Catherine was born in 1539 and Mary four years later - whose sex she could not forgive.

It was inevitable that such a woman should rule, even if discreetly, the husband whom his contemporaries described as "young, lusty and poor...with little or no experience" and "a senseless creature", although others praised his love of learning, his generosity and his lack of pride. But Dorset was as casually selfish as his wife was cunning and predatory; and their care for their daughters' education sprang, not from aesthetic or intellectual standards, but from their obsession with material advantages and a desire to be in fashion. Frances ambitions were political, and her temperament was that of a restless, permanently dissatisfied schemer. She was constantly on the move, in order to keep in touch with