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Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England

Updated on October 12, 2011

Why were the Grey family important

Henry 7th , first Tudor king of England had a sister Mary(Dowager Queen of France) who married Charles Brandon the 1st Duke of Suffolk. They in their turn had a daughter Lady Frances Brandon who married Henry (Harry )Grey, Marquess of Dorset. They had three daughters, Lady Jane, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary.

In his last will Henry 8th excluded the Stewarts from the succession leaving a son and heir Edward, and then his eldest daughter Mary and youngest daughter Elizabeth. He also declared that if none of his children were to produce heirs then the succession would fall to the children of his sisters Mary. In doing this he was probably counting on the fact that it would be unlikely that all three of his children would fail to marry and have children. The children of his sister Margaret who had married into the Scottish royal family (Stewarts) were excluded.

Edward 7th died, possibly of dysentery aged about 15 years old. In his deathbed will he excluded both Mary and Elizabeth from the succession as they were both illegitimate. Henry 8th had his marriages annulled rather than divorced so in Edwards mind the subsequent marriages were not legal. It is thought by many historians that his decision may have been influenced by the Duke of Northumberland who obviously had interest in Lady Jane Grey as eldest of the Grey daughters, taking the Crown of England. There is some debate over the legality of this will. Edward was ill and on his death bed . He had not met the age of 21 the age when legal testament came into force. His father had changed the succession to entitle his daughters to succeed by Act of Parliament. There was not time to bring in a new Act and therefore the stage was set for strife and perhaps counter claim and rebellion.

Lady Jane Grey was married to Lord Guildford Dudley, the third son of Robert Dudley the 1st Duke of Northumberland at the age of 16 to provide an heir to the throne as Edward wanted the crown to pass through Mary Tudor’s lineage and that meant Jane as the eldest Grey daughter.

Queen Elizabeth - daughter of Henry
Queen Elizabeth - daughter of Henry
King Edward -Daughter of Henry
King Edward -Daughter of Henry
Queen Mary- Daughter of Henry
Queen Mary- Daughter of Henry
Lord Guildford Dudley
Lord Guildford Dudley

On July 10th 1553 Jane processed to the tower of London as queen. She signed documents in person as “the queen”. At that point it was not expected that Mary would oppose the crowning of Lady Jane as the Queen of England. Mary was perhaps tougher than she may have been given credit for. Her cousin was Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. It became evident to some members of the royal council that there could be a civil war. Lady Jane was far from the puppet that is often portrayed. She wanted her father to lead an army for her but as he was il she asked her father in law Dudley who was quite politically astute and saw that Jane’s supporters were falling away from her. He was concerned that if he left London he would loose support and any blame for the subsequent civil war would rest on him. He agreed to leave and raise an army but those very men who had said they would remain loyal to Jane betrayed her. Nine days into her reign Jane was imprisoned in the tower and Mary was declared queen.

Jane’s mother Frances pleaded with Queen Mary for her daughters freedom. She had already pardoned Harry Grey. The queen knew that to pardon Jane was to risk scandal and danger. The plan seems to have been for Jane to be put on trial for treason, to be found guilty, sentenced and then pardoned by the queen, as there was a mandatory death sentence for treason with a very high conviction rate.

Whilst awaiting Jane’s trial, Mary re introduced the catholic mass to England. Jane thought that the catholic mass was satanic cannibalism. When her tutor embraced Catholicism Jane wrote an open letter to him condemning Catholicism she said that people "should rise, rise again in Christ’s war."

Harry Grey, despite being pardoned was plotting rebellion for Easter 1554 but their had been talk and they were in danger of being discovered. The rebellion was brought forward until January 1554.

Grey came to Leicestershire where he was welcomed into the city of Leicester. He tried to recruit an army but left with less than 40 men mainly those recruited from his estate.

Wyatt went to Kent and amassed a large army. At one point he looked strong enough to over throw the crown but he was over whelmed near the court and arrested. The men stood trial in November and were found guilty.

Mary was no doubt receiving advice from her council that her decision to be merciful towards Harry Grey had been a mistake and a similar mistake could be made if she showed the same mercy to Jane.

Mary tried to get Jane to convert to Catholicism. Jane was a brave girl who had no intention of sacrificing her beliefs to save her life. Jane had strong personal beliefs and personally opposed the catholic religion.

Jane was taken from the tower and beheaded- her husband had been beheaded earlier that morning. She died within the confines of the tower.

Perhaps the strength of her character is shown in a letter written by Jane to her sister Katherine Grey shortly before her execution.

“I’ve died a martyr and you should be prepared to die for your belief”

Lady Frances

Francis Grey had lost both her husband and her eldest daughter and quickly accepted the catholic religion for herself and her other daughters. They were not alone in the nobility doing this. William Cecil did it too,

There is a certain amount of myth written about Francis Grey. She is often portrayed as being anti Jane Grey, cruel, ambitious and a sexual monster. She is often quoted as marrying only three weeks after the death of her husband a 21 year old man Adrian Stokes. The reality of the situation is that she married about a year after her husbands execution and that Adrian Stokes was about the same age as her. Although Adrian Stokes was the Queens Master of the Horse , he was a commoner. By marrying Adrian, Francis effectively ruled herself out of the succession as a commoner would not be tolerated as a queens consort.

By the time of Elizabeth 1 accession as Queen, Katherine Grey was aged 18 years. It might have been thought that things would now be better for the Greys as they were both protestants. However Elizabeth hated and feared the Grey family as she thought that they were behind the attempt in her brothers will to disinherit her. She had no marriage in mind and therefore there was not an heir. It is believed that Elizabeth was worried that supporters of Katherine Grey would rise and overthrow Elizabeth as queen. At that time Elizabeth would not marry as she was in love with Robert Dudley but could not marry him as he was already married. Circumstances looked like they might change when Dudley’s wife died as the result of a fall at home. However the circumstances surrounding the death were suspicious and none would accept Dudley as the Queens consort. In the light of this Elizabeth wanted to make sure that neither of the Grey girls would marry or bear heirs.

Catherine Grey was in love with Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and heir to the dukedom of Somerset. He could only be regarded as incredibly suitable as a queen’s consort. They married in secret, and were passionately in love, with an enormous appetite for sexual activity. Not unsurprisingly Catherine became pregnant and this fact escaped Elizabeth’s notice for quite some time. However once in her third trimester it came to the queens attention and she was put into the tower. A baby was born in 1561, a boy, Edward Seymour, Lord Beauchamp. In the months following the birth Catherine’s supporters at the tower let her husband visit her and she became pregnant again giving birth to another boy. Elizabeth was frightened and horrified by what she saw as a strong potential opposition to the throne. Catherine and her husband were moved to separate country houses and effectively became prisoners. Catherine never saw her husband or her eldest son again and it is said that she died of a broken heart, but in reality it was probably consumption.


I have just read"The sisters who would be Queen" by Leanda De Lisle. If you want to know more about the problems of the succession during the late tudor period, then this is a good read. Leanda De Lisle spent 8 years researching this book and, as a member of one of the Leicestershire County families had access to some previously over looked records.

Lady Mary Grey


Lady Mary Grey

Saw what had happened when Mary married and envied her happiness. Mary was short even it is suggested a dwarf. She fell in love with a commoner Thomas Keys who was the porter in charge of palace security. He was a physically huge man to her tiny frame.

Mary and Thomas were married in secret perhaps hoping that owing to Thomas’s position as a commoner that they would be safe. Queen Elizabeth was angry- historians have argued that loneliness and sexual jealously motivated this anger.

Mary Grey was kept in country houses as a prisoner- she actually stayed in Chequers for a while. Keys was sent to Fleet prison where he had a very bad time owing to the tiny cells and his large frame. Mary was not released until after her husband died. Mary was bitter and angry knowing that it was her wedding ring that cost her freedom. Mary was freed and allowed to return to court. She was given a house in the shadow of the tower with servants carriages etc. She is buried at Westminster Abbey in her mothers tomb.

Ruins of the Grey family home at Bradgate Park in Leicester
Ruins of the Grey family home at Bradgate Park in Leicester
Tomb of Katherine Grey
Tomb of Katherine Grey


Catherine’s husband lived to be 83. His Grandson, William Seymour had Catherine’s body disinterred and brought to Salisbury cathedral where it is buried above her husband in honour to her royal status.



It may be that Elizabeth and Mary understood their people- there was no  effective rebellion  other than Wyatt against them taking the throne.

Katherine Grey’s sons were declared illegitimate  as the church annulled the marriage between Catherine and her husband, so that they could not be heirs. When the eldest boy was 18 he fell in love with a junior cousin who although of noble birth was not considered suitable for a kings consort. He was imprisoned but was released by Elisabeth who backed his marriage to the clearly unsuitable girl that he loved.

The younger son Thomas died in 1600 and was unmarried.

The grandson William did have some ambitions and he married into the Scottish Stewart family, marrying Arabella Stewart.


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