When I was about 8 I became obsessed with Lady Jane Grey, after seeing this painting in the National Gallery
This Victorian painting by Paul Delaroche, embodies everything that has made Jane’s story stand the test of time.
The innocent teenager forced into a role she didn’t want by a power hungry family. To reign for 9 days before being stripped of her crown and thrown into prison. Finally meeting her end thanks to a bloody axe and a sadistic queen.
It’s a good story right?
Which of course means that it’s wrong!
The doe eyed Jane of history is a myth. A romanticised tale that, to be honest, does the real Jane a huge disservice.
So let’s discover the young women behind the myth:
1. Nobody wanted her to be queen
Bit of a harsh one to start with… but true! England didn’t want Jane to be Queen.
Though Jane was twice bumped up in the line of succession (by both Henry VIII and Edward VI) Nobody knew who the F she was.
Jane wasn’t a regular at court, there was no gossip on her; Jane just was not a name or face that anybody non-royal would recognise.
To put this in modern terms; Janes accession to the throne would be like Lady Sarah Chatto becoming Queen.
Lady Sarah Chatto is the Queens fave niece and one of the members of the Royal Family that has the most in common with the Queen.
Still – lovely though she sounds – if Lady Sarah Chatto became Queen there would be questions. Such as: ‘who the actual fuck are you?’
This was pretty much the position of the people of England.
It’s great that the previous King liked you and all…but nobody here knows you and yeah…. we’re not a huge fan of some random ruling over us.
The people of England knew Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth; they liked them and (understandably) believed that they were the rightful heirs to the throne.
So it’s unsurprising that when Jane made her first speech as Queen she was met by silence.
Jane just didn’t have the support of the people and without that her reign could never succeed.
In fact by the end of her short time on the throne, half the country still wasn’t aware that there’d been a new queen. Jane had just been a blip.
2. Jane was one of the greatest minds of her time
By all accounts, Jane was ridiculously smart. Like Ridiculously!
Her parents took her education seriously and whilst her younger sisters were playing or picking up musical skills, Jane could always be found surrounded by books.
Jane could speak around 6 languages and loved nothing more than a juicy philosophical debate with some of the worlds scholars (many of whom were her pen pals!)
You may have guessed by now that Jane was all types of precocious!
Once, acclaimed writer and scholar Robert Ascham, found Jane alone, nose in a book, whilst the rest of her family were out hunting.
When he asked why she preferred to sit alone reading Plato in its original Greek, rather than being out with her family, she earnestly turned to him and said:
‘All the sport they find in the park is but a shadow to that pleasure I find in Plato. Alas! Good folk they never felt true pleasure!’
Soon Jane’s intelligence was gaining all sorts of attention. There was even speculation that she was more gifted than the (equally precocious) Princess Elizabeth.
Kind of awkward when you find out…
3. Jane grew up with Elizabeth I
When Jane was around 10, she became the ward of Thomas Seymour; the brother of Henry VIIIs third wife, Jane and the now husband of Henry’s last wife, Katherine Parr.
Thomas was a power hungry man (as you can tell by the brother in law martial gymnastics!) and with Jane’s bump in the line of successions (following Henry VIIIs will) he wanted Jane for a potential pawn in one of his many political power plays.
So Thomas convinced Jane’s parents that if Jane came to live with him, it would help her education and transform her into an eligeable lady.
Just like that, Jane was placed into his care.
If you think this whole set up sounds sketchy AF… then you’d be right!
Not only was Thomas using a child for his political plotting, he was also a massive asshat!!
See Jane wasn’t the only ward under Thomas’s roof….
Princess Elizabeth was also living there, under the care of Katherine Parr. And you can bet Thomas was just as keen on using Elizabeth as he was Jane.
There are stacks of evidence that Thomas sexually abused Elizabeth. Some of this evidence suggests Elizabeth consented… but let’s remember that she was around 13 and he was one of her primary carers.
This abuse would lead to Elizabeth departing the home she shared with Jane.
Though the two had only lived together shortly; Jane impacted Elizabeth’s life. Both as an academic rival and later as a tragic warning of what could easily be Elizabeth’s fate.
4. Jane was almost embroiled in two treasonous attempts for the throne
After Elizabeth left his home, Thomas Seymour turned all his dickish attention to Jane.
Tragically –and luckily- for Jane, around the same time, Kathryn Parr died.
Without a woman in the house to help care for Jane, her parents sent for her to come home.
… but Thomas was a dick; so he obvs wasn’t giving up Jane that easily!
Thomas chased Jane down; eventually turning up at Jane’s parents house.
In a last bid attempt for Jane, Thomas promised her parents that he would work to get Jane married to the newly minted King Edward.
It worked and Jane was once more Thomas Seymour’s Ward.
With Jane back under his roof, Thomas doubled down on his quest for power.
He became erratic; his scheming more and more far fetched.
Eventually he decided that the only way he could convince King Edward to go along with his plans was if he separated Edward from his council…
So Thomas broke into Hampton Court Palace.
In the dead of night, Thomas snuck into the Kings quarters. As he got closer to the bedroom, a dog spotted Thomas and let out a bark.
So Thomas shot the dog.
The shot drew guards and Thomas was arrested… because don’t murder dogs you prick.
With Thomas under arrest, the home he shared with Jane was ransacked for evidence of his treasonous treachery.
Jane’s parents got her back home ASAP, but It was too late… she was officially part of Thomas’ treason. One of the charges raised against him was:
‘To ally the King with the daughter of an English Nobleman’
That daughter was of course, Jane.
To protect the family and Jane’s future, her Dad testified against Thomas.
The testimony was damning… so damning that Jane and her parents escaped any long term consequence.
Thomas wasn’t so lucky; he was beheaded for treason.
Though Jane had escaped the clutches of super dick, Thomas Seymour, don’t go thinking she wasnt all innocent saint…you see:
5. Jane was sometimes the worst
One of the most important things in Jane’s life was her religion. This wasn’t rare; religion was a huge hot button issue in Tudor England.
There was a divide between Catholics and Protestants. Each group believed the other was wrong… and by that I mean they thought the other sides religious beliefs were an automatic ticket to hell.
Jane made sure that her Protestant faith was at the core of all she did. And as a precocious and crazy smart teenager… that meant a lot of arguing!
As we’ve already said, Jane was pen pals with some of the leading minds of her day.
All well and good… unless they had a religious slip or went and converted. Then you best believe they’d be getting a letter from Jane cussing them out (seriously though, she straight up wrote that they’d go to hell)
But Jane’s biggest piece of dicketry was pissing off the future Mary I (the woman that would later sign off on Janes execution)
Jane’s family spent Christmas 1549 with Mary. They were family after all and though Mary was staunchly Catholic and Jane Protestant, surely they could get along for Christmas?
Haha of course not! It’s Christmas after all!
In the strong tradition of families falling out over the holidays, Jane took a trip to Mary’s private chapel.
There one of Mary’s ladies curtsied to the alter, explaining to Jane that she was curtsying to ‘him that made us all’. At this, Jane loudly scoffed:
‘Why?!? How can he be here that made us all and the baker that made him?’
When word of Janes mocking outburst got back to Mary, she was (understandably) pretty pissed of that Jane had come to her home and made fun of her religious beliefs.
Afterwards it was said that Mary felt she could never truly love Jane as she had before.
But Jane wouldn’t budge on her actions…truly:
6. Jane was not here for your bullshit
On 6th July 1553, Jane was taken into a room where she found her family bowing at her. Then she was told that the King was dead, she was his new heir and was now Queen! All hail Queen Jane.
Jane’s response to this?
*obvs paraphrasing pretty heavily here…
Jane was having none of it. She immediately proclaimed the whole thing ridiculous.
Only after a lot of coaxing/forcing did Jane put the crown on her head; still making it known she was only doing it to appease her parents.
Forced into a role she didn’t want, Jane was adamant she wouldn’t be taking any more bullshit.
When her husband and his Mum tried to flounce out of The Tower of London, protesting he wasn’t being treated regally enough (poor baby) Jane barred their way. Having the pair sent back to their rooms, tails between their legs.
But putting her mother in law in her place wasn’t the only way Jane was laying down the law. If she’d had it her way:
7. Jane would have arguably been the first English queen to rule solo
After Jane was told she was Queen and was presented with her crown, she wasn’t amused. Jane was less amused when she was told her husband, Guildford, was also getting a crown. As soon as she was alone with Guildford, Jane explained that he would not be becoming King. Consort… sure. King? Not a chance in hell buddy.
This was unheard of! A female ruler was already unusual (as in it hadn’t even been a possibility for hundreds of years!)
But Jane had made her decision. It was final. So final that when she discovered Guildford was making people calm him ‘your grace’ she shut that shit down sharpish.
No matter the argument, no matter how much she was pushed, Jane never backed down.
If she was going to be forced to rule, then she was going to do it her own way. Alone.
This was really interesting! Where can I find out more? I love, Crown of Blood, by Nicola Tallis. It’s a great read, packed full of info and resources. I actually read it over my 5th anniversary holiday with my partner (he was thrilled!) and I swear it made my already fab holiday approx 100x more fun.