White Harts, Old Oaks and Lady Jane Grey

I spent my school years in Leicester and my family live there still. I was surprised on a recent visit to see Tim Hortons has an outlet there. It opened last year in a building that started life in 1885 as the East Gate Coffee House and it was popular with members of the temperance movement. Leicester is where Thomas Cook organised his first tour for a temperance group from Leicester railway station to the nearby town of Loughborough. I know of Tim Hortons from my lovely Canadian visitors. Leicester has a few claims to fame, its where Henry VIII’s advisor, Cardinal Wolsey died and was buried. In 2012 the remains of Richard III were found under a Leicester car park. The historical figure from Leicester I want to talk about today is Lady Jane Grey (c1537-1554) because I recently went walking on the beautiful estate where she was born and I want to share some of the photos I took there.

Lady Jane Grey’s family owned Bradgate Park, a beauty spot dominated by a hill topped by Old John, an C18th folly consisting of a tower with an arch attached. The Leicestershire countryside is undulating grassland, where cattle used to be reared. The main industry in town in C20th was shoe making because of the availability of cowhide. Bradgate is different. It has rugged outcrops of volcanic rock, wild bracken and ancient oak trees. There are around 550 red and fallow deer roaming free in the park so its easy to get a good view of different herds as you walk round. Since 1800s visitors have been allowed to walk there and it is now free to visit thanks to Charles Bennion, an industrialist who bought the park in 1928 to give it to the people of Leicestershire.  

Bradgate Park was part of the Manor of Groby. In 1430 Edward Grey married the Elizabeth Ferriers who inherited the estate on the death of her father. Lady Jane Grey was great-great granddaughter of Edward and Elizabeth. Her parents were Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset and Frances Brandon, daughter of the Duke of Suffolk and of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister.

It is thought Jane Grey was born in a stone manor house which predates the ruins of the brick house we see today. Archaeologists from the University of Leicester have been carrying out digs to find out more about the history of the house and what it would have looked like in her day. The site, toward the bottom of the hill, has great views.

Little is known about Lady Jane’s childhood here. She was tutored in Greek by her father’s young chaplain, John Aylmer (1521-94) who later became Bishop of London and who was a strict follower of the Church of England. Jane’s father had been a member of Henry VIII’s court but when Henry died leaving a 9 year old son as king, Grey was out of favour with the regency council and returned to his family at Bradgate House.

Jane Grey is known as the Nine Day Queen. There was a lot of intrigue at court in Tudor times and her rise and fall is a complicated story. To cut to the chase, powerful men including her father manoeuvred to have her nominated as Queen after Henry VIII’s only son died but the people and the nobility refused to accept her and instead supported the rightful heir, Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s eldest daughter.

If you would like to know all the twists and turns read on :

Henry VIII had willed that a Regency Council of 16 men would rule during his son’s minority but the council, probably bribed to do so, voted that one of them would become Lord Protector. This was Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Edward was a brother of Jane Seymour, the young king’s deceased mother.

Jane Seymour’s other brother, Thomas Seymour was jealous of his sibling, the Duke of Somerset. Henry VIII died in January 1547. Three months later Thomas Seymour married his widow, Catherine Parr and brought her to his home, Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire. Henry Grey sent his 11-year-old daughter, Jane Grey there to be part of Catherine Parr’s entourage. Living in a lord and lady’s household was part of the training for would be preparation of the children of nobles for moving in court circles.  

Grey and Thomas Seymour may have been planning to engineer a marriage between Jane and the young king, Edward VI. Edward was fond of his step-mother, Catherine Parr and might be persuaded to marry Jane Grey if Catherine advised it. Grey would have been an important member of the court once again if the marriage between his daughter and the young king Edward VI went ahead. If there was a plan, it failed badly. Catherine Parr died soon after the birth of a child in 1548. There was no longer any reason to keep Jane Grey at Sudeley Castle.

Thomas Seymour then tried to gain influence with the king by giving the boy presents of cash and now he was single again he tried to court Princess Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I). It was too much for the Duke of Somerset and the regency council, they executed Thomas Seymour on a charge of treason.

Then came the downfall of Edward Seymour. In 1549 there were rebellions in many counties. Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset was perceived as sympathising with rebels in Norfolk who were against land enclosures by local lords . That went down badly with the nobility who were already disgruntled because he had behaved in a high-handed manner toward them since becoming Lord Protector. The rebellion in Norfolk was put down by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, another member of the regency council and a strict Church of England Protestant. Seymour lost his position as Lord Protector and John Dudley took control of the Kings Council. Edward Seymour was executed in 1552 on what were probably trumped up charges and with him out of the way Dudley made his move.

Edward VI became ill in 1552, he was now very frail and it looked like he would not survive much longer. Next in line was his half sister, Catholic Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. If she became queen, Dudley and all the other strong Protestants would lose power. Edward VI was also a strict Protestant and was persuaded by Dudley to nominate the Protestant Jane Seymour, his cousin. Dudley had the backing of William Cecil, chief advisor to the Tudors. Dudley arranged a marriage with Jane’s father between her and one of his sons, Guildford Dudley. Cecil had taken under his wing Michelangelo Florio (1515-72). Florio had been a Franciscan Friar in Italy but converted to Protestantism and fled to England 1550. Florio was tasked with teaching Jane Grey Latin and Italian and she would have continued to be taught Protestant humanist texts by Florio.

Jane and Guildford married in May 1553. Edward VI nominated Lady Jane and her male descendants his heirs in June and in July he died. Lady Jane Grey was named Queen. She was only 16 years old and was totally under the control of her husband and father-in-law. Both nobles and people rose against Jane Grey and the Dudleys usurpation. Mary Tudor arrived in London on 3rd August and that was the end of Jane’s reign.

Jane was imprisoned in the goalers house at the Tower of London. Her young husband, Guildford and  his brothers, Ambrose, Henry and Robert (who would be a favourite of Elizabeth I) were imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower there. John Dudley was executed before the end of the month. Jane, Guildford, Ambrose and Henry Dudley were tried at the Guildhall in the City of London. Guildford was executed on Tower Hill and Jane inside the Tower of London in 1554. The other brothers were eventually released.

About the author: Gail Jones