Investigating Jane – Part One: The Wedding

By Tamise Hills and Lee Porritt

In May 1553, the wedding of Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley took place at Durham House, the London residence of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.  Over the course of four hundred years, many myths have attached themselves to the life and events surrounding Lady Jane Grey.  Details surrounding the events of her marriage are clouded with a mixture of fact, myth, confusion and in some cases the actual evidence of what truly happened is unfortunately missing.

Today, many of us have been introduced to the story of Lady Jane Grey through modern technology, fictional writing, and the 1986 Paramount movie ‘Lady Jane’.  In many of these adaptations her wedding to Guildford Dudley is often mentioned, however, at times, the myths have clouded the true facts of what really happened during the build-up to the marriage, the celebration itself, and the few short months the young couple experienced of married life, before their lives would be turned upside down.

Lady Jane Movie
1986
© Public Domain

In this article, we will look at what contemporary evidence we have today and attempt to discover exactly what happened during this period of Jane’s life. We will also attempt to separate some of the facts from the large amount of fiction that has managed to spin itself around the events of May 1553. 

In 2009, Historian Eric Ives briefly discussed the lack of surviving documented evidence surrounding Jane and Guildford’s wedding.  Ives noted that ‘English observers do not mention the celebrations.[1] We do, however, have a small number of reports written by foreign dignitaries who obtained details of the celebrations, and appear to have been very impressed by the extravagance and splendour of the events.  

The first piece of contemporary evidence relating to the marriage of Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley, comes to us in the shape of a dispatch sent to Charles V by Jehan Scheyfve, Ambassador to the Roman Empire, dated to 28th April 1553.

Scheyfve starts his letter by informing Emperor Charles V of the current issues relating to the health of the King of England.  He notes that ‘the King had retired to Greenwich and there seems to be no improvement in his condition.’ Towards the end of this letter, he informs his master of a rather curious event that has taken place in the past few days in which John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland has ‘found means to ally and bind his son, My Lord Guildford, to the Duke of Suffolk’s eldest daughter whose mother is the third heiress to the crown.’ [2]

Scheyfve ends his letter with a rather intriguing word of warning that a ‘great quantity of money is being collected from every source and this could possibly be something to do with the forthcoming marriage.’ [3]  Within sixteenth century England, the marriage of a female, especially one of royal blood was no easy task. Today, we marry for love, however, during the sixteenth century, marriage was seen as a way of gaining financial and social advancement for the entire family. As the first-born daughter of the Duke of Suffolk and Great Granddaughter of King Henry VII, Jane would have certainly been of high value during a time when any discussion about her marriage was left entirely in the hands of her parents. She would have brought to any marriage, the power of royal blood and a strong connection to other members of the royal family. The fact that she would become betrothed to one of the younger sons of the Duke of Northumberland and the social advancements only appeared to enhance the Dudley family, immediately raised suspicion among the Tudor court that something was about to happen.

Legend has it that Jane had to be forced into the marriage, and one cannot think of this event without the disturbing scene from the movie ‘Lady Jane’ in which her mother, Frances Grey beats Jane into submission with the use of a whip.  Depending on which source you read it appears that her mother was for or against the match, and unfortunately, some of these sources have been used over the years as a way of turning Frances Grey into the cold hearted, power gaining female that has often been portrayed in fictional writing. 

Until recently, the first mention of Jane being forced into the marriage was written by Giovanni Francesco Commendone, a papal secretary sent to England by Julius III in the August of 1553, to congratulate Mary on achieving the throne of England.  Commendone notes that the Duke of Northumberland had

‘Made arrangements to marry his third son to the first-born daughter of the Duke of Suffolk, Jane by name, who although strongly deprecating such a marriage, was compelled to submit by the insistence of her mother and the threats of her Father.’[4] 

A slightly earlier letter, thought to have been written by a member of the Venetian diplomatic embassy in the July of 1553 was discovered in 2013, by Dr John Stephan Edwards.  Published in a book from 1577, this letter contradicts Commendone’ s account of events, especially the information surrounding Frances Grey.

‘The Duke of Suffolk, Jane’s father, was persuaded of it, and overcome by the inducements and effective methods of this man. But the Duchess of Suffolk with all her household would not have wished [it], and the daughter was forced there by the father, with beating as well.’[5]

By 19th July 1553, Jane was a prisoner in the Tower of London, and the difference in accounts regarding Jane’s reluctance and her mother’s reaction could have been part of trying to place the blame for making Jane queen entirely on the Dudley family. Jane’s parents and possibly Jane herself had harboured hopes that their eldest daughter would wed King Edward VI. When Jane had become the ward of Sir Thomas Seymour, one of the alleged promises made by the King’s Uncle was that ‘he would marry her to the King’s Majesty’.[6]  Whether this was one of the reasons why she and possibly Frances opposed the marriage cannot be known today, however as discussed above the fact that she was betrothed to the younger son of a Duke must have also caused Jane and her mother some disappointment. 

Unfortunately, Guildford’s response to the betrothal has not been documented, however the scenes depicted in the ‘Lady Jane’ movie in which he is located in a brothel ‘sampling the pleasures of a lady of the night’ when he heard the news are probably untrue. As the three of Northumberland’s older sons were already married, Guildford was the best Dudley could offer. Like Jane, Guildford was educated and was probably just expected to fulfil his duty, after all, it was him who would benefit from the union.  Unfortunately, Guildford Dudley’s date of birth is not recorded.  Traditionally, his year of birth has been given as either 1534 or 1536, but recent research produced by Susan Higginbotham suggests that he may have possibly been born between 1537 and 1538, thus making him the same age as Jane Grey or possibly younger.[7]

Whether Jane or Guildford agreed to the match or not, preparations for the celebrations started immediately and on 12th May 1553, Jehan Scheyfve noted in his report to the emperor that

‘This Whitsuntide the marriage of the Duke of Northumberland’s son to the eldest daughter of the late Duke of Suffolk is to be celebrated. They are making preparations for games and jousts. The King has sent presents of rich ornaments and jewels to the bride’[8]

We have no contemporary description of Jane on the day of her wedding, this, however, has not stopped some historians over the centuries from producing and publishing their own interpretations of what Jane and Guildford apparently wore. In his 1909 work, ‘The Nine Days’ Queen: Lady Jane and Her Times’, Richard Davey copied a detailed description of Jane on the day of her wedding from the earlier account written by Herbert Burke in his book ‘Tudor Portraits’, published in 1880.

‘Lady Jane’s headdress was of green velvet, set round with precious stones. She wore a gown of cloth of gold, and a mantle of silver tissue. Her hair hung down her back, combed and plaited in a curious fashion then unknown to ladies of quality.[9]

Although, this description is intriguing, it does appear to be an entirely fictional account, and even Davey himself was noted to question the authority of the description. What we do know is that Jane and other members of the wedding party were provided with fine cloth and jewels from the King’s wardrobe. The Imperial Ambassador reported on 12th May 1553 that ‘The King has sent presents of rich ornaments and jewels to the bride.’[10] An edited version of the original warrant, dated to 24th April 1553 was published in a book by John Strype in 1822.

To deliver out of the King’s wardrobe much rich apparel and jewels: as, to deliver…to the Lady Jane, daughter to the Duke of Suffolk, and to the Lord Guildford Dudley, for wedding apparel, which were certain parcels of tissues, and cloth of gold and silver, which had been the late Duke’s and Duchess’s of Somerset, forfeited to the King’[11]

As part of the research for her biography ‘Crown of Blood’, Dr Nicola Tallis was noted to revisit the original document and has now provided us with the most detailed analysis of what Jane and Guildford wore during the wedding celebrations.

‘Among the materials were elegant ‘black silver cloth of tissue raised with roses and branches of gold’, cloth of gold tissues with white silver, purple and white cloth of tissue raised with roses and crimson cloth of gold branched with velvet…. The king had sent presents of rich ornaments and jewels to the bride. There was a magnificent billement containing thirteen table diamonds set in gold enamelled black’ a carcanet (necklace) of seventeen ‘great pearls and seventeen pieces of goldsmith’s work enamelled black with one flower of gold enamelled white and black with a fair diamond and one emerald’[12]

What is clear from the above lists of fabrics and jewels is that the wedding was certainly planned with the upmost attention to detail and celebrated in a splendid manner.  Although Jane was to marry the fourth son of a Duke, there was to be no doubt over her status or her position as a member of the royal family and the guests would certainly leave the celebrations with the feeling that this was an extremely powerful union. 

The Marriage of Lady Jane Grey
Archille Deveria (1800-1857)
© Public Domain

The actual event took place on 25th May 1553 and the celebrations would continue over two days. Not only would Jane and Guildford be married, but the event was to be a triple occasion.  Jane’s younger sister Katherine was to marry Henry Herbert, the son of the Earl of Pembroke and Guildford’s sister, also called Katherine, was to marry Henry Hastings, the son of the Earl of Hastings.  Jane’s youngest sister, Lady Mary Grey would also be betrothed to one of her Grey cousins.  

Surrounded by family and a large group of important guests, including members of the privy council and foreign ambassadors, Jane would have entered the chapel at Durham House. The only known drawing of the entire layout of Durham House was made in 1626, This includes a small drawing of the chapel which shows that the building was constructed with three large windows which would have allowed the light of springtime to shine through.[13] The sunlight would have certainly glistened from the jewels and fine fabrics worn by the bride as she walked toward the alter where Guildford would have been stood waiting for his potential bride.  Formal wedding vows would have been exchanged and the newly married couples, as well as the guests would have then attended the great hall to enjoy the lavish array of dishes prepared in celebration. The two-days of festivities would continue with games, jousts and other entertainments organised by the Duke of Northumberland himself.

There does appear to be some debate as to whether Jane herself attended one of the banquets. The letters discovered by Dr John Stephan Edwards in 2013, do give us more details about the wedding celebrations. However, the translations of these letters by Edwards and Dr Nicola Tallis, who is also noted to have included them in her book, differ as to whether Jane dined in public or not.

Published on his website in 2013, Dr John Stephan Edwards translation of the letter reports the writer stating that ‘One of the days of the festivities, Jane not being out to dine in public, the Ambassador of France and that of Venice took her place, between two Marchionesses, one on the right and the other on the left.’[14] Dr Nicola Tallis quotes a slightly different version in her 2016 book reporting that ‘Jane, it was observed led to her table ‘the French and Venetian Ambassadors’ who were seated between two ladies.’[15]

Jehan Scheyfve wrote to the Bishop of Arras on 30th May 1553, that ‘M. de Boisdauphin was invited to the weddings and banquets, to which he went on the first and second day. The new ambassador was not asked; but M. de L’Aubespine and the Venetian ambassador both went on the second day.’[16]  From this letter we know that the Venetian Ambassador attended the wedding on the second day.  Depending on which translation of the new letter is correct, we know that either Jane did not dine in public on the second day of the wedding celebrations or that she dined with the ambassadors.

The Marriage of Lady Jane Grey
Oliver Pelton (1798-1882)
© Public Domain

With the wedding ceremony over with, married life for Lord and Lady Dudley certainly didn’t get off to the best start. It is not exactly known if the next event happened at one of the wedding banquets or in the weeks following the wedding, however it appears that Guildford, his brother and possibly some of the other guests were struck down with illness.  On 12th June the Imperial Ambassador wrote that, ‘My Lord Guildford Dudley, recently married to Suffolk’s eldest, one of his brothers, the Admiral and other lords and ladies, recently fell very ill after eating some salad at the Duke of Northumberland’s and are still suffering from the results. It seems the mistake was made by a cook, who plucked one leaf for another.’[17]  

Historians have debated over the centuries if the marriage between Jane and Guildford was ever consummated. Fictional writers have embellished the uncertainty around this, and in many fictional adaptations the relationship between Jane and Guildford has been portrayed as hate, lust and on occasion rape. The truth is, we don’t entirely know if the marriage was consummated or not. Jehan Scheyfve did report that ‘the marriage between the Duke of Northumberland’s son and the daughter of the Duke of Suffolk has taken place, but is not yet to be consummated, because of their tender age’[18]. This, however, may possibly be a misunderstanding by Scheyfve, as Jane was deemed to be of childbearing age, in terms of sixteenth century values, and it may just be possible that the couple were asked to hold off until the plans for their future could be secured.

Unusually, it does appear that Jane and Guildford were noted to spend much of the month of June living separate lives as Jane would initially return home with her parents for some weeks after the wedding. It does, however, appear that between then and when Jane went to Chelsea Manor to recover from an unspecified illness that she and Guildford had lived together at one of the Dudley residences. A rather intriguing comment made by Jane herself, in a letter to Queen Mary, during her imprisonment, indicates that by the time she was made Queen, she was at least sharing a bed with Guildford.  When discussing an argument between herself and Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland she was noted to report that Guildford’s mother ‘induced her son not to sleep with me anymore.’[19]  If indeed the marriage was not to be consummated as Scheyfve reports, then would the couple’s parents take the risk and allow these two young individuals to share the same bed.  

We have very little information to inform us as to how Jane and Guildford Dudley spent the early months of their married life, and how their relationship developed as the young couple became more acquainted with each other.  The couple’s married life would unfortunately last less than nine weeks and by 19th July 1553, both were imprisoned separately within the Tower of London and this young relationship would be cut short in the saddest of ways.


[1] Ives, E. (2009) Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery, Wiley-Blackwell, p.185.

[2] Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, Calendar of State Papers Spanish, Vol XI, p.36

[3] Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, Calendar of State Papers Spanish, Vol XI, p.36

[4] Malfatti, C.V (translator) (1956), The Accession Coronation and Marriage of Mary Tudor as related in four manuscripts of the Escorial, Barcelona, p.5

[5] Edwards, S. Some Grey Matter – Two Letters Concerning Lady Jane Grey of England, written in London in July of 1553 Date accessed: May 2022

[6] Haynes, S. (1740) A Collection of State Papers relating to Affairs In the Reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth: From the year 1542 to 1570, Bowyer, p.76. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=YitDAAAAcAAJ&hl=en_GB&pg=GBS.PA76 [Date accessed May 2022]

[7] Higginbotham, Susan.  How old was Guildford Dudley? https://www.susanhigginbotham.com/posts/how-old-was-guildford-dudley-beats-me/ accessed: May 2022.

[8] Spain: May 1553′, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 11, 1553, ed. Royall Tyler (London, 1916), pp. 37-48. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol11/pp37-48 [accessed 23 May 2022].

[9] Davey, R. (1909) The Nine Days’ Queen: Lady Jane and Her Times, Methuen & Co, p.23

[10] ‘Spain: May 1553’, Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 11: 1553 (1916), pp. 37-48. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=88480 Date accessed: May 2022.

[11] Strype, J. Ecclesiastical Memorials Relating Chiefly to Religion and the Reformation of It, and the Emergencies of the Church of England Under K. Henry VIII., K. Edward VI., and Q. Mary I., with Large Appendices Containing Original Papers Google Books, p.111-112. Date accessed: May 2022

[12] Tallis, N (2016) Crown of Blood, The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey, p. 136 – 137

[13] For more information of the history and layout of Durham House see: Durham Place | British History Online (british-history.ac.uk) accessed: May 2022

[14] Edwards, S. Some Grey Matter – Two Letters Concerning Lady Jane Grey of England, written in London in July of 1553 Date accessed: 20 May 2022

[15] Tallis, N (2016) Crown of Blood, The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey, p. 14

[16] Spain: May 1553′, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 11, 1553, ed. Royall Tyler (London, 1916), pp. 37-48. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol11/pp37-48 [accessed 23 May 2022].

[17] ‘Spain: June 1553, 1-15’, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 11, 1553, ed. Royall Tyler (London, 1916), pp. 48-56. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol11/pp48-56 [accessed 20 May 2022].

[18] Spain: May 1553′, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 11, 1553, ed. Royall Tyler (London, 1916), pp. 37-48. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol11/pp37-48 [accessed 23 May 2022].

[19] Ives, E, (2009) Lady Jane Grey A Tudor Mystery, p.186

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