Lady Jane Grey was born around 1536 as the daughter of Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Lady Frances Brandon. Through her mother she was a great-granddaughter of King Henry VII. She had two surviving younger sisters, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary. She also had a brother and a sister who died young. She received an excellent education and studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Italian. She was a committed Protestant.
From February 1547 she lived in the household of Thomas Seymour, who married Henry VIII’s widow, Catherine Parr in May 1547. She lived there until shortly after Catherine Parr’s death in childbirth in September 1548. It was Jane who acted as chief mourner at Catherine’s funeral. By the end of 1548 Thomas was arrested, among other things, for proposing Jane as a bride for King Edward VI, who was also her first cousin once removed.
On 25 May 1553 Jane married Lord Guildford Dudley, who was a younger son of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland at Durham House. By then it was probably clear that the young King was going to die. In his device for the succession Edward named Jane as his heir, bypassing the claims of his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth, but also the entire Scottish line of Henry VIII’s elder sister Margaret and even Jane’s mother, Frances. He died on 6 July 1553 and four days later Jane was officially proclaimed Queen. Jane was not happy and she only reluctantly accepted the crown, “The crown is not my right, and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir”. She took up residence in the Tower of London, as was customary. She refused to make her husband King and instead offered to make him Duke of Clarence, causing discord between them.
It was to be a short reign. After a reign of just nine days Mary Tudor managed to seize power and was proclaimed Queen on 19 July 1553. Jane was now a prisoner in the Tower of London.
Both Jane and her husband were charged with high treason. Their trial took place on 13 November 1553 and as expected, both were found guilty and sentenced to death. It was soon reported that Mary intended to spare Jane’s life. However, early in the next year a Protestant rebellion sealed Jane’s fate, despite the fact that she had nothing to do with it. Her execution was to go ahead anyway. It was first scheduled for 9 February, but it was postponed for three days to give Jane a chance to convert to Catholicism. Jane refused to convert, but allowed the chaplain Mary sent to accompany her to the scaffold.
Jane was executed on 12 February 1554, after a de facto reign of only nine days. She was never supposed to be Queen, only reluctantly accepted the crown and paid the ultimate price.