Lady Jane Grey (1536/7 – 1554), great-niece to Henry VIII, was named as heir to the throne by the devoutly Protestant teenage King Edward VI on his deathbed, as an attempt to thwart the succession of Catholic Mary Tudor. Aged just 16, she ruled for only nine days, until she and her husband, Guildford Dudley, were overthrown and imprisoned, later to be executed for high treason by Mary.
For a long time history painted her as a victim, powerless under the forces of a tyrannical mother and a pawn in a vicious politico-religious see-saw, and to a point Jane must have had little say in her fate.
However Jane’s forceful, independent, and strikingly intelligent personality shines through. Although prior to her beheading she would claim that she never sought the throne, only accepted it, it is clear that guided by her strong moral compass, she clearly believed in the Protestant cause.
As a dorky 16-year-old in suburban New Zealand, Jane’s story presented as different a world as I could muster. The rather dishy Cary Elwes as Guildford in the (admittedly rather dodgy) film Lady Jane may also have helped! Jane’s drive for education and love of learning was also a comfort — preferring book studies to hunting parties rang true to someone who was not allowed to take Latin in high school because of the compulsory Physical Education requirement! Jane contributed to my decision to study history at tertiary level, and today her moral courage is still a source of inspiration.