Fact of the day: 12th February

On this day in 1554 Lady Jane Grey was beheaded for treason. It was a year after she had claimed the throne and been Queen for nine days.

When King Edward VI died, Jane was informed that she was now queen, and according to her own later claims, accepted the crown only with reluctance. The next day, she was officially proclaimed Queen of England after she had taken up secure residence in the Tower of London, where English monarchs customarily resided from the time of accession until coronation. Jane refused to name her husband Dudley as king by letters patent and deferred to Parliament. She offered to make him Duke of Clarence instead.

In September, Parliament declared Mary the rightful queen and denounced and revoked Jane’s proclamation as that of a usurper. Jane and Lord Guildford Dudley were both charged with high treason. Their trial, by a special commission, took place on 13 November 1553, at the Guildhall in the City of London. The commission was chaired by Sir Thomas White, Lord Mayor of London, and Thomas Howard. As was to be expected, all defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death.

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Jane was found guilty of having signed a number of documents as “Jane the Queen”; her sentence was to “be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases” (the traditional English punishment for treason committed by women). However, the imperial ambassador reported to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor that her life was to be spared.

On the morning of 12 February 1554, the authorities took Guildford from his rooms at the Tower of London to the public execution place at Tower Hill, where he was beheaded. A horse and cart brought his remains back to the Tower, past the rooms where Jane was staying. Seeing her husband’s corpse return, Jane is reported to have exclaimed: “Oh, Guildford, Guildford.” She was then taken out to Tower Green, inside the Tower, to be beheaded.

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