Co- authored by Tamise Hills & Lee Porritt – Published in The Historian Magazine April 2022
On a cold morning in February 1554, the seventeen-year-old Lady Jane Dudley left her apartments within the Tower of London. Dressed entirely in black and reading from her prayer book, Jane walked towards the newly erected scaffold, placed at the north side of the white tower. Climbing the steps, Jane made a speech, and took her last look at the world before laying her head on the block.
Almost from the moment the axe fell, Lady Jane Dudley was overshadowed by the story of Lady Jane Grey. When it comes to the life of Lady Jane Dudley, little contemporary documentation and no authenticated portraits survive. This has allowed others to invent stories to fill the gaps in our knowledge and unfortunately some of these inventions have persisted.
Modern historians such as Eric Ives, Leanda De Leslie, Nicola Tallis and Stephan Edwards have recently published biographies on the life and times of Lady Jane Grey. All take a fresh look at her life and the contemporary evidence known to exist. It is these biographies that have started to challenge some of the many myths about Jane and for the first time we are starting to get a better understanding as to what this remarkable character was truly like.
Part of the myth of ‘Jane Grey’ is why Jane is commonly known today by her maiden name? At the time of her death, she had been married to Lord Guildford Dudley for eight months, and signed her name ‘Jane Dudley’ in two of the messages in the prayer book she carried to her execution. There does appear to have been a conscious effort to try and separate Jane from the Dudley family after the events of 1553, especially within the Grey family circle. All blame for placing Jane on the throne was directed to John Dudley. Jane herself, is often referred to as ‘Jane of Suffolk, the Lady Jane or the usurper’ within contemporary descriptions of the events surrounding her reign, imprisonment, and execution. By the end of the sixteenth century, Jane’s married name is almost completely obliterated from modern text, and although many ballads and plays were written during the seventeenth and eighteenth century portraying the couple as separated lovers, Jane would continually be referred to by her maiden name.
Jane is also often referred to as the ‘nine days Queen’, again however this is a common misconception, created during the Victorian period to portray her reign as a ‘nine days wonder’. Like with all monarchs, Jane’s reign officially started at the death of her predecessor. From Edward VI’s death on 6th July, the Privy Council were working to secure the succession and the new Queen may have been given time to come to terms with the shock of her new elevated position. Accounts differ as to when the new Queen was actually told. Jane’s short reign has been counted from when she was publicly proclaimed on the 10th July and not from the official date of the 6th, thus making her the thirteen days queen instead of nine.
Jane’s appearance is another myth to be recently challenged. For many years a detailed account of Jane’s arrival at the Tower of London as Queen on 10th July written by the merchant ‘Sir Baptist Spinola’ has been extensively reproduced within art, biographies and any discussions concerning the portraiture of Jane. The account, which describes the young Queen as ‘small and thin with freckles’ appeared in the 1909 biography ‘The Nine Days Queen, Lady Jane Grey & Her Times’ by Richard Davey.
During research for ‘The Sisters Who Would Be Queen’, Leanda de Lisle discovered that Davey’s book was the sole source for Spinola’s account and that no other mention of this description of Jane could be located before 1909. De Lisle also noted that Davey had probably made the description up using some contemporary descriptions of the event, a description of Queen Mary I and a Victorian costume illustration depicting Jane in royal robes.
In recent years, possible new portraits, a re-discovered letter, and the re-evaluation of sources have allowed Jane Dudley to start to emerge from the shadow of ‘Jane Grey.’
List of recommend books:
Eric Ives, ‘Lady Jane Grey a Tudor Mystery’, 2009
Leanda De Lisle, ‘The Sisters Who Would Be Queen’, 2010
John Stephan Edwards, ‘A Queen of a New Invention Portraits of Lady Jane Grey Dudley’, 2015
Nicola Tallis, ‘Crown of Blood The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey’, 2016