It happened today - July 19, 2015
Poor Jane Grey. On this day in 1553 she was deposed and, seven months later, executed. I’ve always found the story of this beautiful, naïve teen strangely poignant.
What? You never heard of her? In a way it’s fitting. And to me it’s part of what makes the story so sad. A great-grand-daughter of Henry VII, Jane was supposedly Queen of England for nine entire days before going to the Tower of London and then the executioner’s block. But it wasn’t her fault; she was only 15 and, though renowned as one of the most educated women of her era, she was a pawn in various religious and dynastic power struggles that were, frankly, way above her head.
First she was married to the son of a powerful and ambitious noble and courtier, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. A month later the sickly Edward VI evidently named her his heir to keep his Catholic half-sister Mary off the throne.
She was never crowned. Instead the populace supported Mary, Dudley’s army deserted him, he was arrested and executed and the hapless Jane was booted out and locked in the infamous Tower of London. She and her husband, Guildford Dudley by foppish name, were both sentenced to death for treason but Mary spared them because they were young and hapless.
Then Mary agreed to marry the Catholic king of Spain, Philip II, Jane’s father joined a rebellion, lost ignominiously, and Mary decided she’d better eliminate potential opponents and sent Jane and Guildford to the scaffold two hours apart on Feb. 12, 1554.
Apparently the executioner held Jane’s head aloft and declared: “So perish all the queen’s enemies! Behold, the head of a traitor!”
On the contrary. Behold the head of a sad, pretty, lost soul who never had a chance, aware that she was being manipulated and betrayed by inept schemers to whom she was not a person at all but just a thing they could use in their incompetent plots, and tragically powerless to make it stop.