The Tudor Society

February 9 – A reprieve for Lady Jane Grey

Streatham Portrait of Lady Jane Grey by an unknown artist.This day in Tudor history, 9th February 1554, in the reign of Queen Mary I, was one of the dates set for the execution of Lady Jane Grey, the former Queen Jane, but she was granted a three-day reprieve.

Why and what had happened between her trial in November 1553, when she had been condemned to death, and this day?

Let me tell you...

Edward VI had named Lady Jane Grey, eldest daughter of his cousin, Frances Grey (née Brandon), Duchess of Suffolk, as his heir in his dying days in 1553, and Jane had been proclaimed queen on 10th July 1553. However, just ten days later, on 19th July 1553, she had been deposed by Edward’s half-sister, Mary, who was proclaimed Queen Mary I.

Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London and on 13th November 1553, Jane, her husband Guildford Dudley, his brothers Ambrose and Henry, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer were charged with high treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. However, Mary made it clear that she wanted to be merciful to Jane and the following month, Jane was granted more freedom at the Tower and there was talk that the queen would pardon her and release her to the Grey family home of Bradgate, in Leicestershire.

But two things dashed these plans for mercy:

  1. Jane’s staunch Protestant faith - Leanda de Lisle, in her book The Sisters Who Would be Queen, points out that Mary I hadn’t grasped just how strong and profound Jane’s beliefs were. While she was imprisoned in the Tower, Jane was spending her time studying the Bible and writing letters and prayers, and speaking out against Catholicism. In one letter, Jane damned all those who attended Catholic communion, and in a letter written to one of her former tutors, Dr Thomas Harding who had “backslidden” in Jane’s view by turning away from Protestantism and embracing Catholicism, she called him “the deformed imp of the devil” and referred to the Catholic faith as “the whore of Babylon” and “the abominable idol”. She also wrote of how Christ came not to bring peace, but a sword, and that people should return again unto Christ’s war. She was inciting rebellion.
  2. The second thing that dashed any hope of mercy was a group of Protestant men, including Jane’s father’s Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, launching Wyatt’s Rebellion against the queen in early 1554. As news came that the rebels were advancing on London, Mary signed Jane and Guildford’s death warrants, although she commuted their sentences to beheading.

The execution date was set for 7th February, but it was postponed when news reached Mary that the rebels had reached Knightsbridge. Then, it was set for 9th February, but Mary granted a 3-day reprieve. She sent her chaplain and confessor, Dr John Feckenham, to visit Jane with the aim of persuading her to recant her reformed faith and join the Catholic fold. Was the queen having second thoughts about executing Jane or did she simply want to save her soul? It’s not clear.

Jane recorded her exchanges with Feckenham. They debated the path to salvation, and whether Christ was really present in the consecrated bread and wine. Jane stood firm in her beliefs and told Feckenham that if he continued on his path with the Catholic faith that he would go to hell. She prayed for him. Despite Jane’s words, Feckenham requested a pardon for Jane. However, members of the queen’s council, such as Bishop Stephen Gardiner, pushed for Jane to be executed, she was a Protestant traitor after all and it was put about that rebels were also resurrecting Jane’s claim in an attempt to depose the queen. The Spanish ambassadors also put pressure on the queen to act decisively. In a sermon, Gardiner pleaded for Mary to be merciful to her country and people rather than to a traitor. Mary listened and on 12th February 1554, Jane’s husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, was beheaded on Tower Hill and Jane was beheaded within the Tower confines.

Here's my video on their executions:

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February 9 – A reprieve for Lady Jane Grey