Jane Grey is perhaps the most universally sympathetic of our ladies. Being born the grandaughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary, she was destined to be used as a political puppet for most of her short life. Henry had died in 1547, leaving the young Edward VI as king in his minority. The Lord Protector, Duke of Northumberland, planning for the certainty of the young king’s early demise, married one of his sons, Guilford, to the seventeen year old Lady Jane. He then convinced Edward that it would be politic to re-write Henry’s will of succession in favor of the junior branch on the Tudor Tree, ending with Jane Grey, in order to preserve the “new” religion. Thus both Mary (catholic) and Elizabeth (wishy-washy) were barred from the throne as being at one time or another named as bastards during the reign of their father.
When Edward died of consumption in 1554 the Lord Protector forced his will on the council in a masterful coup d’Ètat, sent troops into the country to capture both Mary and Elizabeth, and dragged the young couple back from their honeymoon to proclaim Jane queen. Unfortunately both princesses had been forwarned and both eluded capture. The council soon defected and proclaimed Mary queen. Thus leaving Jane, after nine days, merely another pretender to the throne. The rightful heir rode into London after a short skirmish, throwing all those involved into the Tower to await trial.
Mary’s inclination to mercy towards her young cousin was short lived when Jane’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, led an insurrection in Jane’s name. Merciful Mary was no more and both Jane and her husband were condemned to die forthwith.
The executioner told Jane where to stand. She replied, ‘I pray you despatch me quickly.’ She began to kneel, then hesitated and said, ‘Will you take it off before I lay me down?’ The executioner answered, ‘No madame.’ Jane tied the handkerchief around her eyes. Unable to locate the block, she became anxious, ‘Where is it? What shall I do? Where is it?’ she asked, her voice faltering. Those who stood upon the scaffold seemed unsure of what to do. ‘One of the standers by’ climbed the scaffold and helped her to the block. Her last words were, ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’
After the executioner had completed his task, according to tradition, her head was then held aloft with the words, ‘So perish all the Queen’s enemies. Behold, the head of a traitor.’