A Further Note On the Date of Birth of Lady Jane Grey Dudley
 
 
 
The following article appeared previously on pages 146-148 of the academic journal Notes and Queries, volume 55, issue number 2 (June 2008), published by Oxford University Press, as a follow-up to my previous article on the same subject.
 
     
 
     In a previous article in Notes and Queries, I argued that the date of birth in early October 1537 traditionally assigned to Lady Jane Grey is incorrect.[1] My argument was based largely on a letter written by John Aylmer, Jane’s longtime tutor, in which he stated that Jane was already fourteen years old by late May 1551. This indicates that Jane was born at least several months prior to October 1537. Additional correspondence generated in connection with the birth of Prince Edward on 12 October 1537 supports this conclusion. Several letters written at that time reveal that Jane’s mother, Frances Brandon Grey, was eligible to participate in various public religious ceremonies associated with Edward’s birth and Jane Seymour’s subsequent death. Frances’ presence would have been unlikely had she been delivered of a child within the forty-day period immediately prior to October.[2] I concluded that Jane Grey was born in or before June or July 1537, rather than in October.

     Since publication of that note, my research in connection with a putative portrait of Lady Jane Grey has brought to light additional evidence regarding Jane’s date of birth.[3] Michelangelo Florio, a Florentine Protestant living in religious exile in England, wrote in the early 1560s what is probably the first account of Jane’s life. Florio’s manuscript was not published until 1607, and even then it was published in Venice and in its original Italian, and only a handful of copies have survived, leaving it largely overlooked by modern historians. Florio’s account is, however, critical to determining the period during which Jane was born.

     Florio states in his Historia de la vita e de la morte d’Illustrissima Giovanna Graia that Jane ‘era di XVII anni solamente (was only seventeen years old)’ at the time of her death on 12 February 1553/4.[4] Through consultation with several Italian scholars, I have concluded that the expression ‘era di ... anni’ indicates the number of full calendar years already achieved since birth, much like the modern English expression ‘X years old’, rather than indicating her year of life.[5] Jane was thus fully seventeen years old and in the midst of her eighteenth year of life at the time of her death, according to Florio.

     Florio was in a position to have reliable knowledge of Jane’s age. After arriving in England in November 1550, he had served initially as preacher in a church for Italian Protestants in London, and he simultaneously took up a position in the household of William Cecil. In early 1552, however, he was expelled from both livings. He turned instead to teaching Italian. He joined the Grey household sometime in 1552 and was awarded a pension by Jane’s father, Henry Grey. He served as Italian tutor to Jane and her sisters, perhaps until as late as mid 1553.[6] During his tenure with the Greys, he penned Regole et Institutioni della Lingua Thoscana, the manuscript dedication of which is addressed to Jane in terms of familiarity that attest to his close personal association with her in the last year of her life.[7]

     By correlating the evidence found in Aylmer’s letter of May 1551 with that from Florio’s account of Jane’s life, we can determine a general period within which Jane was most likely born. In order for Jane to have been both fourteen in May 1551 and also seventeen at the time of her death in early 1554, Jane’s birth must have occurred between late May 1536 and early February 1537. But Jane’s parents had wed just three years prior to her birth, i.e., in mid 1533, and in the interim Frances had already borne two previous children: a boy and a girl. Neither child’s date of birth is known and each died in infancy, though we can safely speculate that the first was probably born no earlier than March 1534, or nine months after the Greys’ marriage. Since Jane was the third child in three years, it seems likely that her birth came later, in the autumn or winter of 1536, rather than sooner, or the summer of 1536. While her precise date of birth must remain unknown, it seems reasonable to conclude that Lady Jane Grey was born not at the time of Prince Edward’s own birth on 12 October 1537 , but rather a year or more earlier than her royal cousin, sometime in the second half of 1536.
 
 
J. Stephan Edwards, Ph.D.
  NOTES :      
 
[1]
 
John Stephan Edwards, ‘On the Date of Birth of Lady Jane Grey’, Notes and Queries 54 (Sept 2007) 3: 240–242.
 
 
     
 
[2]
 
Religious custom required that Frances be free from any blood–associated impurity in order to be eligible to participate in Prince Edward’s christening and Jane Seymour’s funeral. Ritual purity was achieved through ‘churching’, a purification ceremony undertaken by women no less than forty days after delivery of any child. Jane Grey was therefore born at least forty days prior to Prince Edward.
 
 
     
 
[3]
 
On the miniature portrait tentatively identified as Lady Jane Grey, see Brendon Grosvenor, Alistair Hawkyard, and David Starkey, ‘The Search for Lady Jane Grey’, Lost Faces: Identity and Discovery in Tudor Portraiture (London, 2007), 79–87; Bruce Fellman, ‘Looking for Lady Jane’, Yale Alumni Magazine 70 (2007) 5: 48–52; Cynthiha Zarin, ‘Teen Queen of the Tudors’, The New Yorker, 15 October 2007, 46–55. Identification of the sitter as Lady Jane Grey hinges largely upon the age of the sitter as it is inscribed upon the portrait, i.e., ‘Anno XVIII’.
 
 
     
 
[4]
 
Michelangelo Florio, Historia de la vita e de la morte de l’Illustrissima Giovanna Graia... ( Venice, 1607), 68. The work is less a biography of Jane than a treatise on the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, with Jane presented as an exemplar of God’s elect.
 
 
     
 
[5]
 
My thanks especially to Dr Sally Scully (Professor Emeritus, San Francisco State University) and Dr Constance Moffatt (Vice-Chair, Department of Art and Architecture, Pierce College) for their assistance with interpreting sixteenth-century Florentine idioms of age.
 
 
     
 
[6]
 
F. A. Yates, John Florio: The Life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England (New York, 1968), 4–5 and 7–10.
 
 
     
 
[7]
 
British Library ( London) Sloane Manuscript 3011. A second manuscript copy exists as University Library, Cambridge, Manuscript Dd. XI. 46. The dedication of this later copy is dated 22 August 1553 and addressed to Henry Herbert, whose first wife was Jane Grey’s sister, Katherine.
 
         
 

 

 

 

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