In the summer of 1553 the 15-year-old King Edward VI was dying. His Catholic half-sister Mary was still the heiress presumptive to the throne. However, Edward VI, under the pressure from the Duke of Northumberland, bypassed his cousin, Frances Brandon, and named her eldest daughter, the Protestant Lady Jane Grey, as his successor. All of this information was placed in his will, which he passed via letters patent on June 21. These changes to the succession were co-signed by 102 notables, among them the entire Privy Council, peers, bishops, judges, and London aldermen. Edward desired that these changes be passed in Parliament in September. However, prior to the final legal steps, Edward VI died on July 10, 1553.
The privy Council proclaimed Lady Jane Grey as the first Queen Regnant of England. Jane, who just happened to be married to Lord Gilford Dudley, the youngest son of the Duke of Northumberland, was transferred to the Tower of London to await her coronation, per tradition.
One of the grave mistakes Northumberland made at this point was that he forgot to take hold of Mary herself prior to the death of the King. With Mary still free, she was able to easily claim her throne from Jane. The defacto reign of Queen Jane lasted 9 days.
Edward’s failure to have his letters passed by an Act of Parliament still mean that not only was the Third Act of Succession still the law of the land, so was the 1547 Act of Treason. The Treason Act made it high treason to change the line of succession to the throne that had been established by Third Act of Succession. Of course as king, Edward VI could have had both the Third Act of Succession and the Treason Act replaced with new laws, but since he died prior to accomplishing that requirement that his sister Mary was the legal Queen per the terms of the Third Succession Act.
Queen Mary entered London in a triumphal procession on August 3rd, and the Duke of Northumberland was executed on August 22, 1553. In September, Parliament declared that Mary was the rightful queen and denounced and revoked Jane’s proclamation and labeled her a usurper. Jane and Lord Guildford Dudley were both charged with high treason, together with two of Dudley’s brothers and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Their trial, by a special commission, took place on November 13, 1553.
All defendants charged were found guilty and sentenced to death. Jane was to “be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases.” However, Mary planned on pardoning her cousin and this was reported to the imperial ambassador to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Mary was planning on marrying her cousin, Prince Felipe of Austria, future King of Spain, son of Charles V.
Sadly, Jane’s fate took a turn for the worst with the Protestant rebellion of Thomas Wyatt the younger in January of 1554. Jane had nothing to do with this rebellion which was triggered by the prospective marriage of Mary and Felipe. What sealed her fate was the fact that Jane’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, and his two brothers joined the rebellion, which caused the government to go through with the verdict against Jane and Guildford. Their execution was first scheduled for February 9, 1554 , but was then postponed for three days so that Jane should get a chance to be converted to the Catholic faith. This attempt at conversion failed and both Lady Jane and her husband, Lord Guilford, were beheaded on the morning of February 12, 1554.
The tale of Lady Jane is tragic. She was only 17 and many historians believe she was and unwilling pawn of those around her. Steadfast in her Protestant faith she became a martyr for the Protestant cause.