October 1537

(left) This engraving by Wyngarde has an accompanying inscription in Latin, which reads: O Royal shoot, I encircled you with a tragic crown, but the almighty gave you a better kingdom hereafter.'

In the 442 years since her death, Lady Jane Grey has been seen by many as the archetype of a Protestant martyr. A religious heroine whose honour and steadfast faith led to her choice of death before heresy.

Sixteenth Century England was a turbulent time in the religious life of its citizens. The Reformation and Henry VIII's Great Matter had set Catholic against Protestant. At the heart of the debate was the contentious issue of transubstantiation. Tudor religious scholars debated the number of the Sacraments and the elements of the bread and wine. It was a principle many were prepared to die for. Indeed, religious debate was so rife in the period that 75% of the books published before 1550 were sermons or religious treatises.

It was in this environment that a daughter was born to the Grey family at their palatial hunting lodge, Bradgate Manor in Leicestershire. It was October 1537. Miles away, an event was taking place that overshadowed Jane's arrival. Jane Seymour had just presented her husband Henry VIII with a son, Edward. It was the male child Jane's great uncle, King Henry, had longed for. His desire for a male heir had already led him to divorce one wife and kill another. Queen Catherine and Anne Boleyn had been unable to fulfill their duties. To Henry's great displeasure both had produced daughters, (the future Mary I and Elizabeth I.) Prince Edward received a tumultuous reception. His birth was celebrated by days of feasting and merriment. Queen Jane's delivery of a son served to legitimise the King's treatment of his first two wives. In Henry's eyes, his union with Jane Seymour had been blessed and the country was assured of stable leadership.

At Bradgate Henry Grey,Marquis of Dorset left his newly born daughter to hurry to Court to pay his respects. Before his departure he and his wife, Frances, agreed to name their first born child, Jane, in honour of the Queen.

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