Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen on the death of Edward VI in July 1553. She was a cousin (once removed) of Edward, and her supporters were keen to further her claim to avoid the accession of Edward's sister, Mary, whose catholicism endangered the reformed Church of England. Jane's 'reign' lasted only nine days before she was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London by the more powerful backers of Mary, crowned as Mary I in October. Jane's youth spared her life until her father's involvement in a failed rebellion and she was executed in February 1554 aged only 17.
Scholten, a Dutch artist of landscapes, pastorals and fashionable melodramatic 'romanticisations' of historic scenes, has placed Jane in an imagined Tower cell, despondently contemplating the news of her fate, while her attendants collapse in desolation. In reality, Jane was probably held in the relatively comfortable housing of the Tower officials around Tower Green, a form of house arrest, with four servants and access to the gardens. The man in the painting is supposedly John Feckenham, confessor to Mary I, who was sent to Jane in the hope that she would convert to catholicism and save her life: the prayer book and crucifix consigned to the floor perhaps lie as symbols of her refusal to abandon her Protestant faith.