Lady Jane Grey
House of Tudor -- Reigned: 1553
Sixteenth Century England was a turbulent time in the religious life of its citizens. The Reformation and Henry VIII's Great Matter had set Catholic against Protestant. At the heart of the debate was the contentious issue of transubstantiation. Tudor religious scholars debated the number of the Sacraments and the elements of the bread and wine. It was a principle many were prepared to die for. Indeed, religious debate was so rife in the period that 75% of the books published before 1550 were sermons or religious treatises.
It was in this environment that a daughter was born to the Grey family at their palatial hunting lodge, Bradgate Manor in Leicestershire. It was October 1537. Miles away, an event was taking place that overshadowed Jane's arrival.
Jane Seymour had just presented her husband Henry VIII with a son, Edward. It was the male child Jane's great uncle, King Henry, had longed for. His desire for a male heir had already led him to divorce one wife and kill another.
Prince Edward received a tumultuous reception. His birth was celebrated by days of feasting and merriment. Queen Jane's delivery of a son served to legitimise the King's treatment of his first two wives. In Henry's eyes, his union with Jane Seymour had been blessed and the country was assured of stable leadership.
At Bradgate, Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset, left his newly born daughter to hurry to Court to pay his respects. Before his departure he and his wife, Frances, agreed to name their first born child, Jane, in honour of the Queen.
Early in May 1553, Jane was summoned to her parent's presence to be informed she was betrothed to Guildford Dudley, son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. She protested, saying that she was already promised to Edward, Lord Hertford. This was probably the case, however, it is unlikely that any formal arrangements had been made for Jane to marry Hertford. Jane may have made mention of this because of a dislike for Dudley and his family, not because of an affection for Hertford. Her parents assured her that her life would go on as before. Her studies would not be interrupted and she was to continue living with them at Suffolk Place.
On 25 May 1553 (or 21 May*) Jane was married to Guildford at Durham House on the Strand in London. In the same ceremony, Jane's sister, Lady Katherine, was married to Lord Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke; and Northumberland's daughter, Katherine, to Lord Hastings. Jane's younger sister, Lady Mary Grey, was betrothed to her cousin, Lord Arthur Grey. The marriages allied Northumberland to three of the most powerful families at Court.
The wedding was planned so hastily, that the wedding apparel had to borrowed from the Royal Wardrobe. Jane wore a headdress, "of green velvet, set with precious stones. She wore a gown [of gold cloth with a] mantle of silver tissue. Her hair hung down her back, combed and plaited in a curious fashion."
A feast followed the ceremony, after which the bridegrooms left to joust in the royal tiltyard at Whitehall.
Edward VI was growing weaker each day, and Northumberland knew he must hurry to complete the final stage of his plan. Vulnerable and delerious, Edward was easily convinced that he must strike his Catholic sister Mary from the line of succession if he was to be true to his father's name and in his duty to God. Edward's councillors were reticent. Any change to the succession required the consent of Parliament. If Northumberland failed in his scheme and Mary acsended the throne, they would be punished for their disloyalty.
Northumberland, a skilled politician, met their hesitation with abuse. He put his case, "with a great rage and fury, trembling for anger," threatening to "fight any man," who defied him. A few councillors were later to report that they feared for their lives if they did not obey him.
Northumberland's plans culminated in the King's "Device." The document, signed by Edward's council, removed both Elizabeth and Mary from the line of succession, naming Frances Grey and her offspring as the heirs to his dominion. Frances Grey was summoned to the king's bedside where she formally asceded the throne to her daughter, Jane.
On Thursday 6 July 1553 the fifteen year old king died, surrounded by his Privy Coucillors, who gathered at his bedside.
Jane had spent the few weeks beforehand, ill, at Chelsea Manor House. So ignorant was she, of Northumberland's plans, that she suspected her mother-in-law of trying to poison her. News of Edward's death was supressed, until Sunday 9 July, when a barge brought Mary Sidney, Jane's sister-in-law, to Chelsea. Mary, "with more gravity than usual," informed Jane that there was news of the King and she must go with her to Syon House.
Two hours later, Jane and Mary entered Syon House from the waterstairs. From here they went to the empty Great Hall. Gradually the room filled with people familiar to Jane, including members of the Privy Council. Jane later wrote that the company, "began to make me complimantary speeches, bending the knee before me . . . all of which ceremony made me blush . . . My distress was still further increased when . . . my mother-in-law entered and paid me homage. Then came the Duke of Northumberland himself who, as President of the Council, declared to me the death of the King and . . . that he had taken good care of his kingdom, praying to the good Lord to defend it . . . from the evil of his sisters."
Dudley then said Jane, "was the heir nominated by his majesty and that my sisters, the Lady Katherine and the Lady Mary Grey were to succeed me . . . at which words, all the lords of the Council, knelt before me exclaiming that they rendered me that homage because it pertained to me being of the right line . . . They added that they . . . swore to shed their blood and lose their lives to maintain the same." The company then fell to the floor, their hands clasped out in front.
Jane went on, "On hearing this I remained stunned and out of myself and I call on those present to bear witness who saw me fall to the ground weeping piteously and dolefully lamenting the death of the King, I swooned indeed and lay as dead." Jane went on to say that she did not want the crown and, "it pleaseth me not."
Northumberland said, "Your Grace doth wrong to yourself and to to your house." He recounted the terms of Edward's Will. Jane's parents joined in, demanding that she accept.
Jane then rose from the floor saying, " . . . If to succeed to the throne was indeed indeed my duty and my right, that He would aid me to govern the realm to His glory."
On Monday 10 July 1553, crowds gathered along the Thames to watch barges move from Westminster to the Tower of London where canons announced the arrival of the new Queen. Jane was given chopines, 3ft wooden clogs, which were strapped to her shoes to allow the crowds to catch a glimpse of her. At the Water Tower gate she was presented with the keys to the Tower. The entourage then made their way to the White Tower.
Following this, a proclaimation was made, "Jane, by the grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and Ireland, under Christ on Earth, the Supreme Head."
On this day, a letter was sent to Mary from the Council, announcing that she had been declared illegitimate. Robert Dudley was sent to take her into custody, but Mary had been forewarned by a supporter and fled to Framlingham Castle in Norfolk, thus evading capture.
On 11 July, William Paulet, the Lord High Treasurer, brought the crown to Jane to "see how it fitted." To his surprise, Jane refused, saying that she had not asked to see the jewels. Paulet told her, "you must take it boldly, and soon I will have another made to crown your husband with."
It may have been at this point that Jane realised the extent of Northumberland's plan. Northumberland had not wanted her as Queen. He had wanted her as his son's wife. Guildford as King of England, would give Northumerland supreme power.
Jane would not be bullied. Calling some of her Councillors to her, she announced that she would not grant Guildford the kingship, but instead, grant him the Dukedom of Clarence. Guildford and his mother were furious. They berated Jane for her stubborness. Later, Jane would write, "I was not only deluded by the Duke and the Council, but maltreated by my husband and his mother."
Mary is proclaimed Queen
Northumberland was chosen to go in Suffolks place. His agreement, to leave the Council without his supervision, was a massive tactical error on Northumberland's part. In his absence, the councillors questioned his authority. By Tuesday 18 July, the full Council had left the Tower for a secret meeting at Baynard's castle. There they proclaimed Northumberland a traitor, and Mary, Queen.
On Wednesday 19 July, Jane's father received word from Baynard's Castle demanding that he order his daughter to relinquish her title. He rode to the Castle where he signed Mary's proclaimation. He then returned to Jane's apartments where he found her waiting in her chair of state. He said to her, "Come down off there my child. That is no place for you." He then proceeded to tear down the canopy, telling Jane to remove her royal robes. Jane replied, "I much more willingly take them off than I put them on. Out of obedience to you and my mother, I grevously sinned. Now I willingly relinquish the crown . . . May I not go home?" Her father did not answer her.
On Thursday 20 July, while awaiting the arrival of supplies at Cambridge, Northumberland was arrested. On the same day, the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk left the Tower of London for Sheen, leaving their daughter behind. Jane was taken into custody by the Gentleman Gaoler, and moved her belongings from the Royal apartments to her new lodging at No. 5 Tower Green. Guildford was imprisoned next door in the Beauchamp Tower, and forbidden contact with Jane.
On 24 July Dudley was brought back to the Tower, this time as a prisoner. In the hope of securing a pardon from the Queen he recanted his Protestant beliefs, saying that he had been seduced "by the false and erroneous teachings" of the new religion. He requested and was granted by Mary, the right to attend Mass. Jane watched from her window as he was escorted to the Chapel Royal. Disgusted, but not surprised by Northumberland's lack of honour, she was heard to say, "I pray God I, nor no friend of mine die so." Dudley was granted a three day stay of execution for his efforts, but could not escape death. He was beheaded on 23 August 1553.
Shortly before his death Dudley had written to the Earl of Arundel, "Alas, my good lord, is my crime so heinous as no redemption but my blood can wash away the spots thereof? An old proverb there is, and that most true, that a living dog is better than a dead lion . . . I might but live and kiss her [Mary's] feet and spend both life and all in her honourable services, as I have the best part already, under her worthy brother and most glorious father."
Mary entered the Tower on 3 August. The next day, Jane wrote a letter to her cousin. It was intended, she said, "for the witness of my innocence and the disburdening of my conscience."
On 29 August the author of Queen Jane and Queen Mary dined with Partridge, the Gentleman-Gaoler, at No. 5 Tower Green. Later, the evening would be described in great detail in the only contemporary chronicle of Jane's short reign. There is significant evidence to suggest that the narrator was a Rowland Lea, as the name is scrawled in the margin of the manuscript. The author writes of his surprise at finding Jane at the dining table. In high spirits, Jane assured him he was "heartily welcome" and told Partridge and his guest to put on their caps, despite the fact that they were dining with royalty.
Jane opened the conversation saying, "The Queen's Majesty is a merciful princess; I beseech God she may long continue, and send His bountiful grace upon her." "After that," says the narrator, "we fell in discourse of matters of religion; and she asked what he was that preached at Paul's on Sunday before."
Jane asked, "I pray you -- have they Mass in London?" "Yea, forsooth," the narrator replied, "in some places." Jane continued, "It may be so. It is not so strange as the sudden conversion of the late Duke -- for who would have thought he would have so done?" Partridge's guest answered, "Perchance he thereby hoped to have had his pardon."
"Pardon!" exclaimed Jane, "Woe worth him! He hath brought me and our stock in most miserable calamity and misery by his exceeding ambition. But for answering that he hoped for life by his turning, though other men be of that opinion, I utterly am not -- for what man is there living, I pray you, although he had been innocent, that would hope of life in that case, being in the field against the Queen in person as General, and after his being so hatred and evil spoken of by the commons? And at his coming into prison so wondered at as the like was never heard by any man's time? Who was the judge that he should hope for pardon, whose life was odious to all men? But what will ye more? Like as his life was wicked and full of of dissimulation, so was his end thereafter."
"Should I, who am so young, and in my few years, forsake my faith for the love of life? Nay, God forbid! Much more he should not, whose fatal course, although he had lived his just number of years, could not have long continued."
"But life was sweet, it appeared; so he might have lived, you will say, he did not care how. Indeed the reason is good for he that would have lived in chains to have had his life, belike would leave no other mean attempted. But God be merciful to us! For he sayeth, Whoso denyeth Me before men, I will not know him in My Father's kingdom."
The narrator continues, "With this and much like talk the dinner passed away." When he thanked Lady Jane she replied, "I thank you. You are welcome," and then turned to Partridge, thanking him for, "bringing this gentleman to dinner."
"Madam," answered Partridge, "we were somewhat bold, not knowing that your ladyship dined below until we found your ladyship there." Jane then retired and Partridges guest hurried back to his lodging within the Tower to transcribe the conversations of the evening.
Jane and Guildford were tried at Guildhall on 13 November. Both were found guilty and sentenced to death. Even at this stage, Jane did not expect to die. Indeed, Mary probably had no intention of carrying out the sentence. It is thought that the civil disturbance known as the Wyatt Rebellion, changed her mind.
Sir Thomas Wyatt raised a small band of protesters in Kent, angered at Mary's choice of husband in Philip of Spain. A Spanish King on the English throne was unthinkable. Wyatt entered the City on 7 February 1554, however he failed to acquire the support of Londoners, and was arrested by soldiers loyal to the Queen. Henry Grey's part in the rebellion made Jane's execution inevitable. Grey had returned to Bradgate where he had set about raising resistance in the Midlands. He was captured before he could do so.
The success of Mary's alliance with Spain depended upon the stability of her kingdom. She was left with little choice other than to remove every trace of unrest. On 7 February Mary signed the death warrants of, "Guildford Dudley and his wife . . ." The execution was set to take place two days later.
Feckenham took her reference to lack of time literally. He believed that Jane may have felt the need to recant her beliefs but did not have enough time to do so. He informed Mary, who granted Jane and Guildford a reprieve of three days for their "spiritual enlightenment." When Feckenham informed Jane, she was dismayed. "Alas, sir! I did not intend what I said to be reported to the Queen, nor would I have you think me covetous of a moments longer life. I am only solicitous for a better life in Eternity and will gladly suffer death since it is Her Majesty's pleasure . . . Let me make my peace with God."
Feckenham was later to report that he was struck by Jane's gentleness and honour. He asked that she may allow him to accompany her to the scaffold, to which she consented.
It was decided that Guildford would be executed on Tower Hill and Jane within the confines of the Tower. On 11 February Guildford requested the right to meet with Jane. Mary consented, adding that she hoped it would be of some consolation to them both. When word was sent to Jane, she refused, replying that, "it would disturb the holy tranquility with which they had prepared themselves for death." Jane added that her presence would, "weaken rather than strengthen him," that he should, "take courage from [his] reason, and derive constancy from [his] heart." If his soul was not at peace she would not settle it with her eyes, nor confirm it with her words. They must postpone their meeting until they "met in a better world, where friendships were happy, and unions indissoluble, and theirs," she hoped, "would be eternal."
Around 10 o'clock on the morning of 12 February, Jane watched from her window as her husband was led from the Beauchamp Tower on his way to Tower Hill. She was still at the window when his body was brought back into the Tower, his head wrapped in bandage at his side. Those in her company reported later that she wept openly at the sight, and was heard to utter his name and something about the "bitterness of death."
Jane had spent the morning in prayer and writing letters of farewell. Shortly before 11 o'clock she was collected by the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir John Brydges. Jane then made her way to the scaffold, clutching Brydges arm. Yeoman of the Guard surrounded the wooden structure that had been erected the day before. At the scaffold, Jane was met by Dr. Feckenham, along with several other Tower chaplains.
An observer recorded what took place. Jane then spoke to Feckenham; "God grant you all your desires and accept my own hearty thanks for all your attention to me. Although indeed, those attentions have tried me more than death can now terrify me." She then climbed the stairs, "nothing at all abashed . . . neither her eyes moistened with tears, although her two gentlewomen . . . wonderfully wept."
Jane then addressed the crowd and recited the fifty-first psalm in English. Dr. Feckenham followed in Latin, after which she told him, "God I beseech Him abundantly reward you for your kindness to me."
Jane then gave her gloves and handkerchief to her lady-in-waiting, Mrs. Ellen, and handed her prayer book to Sir John Brydges. When she began to untie her gown herself the executioner stepped forward to help, but she brushed him aside. Mrs. Ellen helped her to remove her headdress and neckerchief, and dispense with her heavy outer garment. The executioner then knelt and asked for Jane's forgiveness, which she gave "most willingly." There followed a five minute silence, whereby officials await a last-minute reprieve from the Monarch.
The executioner then told Jane where to stand. She replied, "I pray you despatch me quickly." She began to kneel, then hesitated and said, "Will you take it off before I lay me down?" The executioner answered, "No madame." Jane then tied the handkerchief around her eyes. Unable to locate the block, she became anxious, "Where is it? What shall I do? Where is it?" she asked, her voice faltering. Those who stood upon the scaffold seemed unsure of what to do. "One of the standers by" climbed the scaffold and helped her to the block. Her last words were, "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
According to tradition, her head was then held aloft with the words, "So perish all the Queen's enemies. Behold, the head of a traitor."
After the Execution
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