05 January 2013

Lady Jane Grey: Queen for 9 Days

Lady Jane Grey was scarcely more than a girl when she came to the throne, unwittingly, and quite unexpectedly.  When she was later accused of treason by Queen Mary Tudor, Jane explained that she truly had never desired queen-ship, and that the events which precluded her coronation were not of her own desiring.

Jane was resting in Chelsea, trying to get over a stomach flu when a daughter of Northumberland arrived to spirit her off to Syon House. And there Jane was given the shocking and unwanted news that she would be queen. This may be the stuff of many a young girls' dream, but Jane Grey really wasn't the queenly type. Lady Jane Grey was an extremely serious girl, and likely the victim of severe child abuse. Jane was a pious child, who loved to study and learn. She might have lived the duration of her life doing just that, perhaps marrying--that is marrying someone more suitable to her person than the man who she was forced to marry--and raising a family. Instead she was used by ambitious, greedy individuals, and eventually branded a traitor, and died a traitor's death.

Interestingly, the Grey girls, Jane's sisters, would be the objects of great favour by Queen Mary. Mary would later make generous gifts to them, and gave the girls coveted positions at court. Did Mary feel guilt over the death of the young Jane, or did she truly love the Grey girls, close relatives of hers?  Conversely, Queen Elizabeth despised the Grey girls and would give them no such favours. In fact, she would distance herself from Jane's sisters soon after becoming queen.

Lady Jane Grey was born around the spring of 1547, daughter of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and Lady Frances Brandon. Lady Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, sister of King Henry VIII.  Jane was a tiny girl, painfully thin and very short.. She had the red Tudor hair so prominent in her bloodline.

Jane's mother, Francis, seems to have been cold and entirely lacking in affection toward her daughter. Francis was a selfish, indulgent woman, and seemed to inherit none of the grace and beauty of her mother Mary Tudor, Queen of France. Jane is thought to have suffered from abuse inflicted on her by her parents. Jane gave a nightmarish description of her home life to her tutor, Roger Ascham.

"For when I am in the presence of either Father or Mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing or doing anything else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure and number, even so perfectly as God made the world, or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea, presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs, and other ways, (for which I shall not name, for the honour I bear them), so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell."

Tudor parents were noted for being harsh with their children, but Jane's complaint was so chilling that Ascham felt disturbed for his pupil, who he regarded as an exceptional child, brilliant and of kindly character. Frances did not enjoy a good reputation amongst her contemporaries.  Francis' father, Charles Brandon, was infamous in his day, considered quite the libertine, and was likely a bigamist. Some feel that Francis' reputation was unfairly slandered by her enemies, which were not a few. However, and given Jane's chilling description of her life with her parents, it does suggest that Francis may have well deserved her reputation.

Once Jane was informed of her imminent duty, events would follow at dizzying speed. From Syon House Jane was taken to the Tower of London to live as queen. For this, her mother Francis carried her train and fawned over her daughter. People were gathering to watch.  Between the strange events and her mother's sudden over-affection, Jane must have felt the whole spectacle to be surreal. Jane, already married, rather unhappily, had her husband Guildford Dudley walking alongside her. Sadly, and though it would have been a comfort for a girl who found no soft place in her own mother, she also did not get on well with her in-laws. Within the two families, there was a mix of euphoria, then frustration, then euphoria again when it seemed Jane would accept the crown. When Jane had demurred, Guildford and his mother had thrown tantrums. But Jane would finally do as she was told.  But Mary did not take this move passively. She lay in wait, and organised an army to strike at the opportune moment. Mary had never, not for a second, accepted Jane as queen, and had rejected this as soon as it had been reported to her. Her response was that she was queen, and if her subjects were loyal, Mary warned, they had better align themselves with her.

The people, for the most part, were solidly with Mary on who should be crowned. Mary was exceedingly careful to give no indication of what her plans were for the Protestants in those all-important and uncertain days. The English people in their honest loyalism believed that Mary, as Henry VIII's next remaining heir, should naturally succeed  Her subjects had no idea of the horror and anguish which awaited them under the reign of Queen Mary Tudor.

Jane was eating in the Tower when the duke of Suffolk swept in to inform his daughter she was no longer queen. Jane's colours were removed, and with Mary's accession, Jane was left entirely in the cold.  Mary ordered Jane's house to be emptied and inventoried.  The Greys and Dudleys were likely left in a state of thick dread, knowing that their actions would almost certainly have severe consequence under the new queen. And they would, with the guilty and the innocent brought on charges of high treason.

Jane's mother Frances, was understandably panicked and begged to speak with Mary as soon as possible. What is less understandable, is that Frances wished to beg for mercy only for herself and her husband. Jane was now Mary's prisoner, but Francis, never having had a maternal bone in her body, did not surprise, and now wholly abandoned her daughter. Mary flatly refused to grant the duchess an audience. No soft touch, even a hint of treason was something Mary Tudor would never abide. Frances now began a letter writing campaign, pleading with those who had access to the queen to spare herself and her husband. Frances would be spared; Jane Grey would not.

Jane and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley were both charged with high treason.  Jane, having been found guilty of signing documents as "Jane the Queen," received a sentence which read that she would "be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the queen pleases." Though Renard urged Mary to have Jane executed, Queen Mary said she would not, that she would spare the young girl.  But Mary was demonstrating herself to be as arbitrary as her father had been, and even more capable than he had been at instilling terror in her subjects. After the Wyatt rebellion, Mary decided that she had been far too kind to those she regarded as traitors and rebels. Over 100 of those who had participated in the Wyatt rebellion were beheaded.  Some of the convicted men had appealed to Mary for mercy. Without exception, she refused to pardon them. However, her council, worried about her public image, managed to convince Mary to make a public show of mercy so as to appear more benevolent. About 400 prisoners who had not been prosecuted for treason were directed to to the courtyard of Whitehall. Mary appeared at the balcony and  pardoned the prisoners.  Lady Jane would not be amongst the lucky who were given pardons.

Mary decided to go back on her own word, and have Lady Jane and her father executed.  On 12 February 1554, Jane's husband Guildford was taken from the Tower to Tower Green and beheaded. Jane screamed out Guildford's name from her rooms when she saw his corpse as it was carried on a horse and cart below. Now would come Jane's turn and she was escorted to Tower Green. After climbing unto he scaffold she gave her death speech.  Then the young girl recited Psalm 51, handing her gloves and kerchief to her maid. She blindfolded herself, after which she could not find the fearful block and cried out "Where is it?  What shall I do?"  A deputy guided her to the block, and then Jane commended her spirit to her Lord Jesus Christ. And so was Lady Jane Grey dispatched into eternity, into a far better world, I trust, than she had known in her earthly life.

Jane had been queen from 10 July 1553-19 July 1553.


Pattie said...

Your Work is an inspiration I love history and reading it, I thank you For enlightening me on so many different venues.

Carla W. Kennedy said...

The shame in Jane’s death is that she just did as she was told by her parents, in-laws and by the will of her cousin, Edward IV (Henry VIII’s son). Unfortunately, this went against the will (literally and figuratively) of the Late King Henry VIII and it peeved Mary to boot. I would venture to guess that where Mary may have seen a pretender to the throne, she also saw a legitimate rival as they both shared a most royal relative in Henry VII; grandfather for Mary, great-grandfather for Jane.

Jane couldn’t win. Her only win was in death, away from those who would cause her harm. Poor Girl.