After only nine days as the monarch of England, Lady Jane Grey is deposed in favor of her cousin Mary. The 15-year-old Lady Jane, beautiful and intelligent, had only reluctantly agreed to be put on the throne. The decision would result in her execution.
Lady Jane Grey was the great-granddaughter of King Henry VII and the cousin of King Edward VI. Lady Jane and Edward were the same age, and they had almost been married in 1549. In May 1553 she was married to Lord Guildford Dudley, the son of John Dudley, the duke of Northumberland. When King Edward fell deathly ill with tuberculosis soon after, Jane’s father-in-law, John Dudley persuaded the dying king that Jane, a Protestant, should be chosen the royal successor over Edward’s half-sister Mary, a Catholic. On July 6, 1553, Edward died, and four days later Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen of England.
Lady Jane’s ascendance was supported by the Royal Council, but the populace supported Mary, the rightful heir. Two days into Lady Jane’s reign, Dudley departed London with an army to suppress Mary’s forces, and in his absence the Council declared him a traitor and Mary the queen, ending Jane’s nine-day reign.
By July 20, most of Dudley’s army had deserted him, and he was arrested. The same day, Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Her father-in-law was condemned for high treason, and on August 23 he was executed. On November 13, Jane and her husband, Guildford Dudley, were likewise found guilty of treason and sentenced to death, but because of their youth and relative innocence Mary did not carry out the death sentences.
However, in early 1554, Jane’s father, Henry Grey, joined Sir Thomas Wyatt in an insurrection against Mary that broke out after her announcement of her intention to marry Philip II of Spain. While suppressing the revolt, Mary decided it was also necessary to eliminate all her political opponents, and on February 7 she signed the death warrants of Jane and her husband. On the morning of February 12, Jane watched her husband being carried away to execution from the window of her cell in the Tower of London, and two hours later she was also executed. As British tradition tells the story, after the 16-year-old girl was beheaded, her executioner held Jane’s head aloft and recited the words: “So perish all the queen’s enemies! Behold, the head of a traitor!”