The Tudor Society

Henry Grey’s head

As today is the anniversary of the execution of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and father of Lady Jane Grey, I thought I'd talk about his execution and a mummified head discovered in the 19th century that is said to be the duke's.

You can click here to read a bio of Henry Grey.

Notes, Sources and Further Reading

Picture of Henry Grey's head from Unknown London by Walter George Bell (1919).

There are 9 comments Go To Comment

  1. C

    absolutely loved this! So so interesting :)!!

  2. J

    Very interesting. I really enjoyed it 👍

  3. L

    What an amazing find!! And certainly worth telling Henry’s very complicated life story…

  4. R

    Gory, but fascinating!

    About the engraving, its is probably of Robert Dudley, misidentified as Henry Grey. His costume looks to be Elizabethan.

  5. R

    An interesting side story of the head of Henry Grey, which is interesting as a mummified head, but unfortunately, the trail has gone dry. It would have been important to have done further work in the 20th century, but it is a difficult science using measurement and comparison with an identified portrait. Is the portrait even Henry Grey? Oh dear, portrait misidentification makes my brains ache. The mummy has very strong features, but the execution description does not match. It must have attracted a lot of visitors in Victorian times and as Tim said, the character traits is very Victorian and typically the pseudoscience of the day was to talk about the size of a skull and small brains and various nonsense. You cannot tell the intelligence of a person from their skull. The Victorians took this all very serious though, even though it was definitely very funny when you read that out. What a remarkable item, whoever they were. Henry Iv of France’s head was found mummified and kept in a cupboard a few years ago and various measurements and DNA on items with the original burial confirmed it is almost certainly him. The sad thing was the custodian of his head had been given it many years earlier by a dear friend who had cared for and rescued the head fifty years before that. It had in fact been in the two families for a century. It was really emotional watching this poor old man lovingly handling the skull and head and box and then agreeing to sell it to the two journalists who had tracked it down for scientific testing. He was crying as he had to let it go but he was also proud that proper scientific scholars would now care for the head. He was present a year later when the University revealed their conclusions and he was reunited with his previous find. It was tested again and although contested, the team concluded it was the head of Henry iv. The head of Oliver Cromwell was for years in a case and often studied. Westminster Abbey allowed it to be buried in a secret place a decade or so ago. Heads were stolen and moved or saved on a regular basis. Thomas More’s head was rescued by his daughter and is behind a grill in the Roper family Church.

    I personally think Henry was foolish not to remain out of the new plots for a time as his son in law and daughter were about to be released and pardoned if everything had remained fine. This plot had a different purpose, but it was especially Grey’s choice of involvement that sealed his daughter’s fate. He did so because he was a fervent Protestant who wanted a Protestant Queen, although Elizabeth wasn’t actually a Protestant, so Evangelical is a more accurate term, which probably meant he didn’t see a choice. He made a good death and you can see Jane thought much of her father by her final words to him. I don’t believe either that he or Frances were these controlling, obsessively power hungry, controlling harsh parents. They were strict certainly, but there is no evidence for the myth of two monsters bullying and constantly beating their daughter into marriage. Even Prince Albert and Victoria whipped their children and they certainly gave the impression of a happy family. Parents believed in strict discipline as an expression of love and children obeyed in order to show love and respect back. It was a normal familial relationship.

  6. R

    I have just started to read a very interesting book on Henry Grey which I have acquired on Amazon, Henry Grey, A History in Documents by an independent historian called James Taylor, which is excellent and uses the many documents to map out his life. I would recommend this new book, only published in 2015 as the documents are cited in full in most instances and there are hundreds in the book. There is also an appendix on the head, which is of a man well over his prime and as the author favours an earlier date of birth, around 1500 rather than circa 1517, this also ties into the plausible theory that it may be Henry Grey. However, we can’t be sure anymore, so a mystery remains.

    1. C - Post Author

      I hadn’t heard of that book so thank you for the recommendation.

      1. R

        Your very welcome.

  7. S

    I came across this while doing my DNA Ancestry. Henry Grey was my 14th GGF.
    Is there a book I can purchase please?
    Sheryl Trimble

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Henry Grey’s head