Lady Jane Grey (1536 or 1537 – February 12, 1554), later known as Lady Jane Dudley (after her marriage) and as the “Nine Days’ Queen”, was an English noblewoman who claimed the throne of England and Ireland from July 10 until July 19, 1553.
Jane was the great granddaughter of Henry VII through his younger daughter Mary, and was a first cousin once removed of Edward VI. She had an excellent humanist education and a reputation as one of the most learned young women of her day. In May 1553, she married Lord Guildford Dudley, a younger son of Edward’s chief minister John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.
In June 1553, Edward VI wrote his will, nominating Jane and her male heirs as successors to the Crown, in part because his half-sister Mary was Catholic, while Jane was a committed Protestant and would support the reformed Church of England, whose foundation Edward laid. Edward VI personally supervised the copying of his will which was finally issued as letters patent on June 21 and signed by 102 notables, among them the whole Privy Council, peers, bishops, judges, and London aldermen. The will removed his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, from the line of succession on account of their illegitimacy, subverting their claims under the Third Succession Act.
The Third Succession Act of 1544 restored Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to the line of succession, although they were still regarded as illegitimate. Furthermore, this Act authorised Henry VIII to alter the succession by his will. Henry’s will reinforced the succession of his three children, and then declared that, should none of them leave descendants, the throne would pass to heirs of his younger sister, Mary, which included Jane. For unknown reasons, Henry excluded Jane’s mother, Frances Grey, from the succession, and also bypassed the claims of the descendants of his elder sister, Margaret, who had married into the Scottish Royal House and Nobility.
Edward also announced to have his “declaration” passed in Parliament in September, and the necessary writs were prepared. The King died on July 6, 1553, but his death was not announced until four days later.
On July 9, Jane was informed that she was now queen, and according to her own later claims, accepted the crown only with reluctance. On July 10, she was officially proclaimed Queen of England and Ireland after she had taken up secure residence in the Tower of London, where English monarchs customarily resided from the time of accession until coronation. Jane refused to name her husband Dudley as king, because that would require an Act of Parliament. She would agree only to make him Duke of Clarence.
Parliament never gathered to make into Law Edward’s Will altering the succession. Though the Tudor Kings had considerable power they were not absolute monarchs and Parlimentary approval was still needed to create new laws.
Support for Mary grew very quickly, and most of Jane’s supporters abandoned her. The Privy Council of England suddenly changed sides and proclaimed Mary as queen on July 19, 1553, ending her brief attempt at usurping the Crown. I should accurately say the usurping attempt was orchestrated buy her father-in-law the Duke of Northumberland and Jane was a rather reluctant pawn. For his leadership in the attempt to place Lady Jane on the throne the Duke of Northumberland was accused of treason and executed less than a month later.
Jane was held prisoner in the Tower and was convicted of high treason in November 1553, which carried a sentence of death — though Queen Mary initially spared her life. However, Jane soon became viewed as a threat to the Crown when her father, Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, became involved with Wyatt’s Rebellion against Queen Mary’s intention to marry Felipe II of Spain. Both Jane and her husband were executed on February 12, 1554.