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Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric Ives

Posted By Claire on February 11, 2010

UK Version

UK Version

With it being the anniversary of Lady Jane Grey’s execution tomorrow I thought it was fitting for me to publish my review of Eric Ives’s biography “Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery”.

If you keep up with my posts on The Anne Boleyn Files, you will know that I am Professor Ives’s number one fan as I am always recommending his biography of Anne Boleyn, “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, and I am just as pleased with this biography. Why do I like Eric Ives’s work so much?:-

  • Ives is fair and balanced
  • His research is meticulous
  • He bases his views, theories and opinions on historical sources
  • He cites his sources – and accurately too! No just saying LP, he tells you which part of which volume.
  • Although his books are history text books they are wonderfully readable
  • He looks at every part of his subject’s life and also the context, the times they lived in
  • He sifts through myths, legends, chronicles and sources to get to the truth

Those are just a few of the reasons why I love his work and I cannot recommend his biographies enough.

What’s the Mystery

So, “what’s the mystery?”, you may ask, “why the strange title”. Well, although we know that Lady Jane Grey, or Jane Dudley, was monarch of England for a short time, what do we really know about her? Not a lot. We can’t even get her nickname right, she ruled for thirteen days, yet we insist on calling her “The Nine Days Queen”!

In his biography, Eric Ives attempts to solve the mystery surrounding Lady Jane Grey, to introduce us to the real Jane and to answer the following questions:-

  • What did Lady Jane Grey look like?
  • When was she born?
  • What were her family like?
  • Was Frances Brandon really a tyrant?
  • Was Lady Jane Grey manipulated by those around her?
  • Was she forced into marriage?
  • Did she want the crown or was she forced into being Queen?
  • Was she a Protestant martyr? A Victorian heroine? An innocent? A scapegoat?
  • Just how intelligent was she?
  • Why did Edward VI choose her as his heir?
  • Why did Mary I finally execute her?

The Book

“Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery” is divided into the following sections:-


  • List of Illustrations
  • List of Figures
  • Preface
  • Titles and Office – A very useful section on principal characters and the dates they were given titles and offices
  • Figures – These include The Tudor Family in June 1536, The Succession According to Henry VIII’s Will, Edward VI’s “deuise” (Devise) version one, version two and Edward VI’s “declaracion” of 21st June 1553.
  • Map – A map of the movement of forces in July 1553
  • Prologue

Part I – The Scene

This first part of the book does a fantastic job at setting the scene and context of Jane’s short reign and why she is such a mystery.

  • The Year of Three Sovereigns – How the year of 1553 came to have three different Tudor monarchs: Edward VI, Queen Jane and Mary I.
  • In Search of Jane Grey – Here Ives talks about the difficulty of researching Jane as “A Tudor teenager who died at the age of sixteen is very unlikely to have left much trace on the historical record, and still less if female.” Ives looks at historical evidence regarding her appearance, the portraits and likenesses that exist, and whether they are in fact Jane, and the authenticity of letters said to be written by Jane.
  • Jane Grey in Context – “The 1553 succession crisis in England was the talk of Europe, but in all the contemporary comment, the person who receives least attention is Jane Grey herself” – Eric Ives asks why this is, what Jane’s political importance was and why foreign ambassadors did not report the full story.

Part II – The Protagonists

I love the way that Eric Ives takes each of the main characters of 1553 and explains who they were, what drove them and what role they had to play.

  • Jane Grey: A Damnable Inheritance – Here, Ives looks at Jane’s background and is of the opinion that “Parentage too cursed Jane Grey, and she was another innocent.” Ives explains Jane’s inheritance, her background and how she came to be named by Edward VI as his heir. He talks of Jane being ” a puppet ready to hand” and I felt that this was a very different view of Jane than Leanda de Lisle’s view of her in “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen”. He also looks at Frances Grey’s reputation as “ambitious” and “cunning and predatory” and how Jane’s father was drawn into politics.
  • Jane Grey: Jane the Person – In this chapter Ives examines Jane’s role in the plans of Thomas Seymour and why she became his ward, Seymour’s arrest and the implications for Jane’s family, Jane’s education and intelligence, and her attitudes to life.
  • Jane Grey: Family Priorities – Here Ives looks at how the Grey family were affected by the country’s political problems and unrest, Jane’s experience at court, Jane’s father inheriting the title of Duke of Suffolk and the knock-on effect for the family, the private side of Henry Grey, and Jane as a scholar.
  • Jane Grey: A Godly Upbringing – Ives looks at the England in which Jane was brought up and the religious turmoil which Henry VIII’s break with Rome had caused, the influence of Katherine Parr on Jane and how Jane would have come into contact with religious reformers like Miles Coverdale, her father’s humanist and reformist connections, and the influence of people like Martin Bucer on Jane.
  • Mary Tudor: Father and Daughter – The contrast between Mary and Jane and their religious beliefs, Mary’s appearance and character, Mary’s childhood and background, and the devastating effect of her father’s actions – his break with Rome, his rejection of her mother, making Mary illegitimate and forcing her to betray her beliefs.
  • Mary Tudor: Sister and Brother – Mary’s struggles when her protestant brother became King, the confrontations between Mary and Edward’s council and Edward’s final toleration of Mary and her religious convictions.
  • John Dudley: The Career – Who was John Dudley? What was he like? What did he do and why? This chapter looks at Dudley’s background, his military career and how he came to be a powerful man.
  • John Dudley: The Black Legend – The myths that surround Dudley (the poison story), “the black tale of Dudley’s ambition”, why he became “a popular hate figure” and what his agenda was.
  • John Dudley: Motives – If he wasn’t the man of black legend, who was Dudley and what were his motives? Religion? An inferiority complex?
  • Edward: The Young King – Here Ives looks at Edward’s life, the myth that he was a passive victim who was manipulated, Edward’s character and his growing independence, his involvement in policy and how he did in fact have a mind of his own.
  • Edward: “My Deuise for the Succession” – How this single political paper became central to the crisis of 1553, the different versions of the “deuise” and the thoughts behind them, Edward’s “deuise” compared to his father’s will, Edward’s deteriorating health and the strong legal support that Edward had for excluding Mary – “Right was on the side of Jane Grey. Mary Tudor was the rebel.”
  • Edward: King and Minister – Edward’s “deuise” and his minister, Dudley. What was Dudley’s role in the “deuise”? Did he manipulate Edward at all? Did the Dudley-Grey marriage have anything to do with Edward’s plan? Did “a Machiavellian duke…engineer the match as step one in a plan to get control of the English throne” or did he just take advantage of the “deuise”? What was the purpose of the 1553 Whitsun Weddings? Was making Jane Grey heir something that had been planned over a long time or was it a snap decision? The chapter ends with a useful sequence of events from Edward’s initial illness in January 1553 through the various version of the “deuise” to the final version four in June.
  • Edward: The Will of a King – Where did Edward’s other privy councillors fit into things? How did others view the “deuise”? Eric Ives looks at various councillors, including William Cecil, and asks why they would commit to rejecting Mary’s right to succeed.

Part III – Thirteen Days

An examination of the thirteen days which made up Queen Jane’s reign.

  • Preparations – What preparations were made for Jane becoming queen and why they did not take the obvious step of getting hold of Mary to neutralise her challenge.
  • Jane the Queen – Jane’s ignorance at “the impending crisis”, her marriage to Guildford Dudley, her reaction to learning that she was Queen, her entrance into the Tower and how “the crown was a burden laid on her by God and one she would lay down with relief.”
  • The Council in London – The events that the privy council had to deal with, the appeal to the English gentry to prepare for rebellion, the country’s reaction to Jane becoming Queen, Europe’s reaction and the recruitment of forces to deal with any rebellion.
  • The March on Framlingham – The attempt to secure Mary, what happened, whether there were desertions, why Northumberland chose to retreat and why Jane’s forces could not be successful against Mary.
  • A Second Front – The events of the collapse of Jane’s reign – the decision by councillors to abandon Jane and proclaim Mary as Queen, the desertion of Jane and why council switched so quickly from one queen to the other. Ives concludes that “the most convincing explanation of the dramatic collapse of Jane’s privy council is that two key earls drew back from committing themselves to military action. Called on to up their stake in Queen Jane, Arundel and Pembroke chose to fold.”
  • The Rebellion of Mary Tudor – How Mary’s victory has, with hindsight, been called inevitable but was it? Ives examines Mary’s movements from the death of Edward to her proclamation as Queen and sifts through the myths. He looks at what inspired her rebellion, how she was supported and how she won.

Part IV – Consequences

We all know how the story ends but Ives gives all of the details and separates fact from fiction.

  • Every Man for Himself – How Jane was left to fend for herself as the council sought to protect themselves and the fate of Jane’s supporters.
  • The Tower – Jane’s imprisonment, Mary’s belief in Jane’s innocence, Jane’s trial, the death sentence, how Jane spent her time in the Tower and her faith.
  • Nemesis – Mary’s plans to marry Philip of Spain, Wyatt’s Rebellion and the involvement of Henry Grey, Jane’s father, and why Mary had to finally take action against Jane.
  • The River of Jordan – How Jane spent the last hours of her life and the letters she wrote, Guildford Dudley’s execution and Lady Jane Grey’s shocking execution. A brilliant chapter giving transcripts of letters and speeches, and details of the executions.
  • Afterlife – How Lady Jane Grey lives on: how Paul Delaroche’s famous and poignant depiction of Jane in his painting, “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey”,  has affected how people think of her, how other artists and writers have depicted her, the Victorian idea of Jane as vulnerable and innocent and a model for Victorian women, the “romantic” story of Jane, Jane as the martyr and Jane as the heroine.
  • Envoi – An excellent conclusion about how Jane’s story lives on even though “she counted for little”. Ives concludes his biography by saying that “the fundamental justification for remembering Jane is the justification for remembering Anne Frank centuries later. They speak for the multitude of brutality’s victims who have no voice.”


This is what I love about Eric Ives – his notes are fantastic! For example, one ciation reads “Cal. S. P. Spanish, xi.73: 7 Jul. 1553,  Ambassadors to Charles V” which means that if you want to check this source you know exactly where in the Calendar of State Papers (Spanish) to find the reference. Ives’s notes run from page 294-342 so they are very detailed and incredibly useful.

Ives’s book concludes with a section of biographical abbreviations and a detailed index.

Concluding Thoughts

A wonderful biography which I really did feel solved the mystery of Lady Jane Grey. I loved the way that Ives took each of the main characters in turn, looking at their motivations and their involvement, and how he challenges the myths surrounding Jane. You are, however, left with the feeling that Ives does see Jane as the scapegoat, an innocent victim of those around her, whereas Leanda de Lisle, in “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen”, paints a very different picture of Jane, saying:-

“The Victorians produced innumerable prints depicting Jane modestly shrinking from the crown as he [Winchester] offers it to her. But as Jane was signing herself “Jane the Quene” on a daily basis, she wasn’t shrinking from the crown in any meaningful sense”.

Leanda de Lisle writes that as ships were mutinying, Jane was demanding support and allegiance from her sheriffs and Justices of the Peace. She was no shrinking violet, she was a Queen in every sense of the word.

It is interesting that two historians, who have both studied the same sources and who have both meticulously researched Jane’s life, can have such different pictures of her. Perhaps we still haven’t got to the bottom of who Lady Jane Grey really was!


“Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery” by Eric Ives is published by Wiley-Blackwell and is available at Amazon US – click here, Amazon UK – click here or from your favourite book shop or library.

I can’t wait to read “Henry VIII” by Eric Ives – it’s due out in October 2010!


7 Responses to “Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric Ives”

  1. Louise says:

    This is a brilliantly detailed review. You’ve definately sold it to me. Guess what I’ll be buying on Saturday! I also love Ives. He is my favourite historian due to his thoroughness and lack of bias. He never surmisses without evidence to support his theories and never feels the need to massage evidence; a real National Treasure.

  2. Carol says:

    I am delighted to say that I have finally got my copy of Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery and I must say it is not disappointing in any way – what a superb writer Eric Ives is.. I can see we will have to form a Eric Ives Appreciation Society!!

    I am really looking forward to his book on Henry V111 as well.

  3. Claire says:

    Hi Louise,
    I’m glad that you found the review useful and I hope you enjoy the book. Another thing I liked about this book was the ease of navigation – good chapter headings and a detailed index allowing you to find exactly what you are looking for. I hate an index that just says “Jane Grey” with a load of page numbers after it, I want and need “Jane Grey: appearance,” “Jane Grey: childhood” etc. – much more useful.

  4. Claire says:

    Hi Carol,
    Yes, Eric Ives deserves an award for services to history or something! I would also highly recommend Leanda de Lisle’s book “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen” as she is very thorough on Jane and also looks at Katherine and Mary Grey.

  5. Sabrina says:

    I can’t wait to read this book. It’s a valentine’s day present from my fiancee.. I can’t believe he’s writing one on Henry VIII too.. wow..

  6. Lisaannejane says:

    I GIVE UP! What does “deuise” mean? I tried 5 dictionaries and the only one that had a definition of the word was a middle English one where the print was too small to read.

  7. Claire says:

    Hi Lisaannejane,
    Edward VI’s will, his plan for the succession, was entitled his “Deuise for the Succession” or “Device for the Succession. It was the document where he removed Mary and ELizabeth from the succession and made Lady Jane Grey his heir. I think that “device” means just that, a device or plan.

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