Lady Jane Grey, a noble English lady, born at Bradgate, her father's estate in Leicestershire, in 1537, beheaded in the tower of London, Feb. 12, 1554. She was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII., whose daughter Mary, the young widow of Louis XII. of France, became the wife of Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. Their daughter, Lady Frances Brandon, was married to Henry Grey, marquis of Dorset, afterward duke of Suffolk. Lady Jane was the eldest of three daughters of this pair, who had no male issue. She suffered much rigorous treatment in childhood. Her remarkable talents early displayed themselves, and her parents placed her under the tutorship of John Aylmer, afterward bishop of London. At the age of 15 she spoke and wrote Greek, Latin, Italian, and French, with ease and correctness; she had also some knowledge of Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic. To these accomplishments (not entirely unusual to young-ladies of the period) were added sweetness of disposition and piety of heart. Edward VI. was disposed to bequeath his crown to her in consequence of his aversion to the Catholic principles of his sister Mary, and of the impossibility of excluding this sister on the plea of illegitimacy, without also excluding Elizabeth on the same ground.
The duke of Northumberland, knowing Edward's disposition, effected a marriage between Lady Jane and his own son, Lord Guilford Dudley. His machinations were otherwise so successful that Edward gave his final consent to the succession of the bride. Royal letters patent were signed and sealed, excluding Mary and Elizabeth, whose rights were affirmed by the will of Henry VIIL, and settling the crown upon the heirs of the duchess of Suffolk. The king's health, which had languished for a year, from this time rapidly declined, his physicians being dismissed, and the royal patient committed to a creature of Northumberland. The duke did not communicate his plan to his daughter-in-law until July 10, 1553, four days after the king's death, when he visited her at Sion House, and approached her with the ceremony usual to royal state. She accepted the crown with great reluctance, yielding only to the entreaties of her husband and father. It was the custom that the first days of a new reign should be passed by the sovereign in the tower of London. Lady Jane Grey was accordingly conducted thither. She was proclaimed queen, but without the slightest manifestation of welcome by the people.
Northumberland and Suffolk were so disliked that not even the horror with which the princess Mary was regarded by the Protestant party could diminish the popular ill feeling toward them. Mary had taken refuge with her friends in the north, and as soon as Edward's death was known the Catholics rose to her support in all directions, and she soon approached London with 12,000 men. The most considerable nobles and gentry declared for her without delay; and the duke of Suffolk, who had been appointed by Northumberland to command the army, could bring but little over 6,000 troops into the field. Northumberland, seeing the danger, and losing all confidence in Suffolk, hastened to take the command in person. His departure from London was the signal for a general desertion of the cause. The mayor and council proclaimed Queen Mary. Even Suffolk deserted his hapless daughter, who, after the vain pageantry of ten days of royal state, would willingly have withdrawn to her private abode. Mary entered the capital in triumph.
Northumberland, falling upon his knees, begged abjectly for life, but was executed with two of his most active adherents, Sir Thomas Palmer and Sir John Cate. Suffolk was set at liberty, and the queen would not consent to the death of Lady Jane, though urged by her ministers to do so. Sentence, however, was pronounced against her and her husband, without any immediate intention of putting it into execution, and they were confined in the tower. But in consequence of Wyatt's insurrection, in which Suffolk was mad enough to engage, Mary signed a warrant for their execution on Feb. 8, 1554. Dudley was beheaded on Tower hill; Jane, on account of her royal blood, was allowed to suffer within the precincts of the tower. She met her fate with calmness and piety, refusing to take leave of her husband, whom she hoped that day to meet in heaven.