The Queen of Green – Dressing Jane Grey for the Crown

Rosie Harte

Not everyone was convinced by the power of fashion

In the 16th century sartorial politics was operating at its finest. The idea that an individual could enforce their power through the clothes they wore dominated the approach to royal fashion in the Tudor period. Henry VIII, the best dressed monarch of his time, and Elizabeth I, immortalised in our minds wearing dramatic ruffs and ropes of pearls, subscribed avidly to this theory, and consequently have shaped our understanding of the Tudor ‘look’. However, if we instead take a moment to look at some of the quieter figures in the dynasty, it quickly becomes apparent that not everyone was convinced by the power of fashion. Lady Jane Grey, the unsuspecting teenager who had the English crown dropped into her lap on 6 July 1533, could not have been further from the contemporary ideals of regal splendour. She had been raised devoutly protestant and spent much of her time with her nose in a book, rejecting lavish displays of wealth and vanity. She had even been rejected as a potential royal bride for Edward VI on account of her plain appearance. When Jane’s position had been manipulated to line her up for the throne, it seems that the young Queen was made to undergo a royal transformation. It was time for her to play by the rules. Jane’s first public appearance as Queen took place on 8 July, the day of her procession to the Tower of London, where she was to stay in the lead up to her coronation. Jane’s preference for fashionable sobriety would not have been acceptable for such an occasion, and the ensemble that was chosen for her sent a clear message on how those around her wished for the new Queen to be viewed. A green dress, brocaded all over with brilliant gold and fashionable wide sleeves, the train of which was carried by her mother, the Duchess of Suffolk. On her head she wore a white coif laden with precious gems, glistening with each shaky step she took. Hidden beneath her skirts were a pair of Venetian Chopines, high-heeled platform shoes intended to make her seem taller and more powerful than she really was. Jane may have shared the fiery colouring of her Tudor relatives, but she did not share their height. Emphasising (or in this case fabricating) physical similarities between the new Queen and her predecessors was of paramount importance to those in charge of her wardrobe – they needed to prove that Jane’s royal inheritance was a rightful one.
<strong>The Queen of Green – Dressing Jane Grey for the Crown</strong>
Lady Jane Grey

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<strong>The Queen of Green – Dressing Jane Grey for the Crown</strong>

Jane was as much of a Tudor as any of her rivals for the throne

Beside her, Jane was accompanied by her husband, who dressed in a shimmering white doublet trimmed with gold. Side by side the young royal couple had been arranged to represent the Tudor house colours of green and white. The message was clear – Jane was as much of a Tudor as any of her rivals for the throne, and therefore the crown belonged to her. Despite these efforts the public were not convinced, choosing instead to rally behind Mary Tudor, assisting in Jane’s deposition just 9 days later. It’s unfortunate, but one of the best descriptions of Jane and the clothing she may actually have preferred comes from her ensuing trial in November that year – a black gown turned down and paired with a matching French hood. A simple girdle hung from her waist, from which a small velvet prayer-book was suspended, and a similar book was clasped in her hands. The outcome of the trial was a death sentence for Jane, and on the 12 of February 1554, she was seen by the public one last time. She seemed to be wearing the same dress that she had worn for her trial, sober and black, comfortable and unqueenly. Distinctly and uniquely, Jane.
Ancestry UK
<strong>The Queen of Green – Dressing Jane Grey for the Crown</strong>

Rosie Harte

I’m a fashion historian passionate about exploring the relationship between clothing and identity, and how this can be used to fill in the blanks in history. In 2020 I started the TikTok account @theroyalwardrobe, which has grown into a community of over 300k followers from across the globe, keen to learn about royal and fashion history.
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