Saturday, February 12, 2011

February 12, 1554 – Coronation of Queen Jane

After a troubling eight months in which her claim to the English throne seemed questionable at best, Jane Grey was formally crowned queen in Westminster Abbey. The matter had arisen as Henry VIII's son Edward VI had fallen deathly ill while still only 15 years old. Without an heir, his crown would pass along the lines established by the Third Succession Act of 1543, in which Parliament had reestablished Edward's half-sisters. The later Treason Act of 1547 declared that anyone interrupting the line of succession was to be guilty of high treason and subject to the severe punishment that followed. Despite this, as Edward approached his death, he hoped to circumvent Catholic Mary's takeover of England by his “Devise for the Succession” on June 21, 1553. In this will, he named his successor to be his Protestant cousin Jane Grey, wife of Lord Guildford Dudley and granddaughter of Henry VII.

Edward's will was carried by 102 signatories, including the entire Privy Council. He planned to make the announcement formally in September, but he would die July 6 despite the best efforts of physicians, conjurers, and an Oxford professor. On July 10, sixteen-year-old Jane was proclaimed queen, though she initially refused and had to be persuaded by her parents. While things seemed in order in London for her to take the throne, there were great rumblings as to where exactly Edward's adviser the Duke of Northumberland, and Jane's father-in-law, stood. To some, he seemed to be causing a coup to set his son up as king.

The rumors were exacerbated as Northumberland sent troops to capture Mary, who had been staying in Hertfordshire. Mary, however, had gone at news of her brother's illness to her holdings in East Anglia to gather support. She raised a formidable army and sent a letter to London demanding her right as queen. Northumberland was torn between maintaining Jane's position in London or marching out to defeat Mary. Finally the issue was decided as Jane demanded that Northumberland stay with her, and he determined to force the Council to continue its loyalty. In major legal concessions all that winter, Northumberland guided Jane in granting Parliament greater powers, winning their support enough to override the Succession Act with a new one honoring Edward's will.

Mary meanwhile took her march on London, which unified the people against her. Her assault was repelled, and she fell back toward Cambridge to regroup. She was a staunch Catholic and used the remaining Papists who had survived her father's purges as strength. Protestants, however, formed up against her. The Reformation had spread through preachers to England, particularly in Kent where Sir Thomas Wyatt led the support for Protestant Jane. The thought of returning to Catholicism created a schism in the country with a short civil war.

After major defeats in January, Mary was forced to flee the country and attempted to find asylum in Spain. While there, she fell in love with King Philip II, who eventually married her. In London, Jane would be crowned sole ruler while her husband served as Duke of Clarence. War erupted as Philip attempted to seize the English throne for Mary, but Mary's death in childbirth in 1558 cut his claim short. Jane would rely primarily on her Council and Parliament, establishing a growing tradition of popular rule that harkened back to the days of the Magna Carta. Parliament would be expanded in the next century by leaders such as Sir Oliver Cromwell.

Rather than ruling overtly, Jane's seemingly greatest accomplishment on the throne was producing strong, healthy heirs, two boys and a girl, the eldest growing to become King Henry IX upon Jane's death in 1579. The question of religion served as Jane's second matter of interest, stomping out Catholic strength, though it would go underground, striking back in such attacks as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in which twenty members of Parliament were slain.

In reality, Jane was executed on grounds of high treason for breaking succession. Northumberland marched out against Mary, though their armies never met, and he received a letter from the Council notifying of their change to Mary's camp. Mary was crowned on October 1, a little over a month after Northumberland's execution. Jane and her husband would be held in the Tower of London until the Protestant rebellion under Thomas Wyatt spurred her execution to end the possibility of a return to the throne.


  1. So, what happened to Mary's sister Elizabeth? Executed for treason, held in the Tower, married off to the Tsar of all the Russias? (never mind his tragic death, nobody missed Ivan the Terrible *that* much, and wouldn't she make a grand Regent for her only child?).

    1. I like the Ivan the Terrible thought! Originally I was thinking Erik XIV of Sweden, but how much more interesting this would be.

  2. I take exception to the statement "Rather than ruling overtly, Jane's seemingly greatest accomplishment on the throne was producing strong, healthy heirs, two boys and a girl, "
    Jane was a highly intelligent, very thoroughly schooled intellectual, deeply committed to the Protestant religion. I cannot see her allowing herself to fade into the background and turn into a breeding mare.


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