Lady Jane Grey claimed the English throne 19 July 1553, nine days later she was replaced by Queen Mary. To history she is always called Lady instead of Queen. I just wonder why?

Its true she had no formal coronation, but neither did King Edward V, and Edward is always referred to as King.

  • 23
    Because history is written by the winners.
    – RedSonja
    Mar 14, 2022 at 8:18
  • 1
    The Tudor claim to the throne involves the argument that Richard III was a usurper, so it was OK for Henry Tudor to kill him and bury his body under a car park. If anyone agrees with Henry, then it really helps to have Edward as a legitimate king, Edward V. OTOH, if Edward was illegitimate, as Richard claimed, then Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was a legitimate successor to Edward IV. The Stuart and Hanoverian claims rest on the legitimacy of the Tudors. Mar 16, 2022 at 6:14
  • Monarch's prerogative. After beheading their teenage nieces, they call them whatever they want.
    – Rab
    Mar 16, 2022 at 19:42

3 Answers 3


The claim that she was queen was based on the assertion that Mary and Elizabeth were disinherited, and in particular (from Edward's will) that

the said ladie Mary and ladie Elizabeth, beinge illegitemate and not lawfully begotten, forasmuch as the mariage had betweene our said late father and the Lady Catherine, mother to the said Lady Marye, was clEarly and lawfully undone, and separatione betweene them had by sentence of divorse accordinge to the ecclesiasticall lawes; and likewise the mariage had betweene our said late father and the Lady Anne, mother to the said ladie Elizabeth, was also clearely and lawefully undone, and separation betweene them had by sentence of divorse accordinge to the ecclesiasticall lawes; which said severall divorsements have bene seve rally ratefyed and confirmed by authority of diveres actes of parleamente remaininge in their full force, strength, and effecte; wherby as well the said Lady Marye as also the said ladie Elizabeth to all intents and purposes are and be clEarly disabled to aske, claime, or challenge the said imperiall crowne, or any other of our honores, castelles, manores, lordeshipes, lands, tenements, and hereditaments as heire or heires to us or to any other person or persones who soevere, aswell for the cause before rehearsed, as also for that the said Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth be unto us but of the halfe bloud, and therfore by the auntyent lawes, statutes, and customes of this realme be not in heritable unto us, although they were legitimate, as they be not indeed.

Under Mary and Elizabeth, therefore, referring to Jane Grey as "Queen" would have been high treason, because it would mean that you

slanderously and maliciously publish and pronounce, by express writing or words, that the king should be. . . usurper of the crown

Furthermore, even under James, it could have been high treason because it could have impugned his claim, based on Elizabeth's having designated.

Consequently, there was plenty of time for the habit of not calling her queen to set in.

  • 2
    Is the switch from "ladie Mary and ladie Elizabeth" to "Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth" part of the original text or a misquote? If it's part of the original, what would have caused the change in spelling and capitalization?
    – FreeMan
    Mar 15, 2022 at 14:56
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    @FreeMan: It is an archaic spelling of the word.
    – V2Blast
    Mar 15, 2022 at 17:46
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    I wasn't questioning "ladie", @V2Blast, I got that the quote was full of archaic spelling & wording. I was questioning the change, within the quoted text, to the modern "Lady".
    – FreeMan
    Mar 15, 2022 at 17:51
  • 1
    @FreeMan: Ah, I see what you mean.
    – V2Blast
    Mar 15, 2022 at 18:03
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    Spelling was exceedingly erratic in the day.
    – Mary
    Mar 15, 2022 at 21:54

She does not appear to have ever exercised the monarch's powers. She was pretty much a puppet of her father-in-law, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who had been Edward VI's chief minister.

  • She'd married Guildford Dudley, a younger son of Northumberland, in May 1553.
  • In June 1553, Edward VI made her the heir via his will. It's very plausible that this was on Northumberland's advice.
  • In July, Edward VI died, it having been clear that he would die soon for some weeks.

The device of changing the succession via the monarch's will has not been used since, and would not be legal now without some extraordinary legislation. Northumberland had set out with troops to try to capture Mary shortly after Jane was proclaimed queen, which is hardly the action of a man who's confident that his candidate has support. As it turned out, Mary had enough support, once the Privy Council switched sides.

Referring to Jane as queen does not really seem justified, and has not been the convention for a long time.

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    It seems illogical to claim that Jane was not queen because she never execrixed the monarch's powers during her 9 day reign. Edward VI was clearly King for 6 years despite not reaching his age of majority and having regents rule in his name. Edward V was clearly the king for a few months despite being a minor and unable to use the royal powers. Richard II was king for several years before attainng his majority and beginning to rule. And the same with Edward III and Henry III.
    – MAGolding
    Mar 14, 2022 at 18:34

I think that Jane Grey is called Lady instead of Queen because every monarch of England, Great Britain, or the UK since her has been a member of rival lines of descent to the crown than hers. Historians may have felt that calling her Queen Jane might be slightly disloyal to the reigning monarchs by suggesting that the heirs of Jane's claim to the crown might possibly be the rightful monarchs.

There are about six different possible legal opinions:

One) Jane was the legal and rightful queen, deposed and then murdered by the usurper Mary I.

Two) Mary I was always the legal and rightful queen, and Jane was an evil usurper rightfully executed for her treason.

Three) Jane was the rightful and legal queen during her reign but was legally deposed in favor of Mary I, making Mary I the new rightful queen.

Four) The rightful queen was Lady Frances Brandon (1517-1559), Duchess of Suffolk, the older daughter of Henry VIII's younger sister Mary Tudor. Lady Jane Grey was the oldest daughter of Lady Francis and would have eventually become queen anyway, so it is uncertain why Lady Francis was passed over in favor of making Jane Queen immediately.

Five) The rightful queen of England was Mary (1542-1587), Queen of Scotland and the fiancee of the future King Francis II of France. Mary's grandmother was Margaret Tudor, the older sister of King Henry VIII. Margaret Tudor's heirs had genealogical seniority, while Henry VIII and Edward VI preferred Mary Tudor's heirs because they were English and Protestant. Mary's son King James VI of Scotland eventually became King of England in 1603.

Six) Nobody could become the rightful queen regnant of England, because England should always be ruled by a male king. In that case the most genealogically senior man or boy descended from the Tudors would be the rightful king.

As near as I can tell, there were no male descendants of Mary Tudor alive in 1553, and the only male of legitimate birth descended from Margaret Tudor alive in 1553 was Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who later married Mary Queen of Scots and became King consort of Scotland, and the father of King James VI and I.


So according to viewpoints one and three, Lady Jane became Queen of England legally and was was the rightful queen of England during her brief reign. According to the other viewpoints, Lady Jane was a usurper during her brief reign.

Furthermore, listing Jane as a Queen, even if she was called an evil usurper as Richard III and Henry IV and Edward IV were called by their opponents, would draw attention to the claim of the descendants of Mary Tudor to the crown. Henry VIII decided that if his descendants died out, the descendants of Mary Tudor, and not the descendants of Margaret Tudor, would be the rightful heirs to the crown.

The descendants of Lady Jane Grey's mother, Lady Francis Brandon, and aunt, Lady Eleanor Brandon, have continued down to the present. So referring to Queen Jane Grey instead of Lady Jane Grey would make it seem like her claim to the throne had some legitimacy, and draw attention to the claim of the descendants of Mary Tudor. But every monarch of England, Great Britain, or the United Kingdom since 1603 has been descended from Margaret Tudor, the other sister of Henry VIII.

So I think that many historians would have considered it a bit disloyal to the reigning monarch to call Jane Grey "Queen Jane".


And if someone was really technical, there is a way that calling Jane "Lady" could be consistent with believing she was the rightful queen of England. England never had a queen regnant, rightful or not, before Jane - except that maybe it did.

In Anglo-Saxon times, someone became King of the English (which was used as the title instead of King of England) as soon as the previous monarch died or as soon as the nobles in the Witan selected them as king. As soon as someone acceded to the crown, they took the title of "Lord of the English" and had all the powers of the king, but waited until they were crowned to use the title of "King of the English".

There was a similar custom in the Holy Roman Empire. After about 1150or 1200 someone elected to be the future emperor would take the title of Rex Romanorum et semper Augustus, meaning "King of the Romans and always Emperor", and when they were crowned emperor in Rome would take the title of Imperator Romanorum et semper Augustus, meaning "Emperor of the Romans and always Emperor".

If there was a reigning emperor when a king of the Romans was elected, the King of the Romans was the heir of the reigning emperor. If there was no reigning emperor, the King of the Romans immediately had full imperial power, but didn't use the title of Emperor until crowned in Rome.

King Henry I made the nobles swear to make his only legitimate child, Matilda, Empress Dowager of the Romans and Countess of Anjou, Queen regnant of England. But when he died, her cousin Stephen quickly claimed the crown (claiming it faster than his older brother could), and the English nobles supported him.

During the civil wars that followed, Matilda achieved some success in 1141.

The clergy gathered again in Winchester after Easter, on 7 April 1141, and the following day they declared that Matilda should be monarch in place of Stephen. She assume the title "Lady of England and Normandy" (Latin: domina Anglorum, lit. 'Lady of the English') as a precursor to her coronation.[149]

So Matilda's title of "Lady of England" is similar to an Anglo-Saxon king's title of "lord of the English" before being crowned "King of the English". And so Matilda briefly achieved the position of recognized but as yet uncrowned Queen of England.

So if some calls Jane "Jane Grey, Lady of England" instead of "Lady Jane Grey" they might be referring to the Anglo-Saxon title of "lord of the English" and Empress Matilda's title of "Lady of England and Normandy" and calling the rightful but as yet uncrowned Queen of England.

  • Excellent answer @MAGolding. One extra detail from Lady Jane Grey's wikipedia page. "The imperial ambassador reported to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, that her life was to be spared. The rebellion of Thomas Wyatt the Younger in January 1554 ... sealed Jane's fate. " It seems that Queen Mary didn't wish to start her reign by executing a teenage girl, and suggest to me that she didn't take Jane too seriously, i.e. she was dealing with Lady Jane, not Queen Jane. Mar 16, 2022 at 0:07

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