After Mary’s victory, Jane Grey was imprisoned comfortably in the Tower, and spent her time studying – and had a reasonable expectation of long, if a little dull, life. Until in 1554 Thomas Wyatt and her father Henry Grey, raised rebellion.
Download Podcast - 265 Live Still to Die (Right Click and select Save Link As)
Some web links
There are a couple of good articles on the line that I referred to today. One of them, Loving of my Husband, draws together what we know about Guildford and Jane’s relationship – which isn’t a lot.
Last time, John Dudley joined his father in the ‘taking the fall for their masters’ category in whatever heavenly location they ended up in, and we reflected that Jane would have been able to hear the roar of the crowd as the axe fell – and as we also heard, she would have had no sympathy for a man she saw as the agent of her family’s destruction and a traitor to the true faith. Let us turn now to Jane’s life, which we last spoke of when the Tower had become a prison rather than a palace.
Maybe the clamour of Mary’s triumphant entry into London disturbed Jane from a critical task she was carrying out; maybe she rushed from her table to a window to look out, or asked her jailer what the noise was all about. If so, the task our 16 year old was engaged in was writing a letter to her conqueror, explaining her actions. We do not have that letter, which is of course a shame, but we do have reports of what was in the letter from Italian sources. Which means it could be fluff, but proper historians like Nicola Tallis and Eric Ives have pieced together for us what it might reliably have contained. Essentially Jane’s message was that she was not aware of what was happening until the last minute, she did not ask for it, and she was a victim of Northumberland’s machinations The first she felt something was in the air was when she visited the Dudleys and her new husband on 19th June, and was told by the Duchess of Northumberland that she must stay and that she had been made heir to the throne.
Rather remarkably it must be said, Jane discounted the reason given that Edward VI wanted to make her queen. Next time someone asks you to stay, you might now want to include the possibility. Are you trying to make me Queen of England you might politely enquire? No, Jane assumed it was a ruse by the Duchess, trying to get her to sleep with her husband. Jane went on to relate the events of the summer, and concluded that
Thus in truth I was deceived by the Duke, and ill treated by my husband and his mother
She asks Mary for pardon in a rather more dignified manner than her elders:
I trust in God that as now I know and confess my want of prudence for which I deserve heavy punishment except for the very great mercy of your majesty, I can on many grounds conceive hope of your infinite clemency…I am charged more guilty than I deserve
Jane very clearly thought she had a good chance of survival. She would have had some other example in front of her, of noble rebels such as Edward Courtenay for example, locked away in the Tower for 16 years. And although children grew up fast in Tudor days, at 16 I wonder if she expected the consequences of her actions to be those of a child rather than an adult. The point is that Jane would have still had that most dangerous possession, of hope. Her worries would have been as much about how she would live – how much liberty and how much contact she would have – as whether she’d live or die.
To give her credit, Mary fully intended that she be right, and Mary was under considerable pressure to send both Jane and Guildford to the gallows without delay. She was under pressure from the Imperial ambassadors, representatives of the Empire that for so long she had looked to as her greatest friends. Simon Renard reported back to his master after a particularly unsatisfactory discussion
As to Jane of Suffolk whom they tried to make queen, she could not be induced to consent that she should die….Her conscience…would not permit her to have her put to death
Renard’s letter also makes it clear that Mary had received Jane’s letter, she had read it, and furthermore she had believed it.
In August Jane was moved out from the royal apartments into the house of a gentleman goaler, the delightfully named Nathaniel Partridge. Jane was still a royal cousin and so she had three gentlewomen to look after her, and although not grand, her life would have been comfortable; Guildford and his brother were probably significantly less comfortable in Beauchamp tower where they stayed, but their nobility would also have protected them. It seems that Jane probably ate in her own rooms most evenings, because on 29th August when Nathaniel brought a guest home called Rowland Lea, he was surprised to find Jane having supper in the downstairs room and they were in something of a panic being in the presence of a royal person. Caps were snatched hastily off heads and, if they were anything like me, a stream of mindless babble issued from lips for later re-analysis and shame. Jane though seems to have been very happy to have the company, welcomed them in, drank the visitor’s health, and everyone began to be at ease and chat. It’s a fascinating and rare glimpse of the private Jane, recoded because Rowland wrote his experiences down. They obviously spoke openly; Jane sang Mary’s praises
The queen’s majesty is a merciful princess; I beseche God she may long continue, and sende his bountefull grace apon hir.
Jane asked about whether the mass was back in London, and then talk moved to the execution of Northumberland. Jane’s words revealed complete contempt for the man she held responsible for all the evils that had befallen her family; of his conversion neither she nor the visitors had any doubt, and agreed with Jane’s verdict.
But life was sweet it appears; so he might have lived…he did not care how…for he that would have lived in chains to have had life, belike would leave no other means attempted
And Jane’s religious convictions, which will define the manner of the rest of her life and define her death came to the fore;
But God be merciful to us for he says Whoso denies him before men, he will not know him in his father’s kingdom
The meal broke up with thanks all round and you get the strong impression of a brief bit of normality and human contact in Jane’s life, and a chance to let off some steam.
For a time, then, life carried on for Jane within the close confines of the Partridge’s house. It would have been dull, and she was not allowed to walk round the precincts, so there was no opportunity for exercise, but at least the immediate sense of danger must have receded a bit; even for podcasters it’s impossible to be in a permanent state of panic. August turned to September and September to October. Then one day disturbing news did come to Jane – she was to be put on trial for treason. Pressure had continued on Mary to have Jane executed; there’s no indication that Mary felt so inclined, and its reasonable to assume as most do that Mary always intended to use her pardon after the treason trial. But that would have made the occasion no more comfortable for Jane.
Jane was to be tried not at Westminster Hall, but at the Guildhall in London, and was to be tried alongside Cranmer, Guildford and his brothers. Why the Guildhall? Because they were all Commoners, so the idea of a private boat ride to be judged by the lords of the land at Westminster Hall was too good for them. As the small group gathered in the precincts of the Tower, this was the first time Jane would have seen Guildford since their imprisonment. It’s doubtful they had any time for any meaningfuls, because the procession was quickly assembled with guards surrounding each member of it, axeheads turned away to indicate that they were still innocent just now. Off went the procession, led by Thomas Cranmer, and as they walked out into the streets, Jane carried with her, the protection that had always suited her best. At her girdle swung a book bound in black, matching her black gown, while in her hand was another book, open – you would have to bet it was a bible. Maybe that helped her cut out the crowds that surrounded the group as they walked through the London streets. At the trial itself, matters were held up by Cranmer trying to plead not guilty, but in the end they all pleaded guilty. The men were all sentenced to be drawn, hanged and quartered; Jane was given a choice from a smorgasbord of attractive options to be selected by her queen; she could be burned to death, or she could be beheaded. As the sentence was read out all eyes were on Jane, expecting some reaction – but she gave them no satisfaction. Back to the Tower they walked, axeheads turned towards them now.
And so life went on until the next dramatic event – around 17th December Jane was allowed to walk in the queen’s garden. It is entirely possible that she would have met Guildford there, since they could also walk there with specific permission. We do not even know if they did or didn’t let alone what they might have said if they did. Which leaves the field open for novelists and filmmakers of course.
Jane spent the vast majority of her time reading the bible and her sacred texts, and she also wrote some things which we have. One was a letter to her old Chaplain at Bradgate, one Thomas Harding. At some point she learned to her horror that Harding had abandoned his protestant beliefs. Jane’s letter is a model of clarity on her views of him who had seemed
Once to be the lively member of Christ, but now the deformed imp of the devil; sometime the beautiful temple of God but now thee stinking and filthy kennel of Satan
And there’s more. She was absolutely relentless and unforgiving in her opinion of him:
Why dost thou now show thyself most weak when indeed thou oughtest to be most strong?…oh wretched and unhappy man what art though but dust and ashes?
These letters reveal the strength of Jane’s religious feeling. They also show something of the steel in her character which she had begun to show as queen. Of course now it could all just be bravado, which would crumble in the face of death should he come knocking.
But the letters don’t only show religious feeling – they show Jane’s learning and intelligence. The letters are full of references and quotes to the bible – a document Jane knew inside out, front to back. They show her humanist learning and command of the required six stage renaissance accusation. As John Foxe noted, Jane had the makings of a scholar capable of matching any of the university men. It is also quite possible that this letter, and some later letters she writes, were designed for circulation. Those of you Members who listened to the Thomas Moore episodes might remember that More wrote letters to his daughter Meg designed to be circulated and to control his reputation, to form the public view of how More wanted to be remembered. Jane was doing the same.
A more personal document was a prayer she wrote in a prayer book – I have put it on the website, it’s quite a thing; she essentially reconciles the events of her life with her faith – as a time of testing. In her heart, she probably believed that had been chosen as one of the elect, and therefore whatever she faced as a result of her imprisonment – pardon, imprisonment or even death – her eternal destiny was sure.
Through a Christmas season we go; Jane had seen nor hide nor hair of her family, there were no visiting rights if you were a convicted traitor in the tower, and so we have no idea how far Jane was able to celebrate – let us hope Nathaniel found a brace of partridge from somewhere to help her mark the occasion. But sometime in January, news would probably have made it through the walls that all was not well; by mid January Jane would have started to see for herself the Tower stirred like an ant’s nest – because two noblemen, Peter Carew and Thomas Wyatt had raised the standard of rebellion, calling on all loyal Englishmen to throw out this queen who proposed to marry the king of Spain. All of which would no doubt have attracted Jane’s attention but not necessarily alarmed her – none of the rebels were mentioning her name as a rival queen. But at some point, maybe the end of January. She would have heard the news – her own father Henry Grey had joined the rebellion, and was in the midlands raising troops to join Thomas Wyatt in the south. Now Jane would surely have been assailed by a multitude of worries…what would happen to her father? What would happen to her? On 3rd February when Wyatt’s army washed up against the gates of Southwark, Jane may well have been able to see or hear the rebels from behind the Tower’s mighty walls. But London would not let Wyatt in, so he did a smart about turn, marched out to the west and then on 6th February could be seen approaching London from the west.
Amongst Queen Mary’s councillors all was panic. Stephen Gardiner, Wiley Winchester, joined the voices of Renard and the imperial representatives that Jane must die. Never mind she didn’t seem to be connected in any way, her father was part of it, she could become a focus for rebellion – she must be killed now. Although we can’t be sure of the timetable, it is probable that on the evening of 6th February, Mary finally gave way and signed the order to execute Jane and Guildford.
On 7th February, Wyatt arrived at the western gates of London, to find them held against him just as firmly as those at Southwark, and his rebellion disintegrated around him. Wyatt was seized and taken to the Tower of London. That same evening Jane Grey received a visit – possibly from Nathaniel, or maybe Sir John Brydges, the lieutenant of the Tower. Whoever it was, they told Jane that she was to be executed the following day. Who knows what she felt; she might have felt a tiny bit peeved with Dad I would have thought, but Jane was made of finer stuff than I, but either way she gave away nothing; she held firm, and remained calm as she heard the news.
The following day, the 8th February, a visitor arrived to see Jane – it was one of the Queen’s chaplains, Dr John Feckenham. Feckenham came with a reputation of argument and fierce defence of the Catholic rites; he had accepted Henry’s Royal supremacy, but the changes in the sacraments he could not live with. Nonetheless he was admired for his charity, and the quality of his intellect, and he managed to stay out of prison until in 1549 when he turned up in the Tower. He had been arrested by Lord Grey of Wilton, the man who had rather savagely repressed the Oxfordshire camps, which raises the interesting possibility that he’d taken an active part in the Time of Commotions. He had stayed in the Tower, but so great was his reputation that he was brought out for some discussions and debates about the religious changes – notably to William Cecil’s get togethers at his house on Canon Row. It’s an interesting demonstration that while we tend to focus on the violence and discord of the religious changes, from day to day many were simply trying to find and understand, in good faith, the right way. On Mary’s return, Feckenham was triumphantly released from the Tower. Now he was going back on an errand – to help save the soul of Lady Jane. He may have felt that with his experience in debate, with the advantage of his years and with a vulnerable person facing death, he would be able to convert Jane to the path of righteousness.
Jane was less than encouraging. Here is a strong intellect, educated by some of the top minds of the reformation, and she had shown that she could hold her own.
You are welcome sir, if your coming is to give me Christian exhortation
But was pretty firm that while she appreciated the gesture, she really didn’t need any help
There is no cause why either you or others which bear me good will should lament or be grieved with this my case, being a thing so profitable for my soul’s health
It is difficult to deal with; but maybe Jane Grey was one of those who genuinely welcomed the release from the world to go onto a better.
None the less, Feckenham explained the problem – he needed to
‘free her from the superstition in which she had grown up
And Jane tried to politely deflect his mission by saying that there wasn’t enough time for such a serious discussion – so sorry, best to just have done, Or words to that effect.
But Feckenham was a good man, and managed to get 3 days reprieve for her, so that they could have that time to debate – and lord knows most people would have been happy for the extra life. Or would they? Who knows. Jane was firm in her faith, and maybe the delays just distracted her from the preparation she needed to make within herself. Because she was not pleased, because
During his absence she had taken leave of all earthly matters so that she did not even think of the fear of death
Nonetheless, Feckenham pressed on, asking her about her faith and trying to press on her an understanding that she was in error. Each time Jane had an answer, confident in her knowledge and in her conviction. Eventually Feckenham made great play of the difficult path the evangelicals in England had taken towards the full description of their faith, a common approach. Jane’s answer was to stress the great freedom English protestants believed they had won
I ground my faith upon God’s word and not the church
At this Feckenham admitted defeat and with regret he said that he was sorry for her
For I am sure we two shall never meet
Because of course, Jane would presumably never make it to heaven where Feckenham was off to. Jane yielded not an inch:
We shall never meet unless God turn your heart for I am sure you are in an evil case
Ok, fair enough.
But Jane and Feckenham were also proof that it was possible to find respect and liking across the widest of barricades. Jane added
God has given you his great gift of utterance if it please him to open the eyes of our heart to his truth
Whether at Jane’s request or Feckenham’s suggestion, Feckenham promised that he would be with her at the end, by her side.
Jane’s resolution had held firm. But it faced another test – from her husband Guildford. Guildford of course also faced death now, and a message arrived with Jane that
Before dying he wished to embrace and kiss her for the last time wherefore he begged her to allow him to visit
The relationship between Jane and Guildford is frustratingly hidden from us. The few glimpses we have of Guildford were written by Catholic observers with a relentless and pitiless need to denigrate and undermine the actions of Mary’s political and religious opponents, so it is difficult to know whether the tales of a petulant Guildford during Jane’s 9 days, controlled by his mother and trying desperately to be made king and act as though he were king are true. Guildford of course wasn’t much older than Jane, and his story is every bit as much of a tragedy as his wife’s, he was possibly even more powerless than Jane. It is just possible that their relationship was just like the one that Trevor Nunn, Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Elwes conjured up in the film Lady Jane. Which as you know Wolf and I reviewed last week in the History of Techincolor. It is a bit unlikely – the little evidence we have is that it was a difficult relationship, with their continuous separation after the marriage, and one for which Jane was not really ready, but look we can dream, watch the film and weep gently into our beer/Rhubarb and Rosemary flavoured G&T.
What we know, is that when Jane received Guildford’s request she said no. Is this the act of the ice maiden, refusing to see a young man she despised and she felt had deceived her? Or the act of someone who could not simply not bear to go through the laceration of the heart of meeting again her lover who was also to die. There is a good and brief article about the topic on the intertubes by the way to which I’ll give you a link on the website. Either way, this is what she said to Guildford:
if the sight of them might have given comfort to their souls, more gladly she would be contented to see him; but that, she finding that their sight would increase the misery in both, and bring much more suffering, it was best for now to forego that act, later then in a brief time they would see [each other] in another part, and live perpetually joined in an indissoluble bond
I, personally, am going to go with two young people with little time to get to make a relationship but bound together by common experience; and that in this last act Jane simply could not bear the emotional pain.
In the last few hours remaining to her, Jane sat down to write, and two things have come down to us. The first is a letter to her younger sister Katherine, where she tells her to live well and hold firm to her faith; and once again Jane’s own commitment comes through
I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal soul win an immortal life
It is clear from the letter that by now Jane had heard of her father’s capture; on 10th February Henry Grey was brought into the tower, apparently suffering and in some pain. He had been discovered hiding in the hollow bole of a tree, which is a fitting end really. He would be executed on 21st February. Jane wrote in her letter to Katherine that faith
shall win you more than you should have gained by the possession of your woeful father’s land
That the use of the word woeful referred to his misfortune, rather than a criticism came out in the other survival we have from her; she wrote a message to her father in her prayer book. Despite everything that had happened, despite the mess her father’s incompetence and general blundering had put her into, there was without doubt a strong bond between the two. Tudor children were taught to be obedient, and Tudor society was a gerontocracy, it did not worship youth as we do, he said controversially, so both these powerful cultural forces reinforced such a bond. They shared a passionate commitment to religion, and for some reason they shared something more. The message is written with Tudor formality, but the true feeling comes through, or I think so anyway
The lord comfort your grace, and that in his word wherein all creatures only are to be comforted. And though it has pleased God to take away two of your children, yet think not, I most humbly beseech your grace, that you have lost them, but trust that we, by leaving this mortal life, have won an immortal life. And I for my part, as I have honoured your grace in this life, will pray for you in another life
Your grace’s humble daughter, Jane Dudley
My now it seems that Jane had a good relationship too with her master goaler, the grizzled John Brydges. John Brydges was 61 years old, and he and his wife had 11 children – yes that’s 11 children. Back in July, Queen Jane had written to Brydges, asking him to support her cause. Brydges had refused. He was a staunch Catholic, and instead he rallied to Mary’s side. He shouted defiance at Wyatt’s rebels from the walls, he was Mary’s Man with a capital M. But he was also clearly a man of some sympathy, and his heart had been touched by Jane; he was to prove something also of a soft touch when the Princess Elizabeth was incarcerated in the tower, being criticised for being too lenient with her. So when Jane came to him with her prayer book, asking that he take it to her father in the Tower he agreed that when they met to go to her execution, she should give the book to his brother and he would take it to her father. I really don’t want to try too hard to imagine what this gift did to her father when he was given it after her execution. Am I getting too sentimental? Stiff upper lip. Onwards.
The morning of 12th February dawned, when Mr and Mrs Dudley were to die. Normally, executions were carried out bright and early, but this was February and so it seems everyone had a late start, around 10 O Clock. Guildford was to die first, and was to die on Tower Hill, outside the walls in front of the good burgers of London. We know very little of his death, his words were not recorded. We do know that like Jane he refused to convert to Catholicism, and can therefore join the list of protestant martyrs. We also know that Jane probably watched him die from the Tower despite the pleadings of her gentlewomen, and was supposed to have murmured ‘Guildford, oh Guildford’. Or maybe ‘Guildford, oh Guildford’. 10 years later an observer would write that the death of such a young, blameless man was marked without any heckling normally handed out for a traitor, writing that:
‘even those that never before the time of his execution saw him, did with lamentable tears bewail his death’.
Jane was to die on Tower Green, inside the Tower away from the masses, and therefore very probably in front of a very small crowd. And time had come. Dressed simply all in black, out from her room she was brought to gather with a small group inside the Tower. Waiting there for her was John Brydges and his brother, her two ladies, Ellen and Elizabeth; and John Feckenham was there too as he had promised. Jane handed the prayer book to Brydges. Brydges had agreed to make sure it reached her father, but had also asked for a message for himself, so that he would keep the book after her father’s death. Jane had written
For as much as you have desired so simple a woman to write in so worthy a book, good master Lieufenante therefore I shall as a friend desire you, and as a christian require you, to call upon God, to incline your hearte to his laws, to quicken you in his way, and not to take the word of truth utterly out of your mouth. Live still to die, that by death you may purchase eternal life…For, as the Preacher sayeth, there is a time to be borne, and a time to dye; and the day of death is better than the day of our birth. Yours, as the Lorde knoweth, as a friende, Jane Duddeley’.
Now at last the group left the Tower, moved towards the scaffold on the cold February morning. As they walked, it seems that they may have passed the cart containing the decapitated body of her husband. Ellen and Elizabeth appear to have lost it at this point, and were sobbing, but their mistress was not and had not. She had taken refuge once more in the place she’d taken refuge so many times, reading a prayer book open in her hands as she walked. The party climbed up to the Scaffold where the executioner was waiting, fresh from the death of her husband.
Can I speak my mind? She asked.
Jane turned to the small crowd and said
Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same; the fact indeed against the Queen’s Highness was unlawful and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency before the face of God and the face of you good Christian people this day.
I pray you all good Christian people to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman and that I do look to be saved by no other mean, but only by the mercy of God, in the merits of the blood of his only son Jesus Christ. I confess when I did know the word of God I neglected the same and loved myself and the world, and therefore this plague or punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins. I thank God of his goodness that he has given me a time and respite to repent.
Now good people, while I am alive, I pray you to assist me with your prayers
You might note the last bit – while I am alive. Even to the death Jane was rejecting any kind of Catholic suggestion that prayers for the dead could help speed a soul through purgatory.
Now a bit of uncertainty comes into the story. Even at the point of death, the English insist on not doing something socially awkward. Jane wasn’t sure what happened next, and if she was allowed to read a psalm. She turned round and asked Dr Feckenham if she could, and so she then knelt did so. She stood, turned to Dr Feckenham and extraordinarily, she teased him a bit, that waiting for death hadn’t been scary at all, it’d just been really boring. Seriously? And she embraced him and thanked him for his companionship, saying
Go and may God satisfy every wish of yours
I think it safe to assume that Feckenham was in floods.
Next, gloves and handkerchief to Mistress Tilney; prayer book to Thomas Brydges. Then she turned to her ladies who helped her remove her gown, headdress and collar. The burly executioner now stepped forward, knelt and asked for her forgiveness which she gave ‘most willingly’.
How are you coping with this everyone? Not much more of the agony, just a bit more.
Th executioner now told Jane to move forward to the straw. And she saw the block clearly for the first time – ‘I pray you despatch me quickly’. She knelt down in front of the block– and suddenly panicked a bit
‘Will you take it off before I lay me down?’
What did she mean? She was probably thinking back to Anne Boleyn, who had been executed in French fashion, kneeling, head up. Even at such a time, Jane wanted a little control, wanted to know. I think that’s the most desperate bit of the whole affair personally. ‘Will you take it off before I lay me down?’ Blimey.
No Madam the executioner reassured her
Jane tossed her hair forward to make sure it would not get in the way of the axe when it fell on her neck, and tied up her hair with a blindfold over her eyes. The Executioner took up the axe hidden behind the block and grimly took his position. In the blackness and quiet Jane reached forward for the block. But she had misjudged the distance, her hands met nothing but air. Now again she panicked
What shall I do? Where is it?
Just when you thought it could not get any worse. The utter, utter hideousness of it. Young girl, blindfolded, about to be executed, in fear and distress – everybody froze. Everybody on the scaffold had lost any self-control. Nobody moved as Jane waved her hands desperately in front of her. It fell to a bystander to help – an extraordinary thing. A bystander to mount the scaffold and come forward, kneel beside Jane and guide her hands to the edge of the block.
Now at last Jane could finish it. She gave neck to the embrace of the block
Lord into my hands I commend my spirit.
When Jane’s blood soaked into the straw, the party fled. Hours later her headless body lay still on the scaffold.
Well, good golly. I have to say the film Lady Jane, which is an out and out romance by the way, does the execution incredibly well except the very last bit which is something of a betrayal. After such an event, I think we should reflect a little about Jane’s story and how it has affected us over the years. There is a very good historiography in both Nicola Tallis’s book ‘Crown of Blood’ and Eric Ives’s book ‘Lady Jane Grey a Tudor Mystery’.
Janes story has been an inspiration for many reasons and for different reasons. In the aftermath of the worst religious pogrom ever unleashed in England by Queen Mary, Jane Grey was quite simply the protestant martyr to end all protestant martyrs, and in John Foxe’s hands I think she would have approved. She was a relentless and severe critic of the Catholic religion, and died utterly convinced that by following its rites you separated your eternal soul from the possibility of redemption.
The story was richer than that; it was of innocence betrayed. George Cavendish the catholic and excellent biographer of Wolsey you might remember, wrote of her counsellors
Your creeping and kneeling to me poor innocent
Brought me to weening with your persuasions
I have to admit that the only reason I reproduced that is that spookily, we come across the word weening again, this time to mean agreeing, how spooky is life, just how spooky is it sometimes?
By the turn of the 16th century, a new element had been added to the story – the story of a love separated, between Jane and Guildford. Through the 17th, the weak and feeble beautiful woman betrayed strand becomes stronger with John Hayward’s
Her excellent beauty adorned with all variety of virtues as a clear sky with stars
In 1729 an opera bore the lines
You husbands too who follow lawless pleasures
And dare at home neglect your bosom treasures
Know I shall rise t’assert the female cause
Jane was now the object of historical fiction as well as historical fact.
In 1834, in Paris a French artist called Paul Delaroche opened an exhibition. Delaroche had been labelled with complete distain by his artistic critics as a hideous and laughable populist, a caricature of a serious artist. His paintings were mocked as romantic sentimental and melodramatic. They mock his work as the literary critics have mocked and denigrated Tolkein and Lord of the Rings for its tawdry popularity. The more fool them, of course. So they must have hated it when Delaroche opened his exhibition and there among his paintings was The execution of Lady Jane Grey. It was a sensation. The good people of Paris went wild for it.
Of all this genre of historical paintings, so beloved of humble podcasters looking for copyright free material, Paul Delaroche’s creation has got to be the greatest. It’s a work of manipulation on the grand scale. The situation of the execution is moved inside – dark, brooding. There’s Jane all in white, reaching for the block, defenceless all around are men in position of power. This is youth and innocence betrayed, and women abused and betrayed by men. When I thought I’d do some special artwork for this I played with other options; particularly because the story of the rebel queen is as much about the strength, intelligence, courage and resolution of the women involved – Mary and Jane – as it is about this sentimental story of love, innocence and betrayal. But it’s quite impossible, It is such a powerful and well known image. In the hands of the Strickland sisters in the late 19th century Jane became the standard model for feminine virtues, of innocence, modesty, piety, courage and a slight smell of carbolic soap.
Well, what do we think, gentle listeners? One of the things that is consistently downplayed in the last couple of hundred years is Jane’s fierce and entirely contemporary hatred of Catholics, the kind of pretty standard religious feeling that we now label as bigotry and fanaticism. We find this difficult to deal with these days, but it was a fundamental part of her nature. Jane Grey was brilliant, frighteningly and precociously intelligent and well educated but she was not flexibly minded or tolerant. She is saved from being the kind of mad, incomprehensible figure cut by Joan of Arc though, by just a few snippets of humanity; the teasing of Feckenham and her friendship with him despite the religious differences which were so important to her saves her from mindless bigotry – in the end, she could accept people for who they were not just what they represented. The note of love to a father who had comprehensively and consistently failed her. Yes, there is undeniably a story there of women betrayed by men; but in this story it is worth noting that the women, the Duchesses of Suffolk and Northumberland, were by no means ciphers and were utterly committed to the same path of making Jane queen whatever her wishes. The youth and innocence betrayed is a stronger trope for me – Jane didn’t want this cup of poison and never sought it.
The thing I took away though, from the story of Edward VI and his legal successor Queen Jane, is a feeling of regret. What kind of king might Edward have made if he had lived to maturity, with his intelligence and emerging self belief? Of Jane, Eric Ives compared her to Anne Frank and wrote that both ‘speak for the multitude of brutality’s victims who have no voice’, and I can see that, but for me, I wonder what kind of a queen might Jane have made with her resolution, self-control, courage, fierce intelligence? It’s is possible she’d have been a religious persecutor – but to be honest without Mary’s intervention England was well down the path to Protestantism, and it’s probable the point of requirement for such violence had passed. I think she could have been as great a leader as England has ever had, with her combination of intelligence, feeling and steel, and it’s those qualities we should take away from her story in my humble opinion. Of her triumph and of her ultimate victory. Because for Jane, death genuinely held no fears. She knew that she would meet her redeemer, as sure as I can touch my keyboard.
Let me leave the last words to those she wrote of herself. Just to warn you, you might want to reach for a hanky. They are very Jane Grey, because they are written in the formal structure of three epigrams, first in Latin, the next in Greek and the Third in English.
If Justice is done with my body, my soul will find mercy in God
Death will give pain to my body for its sins, but the soul will be justified before God
So far, so much the reinforcement of the strength of her faith. So to the third
If my faults deserve punishment, my youth at least, and my imprudence were worthy of excuse; God and posterity will show me favour