The Frock Flicks Guide to Lady Jane Grey on Film

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On this day, February 12, in 1554, Lady Jane Grey was executed. She’s best known as the ‘Nine Days Queen,’ having been proclaimed Queen of England soon after the death of her first cousin, once removed, Edward VI of England. It was a political ploy because Edward’s half-sister Mary Tudor was Catholic, while Jane was a Protestant like Edward.

Miniature by Levina Teerlinc that might be of Lady Jane Grey

Miniature by Levina Teerlinc that might be of Lady Jane Grey.

Of Jane Grey’s life, much has been speculated and little is known. She was well educated, that is true, and she was devout in the new religion, having disdain for the Catholic mass. Her marriage to Lord Guildford Dudley on May 25, 1553, was arranged by John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. While Jane and Guildford probably didn’t know much about each other before marrying, such deals were not uncommon for this period and class level. Like Jane, he was also a serious Protestant.

The Streatham Portrait, c. 1590, said to be painted after a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey

The Streatham Portrait, c. 1590, said to be painted after a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey.

Lady Jane Grey was never officially crowned, and her so-called reign lasted from only July 10, 1553, to July 19, 1553, when Mary Tudor entered London and the Privy Council swore allegiance to her. Jane was tried and convicted of treason in November, and Queen Mary pondered Jane’s sentence for a little while. However, the participation of Jane’s father in a rebellion in January sealed her fate. Execution made Jane something of a Protestant martyr in later years, and a fascinating subject for frock flicks too.

 

Nova Pilbeam in Tudor Rose aka Nine Days a Queen (1936)

Tudor Rose / Nine Days a Queen (1936)

This was the first screen appearance of Lady Jane, in a feature film about her short life.

Tudor Rose / Nine Days a Queen (1936)

While the costuming is all over the map for the 16th century, it’s not a bad flick.

Tudor Rose / Nine Days a Queen (1936)

With a nice bit of pathos at the end.

 

Anne Howard in The Prince and the Pauper (1937)

Anne Howard in The Prince and the Pauper (1937)

This may or may not actually be Anne Howard, but it’s the only image I can find of a young female in court clothing from this film, so there ya go.

 

Jane Asher in The Prince and the Pauper (1962)

Jane Asher in The Prince and the Pauper (1962)

I haven’t read Mark Twain’s book, but I guess he adds Lady Jane at Henry VIII’s court because she shows up in most filmed versions.

 

Sarah Frampton in Elizabeth R (1971)

Sarah Frampton in Elizabeth R (1971)

A non-speaking role, just an enigmatic glimpse through the a cell door at the Tower of London. Nice outfit tho’.

 

Felicity Dean in Crossed Swords (1977)

Felicity Dean in Crossed Swords (1977)

Essentially The Prince and the Pauper again.

 

Helena Bonham Carter in Lady Jane (1986)

Helena Bonham Carter in Lady Jane (1986)

And here’s the Jane we all know and love! HBC’s big entry into frock flicks land, making us fall in love with her forever.

Also, Cary Elwes as a jerky Guildford who gets all sweet ‘n stuff under that ’80s hair.

Helena Bonham Carter in Lady Jane (1986)

Speaking of hair … never change HBC, never change!

 

Sophia Myles in The Prince and the Pauper (1996)

The Prince and the Pauper (1996)

One of the best-costumed versions.

 

Perdita Weeks in The Prince and the Pauper (2000)

Perdita Weeks in The Prince and the Pauper (2000)

One of the worst.

 

Amber Beattie in The Sarah Jane Adventures, “Lost in Time” (2010)

Amber Beattie in The Sarah Jane Adventures, "Lost in Time" (2010)

In this Doctor Who spinoff, a teenage friend of Sarah Jane goes back in time and meets Jane as she’s imprisoned in the Tower. Hijinx ensue.

 

Which is your favorite Lady Jane Grey on screen? Is there another one we’ve missed?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

9 Responses

  1. SarahV

    Nothing really substantive to say other than… I forgot how beautiful Cary Elwes was.

    (Also, that red gown in the Streatham portrait is astounding!)

    Reply
  2. Charity

    I love how Helena’s Jane is really “not having” her husband’s behavior all through the wedding feast. She sits there rolling her eyes and disapproving.

    I have to stand up a little bit for her mother. Apparently, while she was strict with Jane (as a lot of parents are), her beating her daughter into submission may have been exaggerated; the most recent book I read about the family suggested there’s no proof of that extreme of an abuse level. Unfortunately, the movie / popular rumors always paint her as beating Jane to within an inch of her life, which isn’t entirely fair if it’s untrue. :P

    Not that… Hollywood cares for telling the truth. Please see: the Tudors and anything adapted from PFG novels. :P

    Reply
    • Roxana

      The picture of the Greys as abusive parents comes from an account, some time after the fact, by Roger Ascham of a conversation with Jane in which she complains of her parents’ mistreating her. Ascham is using Jane to make a point about corporal punishment being counterproductive so maybe not totally factual. Our other main source on Jane’s relationship with her parents is the letter she wrote to Queen Mary in which she is making a case for her life and so engaging in ‘spin’ if not outright lying.

      Jane certainly was not the moving spirit behind the plot to put her on the throne but by contemporary accounts she didn’t put up much resistance. Indeed she threw herself into her new role which is understandable given her religious convictions. Jane was a fiery little thing, highly opinionated and intolerant. She was probably difficult to live with.

      Jane doesn’t seem to have had anything against Guildford personally. Her problem with the marriage was John Dudley. She was terrified of the man, even accusing him of trying to poison her. It is significant that Jane clung to her parents for protection from Dudley.

      Henry Grey was an incompetent political intriguer but a sincere supporter of the Protestant religion and there are some indications he and Jane were close, or at least in sympathy religiously. When they were both in the Tower after the Wyatt rebellion Grey was full of grief and guilt over what he’d done to his daughter and Jane wrote him quite a nice, forgiving letter assuring him that she wasn’t sorry to die and she would pray for him in heaven. Her father made a good end himself, strongly stating his devotion to the Protestant religion. Jane would have been proud of him.

      Reply
  3. Ms. Kitsch

    I love this post! I’ve found Lady Jane fascinating ever since I read “The Nine Days Queen” by Karleen Bradford in my early teens. This post has reminded me that I really need to pull that book out (i kept it all these years!) and reread it as an adult – and track down all these films as well!

    Reply

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