12 February 1554: The execution of Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey was the great-granddaughter of the founder of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII, by his youngest daughter Mary, and stood third in line to throne after Mary and Elizabeth. A devotee of ‘the new faith’, Protestantism, she was devout and bookish, in one instance preferring to spend an afternoon indoors reading Plato’s Phaedo over attending a family stag hunt in the park.

In the eyes of the young, but terminally ill, King Edward IV and his fiercely Protestant advisor, the Duke of Northumberland, she made the ideal heir to the throne. Lady Jane was, rather conveniently, also married to the Duke’s son, Lord Guildford Dudley. It was most likely at Northumberland’s suggestion that she was named as the king’s successor in a new will drawn up a few months before Edward’s death on 6 July 1554. Four days later, her ascension was announced by heralds-at arms in London, where a vintner’s boy was apparently arrested for crying out, ‘the Lady Mary has the better title.’ Better title or not, Mary enjoyed popular support of the people and on 3 August, she rode in triumph through the streets of the capital to reclaim the throne and restore the country to Catholicism.

Jane, her husband and her father, were imprisoned in the Tower of London and tried and found guilty of high treason. She and Dudley were eventually beheaded at Tower Green on 12 February 1554. Among her last requests at the block was a prayer to the executer to ‘dispatch’ her ‘quickly.’ At the time of her death she was just seventeen years of age.