July 10, 1553: The reign of Lady Jane Grey begins.
On this day in 1553, the disputed monarch, a great-granddaughter of King Henry VII, began her nine-day rule. She came to the throne at age sixteen through the political machinations of her parents, the Duke of Suffolk and his wife, and John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, who sought to keep the throne in Protestant hands and out of those of Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter by his first wife and a Catholic. The 1536 Second Succession Act declared both Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate and removed both from the line of succession. Their half-brother Edward began his reign in 1547, before which the Third Succession Act superseded the Second and returned Mary and Elizabeth to the throne, making the former Edward’s rightful successor.
The king fell ill in early July of 1553 and, on his deathbed, circumvented the Third Succession Act by naming his cousin Jane Grey his heir. So, backed by a weak claim and a dying king’s will (and her Protestant faith), Lady Jane Grey reluctantly succeeded the throne; her rule was cut astoundingly short when Mary and her supporters marched into London nine days later and deposed the teenaged monarch. By this time, the Privy Council and even Jane’s own father had affirmed their support for Mary as their rightful queen, and the Duke of Northumberland’s supporters had abandoned him as well. Jane and her husband were charged with and found guilty of high treason, although their fates were not sealed until the outbreak of the Wyatt Rebellion, which, like Jane herself, had the support of Protestant nobles but not of the populace (although she had no part in it). To minimize risk - and because Jane’s father, who had previously escaped execution, had taken part in the rebellion, Queen Mary ordered Jane, her father, and her husband executed. She was beheaded in the Tower of London, in the secluded space of Tower Green reserved for nobles and hidden from the public, on February 12, 1554. Her innocence, young age, supposed piety and intelligence, and the honor with which she faced her execution propelled her in the years following her death to the celebrated status of a martyr.