On July 10, 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England; nine days later, the shortest reigning monarch was deposed and sent to await her execution in the Tower of London.
As the great-granddaughter of Henry VII and eldest daughter of Frances Grey (the Duchess of Suffolk), Lady Jane was cousin to King Edward VI, who was only 10 years old when he ascended to the throne. Sickened with tuberculosis, Edward relied heavily upon the advice of his regent, John Dudley, who became Duke of Northumberland in 1551. In an attempt to retain his power, Dudley, a Protestant, arranged for his son Lord Guilford Dudley to marry Jane, and when it became clear that Edward was dying, he convinced the king to name his daughter-in-law as his royal successor instead of Edward’s half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor. Mary, who was next in line for the throne, was Roman Catholic; fearing that she would reverse the changes made during the Protestant Reformation, Edward was persuaded to remove her from the line of succession by declaring her illegitimate.
However, when Jane was crowned queen following Edward’s death, the country struggled to accept the news. Dudley was widely perceived to be the driving force behind many of the government’s unpopular policies, and it was assumed that he or his son would now effectively take command. Strengthened by the stability and stature of the Tudor name—and by popular support from countrymen who viewed her as the rightful heir—Mary assembled a military force, overthrew Jane and claimed her title as queen regnant.
Queen Mary had been willing to believe that Jane was relatively innocent in the scheme to bring her to power, and allowed her to live in comfort in the tower for months after being sentenced to death. But when Jane’s father participated in an insurrection against Mary following her announcement to wed Philip II of Spain, Jane’s death warrant was signed. On February 12, 1554, the 16-year-old was beheaded on the Tower Green.