I am currently re-reading the book Eric Ives wrote about Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for nine days after the death of her cousin, Edward VI. The rule of Queen Jane ended when Edward’s half-sister, Mary I, seized power as the oldest living child of Henry VIII. The reason I like the book by Ives so much is because it reaffirms my opinion that Jane Grey was the true Queen, and Mary was the unlawful usurper of the legitimate throne.
Edward VI had been King, although under the control of regents, for several years. It was his will (a draft of which was found in his own handwriting) that determined that Jane Grey was to be his heir. Even though Henry VIII’s will had declared that Mary should reign if anything happened to Edward, that provision was essentially null after Edward was old enough to decided his own succession. For good or ill, both Mary and her half-sister Elizabeth were officially illegitimate, and Edward did not consider them to be his potential heirs. Jane Grey was his closest lawfully-born kinswoman, and as such she was the natural choice for the crown of England if he died without issue.
Mary, still vengefully bitter about the way her father had treated her mother, and zealously Catholic, could not bear to see a Protestant cousin hold the scepter she thought of as rightfully hers. Raising an army of fellow Catholics, Mary staged one of the most successful coups in history. It was so well-done that it obliterated the real narrative of Mary’s rebellion and overthrow of the real government.
I would have more sympathy for Mary, especially considering her traumatic adolescence and young adulthood, if she has not murdered Jane Grey. At first there was no indication she would do so:
“Simon Renard, the newly arrived Imperial ambassador”, wrote to Charles V to assure him that “’As to Jane of Suffolk, whom they tried to make Queen, she [Mary] could not be induced to consent that she should die.’ Mary firmly believed her cousin was innocent of any intrigue; Jane had never intended to be queen, but had been the unwilling dupe of Dudley. She could not put this innocent young woman to death.”
What changed? Although there were certainly larger sociopolitical forces that were urging Mary to destroy her cousin in order to solidify her power, the short and dirty reality is that Mary wanted to marry Phillip II of Spain and she couldn’t have him while Jane Grey was continued to breathe. For her own desire to wed Phillip and maintain the throne, and knowing full well it was morally wrong for her to do, Mary had her innocent teenaged cousin beheaded on February 12, 1554.