One of the lesser known but more interesting queens of England in the 16thcentury was a woman by the name of Lady Jane Grey. Jane Grey was not the daughter of a king, nor was she married to one, but she became queen. She was appointed by King Edward VI before he died. She reigned for only nine days before being dethroned, imprisoned, and beheaded.
To understand how Jane became queen and why she was in power for such a short period of time, one must know what was taking place in England in that era. Samantha Carr, in her book Lady Jane Grey, said that “(Jane) lived at a time of great changes.” Henry VIII was king of England for 38 years during the Protestant Reformation with its radical transformation to the church throughout Europe.
King Henry also sought to change the church, but for a different reason. He wanted a son. Though he had a daughter named Mary from his first wife Catherine of Aragon, born just seven years into his reign, he sought to divorce Catherine and marry a younger woman he hoped would give him a son, a woman named Anne Boleyn. To divorce his wife, Henry needed the pope’s approval. The pope was the head of the Roman Catholic Church, and Roman Catholicism was the predominant religion in England at this time, especially amongst nobility. The Roman Catholic Church leaders of the day had great spiritual and political power over the church and state.
The pope refused to grant Henry’s request for a divorce, so the king decided he did not need the pope’s permission. Instead, he named himself head of all the churches in England, divorced Catherine, and married Anne; but Anne did not give him a son. She, like Catherine, gave him a daughter who would eventually become queen. Henry still wanted a male heir. He finally got what he longed for with his third wife, Jane Seymour. Toward the end of Henry’s life, Jane gave birth to a son, Edward. In that same year, Jane Grey was born. She was a cousin of Edward, and also grew up in a noble family.
After becoming head of all the churches of England, King Henry made major revisions in the church that would affect all of his children who would eventually rule, as well as Jane Grey’s life and rise to power. The changes made by the king had the support of many who wanted to break free from the Catholic Church. Other loyal supporters of Roman Catholicism, like Henry’s oldest daughter from his first marriage, resisted and refused to reform.
The alterations in the church included services in English rather than Latin, which was not the language of the common people but the language of scholars. Henry also decided to put English translations of the Bible, primarily those of the translator and reformer William Tyndale, into every church in England. Before this time the only translation allowed to be used and read during worship services was the Latin Vulgate. Many in England wanted Tyndale’s Bible made accessible so they could read, study, and understand God’s word and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in their own language.
Jane Grey grew up in this environment of church reform. She too shared the desire of the reformers for Christ to be head of the church rather than the pope, and for God’s people to be able to read, study, and understand God’s word in their own language. Jane was raised with these convictions. Her father was a committed Christian who often housed, served, and helped Bible students and young preachers.
As Jane got older, her father sent her to the brother of Queen Jane Seymour so she could receive a good education. This was common practice among the nobles at this time. There Jane matured in her faith and excelled academically. She learned both Greek and Hebrew because she had a desire to study the Bible in its original language.
At the same time, her cousin Edward was getting prepped to be the next king. Before King Henry died, he chose to bypass his oldest daughter Mary to make his only son Edward the next king of England. Henry died in 1547; Edward became king at the age of nine. Mary, though upset about how her father divorced her mother and passed her over for her younger brother, did not object publicly because Henry did say she would be the next queen if anything were to happen to Edward.
After Edward became king, he and his council were in agreement that the changes made to the church by Henry should be maintained. Though the counsel was confident that Edward would be a champion for the protestant cause, they felt as if he needed a wife who shared this conviction. One of the king’s counselors, his uncle Thomas Seymour, was hoping to arrange a marriage between Edward and Jane Grey. Jane had been educated in Thomas’ household, had been raised in nobility, and was a committed Christ follower.
This union, however, was not to be. King Edward got sick and died at the young age of 15. Before his death he used his power to change the decrees of his father that said his oldest daughter Mary was to be queen after Edward. Edward knew that Mary was a devout Catholic who might seek to undo all the changes in the church if she became queen. Edward instead pushed for Jane Grey to be the next queen of England. Justin Taylor, in an article entitled “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey”, wrote: “shortly before King Edward died on July 6, 1553, he and the Council amended his will...to prevent England from returning to Catholic rule under his older half-sister, Princess Mary. Edward nominated Lady Jane (his first cousin, once removed) to be the next queen of England on July 10, 1553.”
After Edward died Jane became queen. This time, however, Mary refused to remain quiet. She claimed publicly she was the rightful queen. Many in England agreed, because she was the oldest daughter of King Henry and the sister of King Edward. Jane Grey was a distant relative. Mary, with the support of the people, was backed by an army of about 10,000, as well as the English navy. She took power by force and imprisoned Jane, treating her like a traitor. She housed her in the tower of London. On November 13, 1553, Jane Grey stood trial and was found guilty. She was ordered to be executed by beheading.
Jane Grey was queen for a total of nine days and died a martyr’s death. Before her death, Queen Mary sent a monk to Jane to try to convince her to turn from her beliefs and embrace Roman Catholicism. Jane refused. Stephen Nichols, in his children’s book The Church History ABCs, said that before Jane’s death she gave her sister her Bible. Inside it was written: “Rejoice in Christ, as I do. Follow the steps of your master Christ, and take up your cross.” 
On February 12, 1554, Jane Grey was beheaded. It was reported that she took her book of prayer and read it until she arrived at the place where she was to be executed. Right before her death she spoke the words Jesus spoke from the cross: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46, KJV).
Jane Grey’s reign as queen was so short that many do not refer to her as Queen Jane, but simply Lady Jane Grey. Though she was not on the throne long enough to make any sort of impact as the queen of England, Jane Grey has left a lasting legacy in Christian History. She has given Christians a wonderful example of what the Christian life should look like. Her desire to please Christ, and remain faithful to Him, was much more important to Jane than her desire for power, and even her own life.
Samantha Carr, Lady Jane Grey(Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 5.
Justin Taylor, “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey,” < https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/evangelical-history/2017/02/13/the-execution-of-lady-jane-grey/> (February, 2017)
Stephen J. Nichols, The Church History ABCs(Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 11.