Lady Jane Grey: why do we want to believe the myth?

The image of Lady Jane Grey, the abused child-woman and 'nine days queen', is encapsulated in a fraud. Why are we so keen to believe in an innocent, virginal Jane, asks Leanda de Lisle

Lady Jane Grey's execution, as imagined by painter Paul Delaroche in 1833. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

This article was first published in the March 2010 issue of BBC History Magazine

The teenage queen, Lady Jane Grey, has been mythologised, even fetishised, as the innocent victim of adult ambition. The legend was encapsulated by the French Romantic artist Paul Delaroche in his 1833 historical portrait of Jane in white on the scaffold, an image with all the erotic overtones of a virgin sacrifice. But the legend also inspired a fraud, one that has fooled historians, art experts, and biographers, for over 100 years.

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