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Lady Jane Grey: 1553-1554

There is no reason why the 15-year-old Lady Jane Grey should be put forward as queen of England in 1553, other than the overweening ambition of the duke of Northumberland. She is a great-granddaughter of Henry VII, but among his living descendants she is low in the natural line of succession - after Mary, Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots, and even her own mother Frances through whom Jane derives her claim.

But Northumberland has powerful influence over the young and dying king Edward VI. In May 1553 he arranges a marriage between his own son and Jane, at the same time persuading the king to name Jane in his will as his successor.

The news of Edward's death is made public on July 8 of that year. On the following day Northumberland and his clique in London declare Jane to be queen. But they have misjudged the public mood. All round the country people proclaim Mary. Ten days later the conspirators are prisoners. Northumberland is executed in August.

There is widespread sympathy for Jane, famous in her generation for her beauty and her learning, and clearly a pawn in these events. In November she pleads guilty to treason and is sentenced to death. But the evidence suggests that Mary intends to spare her life, until Wyatt's uprising in February 1554 makes this too dangerous. Jane is beheaded three days after his defeat.

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