Lady Jane Grey

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David Mathew (essay date 1972)

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SOURCE: Mathew, David. Lady Jane Grey: The Setting of the Reign, pp. 126-58. London: Eyre Methuen, 1972.

[In the following excerpt, Mathew recounts the details of Grey's succession and imprisonment, as well as her education and religious preoccupation.]


The Marchioness of Dorset had brought up her eldest daughter for a great position. She herself was a cold-hearted Protestant; life had gone sour on her. The elder daughter of the Queen of France and in consequence the senior English niece of Henry VIII, she had had an unsatisfactory marriage with her cousin Dorset, the head of the senior line of the Greys. The blood of his stock was failing, his will was weak. Her last pregnancy, after her two daughters, had produced a dwarf, the Lady Mary. What could be done with the Lady Jane could only come through her mother's efforts. It is these, perhaps, that have caused the rather uncharacteristic portraits of Lady Jane that survive.

The Lady Jane was of course the most eligible heiress in the kingdom, but the heavy jewellery in the surviving portraits is clearly that of an important member of the royal family. In the portrait attributed to Master John, she wears two necklaces and a large pendant jewel at her breast and six rings upon her fingers.1 In her two other portraits,2 that in the possession of Lord Hastings and that now destroyed by fire, but formerly belonging to the Earl of Jersey, she had four rings on the fingers of either hand and in both pictures an elaborate double necklace of hanging pearls wound once around the neck.

She was in fact a very small princess, graceful and beautifully proportioned. Her dark hair had red lights in it. In the portrait by Master John she has an over-dress of cloth of silver brocade, which foams delicately over an under-dress of rust-coloured silk. Her sleeves are of a grey lynx fur. She is clasping a pink and holds a pomander chain of antique cameo with a long tassel at the end. She is standing on a Turkey carpet. She has thin fingers on her long slim hand. The whole picture has an air of innocence.

She had a strong judgment, which stood in for knowledge. She was characteristic of one aspect of her period, a young Calvinist princess. She can only be compared with one of the French royal house nine years her senior, the Queen of Navarre.

Lady Jane had one great quality, a burning religious zeal which lit up the character of a rather simple girl. She was in some ways solitary. Had she attained to the Crown of England, it is hard to imagine the ladies of her Court. She was, among other things, a home-trained blue-stocking; she had never travelled. Those who are interested in Lady Jane should visit Bradgate Park for this was the setting, apart from her time in London, for almost the whole of her short life.

Bradgate Park lies with its general outlines quite unchanged at the southern end of that tangled country, which runs up to the limestone rocks of Charnwood Forest. The old brick Tudor house with its terraces and its far-flung walls, built for the most part by the last Marquess of Dorset, has long since lain in ruins. There is much water in the park and the short steep slopes rise up from lakes and streams; it is thickly wooded. It was a rather lonely area and the Marchioness of Dorset hardly dealt with those who were in no sense her equals. The eastern...

(This entire section contains 9799 words.)

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entrance led down to those great level fields which are the heart of Leicestershire.

It is interesting to speculate where Lady Jane developed her taste for study. This certainly did not come from her parents for her father was a nonentity and her mother had a clear understanding of what was otiose and what was useful. It would seem that on the secular side her learning was the fruit of the work of her young tutor, John Aylmer. It was likewise Aylmer who gave publicity to her knowledge and who brought Roger Ascham to visit her at Bradgate. Aylmer, who eventually became Elizabethan Bishop of London and was known for his severity against the Puritans, had been from his youth a protégé of Lord Dorset. He came from a family of landowners settled at Aylmer Hall in the Norfolk parish of Tivetshall St Mary; he had been sent to Cambridge by his patron. On graduating he was ordained and became private chaplain at Bradgate Park and tutor to the children there.

He had arrived when Lady Jane was a small child.3 It is recorded that he taught her ‘gently and pleasantly and with fair allurements to learning’. He remained with the family until he was appointed Archdeacon of Stow in Lincolnshire, just before King Edward's death.

Roger Ascham was in all respects a much more significant figure at that time. He was lecturer in Greek at St John's College, Cambridge, and public orator at the University of Cambridge. He was also tutor to the Princess Elizabeth. In the summer of 1550 he visited Bradgate Park on his way to join Sir Richard Moryson, who was leaving for Brussels as ambassador to the Emperor. In his book The Scholemaster, first published after his death in 1570, Ascham refers to his first meeting with Lady Jane, who was reading Plato's Phaedo, while her family was hunting in the park.4 She spoke of her parents' severity towards her and contrasts this with Aylmer's gentleness. It seems clear that it was Ascham who drew attention to her learning, to her skill in speaking and writing Greek, and to her knowledge of Hebrew, French and Italian as well as the ancient languages.

The question of her religious approach appears more difficult. Aylmer was certainly an exile for religion at Strasbourg and Zurich under Queen Mary, but in Elizabeth's reign he emerged as a right-wing Anglican, in some ways a precursor of Archbishop Laud. Lady Jane herself developed a close correspondence with Johann Heinrich Bullinger of Zurich, with whom it appears that she had been put in touch by John ab Ulmis, one of his disciples who had come to England and was to some extent under Lord Dorset's protection. There are three of Lady Jane's letters to Bullinger in the Zurich Library. Although the relations between Bullinger and Calvin were often strained, they can between them be regarded as the founders of the Helvetic Confession. Genevan is, perhaps, the best word to describe Lady Jane's Religious Faith.

We shall see in time that it was not the literary education, but the preoccupation with religion that lay at the heart of Lady Jane Grey's character. In comparison with this great matter, the external events of her career appear to have been of small importance. At King Edward's accession, when she was just nine years old, the Duke of Somerset had looked out upon the situation. He had decided that the King should later marry the second of his five surviving daughters, Lady Jane Seymour. She was a small child; there was no hurry. His son the Earl of Hertford should marry Lady Jane Grey; he was two years her junior.

His brother, Lord Seymour of Sudeley had, as has been explained, another project. He obtained the guardianship of Lady Jane from the Dorsets and undertook in time to arrange a marriage with the young King. It was clear that this would only come about after he had had a successful quarrel with his elder brother. In fact he failed and Lady Jane returned to her father's house. When the whole Seymour system had gone down it was clear that Lord Hertford's chances had disappeared. Lady Jane's rôle in all this was wholly passive.

What really mattered was Lady Jane's own situation. She had a burning desire to testify to the Truth, by which she meant the doctrines of Revealed religion. It was this which linked her with her young sovereign. It was their twin deep intensity that soldered them. Among their own contemporaries they were both very much alone. When the key rulers of England are considered, it was only the Duke of Somerset who had shared this concern and he had many other things to think about. More than the King it seems that Lady Jane saw the issues in black and white. Worldly wisdom meant very little to her. Thus her view of the Duke of Northumberland was not one which would commend itself to the ruling circle. To her the Duke was merely a great hypocrite. This was not a good beginning for her relations with the high lord who would be her chief supporter.

The financial prospects of Lady Jane had changed considerably for the better in the last eighteen months of Edward's reign. By the death at Buckden of the sweating sickness of the two young brothers, successively Dukes of Suffolk, the whole Brandon properties had been brought to their half-sister Lady Dorset. She thus inherited Suffolk House, which had formerly been the residence of the Bishop of Norwich, and gave up Dorset Place in Whitehall, which had been the Greys' town house.

At the same time she and her husband set about re-building the former Carthusian priory of Sheen. This had been granted to the Dorsets in 1551 after the attainder of the Duke of Somerset. It was almost opposite across the river from the former Brigettine priory of Sion, which Northumberland had received from the same source.

The dukedom of Suffolk had become extinct, but a new peerage with that title was conferred on Dorset jure uxoris, on 4 October 1551. As the new Duke of Suffolk had no male heir, his eldest daughter would have had a great inheritance, even though Bradgate and the Dorset lands would pass eventually to Lord Thomas Grey, the new Duke's brother.

The pieces are now set for the last moves. It may be noticed that the Northumberlands and Suffolks both preferred the fresh airs of the river towards Richmond to the crowded heat of the capital in the summer months.


Edward VI was now approaching the close of his short reign. In the last months before his illness overtook him he had shown increased activity. In the middle of July 1552, the King set out on the only royal progress which he lived to make. He was accompanied by nine councillors and attended by a bodyguard of just under one hundred and fifty men. He had not hitherto travelled further than thirty miles from London. The Duke of Northumberland was in the North.

The royal party rode slowly through the rich South Country, going from Guildford by way of Petworth, Cowdray, Halnaker and Havant and reaching Portsmouth on 8 August. From that seaport town he moved forward to Southampton, Titchfield and Beaulieu. The farthest point to which he ever reached was Sir Edward Willoughby's house in the east of Dorset. He then came home again by Salisbury and Wilton, Basing and Reading, until he reached Windsor Castle in mid-September.

His character had developed in various ways. Northumberland had given him a kingly pleasure in hunting. He was now more aware of his clothes; he ordered for instance a deep purple cloak. He was still shy. His courtiers seem to have appeared to him as individuals, he never had a sense of the family unit. He was still interested in coinage and in military defence. He had plans for re-developing the organs of his Government. He had still only a single friend, Barnaby Fitzpatrick.

Historians in general have assumed that the idea of Lady Jane's succession began with Northumberland. Professor Jordan in his new book suggests that the first motion was made by the King and that in this the Duke had followed him.5 It is common ground that this solution appeared to the King as the only way to save that Protestant religion which he was bequeathing to his people. It seems probable that this solution was already present in the germ as soon as the King fell ill with the onset of tuberculosis in the course of January 1553.6

On this assumption it seems that the winter months were employed by Northumberland in considering the various aspects of the situation. It was not a well-contrived project and there was no one to help him with advice. He looked for support to too narrow a range of influence. He was always over-confident that he could bend his fellow nobles to his will.

As soon as the Duke of Northumberland decided that Lady Jane should be the inheritrix of the throne, he set about according to the customs of that day to strengthen the position of her immediate relatives. He had decided that she should marry his son Lord Guildford. There remained at his immediate disposal her next sister, Lady Catherine Grey and his own unmarried daughter, Lady Catherine Dudley. The most important of the various pawns was Catherine Grey, for she was the heiress-presumptive to the Queen-designate. There were certain of the great peers who were not available either because their heirs were children or in some cases already married. The man whose support he hoped to buy was the Earl of Pembroke.

The first Earl of Pembroke of the second creation was a man of courage and strength of character, who had built up his own great fortune. In consequence, he was one of the few of the high lords who did not fear Northumberland. He seems, indeed, to have had a respect for his achievement, although he did not particularly admire his judgment. He was ready to support him as long as he politically remained afloat. More could not be asked for in that hard time. His fortune had been made by his marriage to Anne Parr, the sister of Queen Catherine. He had in one respect a strange consistency. From the last years of King Henry's reign he remained at heart politically a Protestant; but there was a difficulty. Lord Pembroke was in no sense pious and, in particular, he did not like that high-toned Reformation brand of piety which the Grey family represented.

He did not see the English scene as the sanguine Duke would see it. His first wife, probably as the result of her clear Protestantism, was apparently one of the few women friends of Edward VI. At any rate she is the only lady whose death is mentioned in the young King's diary.7 At this time Pembroke had just re-married one of the daughters of the great House of Talbot, a younger stepsister of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Lady Anne was the widow of the youthful Peter Compton of Compton Winyates. Pembroke knew very well what different ‘worlds’ were thinking.

What we know of him is coloured by the comments of John Aubrey, who preserved the legend that survived in Wiltshire after a century. Pembroke was represented as a novus homo because he was new to Wiltshire.8 He was in fact the son of Sir Richard Herbert of Ewyas, a man in a respectable position, who was himself a natural child of the first Earl of Pembroke of the first creation. ‘He,’ wrote Aubrey, ‘being a stranger in our country and an upstart, was much envied. … He could neither write, nor read, but had a stamp for his name. He was of good natural, but very cholerique. He was strong, set, but bony, (his hair was) reddish favoured.’ One thing no man could deny was his sharp native intelligence.

For his own daughter Northumberland decided on an alliance with one of the Protestants among the greater peers, to someone to whom the religious approach of the Greys would prove congenial. There were two names which would come to mind, the Marquess of Northampton and the Earl of Huntingdon; but Northampton was childless, so Catherine Dudley was betrothed to the young Lord Hastings, who was Huntingdon's heir.

It was a difficulty that both these future peers were very youthful, but Hastings was certainly a strong-minded Puritan, brought up to this form of Faith. In later life he would be for many years the Elizabethan Lord President of the North.

All three marriages took place in what had formerly been the Bishop of Norwich's private chapel in Suffolk House. The marriage of Lady Jane was celebrated first on 26 April 1553, while those of her sister and her sister-in-law took place some six days later. Provision was made from the royal wardrobe of jewels and dresses which had belonged to the attainted Duchess of Somerset for these great ceremonies. At the same time, the Duke of Suffolk's youngest child, the Lady Mary, was affianced to the boy son and heir of Lord Grey de Wilton.

Lord Hastings was about seventeen years of age and his union with Catherine Dudley endured throughout his life. It seems that Lord Herbert was one year younger. In this case his father, a long-sighted man, took care that his marriage was not consummated. It seems that he did not care that his heir should be linked permanently with the Grey family.

The Duke of Northumberland then settled down to secure support for his project for the inheritance of the Crown. The first plan had been to limit the succession to the Lady Jane's heirs male; but it soon became apparent that the King's health would not last out so long. Lady Jane's name was then inserted as the heiress in the document that was drawn up. There are two aspects of this situation. As long as the Duke was forcing his ideas upon a willing sovereign, his actions all made sense.

He had brought Edward down to Greenwich Palace to help his health and his task became simpler, once it had been decided that the Crown should pass to Lady Jane. The dying King had a single wish, adhered to feverishly, that the Crown of England should continue to protect the Word of God. The Duke had little confidence in Archbishop Cranmer; but the King was ready to upbraid the Primate, who surely would not allow the Church of England to pass away from that True and Reformed faith, which together they had built up. Sir Edward Montague made some objections, but these were over-ruled. The King's new settlement would be placed before the Houses of Parliament, when they should meet.

So far it is a simple story and the dying King was then brought back to Whitehall. Northumberland's subsequent actions in getting so many signatures to the ‘Devise’, as the King's document was called, makes little sense. Peers were brought up from the country, like Westmorland and Worcester, others who could not come sent up their sons, like Bath and Derby. For days the Duke's representatives went on collecting signatures, the Lord Mayor and the alderman, the whole posse of judges, the country peers, the knights of the privy chamber.9 It can hardly be that he trusted that these men would abide by their signatures. Why did he do it? For what really mattered was the great lords of the Council, who had supported the Duke during the King's minority.

But Edward was by this time far from all this tedious detail, the matters of this world were fading from him. His tuberculosis was gaining fast as he now lay dying in his father's palace. He knew well that he had been a virtuous prince, who had spent his whole life in defending the True Reformed religion. He was a solemn child. He savoured sermons which, Sunday by Sunday, had laid before him, well-spiced with flattery, the duties of a Christian ruler. In some ways he was perhaps retarded. His whole life had been spent in innocence; now he would pass on his guardianship of Reformation values to a princess whose life was given to the study of the pure doctrine. The top-hamper of the Romish views of Purgatory had perished. He knew that the pains of his complicated illness were by this time over. Now he stood before the Throne of Grace; he knew that he was due to enter at the Gates of Paradise. He died at nine o'clock in the evening of Thursday, 6 July 1553, a little earlier than had been expected.

The King's death had not been announced and it was only on the third day, 9 July, that Northumberland's daughter, Lady Mary Sidney, fetched Lady Jane from Chelsea Place to Sion. It was then that she learned of that burden of honour that the young King had designed for her. There first came to her the Marquess of Northampton and the Earls of Arundel, Huntingdon and Pembroke, who bent the knee before their sovereign lady. They were followed by the Duchesses of Suffolk and Northumberland. Later there entered the Duke himself who, as President of the Council, told her of the King's decision. The lords then knelt before her and swore by their souls to shed their blood and lose their lives to maintain the just rights of their new sovereign.

She was told that the next day she must proceed to take possession of her palace and the Tower. She left Sion in the late morning and stopped at Durham House, where she dined and robed herself. The weather was warm and sunny as she entered the State barge and went downstream to the broad steps of the Tower of London, where she landed at three o'clock in the afternoon. She wore a white coif with jewels in her hair and a green dress stamped with gold, with hanging sleeves. This was the last journey that she ever made.

She walked in procession beneath a canopy to the great hall. The Duchess of Suffolk carried her daughter's train. In recent years her weight had increased; she was a low woman with wide shoulders and a great broad countenance, on the whole rather like the Queen of Spades. She had come to resemble her uncle, Henry VIII, and like him her countenance could be inscrutable. Because of her subsequent line of action, it is worthwhile to try and reach to her ideas. When she was Marchioness of Dorset before her grandeurs came upon her, she had paid three visits with her daughters to the Lady Mary. That princess, who had a faithful heart, had always felt a gratitude to her aunt the Queen of France, Lady Dorset's mother. She had been kind to her own mother, and perhaps what was more to the point had had a strong dislike for her supplanter Anne Boleyn, then Marchioness of Pembroke. She had in fact died before Queen Anne's coronation. As to the Duke of Northumberland, all knew that he lived in a world of men, he never consulted any woman. This is sufficient to introduce a note of hesitation in the Duchess of Suffolk's approach to this whole story.

If it was strange that Lady Dorset should have been Lady Jane's train bearer, it must be said that it could not have been easy to find ladies of honour; but this was a matter which lay outside the scope of the Duke's interests.

He had established Lady Jane in a royal residence10 where certainly she would be well protected. Apart from members of the Council, men could not get at her. He would tune the pulpits on her behalf. For himself, the Duke had full command of all the armed forces in the kingdom. In the general field there was only one person who might cause trouble. It would certainly be a great relief to have the Lady Mary safe under lock and key.


The palace in the Tower of London had been used by the English sovereigns upon occasion, thus Edward VI had stayed there for a few days immediately before his coronation. The State Rooms in the Tower were decorated with the overflow from the other royal palaces, with tapestries and velvets brought from Genoa. There were Oriental silks upon the flooring and brocades, both Venetian and Florentine, upon the walls. There was inevitably a certain lack of space. In the evenings Lady Jane ate in the private royal dining room. She had a canopy above her head. On her right sat the Duke of Northumberland and on her left the Duke of Suffolk. Across the table the two Duchesses sat side by side. These were both strong-minded ladies and deeply antipathetic to one another. The meals had not the recherché quality of those produced from a royal kitchen; the residents of the Tower were all accustomed to simpler fare. The news from the outside world was not encouraging, the evenings grim.

The supper over, the two Dukes and their wives went down to where the barges waited at the royal landing stage. The lanterns at their bows shone out across the dark, still waters. They moved off rapidly with practised rowers. It is not difficult to imagine the impressions of their four passengers as they were rowed quietly up the stream, the river flowing past them almost noiselessly in the warm July night. They were put down at the water-steps of their two palaces at Sheen and Sion.

Lady Jane remained alone. The Tower was not a very healthy place and hardly cheerful. Drains emptied out into the little stream which trickled southward under the western drawbridge until it reached the London river. There were already difficulties with Lady Jane's young husband. The girl had not surprisingly a tone now of authority and this went with a rather high-pitched note of piety. Lord Guildford appears at this time to have been about nineteen. He was his mother's sixth son, a younger brother and three sisters had died in childhood. It seems that the Duchess was much attached to him. He was a tall slender boy with corn-coloured hair.

He asked his wife that he should be king-consort, but she replied that this depended partly on her own decision and partly on Parliament. But neither House was then in session. He had been brought up by an affectionate father, who had a cheerful liking for all his sons when they proved soldierly. His new marriage had brought to him his first experience of Reformation piety, such was not to be found in the Dudley household.

The Duchess suggested that Lord Guildford should leave the Queen and return with her to Sion House. This might have served to save the poor boy's life, but the Councillors were against it. The men consulted, who were the Earls of Arundel and Pembroke, knew well the Duke's thought about this matter.

From the very beginning there had been anxiety. The Lady Mary had disappeared. As soon as the King was dead, a letter had been despatched to her at Hunsdon stating that her brother was very ill and earnestly desired the comfort of her presence. She set out for the capital and it seems that on reaching Hoddesdon on the London road, she was met by a messenger who told her that Edward was dead.11 She moved quickly and after a night at Sawston and another at Kenninghall, established herself at Framlingham Castle, one of the possessions of the attainted Duke of Norfolk, which had been granted to her.

The Duke of Northumberland had always been most cheerful in his dealings with the holders of the great satrapies. He had not taken the title of Lord Protector, nor had he, unlike Somerset, adopted the designation of ‘His Highness’. On the other hand, he was a very soldierly man; he inspired fear. In the long course of Tudor history there was no other time when the great noblemen were so inscrutable as in those difficult days which followed on Edward's death.

When morning broke, the two Secretaries of State came to the Tower to attend on Lady Jane. Sir William Petre, who was staying at his house in Aldersgate, was still a stranger to her. She could not gain much comfort from that cold closed visage. The other Secretary was very different. She had been familiar all her life with Sir John Cheke, the Cambridge scholar. He was only twenty-nine and had spent all his life in Cambridge, he belonged to a merchant's family living over against the Market Cross and his mother still kept a wine shop in the town. He had had a very distinguished academic career. He had been public orator to the university and was now the non-resident provost of King's College. He was a devoted Protestant. He knew little of England apart from the university; he thought that Englishmen would welcome a scholar queen.

Soon the news came through of Lady Mary's movements. She was now settled at Framlingham and had set up her standard there. She had been proclaimed queen at Norwich. The gentry of East Anglia were riding in to her support. As a riposte, a proclamation was sent out composed by Cheke and signed by Lady Jane. The one that went to the Marquess of Northampton has been preserved. ‘You will,’ it runs, ‘endeavour yourself in all things to the uttermost of your power, not only to defend our just title [to the Crown], but also assist us to disturb, repel and resist, the feigned and untrue claim of the Lady Mary, bastard daughter to our great-uncle Henry the Eighth of famous memory.’ If one thinks over the situation, one impression seems inescapable. The Lady Jane was beautifully educated and very learned, but was she at all intelligent? After the proclamation she grew sick of a fever and for a few days could take no action.

The Lady Mary's letter, sent from Kenninghall on her journey, soon reached the Council. There were few peers resident in East Anglia and the dukedom of Norfolk was under attainder. The second Earl of Sussex, a member of the Howard affinity, and the Earl of Bath, who now lived with his third wife at Hengrave Hall, had both joined the Lady Mary. The Earl of Oxford stayed quietly at his home at Castle Hedingham.

The Duke of Northumberland called a meeting of the Council and they all assembled at the Tower of London. The Archbishop's barge brought Cranmer down from Lambeth; the two Dukes came downstream from Sheen and Sion; Lord Pembroke came across from Baynard's Castle. The rest rode through the crowded City streets. The day was fresh and still; it was lovely July weather. Northumberland knew well what he required. The letter that he wished them all to sign was passed round fair and clear. ‘Madam,’ it ran, ‘we have received your letters of the 9th of this instant, declaring your supposed title … to the Imperial Crown of this Realm, and all the Dominions thereunto belonging. For answer whereof, this is to advertise, that for as much as our sovereign Lady, Queen Jane is after the death of our sovereign Lord Edward the Sixth, invested and possessed with a just and right title in the Imperial Crown of this Realm, not only by good order of ancient laws of this Realm, but also by our late sovereign Lord's letters patent, signed with his own hand and sealed with the Great Seal of England, in presence of the most part of the nobles, councillors, judges, with divers other grave and sage personages, assenting and subscribing to the same.’ So far it was a rotund and stately document, but now it grew a little sharper. ‘We must therefore,’ it went on, ‘of most bounden duty and allegiance assent unto her said Grace, and to none other, except we should, which faithful subjects cannot, fall into grievous and unspeakable enormities.’

There then came a somewhat tedious recital of the divorce made between ‘the King of famous memory’ Henry VIII and the Lady Catherine, and the Lady Mary was required to show herself ‘quiet and obedient’.

All those around the table quietly signed: the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely, the Lord Chancellor, the Duke of Suffolk, the Marquesses of Winchester and Northampton, the Earls of Arundel, Bedford, Huntingdon, Pembroke and Shrewsbury, Lords Cobham, Rich and Darcy of Chiche, who held the office of Lord Chamberlain. There was also a small number of officials. The Duke of Northumberland's eye was on them all.

As they sat in the constricted space of that high room with those damp-sodden walls, the ‘weeping’ walls of the old Tower, there was one thing which united them; they were all men of great possessions. There they sat serious and inscrutable. What the Duke of Northumberland thought as he saw their easy signatures we shall never know. He was a condottiere, a man of straightforward values. This was not like the Elizabethan world which had at its disposal an army of spies and agents, men who would haunt the kitchens or hide behind the arras in the withdrawing rooms of their noble friends. Northumberland had no such means of knowledge.

To each of the great men the situation was dangerous, but very simple. Had the Lady Mary continued on her journey to the capital, she would by now have been locked up within the Tower and Northumberland's dominion would have continued. This would also have been the case if she had fled overseas to her cousin, the Emperor in the Low Countries. But in fact she was at liberty, an unknown factor. Northumberland controlled the only troops immediately available. If there was an émeute, any of these high personages might well be killed.

One cannot tell how many of them communicated secretly with the Lady Mary, for naturally the documentation has not survived. But judging by her later action it is evident that several must have done so. It was easy for a trusted servant to ride out across Essex to where the Royal Standard of England fluttered in the July weather above the walls of Framlingham.

Meanwhile, the life went on unchanging in the Tower of London. The day following the Council meeting the Marquess of Winchester came in to Lady Jane. He had been simply Lord St John of Basing when Northumberland took over power and through him he had been raised to an earldom and a marquessate. He had also received the office of Lord Treasurer of England. He was a careful man, quite remote in temperament from the Duke, but he would support him so long as the political climate should remain fair weather. He had not favoured the Grey succession; for different reasons both the Duke and the Duchess of Suffolk were uncongenial to him. Sentimentality had naturally no place in the thought of public men. There was no trace of sentiment in what must be the future fate of Lady Jane. He performed the necessary duties of his great office.

He waited upon Lady Jane and brought her articles of jewellery deposited in boxes and casquets in the Jewel House in the Tower, which had belonged to the six queens, who had been the wives of the old sovereign.12 These included a golden fish and an ornament in the form of a lizard in white silver. There were tablets of gold, one with a white sapphire and another with the image of Our Lady of Pity engraved on a blue stone. There were buttons of gold and many pearls, a pair of bracelets set with jacynths and orange-coloured amethysts. There were big golden buttons, each set with six seed pearls, and also thirteen table diamonds. Our Lady of Pity would have meant little to the young girl; but all the same it was a disquieting gift, these broken trinkets of the six dead queens.

However, there were more cheerful things to think about. On the same day she gave instructions to her new brother-in-law Lord Ambrose Dudley, who was now Keeper of the Palace of the Tower. Orders were sent for twenty yards of purple velvet, twenty-five of Holland cloth and twenty-three of coarser lining to make the robes for the new Queen ‘against her removal from the Tower’.


At a meeting of the Council at the Tower it was decided that the Duke should go north to deal with the supporters of the Lady Mary. It was a difficult choice to have to make, but there was no alternative. There was no other nobleman, among the true supporters of Lady Jane, who had the qualities of a soldier. The news that came from up and down the country was most discouraging. It was reported credibly that the Earl of Derby had declared himself in favour of the Lady Mary and was marching towards London in her support. A body of local men had gathered in Buckinghamshire under Lord Windsor and Sir Edward Hastings, who was Lord Huntingdon's Catholic brother. The Earl of Oxford had left Castle Hedingham and had gone to Framlingham. None of these episodes was of real importance, but they showed the way the wind was blowing.

On Friday, 14 July, the Duke of Northumberland rode forth at the head of a body of six hundred men with a train of guns. Lords Clinton, Grey de Wilton, Huntingdon, and Westmorland bore him company and his officers included his three sons, the Earl of Warwick, Lord Ambrose, and Lord Robert. Lord Guildford was left behind them in the Tower. The day before ‘three great carts13 full of all manner of ordnance, great guns and small, spears, arrows and gunpowder’ had been brought into the fortress.

The Lady Jane was now very lonely. In another section of the Tower there lodged the prisoners, the old Duke of Norfolk, the Duchess of Somerset and Bishops Gardiner and Bonner. They were all waiting anxiously for her disaster. It was not that they had any feeling about the Grey family. It was Northumberland for whose blood they hungered. The Duchess of Somerset was one of the first generation of women among the Gospellers. She was a failed conspirator and, as far as the Duke was concerned, she had a pure unsleeping hatred. Lady Jane's only companion was Lord Guildford. (In another portion of the fortress there was kept the captive lion. One hopes that he was fed with regularity in these rough days.)

In the royal quarters of the Tower there was heaped up a mass of odds and ends of jewellery, a muffler of purple velvet embroidered with pearls, and a bejewelled muffler of sable skin, set with emeralds, rubies and turquoises.14 There was a hat of purple velvet, pearl-embroidered, and a cap of black velvet which was set with a square table ruby. There was a shirt with golden ruffles and another of gold colour which was stitched with red and silver silk. There were six clocks. One was a fair striking clock standing upon a mine of silver, and there was a little one which also struck, within a case of ‘latten’, book fashion, engraved with a rose crowned, and the motto Dieu et mon droit.

There was a picture of the Duchess of Suffolk in a gold box and another of Queen Catherine Parr ‘that is deceased’. There was a dog-collar wrought in red leather with gold bells. There were also some possessions of Lord Guildford's, a ‘sword grille’ of red silk and gold and a white doublet and hose of silk and velvet. These were the tattered ends of all her glory.

Meanwhile the Duke pressed northwards towards Cambridge. Riding on ahead of his troops, he reached the university city about midnight. Northampton, Huntingdon and his three sons joined him there. The other peers, who had started with him, had now detached themselves. He then marched his men to Bury St Edmunds, but on the way many deserted him. He returned to Cambridge, where he stayed at Trinity College with Dr Sandys. An unsuccessful soldier, he must have been a grim visitor in that quiet place. There he heard of the action of the Councillors in London, which he might well have foreseen to be inevitable.

He had left the Duke of Suffolk in command at the Tower and on the Sunday there was news of a body of ten thousand men, supporters of the Lady Mary, who had assembled at Drayton and, under the command of Lord Paget, were now marching on the capital. It is not suggested that this was a real military threat, but Northumberland had left with all his soldiers.

On the next day the Councillors met at the Tower and then asked Suffolk's permission for a transfer of their meeting to Baynard's Castle, which would be more convenient for the Imperial and the French ambassadors, who sought for audience. There they decided quite unanimously to support Queen Mary. This may have been a plan long matured, probably originating with the Earl of Pembroke. It was decided that Pembroke and Arundel should go to Framlingham taking with them the Great Seal. They also brought with them a letter which expressed their new views quite exactly. It is no good changing unless you change completely.

‘Our bounden duties,’ so runs this document, ‘most humbly remembered to your Most Excellent Majesty we … have this day proclaimed in your city of London, Your Majesty to be our true and sovereign liege-lady and Queen, most humbly beseeching Your Majesty to pardon and remit our former infirmities, and most graciously to accept our meaning which has ever been to serve Your Highness truly and this shall remain with all our powers and forces to the effusion of our blood.’ The conclusion was in keeping. ‘Thus we do (declare) and shall daily pray to Almighty God for the preservation of your most royal person long to reign.’ This paper was then superscribed. ‘(Given in) the first year of your most prosperous reign.’

It seems that all the Councillors were present, except for Archbishop Cranmer and the Duke of Suffolk and those who had left with the Duke of Northumberland for Cambridge. The same morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury went to the Tower on his last visit and the Duke of Suffolk hastened to append his signature to this new proclamation. On Tower Hill he proclaimed Queen Mary. The story is well-known of his return to the Tower to find his daughter sitting alone in the Council Chamber under the canopy of State. He told her what had happened and she asked his permission to go home, but this was now impracticable.

The news soon reached the Duke at Cambridge. Affairs might have been different if he had chosen the Lady Elizabeth. Now his support had crumbled all about him. He might still have saved himself. He had the money with him to pay the soldiers. With a selected band of troops to guard him on his journey, he might have made his way northward on the road which crossed the Isle of Ely and then ridden up through the cathedral city and down to King's Lynn across the Fens. There were plenty of Protestants within King's Lynn and he would have a good sum to offer to some merchant captain, who would embark him and sail along the coast of Norfolk and then down the North Sea to land at some French port, perhaps Le Havre. There were various reasons why this did not happen. Perhaps Northumberland did not trust Henry II of France, when it came to dealing with a defeated ally. However, in fact, he made no such effort.

Instead he went out into the Market Place and called his secretary to fill his cap for him. He threw up his cap and shouted in a hollow voice, ‘God save Queen Mary’. The gold coins fell and shone upon the paving stones. His day was over.


Very shortly after he had proclaimed Queen Mary, the Duke had been arrested. There is one reference to Northumberland on his last journey. It was reported that on the evening of his arrest, the Duke was seen still wearing his red cloak as he and Sir John Gates rode strongly guarded, towards London in the heavy rain. The next day, he reached his destination. The roses were in flower in the Queen's garden in the Tower.

From the moment of his arrival it was clear to him that his life was almost over. He had made, without much hope, a suggestion to the Earl of Arundel that the Queen might allow him to live in peace. He must have known that this was quite impossible.

Three of his sons were in prison with him and there was a small assortment of his noble supporters. In the first place there was the Duke of Suffolk. Both dukes had publicly proclaimed Queen Mary at the end, but it could not be forgotten that Suffolk was the father of the young Pretender. For the rest, there were those men of standing who had not been present at the Council when the Earl of Pembroke had swung that body to support Queen Mary. Lord Huntingdon, for instance, had gone north with the Duke in his attempt to capture the Lady Mary, as also had the Marquess of Northampton.

Cranmer and Latimer were still at liberty, but Nicholas Ridley was already in the Tower. He had gone to Framlingham to submit himself to the new Queen, but had been repulsed. One of her first actions had been to restore Edmund Bonner to the see of London. Northumberland was now in that nest of towers which contained the prisoners in the great citadel and these men were now his new companions.

In many aspects the Tower has changed. The greater part of the palace buildings have been taken down, as have the Wardrobe and Lanthorn Towers, as also those two circular slender towers then called Coldharbour, which stood between the White Tower and the river. The wide moat is now dry. The Lion Gate has also vanished; it then led to the Lion Tower which at that time had a separate moat around it. The menagerie of wild animals at this point has long since been removed. There was at that time a cub to which a lioness gave birth in 1551. It long survived its human companions, who were prisoners like itself.

The Lion, Middle and Bayward Towers led into the fortress from the only entrance, apart from the Water Gate. This was the way leading from the City. The Garden Tower and the Beauchamp Tower formed together a single block. The privilege of walking on the leads was sometimes given, but it was very seldom that this was extended to those high open pathways like that between the Beauchamp and Curfew Towers. It was not desirable that prisoners should find themselves out of sight of their warders. The height of these towers should not be over-emphasized. Thus the Garden (or Bloody) Tower was a building of three storeys with an elevation of only forty-seven feet.15

Eastwards a stone-flagged court, bordered by sycamores, led out towards the Iron Gate from which admittance could be gained to Little Tower Hill, but this entrance was never opened. The series of defences was very intricate. The most unchanged of the surviving buildings is the exterior of the White Tower, that great Keep which dates from the later part of the reign of William the Conqueror. Its four towers still stand above its curtain wall. Their turrets were of lead and above them rose the gilded vanes. The interior contained the chapel of St John with its squat Norman pillars suggestive of the Lady Chapel, built at the same date in the cathedral at Durham. In the reign of Edward VI the frescoes had been covered with whitewash and the stained glass had been removed.

It is not surprising that beauty only came to the Tower of London on moonlit nights in the summer weather. Then the high white-washed walls of the White Tower shone in the darkness and moonlight fell on the wide waters of the moat, as the tides rose and fell on the London river. Night time was quiet. Men did not escape, or even seek to escape, from those strong walls.

The Bell Tower, which was sixty feet in height, carried a bell hung in a wooden turret on its summit. According to regulations made in 1607, and probably part of an established practice, ‘When the Tower bell doth ring at nights for the shutting in of the gates, all the prisoners, with their servants, are to withdraw themselves into their chambers, and not to goe forth that night.’16 This bell was also used as a general warning for the whole fortress.

The Tower was honeycombed by secret passages and there were hidden alcoves which could be used as listening posts at selected points throughout the prison. There were variations in the accommodation depending upon the rank of the great prisoners. The life was in some ways fairly tolerable for those of the highest station. Thus the Duchess of Somerset had had her own attendants and these were likewise granted to Lady Jane. The Dukes of Northumberland and Suffolk also gained by the arrangements that had been made for the old Duke of Norfolk in the last reign.

Curiously enough the first leader to be brought to trial was Lord Northampton. It was true that, unlike most other peers, he had been a genuine supporter of Lady Jane, whose religious faith he shared. For the rest he was in fact almost a cipher. He had been Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard and at the end, Lord Chamberlain. He held the lord lieutenantcy of the counties of the Eastern Midlands, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdon and Northampton. He also held the same post in Norfolk. It appears that it was decided that these offices should now be rendered vacant and this secured for him his early trial. On 13 August he was condemned to death. At the same time, he was deprived of his marquessate and his other peerages. Lord Hereford claimed all the lands which had come to him from the Bohuns, Earls of Essex. Northampton also lost the Order of the Garter. Four days later Northumberland was brought up and condemned.


Queen Mary always retained an admiration for her great father. With her deep voice, a certain quality of heartiness and her clear-cut views, she had in some ways a resemblance to him. She was more unmistakably her father's daughter than was her step-sister Queen Elizabeth. In the latter case there was a synthetic element in all that rôle.

It was a result of her sharp, well-founded judgments that the Duke of Northumberland could have no hopes from her. In her view the Duke was the fons et origo of all the trouble. She would not be harsh towards the Duke's children and she had a real understanding of the nature of his authority over the other members of the Privy Council. She had in an unsentimental fashion a quality of mercy in her dealings with the great lords.

There was first of all the Hastings family. Lord Huntingdon was in the Tower, but he was soon set free. He received from the Queen authority which he used faithfully. Curiously enough, she never seems to have minded much about the religion of the rich. Later in her reign, the position of this house was buttressed, when Cardinal Pole, who was Lady Huntingdon's uncle, came over as Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Earl of Pembroke quickly found favour. Perhaps the Henrican quality, in the political sense, in his outlook and his career drew the Queen to him. At no time did she ever think that he was a Roman Catholic. She understood his carefulness for his new great family. She explained to him that it could not help the Herberts to retain their association with the Greys. The marriage of Lord Herbert with Lady Catherine Grey was dissolved very quickly as matrimonium ratum sed non consummatum.

The most remarkable case of all was that of the Duchess of Suffolk. She was received in audience as soon as the Queen reached London. She secured the release of her husband from the Tower. Thereafter she was always prominent at Queen Mary's Court; her younger daughters, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary were ladies of honour. There was never any change in the indefectible Protestantism which marked this family. The Queen herself did not expect it. Besides, the Queen had always a feeling for anyone who reflected her father's image; perhaps this was what she saw in the Duchess of Suffolk's bold broad countenance.

Queen Mary never troubled any member of the Council who signed the proclamation of her rights which, under Pembroke, it had drawn up, for example, there is the curious case of the Bishop of Ely. Thomas Goodrich is one of the most obscure figures of this period. He was one of the first bishops to be consecrated by Dr Cranmer and had followed quite exactly all Henry VIII's ideas. He had later commended himself to Northumberland, who had raised him to the lord chancellorship on the resignation of Lord Rich, in the first days of 1552. On Queen Mary's accession he resigned the Great Seal, but he was left undisturbed in the bishopric of Ely and died at Somersham in Huntingdonshire on 10 May 1554, before the formal reconciliation of England with the Holy See. The former support by the councillors for Lady Jane was all forgiven. They were only joined by Bishop Gardiner and Bishop Bonner and Bishop Tunstall.

The Queen's mind was focused on a single object, the destruction of the Duke of Northumberland and with him his two henchmen, Sir John Gates and Sir Thomas Palmer. It was not long before the Queen's judgment became apparent. The frieze of his grand friends passed away, and he was left with his two rough companions. Sir Thomas had the reputation of a man of courage. He had betrayed Somerset to Northumberland, he had cleaved close to him, determined that the Lady Jane would make his fortune. He seems to have acted to some extent as his chief of staff; his mind ran on military coups, but these in fact had not proved successful. Sir John was Captain of the King's Guard. They were not cheerful friends for the poor Duke.

At the same time, there were certain compensations. His three sons, Lord Warwick and Lord Ambrose and Lord Robert were all released to join their brother, Lord Henry, who was always free. His wife was busy working hard for them. Further, there seemed some hope for his son, Lord Guildford. He knew that he had compelled this boy into his marriage, but Lady Jane was accommodated in Mr Partridge's house within the Tower. It seemed possible that in time the Queen might pardon her and then Lord Guildford, also, would go free.

It was at this time in his imprisonment that the Duke's thought went back to his religion. Later it was the practice of his Protestant contemporaries, including John Knox, to suggest that the Duke had always been a secret Catholic. This seems to me to be at variance with his open character. He realized that his trial would soon be followed by his execution. He was not by nature religious, but his mind went back quite simply to the doctrines he had been taught as a child.

He had been brought up in the Roman faith. He now went again to Mass and returned to the Sacraments. On the scaffold he made his famous declaration. He was wearing a gown of crane-coloured damask, that is of a silver grey material. He slipped this off and then made his statement. ‘Good people,’ he began, ‘hither I am come this day to die as you know. Through false and seditious preachers I have erred from the Catholic Faith and the true doctrine of Christ. The doctrine I mean which hath continued through all Christendom since Christ. For, good people, there is and has ever been since Christ a Catholic Church, which Church hath continued from Him and His disciples in one unity and concord. More than that, good people, you have in your creed, Credo Ecclesiam Catholicam, which Church is the same Church which hath continued ever since Christ, throughout (all the world) and the apostles, saints and doctors there, and yet doeth as I have said before. Of which I do profess myself to be one, and do steadfastly believe therein. I speak unfeignedly from the bottom of my heart.’17

He went back to the old religion very naturally and with complete simplicity. There was no future for him in this world. His mundane wisdom fell away from him. He turned at once to God as his ancestors had done for many generations.

It is not surprising that his line of argument should greatly have angered Lady Jane. It was something that she had never known. Since childhood she had been educated in the fresh-formed thought of the Reformation. His words were wholly foreign to all the new theology, but the Duke had returned to his first beginnings.


  1. Now in the National Portrait Gallery, cf. Roy Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits (London, 1969), vol. i, p. 75.

  2. These two portraits are reproduced, ibid, vol. i, nos. 147 and 148.

  3. The date is uncertain, but it was probably about 1543 when Aylmer was aged twenty-three.

  4. Cf. The Scholemaster, ed. J. E. B. Mayor (1863), pp. 33 and 213.

  5. Wilbur Kitchener Jordan, Edward VI: the Threshold of Power (London, 1970).

  6. For a discussion of this matter of the King's health, cf. Jordan, op. cit., pp. 510-13.

  7. Entry under 20 February 1552, Chronicle, p. 112.

  8. Aubrey's Brief Lives, ed. Oliver Lawson Dick (London, 1949), pp. 141, 142.

  9. Among those who did not sign the ‘devise’ were some North Country peers, the Earl of Cumberland, Lords Dacres of the North, Latimer and Wharton and four peers from the Home Counties, Lords Morley, Mordaunt, Windsor and Vaux of Harrowden.

  10. The only modern study of this subject is Lady Jane Grey by Hester Chapman (London, 1962). This author agrees with my judgment as to Lady Jane's religious approach, but attributes to her a much greater ability than I can discern.

  11. This is described as a member of the Throckmorton family supported by her London goldsmith. There seems to be some doubt about the identity of this messenger.

  12. This inventory is to be found among the Harleian MSS, no. 611.

  13. Henry Machyyn's Diary, edited by John Gough Nichols (London, 1848), p. 36.

  14. These details are preserved among the Hatfield MSS.

  15. Called since the seventeenth century the Bloody Tower.

  16. Cf. Lord Ronald Leveson-Gower, The Tower of London (London, 1901), i. p. 29.

  17. Printed in England under the reigns of Edward VI and Mary by Patrick Fraser Tytler (London, 1839) quoting the Harleian MSS.

Roland H. Bainton (essay date 1973)

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SOURCE: Bainton, Roland H. “Lady Jane Grey.” In Women of the Reformation In France and England, pp. 181-90. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1973.

[In the following essay, Bainton provides an overview of Grey's brief life, education, and Protestant faith, supported throughout by excerpts from her letters that reveal the strength of her religious convictions.]

Lady Jane, England's nine day queen, made a deeper impact on her countrymen by her death than by her reign. She was virtually canonized by the Protestants, who portrayed her as comely, charming, devout, learned, demure and gentle. They called her in the words of the prophet Isaiah “a lamb that is led to the slaughter,”1 but did not add the verse “like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so she opened not her mouth.” That assuredly she did not do. Writing at the age of fourteen to the Swiss theologian Bullinger, she depreciated herself in the approved humanist style, saying that to laud his excellence she lacked the eloquence of Demosthenes and Cicero.2 She need not have been so disparaging, for, confronted by the torrential flow of her periods, they would have doffed their headgear.

Because of royal lineage Jane was given the education of a princess. She was the granddaughter of Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII and of Charles Brandon, that duke of Suffolk, commissioned by Henry to remove Catherine. Jane's mother was the daughter of this couple. Her father became the next duke of Suffolk. These parents were of the domineering sort and the mother looked like a termagant.3 Out of ambition the parents imposed on their daughter a stiff educational regime, which actually she loved. In her early teens she became proficient in Latin, Greek, French and Italian and corresponded with Bullinger as to the best way of learning Hebrew. Her tutor, Aylmer, was an engaging enthusiast. Another great educator, Roger Ascham, has given a charming account of Jane at her studies. About to go abroad, he tells us, he came to take

leave of that noble Lady Jane Grey, to whom I was exceeding much beholden. Her parents, the duke and the duchess, with all the household, gentlemen and gentlewomen, were hunting in the park. I found her in her chamber, reading Phaedon Platonis [the Phaedo of Plato] in Greek, and that with as much delight, as some gentlemen would read a merry tale in Boccace. After salutation and duty done, with some other talk, I asked her, why she would leese such pastime in the park. Smiling she answered me, “I wisse, al their sport in the park is but a shadow to that plesure that I find in Plato. Alas! good folk, they never felt what true plesure meant.”

“And how came you, madam,” quoth I, “to this deep knowledge of plesure, and what did chiefly allure you unto it, seeing not many women, but very few men, have attained thereunto?”

“I will tell you,” quoth she, “and tell you a troth, which perchance ye will marvel at. One of the greatest benefits that ever God gave me is, that he sent me so sharp and severe parents and so gentle a schoolmaster: for when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing any thing 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, nipps, and bobbs, and other ways, (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) so without mesure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time come that I must go to Mr. Aylmer, who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because whatsoever I do else but learning, is full of grief, trouble, fear, and wholly misliking to me. And thus my book hath been so much my plesure and more, that in respect of it, al other plesures in very deed be but trifles and troubles unto me.”4

Jane's intense Protestant convictions may very probably have been imbibed from Aylmer, who was an eminent divine and also from Martin Butzer, to whom she confessed herself much indebted. He was a refugee from Strasbourg teaching at Cambridge. He it was, said she, who “led me forward in all probity, piety and sound learning.”5 Jane was for a time in the household of Catherine Parr, who might temper but would not quench her ardor. The degree of Jane's Protestantism is evidenced by an occurrence, when, with her parents, she was the guest of the Princess Mary, who in defiance of the law had mass said in her private chapel during the reign of her brother Edward. Jane, in company with Lady Wharton, was out for a walk when they passed by the chapel. Lady Wharton curtsied. Jane asked why. Was the Lady Mary in the chapel? “No. I curtsied to Him that made us all” [that is the host reserved upon the altar]. “And how,” asked Jane, “can He that made us all be there seeing that the baker made Him?” This being reported to the Lady Mary she misliked Jane thereafter.6

When the Protestant chaplain to her father turned Catholic on the accession of Mary, Jane sent him a remonstrance replete with the imagery of the Apocalypse and reverberations of Demosthenes. Here are some excerpts:

So oft as I call to mind the dreadful and fearful saying of God, That “he that layeth hold upon the plough, and looketh back, is not meet for the kingdom of heaven” and, on the other side, the comfortable words of our Saviour Christ to all those that, forsaking themselves, do follow him, I cannot but marvel at thee, and lament thy case, who seemed sometime to be the lively member of Christ, but now the deformed imp [the word then meant simply a child] of the devil; sometime the bountiful temple of God, but now the stinking and filthy kennel of Satan; sometime the unspotted spouse of Christ, but now the unshamefaced paramour of anti-Christ; sometime my faithful brother, but now a stranger and apostate; sometime a stout Christian soldier, but now a cowardly runaway. Yea, when I consider these things, I cannot but speak to thee, and cry out upon thee, thou seed of Satan and not of Judah, whom the devil hath deceived, the world hath beguiled, and the desire of life subverted, and made thee an infidel.

Wherefore hast thou taken the testament of the Lord in thy mouth? … Wherefore hast thou instructed others to be strong in Christ, when thou thyself does now so shamefully shrink, and so horribly abuse the Testament and law of the Lord? … Why dost thou now show thyself most weak, when indeed thou oughtest to be most strong? The strength of a fort is unknown before the assault, but thou yieldest thy hold before any battery be made.

O wretched and unhappy man, what art thou, but dust and ashes? and wilt thou resist thy Maker that fashioned thee and framed thee? … Wilt thou refuse the true God, and worship the invention of man, the golden calf, the whore of Babylon, the Romish religion, the abominable idol, the most wicked mass? Wilt thou torment again, rend and tear the most precious body of our Saviour Christ, with thy bodily and fleshly teeth? Wilt thou take upon thee to offer up any sacrifice unto God for our sins, considering that Christ offered up himself, as Paul saith, upon the cross, a lively sacrifice once for all? … And wilt thou honour a detestable idol invented by Romish popes, and the abominable college of crafty cardinals? Christ offered himself up once for all, and wilt thou offer him up again daily at thy pleasure?

But thou wilt say, thou doest it for a good intent. Oh sink of sin! O child of perdition! Dost thou dream therein of a good intent, where thy conscience beareth thee witness of God's threatened wrath against thee? … Wilt thou for a good intent pluck Christ out of heaven, and make his death void? …

But thou wilt say, “I will not break unity.” What? not the unity of Satan and his members? not the unity of darkness, the agreement of Antichrist and his adherents? Nay, thou deceivest thyself with a fond imagination of such a unity as is among the enemies of Christ. Were not the false prophets in a unity? … The agreement of ill men is not a unity but a conspiracy.

Thou hast heard some threatening, some cursings, and some admonitions, out of the Scripture, to those that love themselves above Christ. … Well, if these terrible and thundering threatenings cannot stir thee to cleave unto Christ, and forsake the world, yet let the sweet consolations and promises of Scripture … encourage thee to take faster hold on Christ. … Return, return again into Christ's war. … Throw down yourself with the fear of his threatened vengeance … and comfort yourself with the mercy, blood, and promise of him that is ready to turn unto you, whensoever you turn unto him. Disdain not to come with the lost son. … Be not ashamed to come home again with Mary, and weep bitterly with Peter, not only with shedding the tears of your bodily eyes, but also pouring out the streams of your heart—to wash away, out of the sight of God, the filth and mire of your offensive fall. Be not ashamed to say with the publican, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.”7

Ascham was very right when he said that Jane was happier reading about the martyrdom of Socrates than rejoicing in her descent from kings and queens, for from this arose her own martyrdom. During the minority of Edward VI, the government at the end of his reign was in the hands of the duke of Northumberland, who realized, when the sixteen-year-old king was obviously dying, that when he was gone the power would pass to Mary or Elizabeth unless their succession were annulled. In consequence he induced Edward to change the succession in favor of Jane, already married to the duke's own son, Guilford, who presumably would be king. On the king's death high dignitaries came and made obeisance to Jane. She wept, swooned, and protested that if one should scruple to steal a shilling how much more to usurp a crown.8

Northumberland informed her that by a previous act Mary and Elizabeth had been declared illegitimate and Edward had conferred upon her the succession. Young Guilford belabored Jane with entreaties and caresses, saying that she should make him to be king. That she flatly refused. A duke he might be, a king never. His parents were infuriated and forbade him to sleep with her. Her parents interposed their authority. Here was a conflict between obedience to father and mother and to the laws of the realm, because the change in succession lacked parliamentary authorization. Jane yielded to her parents and trembling allowed the crown to be placed upon her head. She was sixteen.9

Mary, with the utmost intrepidity, rallied forces against the duke. Jane, exercising her royal authority, commanded him to leave London and head his troops in the field. But what was then needed was not a general but a demagogue. He obeyed the authority he had created, though perceiving that to leave the capitol would be his undoing. It was. He and his cohorts, Jane's father and husband, and Jane herself were arraigned for treason and given the sentence of death. Judge Morgan, who pronounced the sentence on Jane, went mad, raving that she be taken from his sight.10

But judicial sentence did not mean execution in case of executive clemency. Mary did not pardon Northumberland, but she released Jane's father. She and her husband were neither pardoned nor executed but kept in custody. Mary was moved to refrain from extremities by Jane's letter in which she freely confessed that she had committed a crime in accepting from those deemed wise by all the realm, a crown which was not theirs to bestow.

My crime is great and I confess it to be so, nevertheless, I am accounted more guilty than in truth I am. For although I took upon me that of which I was unworthy, yet no one can say that I ever sought to obtain it for myself, nor ever solaced myself therein, nor accepted of it willingly.

Then follows an account of the pressures to which she was made subject. “Thus, in truth, was I deceived by the duke and the council, and ill treated by my husband and his mother.”11

Mary kept Jane and Guilford in the Tower. They might well in time have been released had not Jane's father, pardoned and released, then joined in Wyatt's conspiracy to dethrone Mary. The queen and the council now believed that there would be no tranquility in England so long as Jane and her husband were alive. Dates were set for the executions of the duke of Suffolk, his son, and Jane.

A short respite was granted out of concern for Jane's soul. Mary sent her own confessor, Fecknam, an able and kindly Catholic theologian, to bring her back to the church outside of which there is no salvation. He began to talk with Jane of this and that and gradually led into the subject of religion. Discussion centered on the Eucharist. Jane countered the orthodox Catholic interpretation by the usual Protestant rejoinders. When Christ said “This is my body,” he no more intended to be taken literally than when he called himself a vine and a door. Besides, when those words were pronounced, he was standing right there in his living body and how could he have said that the bread and wine were that body? Fecknam's appeal to tradition left her unmoved. He took his leave with sorrow, “For I am sure that we two shall never meet.” She agreed, being persuaded that in the beyond he would be in less attractive quarters.12

Jane wrote to her father, whose second revolt was the occasion not only of his death but of her own:

Father, although it hath pleased God to hasten my death by you, by whom my life should rather have been lengthened, yet I can so patiently take it, as I yield God more hearty thanks for shortening my woeful days, than if all the world had been given unto my possession. … And yet, I must needs acknowledge that I grievously offended the queen and her laws: yet I do assuredly trust that this my offence towards God is so much the less (in that being in so royal estate as I was) mine enforced honour blended never with mine innocent heart. And thus, good father, I have opened unto you the state wherein I at present stand; whose death at hand, although to you perhaps it may seem right woeful, to me there is nothing that can be more welcome, than from this vale of misery to aspire to that heavenly throne of all joy and pleasure with Christ our Saviour. In whose steadfast faith (if it may be lawful for the daughter so to write to the father) [She admonishes him not to recant] the Lord that hitherto hath strengthened you, so continue you, that at the last we may meet in heaven with the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

To her sister she wrote:

I have here sent you, good sister Catherine, a book, which although it be not outwardly trimmed with gold, yet inwardly it is worth more than precious stones. It is the book, dear sister, of the law of the Lord. … Rejoice in Christ, as I do. Follow the steps of your Master Christ, and take up your cross. Lay your sins on his back, and always embrace him. And as touching my death, rejoice as I do, good sister, that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption. For I am assured, that I shall, for losing of a mortal life, win an immortal life.

A prayer of Lady Jane as the end approached, is recorded. It consists in part of verses from the 77th Psalm:

O merciful God, consider my misery, best known unto thee. Suffer me not to be tempted above my power, but either be thou a deliverer unto me out of this great misery, or else give me grace, patiently to bear thy heavy hand and sharp correction. … Let it therefore, likewise seem good to thy fatherly goodness, to deliver me, sorrowful wretch (for whom thy Son Christ shed his precious blood on the cross) out of this miserable captivity and bondage, wherein I am now. How long wilt thou be absent? Forever? O Lord, hast thou forgotten to be gracious, and hast thou shut up thy lovingkindness in displeasure? Wilt thou be no more entreated? Is thy mercy clean gone for ever, and thy promise come utterly to an end for evermore? Why dost thou make so long tarrying? Shall I despair of thy mercy, O God? Far be that from me. I am thy workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.

Give me grace, therefore, to tarry thy leisure, and patiently to bear thy works, assuredly knowing, that as thou canst, so thou wilt deliver me when it shall please thee, nothing doubting or mistrusting thy goodness towards me; for thou knowest better what is good for me than I do. Therefore do with me in all things what thou wilt, and plague me what way thou wilt. … Only, in the meantime, arm me, I beseech thee, with thy armour, that I may stand fast … praying always with all manner of prayer and supplication, that I may refer myself wholly to thy will, abiding thy pleasure, and comforting myself in those troubles that it shall please thee to send me; seeing such troubles be profitable for me, and seeing I am assuredly persuaded that it cannot be but well, all that thou doest. Hear me, O merciful Father! for his sake, whom thou wouldest should be a sacrifice for my sins, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory. Amen.

As the hour approached for her and for her husband, he requested that he might see her. She replied that their grief would thereby be the more increased and shortly they would meet in the beyond. She stood at the window and watched as he passed. As the cart returned with his severed body she cried out, “O Guilford! Guilford!”13 When her turn came, beside her stood Fecknam, the queen's chaplain. She spoke briefly to the crowd asserting that she washed her hands in innocency of unlawful intent. She turned to the chaplain and asked whether she should recite the fifty-first psalm. He answered “Yea,” and held her hand as she repeated to the end: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness.” She thanked the chaplain that he had delivered her from terror, embraced him and mounted the scaffold.14


  1. Michelangelo Florio, Historia de la Vita e la Morte de l'Illustriss. Signora Giovanna Graia (1607). Although the publication is late, Florio was personally acquainted with Jane's father and with Wyatt, 51. Reference to the lamb, 61.

  2. British Reformers, III, Writings of Edward VI and others (Philadelphia, n.d.), 299.

  3. See the painting reproduced by Hester Chapman, Lady Jane Grey (Boston, 1962), facing p. 48.

  4. John Strype, Life of Bishop Aylmer, 3-4, from Ascham's Schoolmaster, fol. II b.

  5. Jane to Bullinger in British Reformers, III, 295.

  6. Ralph Holinshed, Chronicles (London, 1808), 23.

  7. Foxe VI, 418-422 and British Reformers, III, 34-41.

  8. British Reformers, II, 280.

  9. M. l'Abbé de Vertot, Ambassades de Messieurs de Noailles en Angleterre (1763). I, 211.

  10. Foxe, VI, 283.

  11. British Reformers, III, 300-304 translated from Girolamo Pollini, Historia Ecclestiastica della Rivoluzione d'Inghilterra (Rome, 1594).

  12. This and the following documents are in Foxe, VI, 315-324 and British Reformers, III, 304-316.

  13. Ibid., 131 note 1.

  14. Fecknam's presence attested by Foxe. The embrace related by Raviglio G. Rosso. Historia delle cose occorse nel regno d'Inghilterra. (Venice, 1558), 58, and borrowed from him by Pollini.


The best study of Lady Jane is that of Hester W. Chapman, Lady Jane Grey (Boston, 1962). She relies rather unduly on the late work of the Catholic historian Pollini, mentioned below, though he alone preserves a letter from Lady Jane to Mary.

The official acts of the reign are in Public Documents, ed. J. C. Nichols (Camden Society Publications, 1850).

Foxe refers to John Foxe, Acts and Monuments (reprint, 1965).

Alison Plowden (essay date 1985)

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SOURCE: Plowden, Alison. “Jane the Quene” and “The Ende of the Lady Jane Duddeley.” In Lady Jane Grey and the House of Suffolk, pp. 94-113; 114-27. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1985.

[In the following essay, Plowden recounts the events of 1553 and 1554 that culminated in Grey's execution, and discusses several letters she wrote during the period that reflect her state of mind and her religious and political attitudes.]


On paper John Dudley's ascendancy looked to be absolute. The reign of his daughter-in-law and puppet had begun; he controlled the capital, the Tower with its armoury, the treasury and the navy, while the great lords of the Council, apparently hypnotized by his powerful charisma, waited meekly to do his bidding. His only opponent was a frail, sickly woman of thirty-seven, without money, influence, professional advice or organized support of any kind. No informed observer of the political scene believed that Mary Tudor stood a chance of enforcing her claims against a man like Northumberland, and the Emperor could only urge his envoys to recommend his cousin to the Duke's protection and to try and win the confidence of England's strong man.

Yet even as these somewhat pusillanimous instructions were being penned, control was starting to slide out of the Duke's hands. The English people knew nothing and cared less about Jane Grey, but they had always had a soft spot for the Lady Mary and over the last few years many of them had come to loathe the whole tribe of Dudley for a parcel of greedy, overbearing upstarts. Gilbert Pot or Potter, tapster at the St John's Head tavern within Ludgate and a member of that silent crowd standing in Cheapside to hear Queen Jane proclaimed, had remarked that the Lady Mary had the better title. Gilbert was unlucky enough to be reported to the authorities, who promptly set him in the pillory and cut his ears clean off, but it was not possible to silence Stephen Amory, clothier of Norfolk, or Richard Troughton, bailiff of South Witham in Lincolnshire, who was told of Mary's plight by his friend James Pratt as they stood together by the cattle drinking-place called hedgedyke, and cried aloud: ‘Then it is the Duke's doing and woe worth him that ever he was born, for he will go about to destroy all the noble blood of England.’ And drew his dagger and ‘wished it at the villain's heart’.

Gilbert Potter and Richard Troughton spoke with the authentic voice of England and although the great Duke of Northumberland was never one to take much account of public opinion, he knew well enough how narrow his power base actually was. Certainly he harboured no illusions about the loyalty of his confederates if the going were to get rough. Survival would depend on a swift, bloodless success, which in turn depended on the swift and silent elimination of all opposition.

During Edward's last illness Northumberland had continued to correspond with Mary, sending her regular and on the whole accurate bulletins about her brother's condition, but Jehan de Scheyfve believed these niceties were no more than a smokescreen designed to conceal the real intentions of the ruling junta and told the Emperor bluntly, ‘it is to be feared that as soon as the King is dead they will attempt to seize the Princess’.

Mary was staying at the old nursery palace at Hunsdon, near Ware in Hertfordshire, when, on or about 5 July, she received a summons to the King's deathbed and set out, albeit hesitantly, on the journey. She had not gone far, no further than Hoddesdon on the London road, before warning reached her that the government's message was a trap—Nicholas Throckmorton later claimed the credit for having despatched the Princess's goldsmith on this vital errand. Reacting with uncharacteristic decisiveness, Mary at once turned round and, accompanied by no more than half a dozen trusted aides, made for Kenninghall, the Howard family stronghold in Norfolk. She had some good friends in East Anglia and there, if the worst came to the worst, she would be within reach of the coast and escape to the Spanish Netherlands.

Meanwhile, in London, the King's death was being kept a close secret, or as close as it was possible to keep any secret in a royal household. The three special envoys sent by the Emperor Charles V ostensibly to enquire after King Edward's health, and who had arrived, ironically enough, on 6 July, quickly picked up the news from an informant in the palace. During the course of the next few days the regime did all the expectable things. The ports were closed and the Lord Treasurer Winchester, the Marquess of Northampton, the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Lord Admiral, Lord Clinton, all known allies of Northumberland, came up from Greenwich to ‘inspect’ the Tower of London, key fortress of the realm. Clinton was installed as Constable and the garrison could be seen hauling out the heavy guns and mounting them ready for immediate use. On Saturday the eighth, the Lord Mayor with a delegation of aldermen and other leaders of the mercantile community were summoned to court to be told, in strict confidence, of Edward's death and his provisions for the succession, ‘to the which they were sworn and charged to keep it secret’.

Northumberland would naturally have preferred to go on keeping it secret until such time as he had got his hands on any rival claimants. He had already despatched his son Robert with a party of horse and urgent orders to pursue and capture the Lady Mary, but as it became apparent that she had, temporarily at least, slipped through the net, he could wait no longer and on Sunday 9 July he was forced to show his hand. Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, preaching at St Paul's Cross, referred to both the Princesses explicitly as bastards and fulminated especially against Mary as a stiff papist who, if she became Queen, would not only overturn the true religion so happily established under King Edward, but betray the country to a foreign power. After this, of course, there could be no going back. Jane was duly proclaimed on the following day and the proclamation printed in black letter by Richard Grafton, ready to be posted up in the city of London and in church porches and market crosses up and down the land.

But on that same eventful Monday 10 July a letter had been delivered to the Lords of the Council from the Lady Mary, now in temporary sanctuary at Kenninghall, expressing dignified surprise that they had failed to inform her of ‘so weighty a matter’ as her brother's death and commanding them forthwith to proclaim her right and title in her city of London. Their lordships, it seems, were ‘greatly astonished and troubled’ by the unwelcome news that Mary was still at large and showing fight and, so they heard at the Imperial embassy, the Duchesses of Suffolk and Northumberland both shed tears of mortification. At the Imperial embassy, though, the new arrivals were still confidently expecting the worst. They had not ventured to make any direct contact with Mary or to answer her anguished appeals for help, and could only deplore her stubborn refusal to admit defeat.

Inside the Tower, an air of carefully studied calm prevailed. The Council wrote sternly back to Mary, reminding her of the sundry Acts of Parliament by which she was ‘justly made illegitimate and uninheritable to the Crown Imperial of this realm’ and adjuring her not by any pretext to continue to vex and molest the loyal subjects of ‘our Sovereign Lady Queen Jane’. If she showed herself quiet and obedient, as she ought, then the lords would be glad to do her any service consonant with their duty; if not, they indicated, she would be sorry. The Council also despatched Richard Shelley to Brussels with a letter authorizing him to inform the Emperor of King Edward's death and another letter, over the sign manual of ‘Jane the Quene’, instructing Sir Philip Hoby to continue in his post of resident ambassador at the Imperial court, while young Guildford Dudley amused himself by drafting a document giving Sir Philip full powers to deal in his affairs. A requisition was sent to the Master of the Wardrobe in the name of Queen Jane ordering twenty yards of velvet, twenty-five ells of fine Holland, or linen cloth and thirty-three ells of coarser material for lining to make robes. More boxes of jewels had now been delivered to the Tower, but unfortunately they seem mostly to have contained a curious miscellany of odds and ends, such as every household accumulates, including amongst other things a toothpick in the shape of a fish, an assortment of buttons, semi-precious stones and trinkets, a selection of the jewelled borders worn on ladies' hoods and a clock of damascened work made in the shape of a book. There was a prayer book, a leather purse, some coins, eyebrow tweezers and even some old shaving cloths, presumably a relic of King Henry VIII.

So far the determination to present a confident face to the outside world was holding. The French ambassador in London, Antoine de Noailles, had written an optimistic report after seeing the Council on 7 July and generously offering the assistance of the French King should need arise. Both de Noailles and the Emperor's envoys believed that ‘the actual possession of power’ was nine points of the law, especially among barbarians like the English, and the Imperial ambassadors were so nervous that they scarcely dared to go out for a walk. But it was the Imperialists who detected the first signs of a crack in the façade when, on Wednesday 12 July, they received a visit from Lord Cobham and Sir John Mason on behalf of Northumberland.

Of the three envoys sent over by Charles V, it was Simon Renard, a native of the Franche Comté and a brilliant, hard-working, subtle career diplomat, who had taken the lead. When Cobham and Mason began in a hectoring manner, telling them that their credentials were no longer valid now that Edward was dead, forbidding them to attempt to communicate with Mary and threatening them with England's ‘barbarous laws’ if they gave any cause for suspicion, it was Renard who replied, tactfully assuring the councillors of the Emperor's goodwill and urging them rather to welcome the advances of old friends than seek new alliances with those who had always been their enemies. The French, he pointed out, had a vested interest in stirring up trouble, their object being ‘to seek to gain a foothold in England for their own ends and to the advantage of the Queen of Scotland and that of her affianced spouse, the Dauphin of France’. When the Emperor heard that his cousin had been declared a bastard and of the violence openly said to be intended against her person, he would naturally conclude that French intrigues had prevailed and that the rights long recognized by the international community as belonging to Mary had been snatched away to gain the crown for the Queen of Scots, under colour of conferring it upon the Duke of Suffolk's daughter.

Renard and his colleagues had the satisfaction of seeing Cobham and Mason reduced to pensive silence. Nor did they miss the shifty exchange of glances between the two men as they began to backpedal, murmuring that of course it had been a mistake to say the ambassadors' commission had expired and hoping their excellencies would not feel obliged to ask for their passports until the full Council had had an opportunity to consider the Imperial position. ‘So they left us in suspense’, wrote Renard, ‘waiting to see what they would say or do.’

Antoine de Noailles was casually describing Guildford Dudley as ‘the new King’ and Simon Renard was still gloomily convinced that Mary would be a prisoner in Dudley hands within a matter of days, but in fact the whole flimsy edifice of Dudley power was about to fall apart. On that Wednesday some very disquieting news had come in of the support rallying to Mary. The Earl of Bath, the Earl of Sussex and his son, Sir William Drury, Sir John Shelton, Sir Thomas Wharton and Sir John Mordaunt, together with substantial families like the Bedingfields, Bacons, Jerninghams and Cornwallises, were already with her or on their way. A letter had been prepared by the Duke of Northumberland for circulation to the Lieutenants and sheriffs of the counties announcing Jane's accession and calling on them to repel and resist the feigned and untrue claim of the Lady Mary, bastard daughter to Henry VIII of famous memory, to the utmost of their power; but it was obvious now that a full-scale expedition would have to be mounted from London ‘to fetch in the Lady Mary’. All hope of presenting a grumbling but acquiescent nation with a fait accompli had vanished and the issue would instead have to be decided openly on the field of battle.

There was no time to be lost and a muster was ordered to be held in Tothill Fields that same day, the unusually high rates of pay offered, ten pence a day, being a measure of the administration's concern. It had been intended to put the Duke of Suffolk in command of the army but when this information was conveyed to Queen Jane on the evening of 12 July she promptly burst into tears and begged that her father ‘might tarry at home in her company’. Jane seems to have forgotten that she had once thought it hell to be in her parents' company, but she hadn't known the Dudley family then.

The lords of the Council gazed thoughtfully at their weeping sovereign lady and then at one another, an idea forming or, more likely, already formed in their collective mind. This idea they presently propounded to the Duke of Northumberland. It would be so much better, they suggested, if he took command himself. No other man was so well fitted for the task, especially since he had already successfully suppressed one rebellion in East Anglia and was therefore so feared in those parts that no one would dare offer him resistance. Besides, was he not ‘the best man of war in the realm’? Then there was the matter of the Queen's distress, and the fact that she would ‘in no wise grant that her father should take it on him’. So it was really up to the Duke, remarked someone, a note of steel suddenly clearly audible beneath the flattery and the subservience, it was up to the Duke ‘to remedy the matter’. And the Duke gave way. ‘Since ye think it good,’ he said, ‘I and mine will go, not doubting of your fidelity to the Queen's majesty which I leave in your custody.’

The fidelity of his associates to anything but their own best interests was, of course, more than doubtful, and it was a lively fear of what they might do as soon as his back was turned which lay behind John Dudley's reluctance to take the field himself. He knew that he was being manoeuvred into the role of scapegoat, but there was no turning back now. Even as they sat talking round the council table in the summer dusk the sound of heavy wagons laden with weapons and supplies—‘great guns and small, bows, bills, spears, morris pikes, harness, arrows, gunpowder and victuals’—could be heard rattling eastward through the city streets ‘for a great army towards Cambridge’.

Preparations continued all next day. Early in the morning the Duke called for his personal armour and saw it made ready, before appointing his own retinue to meet him at Durham Place. Then, his arrangements made, he addressed the assembled Council for the last time. After urging that reinforcements should be sent without fail to join him at Newmarket, he made a last effort to assert the old dominant force of his personality. He and his companions, he said, were going forth to adventure their bodies and lives ‘amongst the bloody strokes and cruel assaults’ of the enemy, trusting themselves and their wives and children at home to the faith and truth of those they left behind. If anyone present was planning to violate that trust and ‘to leave us your friends in the briars and betray us’, let them remember that treachery could be a two-handed game. Let them also reflect on God's vengeance and the sacred oath of allegiance they had taken ‘to this virtuous lady the Queen's highness, who by your and our enticement is rather of force placed therein than by her own seeking and request’. There was, too, the matter of God's cause. The fear of papistry's re-entry had, after all, been the original ground on which everyone had agreed and ‘even at the first motion granted your good wills and consents thereto, as by your hands’ writing evidently appeareth’. John Dudley could say no more, but in this troublesome time wish his hearers ‘to use constant hearts, abandoning all malice, envy and private affections’.

‘And this I pray you,’ he ended; ‘wish me no worse speed in this journey than ye would have to yourselves.’

‘My lord,’ said someone—it may have been Winchester, the eldest of the peers—‘if ye mistrust any of us in this matter, your grace is far deceived; for which of us can wipe his hands clean thereof?’ While they were still talking the servants had come in with the first course of dinner and were laying the table, but Winchester (if it were he) went on: ‘If we should shrink from you as one that were culpable, which of us can excuse himself as guiltless? Therefore herein your doubt is too far cast.’

‘I pray God it be so,’ answered Northumberland abruptly. ‘Let us go to dinner.’

After the lords had eaten, the Duke went to take his formal leave of the Queen and to receive from her his signed and sealed commission as Lieutenant of her army. Jane thanked him ‘humbly’ for allowing her father to stay at home and asked him to use all his diligence. ‘I will do what in me lies,’ he said, looking down at the thin, red-headed slip of a girl to whom he was now bound by the unbreakable kinship of mutual destruction. Coming out through the council chamber he encountered the Earl of Arundel, ‘who prayed God be with his grace; saying he was very sorry it was not his chance to go with him and bear him company, in whose presence he could find in his heart to spend his blood, even at his foot’. Henry Fitzalan did not add that he, together with the Earls of Shrewsbury and Pembroke, the Lord Privy Seal John Russell, Lord Cobham, John Mason and Secretary William Petre, were having a very private meeting with the Imperial ambassadors that day. But then nor was Northumberland advertising the fact that he had just despatched his cousin Henry Dudley on an urgent and secret mission to the King of France, offering, so it is said, to trade Ireland and Calais in exchange for immediate French military aid.

The situation remained extremely volatile and, in an atmosphere thick with suspicion and distrust, rumour and counter-rumour bred and multiplied. Reports were coming in that the gentry were up proclaiming Queen Mary in Buckinghamshire but Renard, in a despatch dated 14 July, continued to predict her imminent subjugation. Mary herself, who had now retreated to Framlingham Castle in Suffolk, a stronger place than Kenninghall and nearer the coast, sent a courier to the Imperial embassy with a verbal message that ‘she saw destruction hanging over her’ unless the Emperor helped her quickly.

Northumberland, meanwhile, had succeeded in raising an army of around three thousand horse and foot and early on the morning of Friday 14 July he rode out of Durham Place and turned east down the Strand towards the Cambridge road and ‘towards my Lady Mary's grace to destroy her grace’. But as his cavalcade passed through the village of Shoreditch, where the way was lined with silent, staring crowds, the Duke turned to Lord Grey of Wilton who was riding alongside him and observed sourly, ‘The people press to see us, but not one sayeth God speed us.’

During the next few days the faces of those left cooped up in the Tower grew steadily longer as word arrived that Mary had been proclaimed in Norwich and that the town, one of the largest and richest in the country, was sending her men and supplies. Colchester had also declared for her, and in places as far apart as Devon and Oxfordshire the leaders of the local community were following suit. More and more gentlemen ‘with their powers’, that is, their tenantry and dependants, were voting with their feet by joining the growing camp at Framlingham, while the noblemen's tenants showed ominous signs of refusing to serve their lords against Queen Mary, and the Duke's own army was plagued by internal dissension and desertion.

Then came a really shattering piece of news. The crews of the six royal ships which had been sent to watch the port of Yarmouth and cut off Mary's escape route to the Low Countries had gone over to her in a body, taking their captains and their heavy guns with them. ‘After once the submission of the ships was known in the Tower’, wrote an eyewitness, ‘each man then began to pluck in his horns’; and when Northumberland wrote querulously from his command post in the old Brandon territory of Bury St Edmunds complaining about the non-arrival of his promised and much-needed reinforcements, he received ‘but a slender answer’. This was hardly surprising, since from the moment of the navy's defection it had been a question not of whether but when the lords of the Council would follow the sailors' example. Already certain individuals, notably the Earl of Pembroke and the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports Thomas Cheyne, were looking for an excuse to go out and ‘consult’ in London and on the sixteenth there was an alarm at about seven o'clock in the evening, when the main gates of the Tower were suddenly locked and the keys carried up to Queen Jane. It was given out that a seal had gone missing, but the author of the Chronicle of Queen Jane believed the truth of the matter was that her highness suspected the Lord Treasurer of some evil intent. Old Winchester had apparently sneaked out to his own house during the day and had to be fetched back at midnight—the other lords were not risking any one of their number stealing a march at this stage.

Inside the Tower they were still going through the motions. Jane was still solemnly signing letters addressed to the sheriffs and justices of the peace requiring them to take steps to suppress the ‘rebellion’ of the Lady Mary, but there was of course no question of her being able to stem the tide: she had neither the experience nor the authority—nor did her father command the respect of his peers. By the eighteenth the Earls of Arundel, Bedford, Pembroke, Shrewsbury and Worcester, the Lords Paget and Cobham and about half a dozen others were ready to move, leaving the tower en masse on the not very convincing pretext of having urgent business to discuss with the French ambassador. Instead, they assembled for a conference at Pembroke's house, Baynard's Castle on the riverbank below Ludgate Hill, and the following afternoon it was the Imperial embassy which received a visit from the Earl of Shrewsbury and Sir John Mason. They came to explain to the Emperor's representatives how reluctant they and their fellow councillors had been to subscribe to King Edward's Device, but really they had had no choice, for they had been so bullied by Northumberland and treated almost as if they were prisoners. Of course they had always believed in their hearts that Mary was the rightful Queen and they were going to proclaim her in London that very day.

And so they did, between five and six o'clock in the evening of Thursday 19 July, at the Cross in Cheapside amid scenes of wild popular excitement. People with money in their pockets flung it out of windows into the cheering, yelling crowds below. The Earl of Pembroke was seen to throw a whole capful of gold angels and no doubt regarded it as a good investment. Sober citizens wrenched off their gowns and capered in the streets like children. Church bells rang a joyful peal in a forest of steeples. Bonfires blazed up on every corner and all that night the people of London sand and danced and feasted, drinking the health of the rightful Queen, God bless her! and destruction to her enemies.

Simon Renard and his companions could hardly believe the evidence of their own eyes, fearing that this astonishing change of front must conceal some especially diabolical piece of heretical treachery, while the French ambassador wrote: ‘the atmosphere of this country and the nature of its people are so changeable that I am compelled to make my despatches correspondingly wavering and contradictory’. Both sides were agreed in attributing the sudden transformation of Mary's prospects to the intervention of divine Providence, although de Noailles made it plain that he for one thought poorly of divine judgement in this instance.

Faint echoes of the general rejoicing could be heard even in the Tower where, so it is said, the Duke of Suffolk presently came to break the news of her deposition to his daughter as she sat at supper, and with his own hands helped to tear down the cloth of estate from above her head. Then, ordering his men to leave their weapons behind, he went out on to Tower Hill, saying helplessly, ‘I am but one man’, and proclaimed the Lady Mary's grace to be Queen of England before scuttling away to his house at Sheen. Jane was left alone in the stripped and silent rooms to listen to the distant clamour of the bells—for her there would be no going home. When Lady Throckmorton, one of the ladies of the household who had gone out that afternoon to attend a christening, returned to her post she found the royal apartments deserted and, asking for the Queen's grace, was told that the Lady Jane was now a prisoner detained in the Deputy Lieutenant's house.

It was there, the next day, that Jane suffered a visit from the Marquess of Winchester peremptorily demanding the return of all the jewels and other ‘stuff’ she had received from the royal stores during her nine days' reign. The Lord Treasurer went through her and Guildford's wardrobes with a fishy pawnbroker's eye, confiscating jewellery, furs, hats, a velvet and sable muffler and all the money in their possession. In spite of this, a peevish inter-departmental correspondence about the unexplained disappearance of ‘a square coffer covered with fustian of Naples’, a leather box marked with Henry VIII's broad arrow and containing, among other things, thirteen pairs of worn leather gloves, and another box labelled ‘the Queen's jewels' dragged on into the autumn.

While Winchester was busy covering his tracks, Mr Secretary Cecil was doing the filing, methodically endorsing the office copy of a letter signed ‘Jane the Quene’ on 10 July with the words ‘Jana non Regina’, and the Earl of Arundel and William Paget were riding hard for Framlingham to lay their allegiance and their excuses at Mary Tudor's feet. Mary accepted them both. She had no choice, for, like it or not, she was going to have to rule the country with their help, and on Saturday the twenty-first they went on to Cambridge to arrest the Duke of Northumberland in the Queen's name.

‘I beseech you, my lord of Arundel, use mercy towards me, knowing the case as it is,’ said John Dudley to the man who barely a week before had wished he might die at his feet.

‘My lord,’ answered Arundel tiredly, ‘ye should have sought for mercy sooner; I must do according to my commandment.’

Although Mary had wanted the prisoners to be allowed to pass peaceably, some disgraceful scenes took place when Northumberland, his three elder sons, his brother Andrew and some half a dozen others were brought into London through Bishopsgate four days later. Armed men had been posted in the streets to keep the crowds in order and the Duke's escort made him take off the conspicuous red cloak he wore, but he was quickly recognized and pelted with insults, filth and stones. ‘A dreadful sight it was’, wrote Simon Renard, ‘and a strange mutation for those who, a few days before, had seen the Duke enter London Tower with great pomp and magnificence when the Lady Jane went there to take possession, and now saw him led like a criminal and dubbed traitor.’

The entire Dudley family, the Duke, the Duchess and their five sons, were now safely under lock and key, but the Duchess of Northumberland was soon released—‘sooner than expected’, reported Renard—and, like the devoted wife and mother she was, at once hurried off to meet the Queen to try ‘to move her to compassion towards her children’. This was being too optimistic and Mary ordered her back to London, refusing to let her approach closer than five miles. The Duchess of Suffolk was more fortunate. Although Suffolk had been arrested at Sheen and returned to the Tower on 28 July, the Queen readily granted her cousin Frances a private audience and the Duke suffered no more than a few token days in detention.

Mary made her state entry into London on 3 August. Wearing a gown of purple velvet over a kirtle ‘all thick set with goldsmith's work and great pearl’, King Henry's daughter rode in triumph through newly gravelled streets hung with banners and streamers and lined with cheering crowds, the trumpets blowing proudly before her. Once she had been pretty—small and finely made with a delicate pink and white complexion and the Tudor family's red-gold hair. Now she was painfully thin, indelibly marked by the long years of unhappiness, ill-health and disappointment. Impartial observers still described her as ‘fresh coloured’ but the pink and gold had long since faded, leaving a sandy-haired, tight-lipped little woman, with myopic grey eyes, no eyebrows and a surprisingly deep, gruff voice.

When her procession reached the Tower, the guns thundering a salute, the new Queen was greeted by three kneeling figures: the old Duke of Norfolk, who had been lying under suspended sentence of death ever since 1547; Stephen Gardiner, who had spent most of Edward's reign in prison for his unfashionable religious opinions; and young Edward Courtenay, grandson of Catherine Courtenay née Plantagenet, who had spent most of his life in prison for that reason alone. Mary raised the suppliants, kissed them, saying smilingly, ‘These are my prisoners’, and ordered their immediate release. Other, more recent and more controversial prisoners were not in evidence on this auspicious occasion. The Duke of Northumberland was quartered in the Garden Tower—later popularly dubbed the Bloody Tower—and his sons were crowded together in the Beauchamp Tower, while Jane had now been moved into the Gentleman Gaoler's house next door.

No one, it appears, had made any attempt to intercede for Jane. If her mother had taken the opportunity to speak up for her when she saw the Queen at Newhall on 30 July, it was not reported, and Jane now proceeded to write to Mary herself. It was a long letter of which the original has disappeared—it survives only in an Italian translation re-translated into English—and gives Jane's version of events from her marriage to Guildford Dudley to her early days in the Tower. She freely admitted having done very wrong in accepting the crown and having listened to the persuasions of those who appeared at the time to be wise but who had since proved the contrary. Indeed, her fault was so serious that she quite understood that, ‘but for the goodness and clemency of the Queen’, she could have no hope of pardon. She did, however, deny that she had either consented or been a party to Northumberland's conspiracy at any stage. ‘For whereas I might have taken upon me that of which I was not worthy, yet no one can ever say either that I sought it … or that I was pleased with it.’

Mary believed her. She had always been fond of her little cousin in spite of her heresy—the child couldn't help the way she had been brought up—and her blunt outspokenness. At least you always knew exactly where you stood with Jane, and Mary, transparently honest herself, appreciated that quality in others. In fact, while her brief, incredulous glow of happiness lasted, the Queen was ready to call the whole world her friend, innocently believing that the country in general hated the new ways as much as she did and that the great mass of the people were only waiting for a lead to return thankfully to the fold of the true Roman Church. Living for so many years in rural retreat surrounded by her Catholic household, Mary had completely failed to realize how strongly a nationalistic form of Protestantism had taken root in London and the south-east during the past decade; and had completely misinterpreted the nature of the popular support she had been given. The people were delighted to be rid of the Dudleys and genuinely glad to see the true line of the Tudor succession re-established, but this did not mean they were necessarily prepared to submit once more to the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

For a time Mary clung to her hopes of a peaceful reconciliation. She told the Council on 12 August that she did not wish to ‘compel or constrain other men's consciences’, trusting God would put a persuasion of the truth into their hearts, and shortly afterwards a proclamation was issued in which the Queen expressed her desire that the religion she herself had professed from infancy would now be quietly and charitably embraced by all her subjects. Mass, although still officially illegal, was being celebrated at court with the Privy Councillors (whose consciences were apparently as elastic as their loyalty) attending in a body but within a month of Northumberland's débâcle ominous signs of a Protestant backlash had begun to manifest themselves in the streets of the capital.

The chances of continuing harmony between the Catholic Queen and her independently minded subjects were not improved by Mary's obvious, understandable but injudicious reliance on Simon Renard (who had now taken over from Jehan de Scheyfve as the Emperor's resident ambassador) in preference to her English councillors. Renard's real business, of course, was to see off the French and rebuild the Anglo-Imperial alliance by negotiating the notorious Spanish marriage which, in the event, not only poisoned the political atmosphere beyond recovery but finally wrecked Mary's personal life as well. First, though, it was necessary to steer the inexperienced Queen through the tricky opening weeks of her reign, and Renard soon discovered she was quite unlike any ruler he had ever had dealings with before.

The Emperor had sent instructions that, for the sake of England's internal peace and quiet, his good sister and cousin must be dissuaded from taking too harsh a revenge on her enemies, but it seemed that Mary had no appetite for vengeance. On the contrary, she would have been ready to pardon the Duke of Northumberland himself if the Emperor had wished it and, wrote Renard, suppressing his exasperation with some difficulty: ‘As to Jane of Suffolk, whom they tried to make Queen, she [Mary] could not be induced to consent that she should die.’ All the more so because Mary apparently believed that Jane's marriage to Guildford Dudley was invalid, ‘as she was previously betrothed by a binding promise … to a servitor of the Bishop of Winchester’. The identity of this mysterious fiancé remains unclear, unless it may have been a mistake for the Earl of Hertford, but in any case Mary was firmly convinced of Jane's innocence of any complicity in Northumberland's intrigues and her conscience would not permit her to have a blameless young creature put to death.

Appalled, the ambassador pointed out as forcefully as he dared that, while Jane might be morally innocent, the fact remained that she had actually borne the title of Queen—a title which could always be revived at some future date to trouble the succession to the crown. It was also necessary to remember that, in affairs of state, power and tyranny unfortunately sometimes achieved better results than right or justice, and Renard hastily dredged up a precedent from Roman history when the Emperor Theodosius had felt obliged to order the death of Maximus and Victor his son, ‘notwithstanding his tender age’. But Mary was not to be moved, although she did promise to take every possible precaution before setting the Lady Jane at liberty! Defeated, Simon Renard could only shrug up his shoulders and hope, without much conviction, that the Queen would not soon have cause to regret her extraordinary clemency.

Not even Mary could forgive the Duke of Northumberland, and on 18 August he and his eldest son and William Parr, Marquess of Northampton, were tried and convicted by their peers in Westminster Hall. Next day another, lesser batch of conspirators—Andrew Dudley, Sir John Gates, once Edward VI's Captain of the Guard, his brother Henry and Thomas Palmer, Northumberland's instrument in the original attack on the Protector Somerset—were also tried and convicted, but only the Duke, ‘the great wheel’ of the attempted coup, John Gates and Thomas Palmer actually suffered the penalty of high treason. The execution date was fixed for Monday 21 August and all the preparations had been made when John Dudley, whether from a genuine concern for his immortal soul or a last minute hope of pardon, suddenly indicated that he wished to be reconciled to the Catholic faith. Sentence was therefore respited for twenty-four hours to allow the Duke to make his peace with God and the government to make the most of this unexpected and valuable propaganda point. At nine o'clock on the Monday morning, in a carefully staged public spectacle, Northumberland, the Marquess of Northampton, Andrew Dudley, Henry Gates and Thomas Palmer were escorted to the chapel of St Peter-ad-Vincula by Tower Green to attend mass which, according to one rather scornful witness, was celebrated with all the elaborate business of elevation of the Host, pax giving, blessing, crossing, ‘breathing’, turning about, ‘and all the other rites and accidents of old time appertaining’. When the time came for the prisoners to receive the sacrament, Northumberland turned to the congregation saying:

My masters, I let you all to understand that I do most faithfully believe this is the very right and true way, out of the which true religion you and I have been seduced these sixteen years past, by the false and erroneous preaching of the new preachers. … And I do believe the holy sacrament here most assuredly to be our Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ; and this I pray you all to testify and pray for me.

Next morning, standing on the scaffold on Tower Hill, forty-three years almost to the day, so the chroniclers noted, since his father had stood in the same place for the same reason, John Dudley repeated his solemn apostasy in the presence of a crowd of several thousand spectators and there were, it was thought, ‘a large number turned with his words’.

Just a week later, on Tuesday 29 August, the author of the Chronicle of Queen Jane (generally thought to have been one Rowland Lea, an official of the royal mint living in the Tower), dropped in to dine at the house of his friend Partridge the Gentleman Gaoler and found the Lady Jane, who had chosen to eat with the family that day, sitting in the place of honour ‘at the board's end’, attended by her page and one of her ladies. Gracious and self-possessed, Jane gave the Gaoler and his guest permission to remain covered in her presence, ‘commanding Partridge and me to put on our caps’, drank the visitor's health and bade him heartily welcome.

Talk at the dinner table naturally turned to current affairs. ‘The Queen's majesty is a merciful Princess,’ said Jane, who knew by this time that she was not to be executed; ‘I beseech God she may long continue and send his bountiful grace upon her.’ After this, recorded the diarist, ‘we fell in discourse of matters of religion’. Jane wanted to know who had preached at St Paul's Cross the previous Sunday. Then she asked:

‘Have they mass in London?’

Yes, answered Lea cautiously, ‘in some places’.

‘It may be so,’ said Jane. ‘It is not so strange as the sudden conversion of the late Duke; for who would have thought he would have done so?’

‘Perchance he thereby hoped to have had his pardon,’ suggested someone and thus released the floodgates of Jane's eloquence.

‘Pardon?’ she cried. ‘Woe worth him! he hath brought me and our stock in most miserable calamity and misery by his exceeding ambition. But for the 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 taking so hated and evil spoken of by the commons? and at his coming into prison so wondered at [reviled] as the like was never heard by any man's time. Who was 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 dissimulation, so was his end thereafter. I pray God, I, nor no friend of mine, die so. Should I, who am 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, by like would leave no other mean [un]attempted. But God be merciful to us, for he sayeth, Whoso denieth him before men, he will not know him in his Father's Kingdom.’

‘With this and much like talk the dinner passed away’, wrote Rowland Lea, to whom we are indebted for a splendid and revealing account of Jane Grey in full and vigorous flow. The party ended in a polite exchange of compliments, Lea thanking Lady Jane for condescending to accept him in her company and Jane thanking Partridge for bringing ‘this gentleman’ to dinner.

‘Well, madam,’ responded the Gaoler apologetically, ‘we were somewhat bold, not knowing that your ladyship dined below until we found your ladyship there.’ On this note of mutual courtesy the two men took their leave, Rowland Lea surely hurrying away to record his interesting experience while it was fresh in his mind.

As well as vividly illustrating Lady Jane's opinion of the late Duke of Northumberland and her own stern religious philosophy, Lea's account makes it clear that the physical circumstances of her imprisonment were not too disagreeable. She was, in fact, permitted a staff of four—two waiting gentlewomen, Mrs Tilney and Mrs Jacob, a manservant and her old nurse, Mrs Ellen—while the generous sum of ninety-odd shillings a week had been allocated out of government funds for her board and lodging, with a further allowance of twenty shillings a week for each of the servants. Partridge and his wife treated her with respectful consideration. She was allowed to walk in the Queen's garden. Nobody was bullying her and she no longer had to cope with the oppressive demands of her parents, her husband or her in-laws. She had books, peace and quiet and leisure for study, plus the Queen's assurance of life and eventual liberty. Jane would not have needed telling that, all things considered, she had escaped exceedingly lightly. Her pleasure at seeing a new face at the dinner table indicates that she was beginning to suffer the boredom which is the inevitable lot of every prisoner and no doubt she especially missed the stimulus of intellectual companionship and conversation. But that was a relatively trivial and, hopefully, temporary deprivation, and she was able to alleviate the monotony a little round about this time by composing a long and forthright denunciation of Dr Harding, once a chaplain at Bradgate and her own first tutor, now unhappily ‘fallen from the truth of God's most Holy Word’.

In the new, chilly political climate Dr Harding had hastened to follow his more prudent brethren back into the shelter of the Roman fold, to the fluently expressed disgust of his former pupil who had no patience with such chicken-hearted behaviour. ‘I cannot but marvel at thee and lament thy case’, she wrote,

who seemed sometime to be the lively member of Christ, but now the deformed imp of the devil; sometime the beautiful temple of God, but now the stinking and filthy kennel of Satan; sometime the unspotted spouse of Christ, but now the unshamefaced paramour of Antichrist; sometime my faithful brother, but now a stranger and apostate; sometime a stout Christian soldier, but now a cowardly runaway. Yea, when I consider these things, I cannot but speak to thee, and cry out upon thee, thou seed of Satan.

Nineteenth-century biographers of Jane Grey had some trouble with this sustained piece of invective, which does not exactly fit the image of gentle Jane meek and mild, that model of Christian forbearance fashioned for the edification of Victorian schoolrooms; and they made strenuous efforts to dissociate their heroine from the ‘vulgar polemic’ of this ‘coarsely violent epistle’, refusing to believe that such unbecoming language could have issued from the mind or pen of an amiable young female. Jane's own contemporaries took a more robust view and welcomed the Harding letter—which was later printed both as a popular pamphlet and in John Foxe's best-selling Book of Martyrs—as proceeding from the zealous heart of a justly aggrieved Christian lady. The Elizabethans saw nothing unbecoming in such epithets as ‘sink of sin’, ‘child of perdition’ or even ‘white-livered milksop’ being applied to someone who had let the side down as badly as poor Harding had done.

‘Oh, wretched and unhappy man, what art thou but dust and ashes?’ continued the aggrieved Christian lady:

And wilt thou resist thy Maker that fashioned thee and framed thee? Wilt thou now forsake Him, that called thee … to be an ambassador and messenger of his eternal word? … How canst thou, having knowledge, or how darest thou neglect the law of the Lord and follow the vain traditions of men; and whereas thou hast been a public professor of his name, become now a defacer of his glory? Wilt thou refuse the true God, and worship the invention of man, the golden calf, the whore of Babylon, the Romish religion, the abominable idol, the most wicked mass? Wilt thou torment again, rend and tear the most precious body of our Saviour Christ with thy bodily and fleshly teeth? … Can neither the punishment of the Israelites … nor the terrible threatenings of the prophets, nor the curses of God's own mouth, fear thee to honour any other god than him?

Jane went on to batter her target with fusillades of texts from the Old and New Testaments, before exhorting him to repentance:

Disdain not to come again with the lost son, seeing you have so wandered with him. Be not ashamed to turn again with him from the swill of strangers … acknowledging that you have sinned against heaven and earth. … Be not abashed to come home again with Mary, and weep bitterly with Peter, not only with shedding the tears of your bodily eyes, but also pouring out the streams of your heart—to wash away, out of the sight of God, the filth and mire of your offensive fall. Be not abashed to say with the publican, ‘Lord be merciful unto me a sinner.’ … Last of all, let the lively rememberance of the last day be always before your eyes, remembering the terror that such shall be in at that time, with the runagates and fugitives from Christ … and contrariwise, the inestimable joys prepared for them, that fearing no peril, nor dreading death, have manfully fought and victoriously triumphed over all power of darkness, over hell, death and damnation through their most redoubted captain, Christ, who now stretcheth out his arms to receive you.

The effect of all this on Dr Harding does not appear to be recorded, but it is difficult to avoid the impression that Jane had relished the opportunity of letting off mental steam.

Meanwhile, life in the Gentleman Gaoler's house continued on its uneventful course. In the Tower some prisoners were released, among them King Edward's old tutor the famous Greek scholar Sir John Cheke, and a couple of judges, Sir Roger Cholmley and Sir Edward Montague; while two churchmen, Bishop Hugh Latimer and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, were brought in. Some of the Dudley wives were given leave to visit their husbands, while the Dudley brothers were now being allowed to exercise on the leads—that is, the roof—of their prison in the Beauchamp Tower. At the end of September there was a renewed flurry of activity in the royal apartments as the court came briefly back into residence preparatory to the Queen's coronation and the traditional eve-of-coronation Recognition Procession through the city to Westminster. None of this had anything to do with Jane. Her sixteenth birthday came and went and she remained, apparently forgotten, in her quarters in the Gentleman Gaoler's house looking out on to Tower Green.

The first Parliament of the new reign met on 5 October and one of its first acts was to repeal the divorce of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, pronouncing the marriage of the Queen's father and mother to have been good and lawful. It also repealed all the religious legislation passed in her brother's time, thus in effect returning the English Church to the state in which Henry VIII had left it—an arrangement which well suited all those members of both houses who had done so nicely out of the general share-out of church property in the 1530s, and 1540s. It was less acceptable to the militant Protestants, and already there had been violent demonstrations at the weekly sermons at Paul's Cross, necessitating strong counter-measures by government and civic authorities. Also, as Renard had feared, the Queen's moderation and policy of substituting fines for executions were being interpreted as weakness. ‘Her authority’, he wrote, ‘has suffered from the pecuniary compositions for offences, and people have come to judge her actions so freely that they go so far as to laugh at them.’ It was for this reason, so the ambassador heard, that Mary had now agreed to take a different course, ‘and to order the four sons of the Duke of Northumberland, and Jane of Suffolk, to be tried and sentenced to receive capital punishment for the crimes they have committed’. This despatch was dated 19 September, but it was mid-November before Jane finally stood trial, and her co-defendants were her husband, two of his brothers, Ambrose and Henry, and Thomas Cranmer.

The five were led out of the Tower on foot to be arraigned at the Guildhall, the executioner, as was customary, carrying the axe before them. Jane, dressed entirely in black—black cloth gown, a cape lined and trimmed with velvet, a French hood also in black with a velvet billament or border, a prayer book bound in black velvet hanging from her girdle and another book of devotions held open in her hands—walked behind Guildford in the procession, attended by her two ladies. The proceedings, held before Richard Morgan, newly appointed Justice of the Common Pleas, were brief and formal. The defendants pleaded guilty to the charges of high treason brought against them, and sentence—hanging, drawing and quartering for men, burning or beheading at the Queen's pleasure for Lady Jane—was pronounced. Then came the return journey to the Tower, the edge of the headsman's axe turned towards the prisoners.

But it was still by no means certain when, or even if, the executions would take place. Already another fate was being reserved for Thomas Cranmer, while the general opinion remained that Lady Jane and the rest of the young Dudleys would be spared. ‘It is believed that Jane will not die’, reported Renard on the day after the trial; and, again, three days later: ‘As for Jane, I am told her life is safe.’


The social position of the Suffolk Greys in the late autumn of 1553 must surely have been uniquely unusual. While her eldest daughter and son-in-law remained in the Tower, convicted traitors lying under sentence of death, albeit suspended sentence, the Duchess of Suffolk was to be found preening herself at court, apparently in high favour. On at least one occasion that winter the Queen had chosen to give her cousin Frances precedence over her half-sister Elizabeth, with whom she was on increasingly bad terms. In his eagerness to cut his connections with the Greys, the Earl of Pembroke had repudiated his son's marriage with the Lady Catherine and packed her off back to her parents; and Catherine—who was growing into a very pretty girl, the only one of the sisters to show promise of inheriting their Tudor grandmother's wilful beauty—was now at court with her mother, she and plain little Mary Grey having been admitted to the privileged ranks of the Queen's maids of honour. Even the Duke of Suffolk, reported Simon Renard on 17 November, had ‘made his confession as to religion’ and as a result had been let off paying a fine of £20,000 and reinstated in polite society by means of a general pardon. Although Renard continued to regard the whole Grey family with the deepest suspicion—almost as much as he did the sly and heretical Princess Elizabeth—it is hardly surprising that in the circumstances Lady Jane's trial should have been regarded as little more than a formality and her release expected to be no more than a matter of time.

But even before Jane stood in the Guildhall to hear verdict and sentence pronounced on her, the chain of events which would lead to her death had begun its inexorable progression. ‘In the beginning of November was the first notice among the people touching the marriage of the Queen to the King of Spain’, noted the Chronicle of Queen Jane, and as it became generally known that Mary intended to marry her cousin Philip, son and heir of the Emperor Charles V, rumbles of disapproval, ominous as distant thunder, were immediately audible. Some people, indeed, were moved to wonder if the late Duke of Northumberland was going to be proved right after all, for Philip was not merely a foreigner and a Catholic, he represented the most formidable Catholic power bloc in Europe. The various Protestant pressure groups reacted by intensifying their anti-Catholic propaganda campaign; both Houses of Parliament joined in sending a deputation to the Queen begging her to marry an Englishman and there were serious misgivings within the Privy Council itself.

No responsible person, of course, questioned that the Queen should marry. The idea of a single woman attempting to govern a nation so notoriously unruly as the English was not to be thought of. Obviously she must have a husband to support and guide her and undertake, as Renard delicately put it, ‘those duties which were not the province of ladies’ but, in the opinion of the great majority of her subjects, her wisest choice of consort would have been Edward Courtenay, the last sprig of the white Plantagenet rose. Courtenay, now in his mid-twenties, had high birth, good looks, good manners and plenty of personal charm to recommend him: ‘le plus beau et plus agréable gentilhomme d'Angleterre’, commented Antoine de Noailles approvingly. Mary had released him from the Tower and was quite prepared to be kind to him—his only crime, after all, lay in being the great-grandson of King Edward IV, and his parents had been among Queen Catherine of Aragon's most active supporters—but she made it perfectly clear that she had no intention of marrying him, or any other Englishman for that matter. Tragically, nothing in Mary's experience had ever given her cause to love or trust her own countrymen. Ever since her unhappy teens she had been forced to turn to her mother's kin for advice and friendship and now the fact that Philip of Spain, a twenty-six-year-old widower, happened to be the most brilliant match in Europe undoubtedly weighed far less with her than the fact that he was also the grandson of her mother's sister.

She had not reached her decision lightly. It had taken Simon Renard three months of patient and tactful persuasion, three months of slipping in and out of back entrys and up the privy stairs for quiet late-evening talks to reassure the nervous Queen and overcome her maidenly shrinking, her self-doubts and fears that Philip was too young for her—or she too old for him—that in her ignorance of ‘that which was called love’ she would not be able to satisfy him; for, as she shyly confessed, she had never harboured thoughts of voluptuousness, had never even considered marriage until God had been pleased to raise her to the throne. Although one of the reasons publicly advanced in favour of the Queen's marriage was to secure an heir to safeguard the succession, few people seriously believed that Mary, at her age and with her medical history, would ever be able to bear a child. Mary herself was not so sure. God had already worked one miracle for her. Might he not be planning to work another, to give her a son—a future Catholic King of England? For, with Philip at her side and all the might of the Holy Roman Empire behind her, surely nothing could prevent her from carrying out God's manifest purpose of leading her country back into the arms of the true Church? When, therefore, at the end of October 1553, after weeks of heart-searching and prayer, the Queen finally pledged her word to Renard in the presence of the Holy Sacrament that she would marry Philip and love him perfectly, it was done with desperate sincerity and in the conviction that her answer had been divinely inspired.

The only Englishman who might have been able to get Mary to see the sort of trouble she was storing up for herself was Stephen Gardiner, now her Lord Chancellor, but, again unhappily, little trust or ease of communication existed between them. Mary could not forget the part the Bishop of Winchester had once played in helping her father to divorce her mother and Gardiner, faced with a stubborn, emotional woman who had already given her confidence elsewhere, seems to have lacked both nerve and heart for doing battle. He could argue cogently enough with Renard, but to Mary could only object rather lamely that the people would never stomach a foreigner who would make promises he would not keep. The Queen retorted that her mind was made up, and if her Chancellor put the will of the people before her wishes, then he was not keeping his promises. Stephen Gardiner, with his long and bitter experience of Tudor temperament, retreated saying the matter was too dangerous to meddle with and he was, in any case, handicapped by his known partiality for Courtenay, to whom he had become much attached while they were in the Tower together. As Mary waspishly remarked, was it reasonable to expect her to marry someone just because the Bishop had made friends with him in prison? She took an even higher tone with the Speaker of the House of Commons. Her marriage was entirely her own affair and Parliament had no business to interfere in her private life. Besides, she added in a burst of petulance, if they tried to force her to take a husband who would not be to her liking, they would cause her death: she would not live three months and would have no children and then perhaps they would be sorry!

Across the Channel the French were taking a thoroughly gloomy view of the situation. Faced with the prospect of seeing his good sister the Queen of England married to his greatest enemy, King Henri II took little comfort from Mary's assurances that she meant to continue to live in peace and amity with her neighbours no matter whom she married. As he observed to the English ambassador Nicholas Wotton in December: ‘It is to be considered that a husband may do much with his wife; and it shall be very hard for any wife to refuse her husband any thing that he shall earnestly require of her.’ Wotton had been about in the world, the King went on, and knew how subtle and crafty the Spaniards were. Indeed, the danger that England would be dragged into war with France was one of the most serious and, as it turned out, well-founded objections to the Spanish marriage.

In drawing up his son's marriage treaty, Charles V was leaning over backwards in his efforts to take account of the delicate susceptibilities of the English—an alliance which would give him command of the vital sea route between Spain and the Netherlands was worth any amount of diplomacy. But the English were currently in the grip of one of their periodic attacks of xenophobia, and many otherwise quite level-headed people preferred to listen to the scaremongering of such interested parties as the French ambassador and the left-wing Protestants, who were busy spreading rumours that a horde of Spaniards, all armed to the teeth, was poised to invade their shores; that England was about to become a province of the Empire with the Pope's authority reimposed by force.

As the year drew to its close public alarm and suspicion, plus widespread dissatisfaction over the government's handling of affairs in general, was reaching a point where Antoine de Noailles at the French embassy felt the time had come to attempt further destabilization, especially as the means lay so conveniently ready to hand. The Queen might have chosen to reject Edward Courtenay, but there was always Elizabeth, ‘and from what I hear’, wrote de Noailles on 14 December,

it only requires that my Lord Courtenay should marry her, and that they should go together to the counties of Devonshire and Cornwall. Here it can easily be believed that they would find many adherents, and they could then make a strong claim to the crown, and the Emperor and the Prince of Spain would find it difficult to suppress this rising.

Certainly Elizabeth and Courtenay, who had recently been created Earl of Devon, should have made a powerful combination. Indeed, the romantic appeal of this handsome, well-matched young couple, both of the English blood royal, ought to have been irresistible, but for one serious snag. ‘The misfortune’, admitted de Noailles, ‘is that the said Courtenay is of such a fearful and timid disposition that he dare not make the venture.’ It was exasperating when so many influential people would have been ready and willing to help, but there was no denying the fact that, for all his patrician breeding and winning ways, Courtenay had turned out to be a poor creature, with a vicious streak beneath the charm. He was plainly untrustworthy and would doubtless go to pieces in a crisis. However, de Noailles, who had to work with the material available, continued to hope that, carefully handled, he would make a useful tool. As for Elizabeth, the ambassador seems to have taken her co-operation for granted. Whether he had any grounds, other than his own and other people's wishful thinking, for making this assumption it is impossible to say; but if the Princess ever did seriously contemplate raising a rebellion against her sister, the chicken-hearted Courtenay was surely the last person with whom she would willingly have joined forces.

Nevertheless, detailed plans for resisting the threatened Spanish ‘invasion’ were now being drawn up in several quarters and were still under discussion when, on 2 January 1554, the Imperial envoys, led by Count Egmont, arrived ‘for the knitting up of the marriage’ between the Queen and the Prince of Spain. Egmont and his colleagues landed at Tower Wharf to a salute of guns from the Tower batteries, and on Tower Hill a reception committee, headed by Courtenay, was waiting to conduct them ceremoniously through the city. But they got no welcome from the watching crowds, for ‘the people, nothing rejoicing, held down their heads sorrowfully’. The day before, the embassy servants had been pelted with snowballs, but at least nothing was actually thrown at the distinguished visitors themselves.

The treaty signed on 12 January should have been generous enough in its provisions and safeguards to satisfy the most exacting Englishman, but unfortunately the rising tide of panic and prejudice sweeping the country could no longer be stemmed by reason. The mindless rallying-cry: ‘We will have no foreigner for our King’, had temporarily driven out common sense, and within a week word reached London that Sir Peter Carew was up in Devonshire ‘resisting of the King of Spain's coming’. Almost simultaneously news came in that Sir Thomas Wyatt, son of the poet, was up in Kent ‘for the said quarrel in resisting the said King of Spain’; that Sir James Crofts had departed for Wales, ‘as it is thought to raise his power there’; and that the Duke of Suffolk and his brothers had mysteriously vanished from Sheen.

The fourfold rising had originally been timed for March—to coincide with the expected date of Philip's arrival—but that ‘young fool of a Lord Courtenay’, always the weak link, had lost what little nerve he possessed and blabbed to Gardiner; either that, or the Lord Chancellor, who was already suspicious, had wormed a confession out of his protégé. At any rate, he told all he knew about ‘the enterprise of Peter Carew and his companions’. The other conspirators, not knowing to what extent their plans had been betrayed and too deeply committed to draw back, were thus scrambled into premature action.

The movement in the West Country had always depended heavily for success on Courtenay's presence, on the prestige of his name and strong family connections with the area. Without him it died at birth and Peter Carew was obliged to leave hurriedly for France, while James Crofts never even got as far as Wales. But in Kent things were different. By 26 January, Thomas Wyatt had taken possession of Rochester and the crews of the royal ships lying in the Medway had gone over to him with their guns and ammunition.

A hastily mustered force, consisting of men of the Queen's guard and the city militia under the command of that reliable old war horse the Duke of Norfolk, was despatched to counter the threat; but the Londoners and a good proportion of the guard promptly defected to the rebels amid rousing cries of ‘We are all Englishmen!’ In the words of one Alexander Brett, they preferred to spend their blood in the quarrel of ‘this worthy captain Master Wyatt’ and prevent at all costs the approach of the proud Spaniards who, as every right-thinking Englishman knew, would treat them like slaves, despoil them of their goods and lands, ravish their wives before their faces and deflower their daughters in their presence.

Thus encouraged, Wyatt pressed on towards the capital and on 30 January he was camped around Blackheath and Greenwich. London was in an uproar of alarm and confusion and for a couple of tensely anxious days the loyalty of the citizens hung in the balance. It was Mary herself who really saved the situation. Reacting like a true Tudor she ignored advice to seek her own safety and marched into the city to make a fighting speech in the crowded Guildhall that not even Elizabeth could have bettered. Her audience rose to her, and when Wyatt reached Southwark on 3 February he found the bridge closed and defended against him.

It was a long time since London had last had an army at its gates and ‘much noise and tumult was everywhere’ as shops were shuttered, market stalls hastily dismantled and weapons unearthed from store. Children gazed wide-eyed at the Lord Mayor and his aldermen riding about the streets in unaccustomed battle array, ‘aged men were astonished’ and the women wept for fear. The queen had refused to allow the Tower guns to be turned on the rebels in case the innocent inhabitants of Southwark might be harmed, and after three days' uneasy stalemate Wyatt withdrew his men from the bridge foot, marching them up-river to Kingston, where they crossed to the northern bank and turned eastward again. But the steam had gone out of them now. They were tired and hungry and too much time had been wasted. Still they came trudging on through the western suburbs, reaching Knightsbridge by eleven o'clock on the morning of Ash Wednesday 7 February. There followed some rather indecisive skirmishing with the royal forces, commanded by the Earl of Pembroke, round St James's and Charing Cross and some panic at Whitehall when, in the general turmoil, a cry of treason was raised within the palace as a rumour spread that Pembroke had gone over to the enemy. ‘There’, remarked one observer, ‘should ye have seen running and crying of ladies and gentlewomen, shutting of doors, and such a screeching and noise as it was wonderful to hear.’ But although her very presence chamber was full of armed men and the gunfire from Charing Cross clearly audible, the Queen stood fast, determined that ‘she would tarry to see the uttermost’. She asked for the Earl of Pembroke and was told he was in the field. ‘Well then,’ answered Mary, ‘fall to prayer, and I warrant you we shall hear better news anon; for my lord will not deceive me I know well.’

On this occasion at least, her confidence was not misplaced. Wyatt and a handful of followers got through Temple Bar and on down Fleet Street, but found Ludgate barred and strongly held by Lord William Howard, the Lord Admiral. It was the end for Wyatt. He himself had ‘kept touch’, as he said, but when it came to the point his friends in the city had failed him. He sat for a while in the rain on a bench outside the Belle Sauvage inn and then, realizing it was hopeless, turned back towards Charing Cross. Fighting flared again briefly as Pembroke's forces came up and the men round Wyatt prepared to sell their lives dearly, but the bloodshed was stopped by Norroy herald who approached Wyatt and begged him to give himself up. Wyatt, soaked, exhausted and confused, hesitated for a moment and then yielded.

The rebellion was over, but the Queen's troubles were only just beginning, for either she must bow to the will of the people violently expressed and abandon her marriage or she must stand firm. Mary, deeply hurt, angry and bewildered, knew that she must stand firm and this meant she could no longer afford the luxury of showing mercy. Inevitably the first victim of the government's new hard-line policy was the Nine Days Queen. Jane Grey might have been innocent of any complicity in Northumberland's treason; innocent she undoubtedly was of complicity in the Wyatt rebellion—but this did not alter the fact that her continued existence had now come to represent an unacceptable danger to the state. Her own father's recent behaviour alone made that abundantly clear.

Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, who owed his life and liberty entirely to Mary's generosity, had repaid her by attempting to raise the midland shires against her and had been deeply involved with Wyatt. Summoned to court on 25 January, he told the messenger that he was on the point of hastening to the Queen's side. ‘Marry, I was coming to her grace. Ye may see I am booted and spurred ready to ride; and I will but break my fast and go.’ Instead he rode northwards and was next heard of at Stony Stratford. He subsequently turned up in the towns of Leicester and Melton Mowbray, issuing proclamations against the Spanish marriage and to ‘avoid strangers out of the realm’, but he gathered little or no support. Coventry barred its gates against him and by this time the Earl of Huntingdon was in hot pursuit. Increasingly isolated and finding himself ‘destitute of all such aid as he looked for among his friends in the two shires of Leicester and Warwick’, the Duke fled to his nearby manor of Astley, where he and his brother John ‘bestowed themselves in secret places’ within the park. The story goes that they were betrayed by a keeper named Underwood and that the Duke was found concealed in the trunk of a hollow tree and Lord John buried under a pile of hay. Some accounts add the picturesque detail that the Duke's hiding place was sniffed out by a dog, whose barking led the hunters to their quarry.

The assertion that Suffolk had re-proclaimed his daughter during this unprofitable excursion round the shires appears to be inaccurate—indeed it is explicitly denied by the Chronicles of Stowe and Holinshed. But either way it hardly matters. What did matter was that Jane had once been publicly proclaimed; that she had been nominated as heir by the late King Edward, who was now equipped with a fully grown Protestant halo, and that she had actually worn the crown. What was more likely, in the present highly volatile political situation, than that she might again be used as the figurehead of a Protestant plot? Few people urged this view more strongly than men like Arundel, Winchester and Pembroke, so recently prominent Protestant plotters themselves and who—with the prospect of the imminent arrival of a strong-minded Spanish consort before them—were more than ever determined to see any inconvenient reminders of their past indiscretions permanently obliterated. Mary would have saved Jane if it had been within her power to do so, but neither Mary, for all her obstinate, conscientious courage, nor Jane with her formidable intellectual capacity and passionate intensity of conviction, was a match for the desperate, ruthless mafiosi which surrounded them. Both, in their different ways, were the helpless prisoners of their circumstances.

Guildford Dudley was to die with his wife, and their execution date was originally fixed for Friday 9 February. But although the Queen had been unable to save her cousin's life, she was determined to make a last-minute effort to save her soul and sent Dr Feckenham, the new Dean of St Paul's, over to the Tower with a few days' grace to see what he could do with this especially obdurate heretic.

In his late thirties, comfortably stout and pink-faced, John Feckenham had a reputation for persuasiveness. A kind-hearted man, able and sensible, he was also unusually liberal in his outlook for a cleric in that embattled age. Jane received him politely, telling him he was welcome if his coming was to give Christian exhortation, and prepared to engage in the stimulating cut and thrust of theological debate for the last time.

She defended the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, parrying Feckenham's ‘St Paul saith, “If I have all faith without love, it is nothing”’ with a sharp:

‘True it is; for how can I love him whom I trust not, or how can I trust him whom I love not? Faith and love go both together, and yet love is comprehended in faith.’ It was perfectly acceptable for a Christian to do good works, ‘yet may we not say that they profit to our salvation. For when we have done all, yet we be unprofitable servants, and faith only in Christ's blood saveth us.’

The discussion then touched on the correct scriptural number of the sacraments, before coming to what was always the crux of any argument between the two creeds, the true nature of the eucharist. Jane's position was predictably unambiguous:

‘The sacrament of the Lord's Supper … is a sure seal and testimony that I am, by the blood of Christ, which he shed for me on the cross, made partaker of the everlasting kingdom.’

And when she was asked: ‘What do you receive in that sacrament? Do you not receive the very body and blood of Christ?’ her response came prompt and confident:

‘No surely, I do not so believe. I think that at the supper I neither receive flesh nor blood, but bread and wine; which bread when it is broken, and the wine when it is drunken, put me in remembrance how that for my sins the body of Christ was broken, and his blood shed on the cross.’

‘But’, protested Feckenham, ‘doth not Christ speak these words: “Take eat, this is my body?” Require you any plainer words? Doth he not say it is his body?’

‘And so he saith, “I am the vine, I am the door”,’ retorted Jane. ‘Doth not St Paul say, “He calleth things that are not, as though they were”?’ Surely anyone could recognize figurative speech for what it was. And now she went over to the attack: ‘And I pray you, answer me this one question: Where was Christ when he said, “Take eat, this is my body”? Was he not at the table when he said so? He was at that time alive and suffered not till the next day. What took he but bread? What brake he but bread? And what gave he but bread?’

When Feckenham objected that she was grounding her faith ‘upon such authors as say and unsay, both with a breath, and not upon the church’, again the reply came with the authentic ring of total, terrifying conviction:

‘I ground my faith upon God's word, and not upon the church. … The faith of the church must be tried by God's word, and not God's word by the church; neither yet my faith.’

Feckenham was not yet ready to admit defeat in the battle to secure this so desirable convert and continued the argument with ‘many strong and logical persuasions’; but faith, wrote Jane, had armed her resolution against words and to forsake that faith for love of life, as her old dread Northumberland had done, would still have been the ultimate shame for this eager, vital sixteen-year-old.

The account of the confrontation with Feckenham, which has come down to us in the robustly Protestant pages of John Foxe, naturally gives Jane the last word and the victory; but Jane herself, who accepted Feckenham's offer to accompany her to the scaffold, parted from him with some regret, since they plainly could not look forward to resuming their discussions in the hereafter. Unless, of course, he repented and turned to God. She would, she told him, ‘pray God in the bowels of his mercy to send you his Holy Spirit; for he hath given you his great gift of utterance, if it pleased him also to open the eyes of your heart’. She seems, in fact, to have been rather disturbed by the realization that she had come dangerously close to liking a Catholic priest; that she had found him sympathetic, intelligent and cultivated—rather more so than a good many of the Protestants she had known. In the circumstances it was perhaps just as well that she had so little time to brood on the worrying implications of this discovery, which seem to be hinted at in the prayer she is said to have composed shortly before her execution:

O merciful God … be thou now unto me a strong tower of defence. … Suffer me not to be tempted above my power, but either be thou a deliverer unto me out of this great misery, of else give me grace patiently to bear thy heavy hand and sharp correction. … Arm me, I beseech thee, with thy armour, that I may stand fast … above all things, taking to me the shield of faith, wherewith I may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

The sharp correction was now no longer to be delayed and those last days were taken up with the macabre preparations which had to be made by all high-born victims of judicial execution. The Lady Jane must choose a suitable dress for her final public appearance and nominate two members of her little household to witness her death and afterwards ‘decently dispose’ of her body. The speech which she would make from the scaffold must be polished and copied out for subsequent circulation and publication. There were farewell letters to be written, too, and farewell presents to be chosen. Her sister Catherine got her Greek testament—‘it will teach you to live and learn you to die’—plus a long and windy letter of spiritual exhortation, wasted on feather-headed Catherine. To her father, who had been brought back to the Tower on Saturday 10 February, Jane sent a message of comfort, though her outraged sense of justice had also impelled her to remind him that her death was being hastened by one ‘by whom my life should rather have been lengthened’. There was no letter or message for her mother and none for her husband.

The story is told that Guildford had expressed an earnest wish to see Jane once more before he died. This was repeated to the Queen, who sent word that if it would be of any consolation to them the young couple might be allowed to meet to say goodbye, but Jane refused the proffered indulgence, saying it would only be upsetting and disturb their ‘holy tranquillity’—better to wait until they met again ‘in a better place’. It's possible that she may have hoped she would like him better there, but the story has the same odour of sanctimonious sentimentality which hangs over most of the anecdotes which have gathered around Jane, and there seems to be no real evidence that she ever showed the slightest interest in Guildford at any time during their imprisonment, or he in her. Much has been made of the fact that the name ‘Jane’ was found carved on a wall of the prison quarters shared by the Dudley brothers, but there is no proof that this was a testimony to anything other than boredom; no proof that it was even Guildford's work or referred to Jane Grey—the Duchess of Northumberland was also called Jane.

However, when the unlucky Guildford was brought out of the Beauchamp Tower at ten o'clock on the morning of Monday 12 February on his way to the execution ground on Tower Hill, Jane had stationed herself at her window to see his procession leave. She waited obstinately for its return, and presently the cart with the decapitated carcase of that tall, strong boy who had wanted her to make him a king lying on the bloodstained straw, the head wrapped roughly in a cloth, rattled past below her on its way to St Peter's. The sight moved her perhaps more than she had expected, and those standing by heard her murmur Guildford's name and something about ‘the bitterness of death’.

Guildford Dudley had died like a gentleman, quietly and without fuss, and now it was Jane's turn. Her execution, as befitted a princess of the blood royal, was to take place privately on Tower Green—from Partridge's house she would have had an excellent view of her scaffold being erected ‘over against the White Tower’—and as soon as the officials were ready she came out leaning on the arm of the Lieutenant, Sir John Brydges. Her two attendants, Mrs Ellen and Elizabeth Tylney, were in tears, but Jane herself, wearing the same black gown she had worn to her trial, appeared dry-eyed and perfectly composed, her little prayer book open in her free hand. She climbed the steps of the scaffold and then turned, ready to address the invited audience which had gathered to see justice done.

Jane did not waste words. She admitted again that she had done wrong in accepting the crown. ‘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 in innocency, before God and the face of you, good Christian people this day.’ And, says the eyewitness account, ‘she wrung her hands, in which she had her book’. She asked all those present to bear witness that she died a good Christian woman and that she looked to be saved ‘by none other mean, but only by the mercy of God in the merits of the blood of his only son Jesus Christ. … And now, good people,’ she ended, ‘while I am alive, I pray you to assist me with your prayers.’ Even in that last dreadful moment she could find the strength to remain true to her stern Protestant faith and steadfastly reject the age-old comfort of prayers for the dead. Kneeling, she turned to John Feckenham saying: ‘Shall I say this psalm?’ and then repeated the fifty-first psalm, the Miserere, in English ‘in most devout manner’ to the end, Feckenham beside her following her in Latin.

Now there were just the final formalities to be gone through. She got to her feet, handed her gloves and handkerchief to Mrs Tylney and her prayer book to John Brydges's brother Thomas, and began to untie the fastenings of her gown. As the executioner, that nightmare masked figure, stepped forward, Jane, not understanding perhaps that his victim's outer garments were the hangman's traditional perquisite, shrank back and ‘desired him to leave her alone’. Nurse Ellen and Elizabeth Tylney helped her to undress and gave her ‘a fair handkercher to knit about her eyes’. Now the hangman was kneeling for the ritual asking and receiving of forgiveness. He told her to stand upon the straw and in so doing she saw the block for the first time. There was nothing left to do but make an end. Whispering, ‘I pray you despatch me quickly’, she tied the blindfold over her eyes. The world vanished and she was alone, groping in the darkness, crying shockingly: ‘What shall I do? Where is it?’ Someone stepped forward to guide her and ‘she laid her down upon the block and stretched forth her body and said, Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit’. The axe swung and blood spouted obscenely over the scaffold, soaking the straw and spattering the standers-by.

The Tower officials, their work done, began to disperse. Perhaps John Brydges was already reading the message Jane had written for him on the flyleaf of her prayer book:

Forasmuch as you have desired so simple a woman to write in so worthy a book, good Master Lieutenant, therefore shall I as a friend desire you, and as a Christian require you, to call upon God, to incline your heart to his laws 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 born and a time to die; and the day of death is better than the day of our birth. Yours, as the Lord knoweth as a friend, Jane Duddeley.

Some time later that day the butchered corpse of King Henry VIII's great-niece was thrust unceremoniously under the stones of St Peter-ad-Vincula to lie between the bones of two headless Queens: Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Another instalment of the debt incurred in the chapel at Cluny forty years before had been repaid.

The judicial murder of Jane Grey—for no one, even at the time, ever pretended it was anything else—must surely count as one of the most coldly horrifying episodes in English history, but it caused no great stir at the time, even among the aggressively Protestant Londoners. Public opinion, which played such a significant part in saving the life of her cousin Elizabeth, was not mobilized to help Jane, whose name, so far as it was remembered at all, remained too closely associated with the Dudleys and their failed coup to rouse much sympathy. There is a tradition that the oak trees in Bradgate Park were pollarded as a gesture of mourning and defiance when news of Lady Jane's beheading reached Leicestershire, and a story that the judge who had sentenced her died in a raving delirium, crying, ‘Take the Lady Jane from me! Take away the Lady Jane!’

Roger Ascham remembered her, of course. So did John Aylmer, who rose to become Bishop of London under Queen Elizabeth, and so perhaps did John Feckenham, who spent most of the rest of his long life in prison for his religious beliefs, dying in the concentration camp for Catholic priests at Wisbech in Cambridgeshire in 1585, almost the last survivor of his generation. John Foxe included Jane among his gallery of Protestant martyrs, and a somewhat perfunctory regret for the ‘casting away’ of a fair lady whom both God and nature had endowed with singular gifts and graces is expressed in the contemporary histories. In general, though, for reasons both personal and political, it became increasingly tactless to mention the Suffolk family in polite Elizabethan circles. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries resurrected, canonized and dehumanized Jane Grey, so that the cool, sceptical early twentieth century found her totally incomprehensible. The later twentieth century should have no such difficulty, being rather better acquainted with the effects of ideological commitment on personality, for it is only in terms of total commitment to an ideology that Jane can be understood. Only thus is it possible to recognize the loving, lively, gifted child, consistently starved of affection, growing into a forceful, passionate young woman sublimating all her overflowing energies and urges in devotion to an idea, to an ideal. Jane, in fact, had all the makings of a true fanatic. In another age she would have been the perfect prototype of the partisan, the resistance or freedom fighter, the urban guerrilla, perfectly prepared to sacrifice her own or anyone else's life in the furtherance of some cause, be it religious or political.

Frank Prochaska (essay date 1985)

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SOURCE: Prochaska, Frank. “The Many Faces of Lady Jane Grey.” History Today 35 (October 1985): 34-40.

[In the following essay, Prochaska examines the way Grey has been portrayed over the centuries by writers and historians, showing how her legend has taken on new dimensions with successive generations.]

The story of lady Jane Grey, the ‘traitor-heroine of the Reformation’, is perhaps the most poignant personal tragedy in British political history. The grand-daughter of Henry VIII's younger sister Mary and eldest child of the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, this unworldly though resolute girl was flattered, favoured, and ultimately butchered on the block of political expediency. In a more settled age she probably would have lived a quiet, privileged life in the service of her family and her religion. She might have remained unscathed in the turbulent politics of the mid-sixteenth century but for the recklessness of her parents and the ambition of her father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland, whose desire to make her queen upon the death of her cousin, Edward VI, ended in calamity. Yet in British constitutional history her fall from grace is not considered a national disaster. Here she is but a vapour, an insubstantial thing whose reign marks little of consequence save a brief delay in Mary's rule. What she might have become had Northumberland succeeded and her reign endured is pure speculation, except to say that if she had had the army which hedges kings the grounds for her claim to the succession would appear more convincing.

Dead before her seventeenth birthday, few historical characters are so often met yet so little known as Lady Jane Grey. Academic historians have tended to ignore her because of her constitutional unimportance and the problems of documentation. A few biographers have struggled to sift fact from fiction with mixed success, but a full-bodied portrait is impossible given the fragmentary evidence of her fragmented life. She is unusual in that artists and imaginative writers have played such a significant part in her reconstruction, or one might say more accurately her apotheosis. Many people have come into contact with her only through children's books, the theatre, cinema, Harrison Ainsworth's novel, The Tower of London, or Paul Delaroche's dramatic paintings. The iconography of Jane is a fascinating subject in itself.

Innocence offended is the stuff of legend. It is not misleading to say that Jane was a gifted girl, who, obedient to the wishes of her parents, married Lord Guildford Dudley, reluctantly became queen, was deposed by Mary Tudor, tried, found guilty of treason, and executed. This sketch suggests some of the elements of a fairy tale and is easily turned into one. The political confusion of the mid-1550s encouraged the fanciful, for many works by or about Jane were lost or purposely destroyed, perhaps even portraits. Rumour and speculation filled the gap in the public record. Fantasy was given further licence in the decades immediately after her death because it was then impolitic to write about her. Whether by error or deliberate lie, myth fused with history in a way so irresistible that few writers checked the facts even when and where they were available. Who would wish to impugn a girl so high-born and so ill-used? Better to point a moral with her tragic tale. In life Northumberland put her in royal garb. In death others would dress her up to suit themselves. The mythic Jane who has emerged may be more to the public's taste than the historical Jane could ever be. Her many faces are fascinating, less for what they tell us about her than for what they tell us about ourselves.

Embellishments in the written record began to fill out the bare bones of Jane's story soon after Mary's death in 1558. Ballads were among the first to take her up. They depicted Jane and Guildford as blameless victims of parental miscalculation: ‘The thyng our fathers toke in hande / was neither his nor my consente’. (See F. J. Furnivall, Ballads from Manuscripts.) There was no mention here that Jane might have erred in accepting the crown or that Guildford wished to be king despite his wife's objections. Another ballad, in part Elizabethan, asked why innocence should be so wronged and ended with a bitter attack on Mary: ‘For Popery I hate as death / and Christ my saviour love’, cries Jane. This was Jane as the embodiment of anti-Catholicism, a rôle she never deserted once Protestantism became fully established in England. It is very unlikely that a last minute conversion to Rome would have saved her, but to Protestants, especially puritans brought up on Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Jane died ‘for faith and purity’. In their imagination she had a Christ-like holiness, and as such could do no wrong.

Jane the unrivalled scholar has been as appealing as Jane the Protestant saint. Her surviving letters suggest that she was academically gifted, though perhaps less than a genius. But most of her champions have been influenced less by her literary remains than by Roger Ascham, who mentioned her briefly in his work The Schoolmaster, published posthumously in 1570. That Ascham wrote about their meeting at Bradgate more than a decade after the event to give support to an argument about education is rarely mentioned. This, of course, does not make his description of Jane untrue, but one must suspect it as overblown. To Ascham she was the ‘sweet and noble’ lady, whose sole pleasure was the pursuit of knowledge and whose devotion to her gentle tutor Aylmer was in stark contrast to her fear of her cruel and overbearing parents. This portrait of a sad, thoughtful girl was especially attractive to Protestants, who varnished it and hung it beside Jane the martyr.

Many of the features which would be associated with Jane came together in what was the most fulsome tribute to her ever written, Sir Thomas Chaloner's Elegy. He wrote the poem while on diplomatic service in Spain in the early 1560s, but it was not published in England until 1579, years after his death. Written in Latin, it describes Jane as without peer in learning, soul, or beauty and comparable with Socrates for steadfastness in the face of death. Her ‘murderer’, Queen Mary, is savaged throughout. (Chaloner, though a Protestant, had been in Mary's employ.) Most intriguing is his assertion that Jane was pregnant at the time of her execution. Perhaps he knew something that his contemporaries did not, but it is more likely that a pregnant Jane was a deceit which made the ‘marble-hearted’ Mary appear all the more vile. While most of us do not expect historical accuracy from poets, it is interesting to note how often later champions of Jane would pull Chaloner's Elegy off their shelves and hold it up as truth.

One should not expect historical accuracy from playwrights any more than poets. In historical drama distortions of the subject are inevitable, for events must be condensed, complexities of doctrine and politics simplified. Moreover, vigorous narrative must take precedence over accuracy of detail if a play is not to be dull. With Jane dramatists have sought to serve their art by turning her into a romantic heroine. The first play to do so was by John Webster and Thomas Dekker. First produced in 1602 (published 1607) Lady Jane survives only in fragments, but enough remains to suggest that Webster was not writing with historians in mind. Much is made of the trial, for instance, in which Jane and Guildford ‘my Dudley mine own heart’ plead for each other's lives. (No defence was made in the actual trial where they both pleaded guilty.) On the day of their execution Jane laments: ‘My dearest Guildford, let us kiss and part’. In this fiction Jane is executed first and her head brought to Guildford. The Duke of Norfolk concludes the play with the lines: ‘And now their heads and bodies shall be joined / And buried in one grave as fits their loves’. What little is known about their relationship would suggest that they were unlikely to have enjoyed one another's company, but in the theatre, as elsewhere, Jane and Guildford have been lovers ever since, perhaps in posthumous compensation for lives which seem too sad, too tragic, for us to bear.

At the end of the seventeenth century the playwright John Banks produced a more robust and sensual couple in his Innocent Usurper: or, the Death of Lady Jane Grey (1694, republished 1729). ‘To see her is the blessing of the eyes’, coos Guildford, ‘but to lie by her panting side, and hear the beatings of her heart, love's softest language’. Not to be outshone Jane says of Guildford: ‘The rose of youth / the majesty of Kings / Mildness of Babes, and fondness of a Lover, are all Angelically mixt in him’. In a fresh invention Jane accepts the crown only when Guildford threatens suicide by falling on his sword. As in Webster, a trial without a spirited defence is anathema, and the lovers plead for each other's lives. Drawing on Chaloner's Elegy, Banks alludes to an ‘abortive infant’ at the end of the drama. This fitted well with the strident anti-Catholicism of the play, which was likely to suit the prejudices of England under William III.

In the eighteenth century Jane takes on several fresh disguises, perhaps the most notable being her appearance in The Tragedy of the Lady Jane Grey written by the playwright and poet Nicholas Rowe. First performed in 1715 it was dedicated to the Princess of Wales. Ingenuously, Rowe admitted that he heightened Jane's features ‘to make her more worthy of those illustrious hands to which I always intended to present her’. The use of Jane to flatter patrons was not unique to Rowe: the poet Edward Young did it in his poem The Force of Religion; or, Vanquish'd Love, which he dedicated to the Duchess of Salisbury in 1714. Rowe's play is an encomium to a Tudor princess who might be confused for a Hanoverian, if only by a Hanoverian. The anti-Catholicism is cleverly interwoven with the plot, for Jane puts down her Plato and picks up the crown only to save English Protestantism. At the end of the play Mary offers Jane and Guildford life in exchange for a recantation of their faith, but London was not worth a mass and they ‘bend their heads with joy’. The love story is elaborate. There is more than a hint that Jane was in love with her cousin Edward VI. Just as fantastically, Jane becomes a Commonwealth queen. Like Hugh Latimer and John Hales she would save England from social dislocation: ‘My whole heart for wretched England bleeds’.

The works on Jane began to multiply at the end of the eighteenth century, taking on new forms and changes of interpretation. On the continent La Place and Madame de Stael-Holstein, among others, found her story compelling. (The French and German writings on Jane are a subject in themselves.) In England a host of writers, though few of any distinction, adapted her for their own purposes. The reasons for her popularity in the early nineteenth century are complex, but the peculiar configuration of anti-Catholicism, cheap print, and a large female reading public certainly played a part. Chapbooks, female, magazines, ‘histories’, biographies, religious pamphlets, and children's books told her tale with didactic enthusiasm. One might expect from these works a higher level of historical accuracy than in the aforementioned plays, but most lack any spirit of genuine historical inquiry. Most of them appear content to enlarge on Ascham's The Schoolmaster, Chaloner's Elegy, or the works of partisan churchmen. Even Nicholas Rowe is trotted out by one ‘biographer’ as an authority on Jane.

We should not be too severe with these popular writers when many celebrated historians, who might have been expected to show more restraint, contributed their weight to the hyperbole and myth-making about Jane. Bishop Burnet, parroting the Protestant line, called her ‘the wonder of the age’ in his History of the Reformation (1679-1714). Oliver Goldsmith lifted this phrase for his History of England (1771): ‘All historians agree that the solidity of her understanding, improved by continual application, rendered her the wonder of her age.’ David Hume also depended heavily on Burnet and other Anglican worthies for his interpretation of Jane. In the History of England he added his authority to Jane's romance with Guildford. To Hume it was Guildford, so ‘deserving of her affections’ whose entreaties persuaded her to accept the crown. Hume does admit that this was an error of judgement on Jane's part, but he is quick to excuse it. Few writers, however learned, were inclined to find fault with her. The Catholic historian John Lingard, writing in the early nineteenth century, was bold enough to find a blemish in her character (she liked dresses overmuch) and to remind her promoters that they seem ‘to have forgotten that she was only sixteen.’

In England in the decades following the French Revolution Jane was taken up by the evangelicals, who were more interested in encouragements to practical piety than in impartial scholarship. Evangelical Jane is a remarkable concoction. Prim and tidy, she is not much seen on the stage in these years. Prose not poetry is her métier. Her faith is now legendary and resembles her execution dress, both spotless and both ready to be worn at a moment's notice. Her promoters multiply her virtues and magnify them out of all proportion. As the Lady's Monitor declared in 1828, she inherited ‘every great, every good, every admirable quality, whether of mind, disposition, or person’. Even the philosopher William Godwin, unremarkable for his piety but always in need of cash, wrote a hagiography of Jane for children in 1806 under the pseudonym Theophilus Marcliffe. To Godwin, Jane was ‘the most amiable and accomplished woman in Europe’ and ‘the most perfect model of a meritorious young creature of the female sex to be found in history’. One wonders what Mary Wollstonecraft, his wife, would have made of all this.

Godwin contributed to the transformation of Jane into a model of female propriety and virtue suitable for the education of young ladies. One Memoir of the Life of Lady Jane Grey (1834) was explicit on this point. Written out of ‘maternal feelings’ it was hoped that Jane's ‘character, conduct, and perserverance might create a sentiment of admiration, and, perhaps, some little emulation in the hearts of her children’. The Lady's Monitor agreed: ‘What a model for the youth of her sex does this noble girl afford’. As an educational example Jane's scholarship comes to the fore. The literary works attributed to her show her to have a knowledge of English, Latin and Greek; but drawing on Chaloner's Elegy, Jane's nineteenth-century promoters had her the mistress of eight languages, including Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic. Rarely has a reputation for scholarship been so cheaply earned. Perhaps fearing that Jane would look a prig, which she must have done to many of her contemporaries, some writers neatly rounded off her education to include ‘ordinary feminine’ accomplishments. So this ‘mild, humble, and modest spirit’ was also distinguished for her skill in needlepoint and music, just like the ideal Victorian girl.

Stitching and praying, doing her lessons and practising her lute, Jane was not very sexy in the nineteenth century. The evangelicals had a weakness for heroines of romantic proportions, but they did not wish to emphasize the physical. There was no ‘panting’ at Guildford's side as in Banks's Innocent Usurper. The love between them here leans heavily toward conjugal affection, a tenderness bordering on brotherly and sisterly devotion. As one writer put it, the story was ‘not a love-tale, and it would be degrading to indulge in sentimental effusions’. The approved version of Jane's marriage (see, for example, Lady Jane Grey: An Historical Tale, 1791) saw her as a comely housewife, devoted to her parents, her in-laws, and to the local community. No mention here that she and Guildford were not ideally matched, or that she was reported to have contracted a skin disease brought on by her worry that her mother-in-law was trying to poison her. Rather, one pictures the young couple in family prayers, or Jane and the Duchess of Northumberland arm in arm on their district visiting rounds.

Interpretations of Jane have always had implications for the way in which those around her are characterised. By the nineteenth century Jane had become too pure to be coupled with a libertine, too wise to be associated with a fool. Most writers recognised that very little was known about Guildford Dudley, but he had to be virtuous if Jane married him. So Guildford, who some evidence suggests was a wilful mother's boy, indeed a crybaby, became what was asked of him. In the nineteenth century this was typically the ‘chivalrous’ behaviour associated with his ‘illustrious’ birth. As the devoted couple must be innocent, villains were required to explain their tragic downfall and to exculpate them from guilt for their part in usurping the crown. Mary, of course, comes centre stage as an unfeeling bigot. So too does the Duke of Northumberland, whose evil designs are often highlighted. The fact that he converted to Catholicism before his execution was further proof of his perfidy and unsound mind to Protestants.

Probably the most widely read version of Jane's story has been William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London, published in 1840. As a romantic novel it marks a departure from the didactic, often religiously inspired works on Jane which preceded it. Often republished, it continues to be read by adolescents who enjoy romantic fiction and by a few academics who would have us believe that Ainsworth is an undiscovered Dickens. Adorned by Cruickshank drawings, The Tower of London is perhaps the most evocative treatment of Jane's world ever written. The plot is filled with giants, spies, and assorted villains, some historical, some legendary. Jane, who had put on height and glamour by 1840, is tall, beautiful, wise, majestic, and ‘passionately attached’ to the handsome and chivalrous Guildford. She is given a more rounded emotional life by Ainsworth than is usual, for all was not happy in the Dudley ménage. In what might be seen as a lapse into something resembling the truth of their ill-fated marriage, the young couple are permitted a row, over the issue of Guildford's demand to be king. Jane refuses and Guildford walks out in a huff. The squabble is soon overtaken by events, however, as Mary enters the Tower in triumph.

Ainsworth treats Queen Mary fairly by the standards of his time and with more generosity than many eminent historians have been able to muster. Generously indeed, since his Mary pardons Jane and Guildford after their trial and releases them to live in retirement at Sion House. Here the impetuous Guildford plots his revenge and ever eager to wear a crown he joins Sir Thomas Wyatt's rebellion. Jane denounces the plot as futile, but she is unable to talk Guildford out of it. Unwilling to betray him she falls ‘prey to grief almost to despair’. In the abortive rising Guildford is captured; Jane surrenders and pleads with Mary to spare his life. Now a pardon is conditional upon reconciliation with Rome, which neither Jane nor Guildford can contemplate. Sustained by their faith, they reject the entreaties of Mary's confessor Feckenham, declare their undying love to one another, and go to the block with dignity. ‘The axe then fell, and one of the fairest and wisest heads that ever graced the human form, fell likewise.’

Dramatists returned to Jane in the 1880s. No fewer than three plays were published in that decade: Robert Buchanan's A Nine Days' Queen, produced successfully on the West End in 1880; The Earl's Revenge or Lady Jane Grey, by J. W. Ross, a five act verse drama (1882); and John Dudley, A Tragedy for Stage and Closet by Scriptor Ignotus (1886). This last work appears never to have been performed, but in some respects was the most interesting. In common with all the other plays about Jane, she is cast as a radiant girl whose face ‘might well overthrow a world of hearts’. And as in several other versions Guildford presses the crown on her: ‘What! Guildford's hand!—the index of my soul! Could that become the instrument of ill? Nay, then 'til Heaven speaks here—I am Queen.’ The play is, nonetheless, a defence of Mary rather than a narrative of Jane's tragedy. Towards Jane, Mary is charitable in her instincts and tolerant in her views. As the play ends with the execution of Northumberland the question of Mary's responsibility for Jane's death is avoided. Even Northumberland appears human in this drama, which is unusual in avoiding the black and white moral references which feature in other versions of the tragedy. Perhaps this is why Scriptor Ignotus (presumably a Catholic) found it difficult to get Victorian theatre managers to accept it.

While popular historians and biographers continue to recreate Jane, it is likely that in future more people will come into contact with her through cinema or television. This process began in 1936 with the film Tudor Rose (Nine Days a Queen in America) directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Cedric Hardwicke as the Duke of Northumberland (called the Earl of Warwick throughout), John Mills as Guildford, Nova Pilbeam as Jane, and Sybil Thorndike as her nurse. Critics admired it for its poetic language, fine acting, and artistic integrity. A glance at the props and costumes alone refutes the publicity which called it ‘unbending in regard to accuracy’. But there is some history in it, which is perhaps surprising when we consider that it concentrated the politics of 1547-54 into about seventy-eight minutes and aimed to sustain an entertaining and moving narrative. As history it is rather more accurate than any of the plays about Jane. Like most of them it cast Mary as an implacable fanatic; and, of course, Guildford and Jane are star-crossed lovers, though this is treated tamely and to little purpose.

The 1980s face of Jane may be seen in the film directed by Trevor Nunn, Lady Jane, which will be shortly on release. Produced by Peter Snell with a script by David Edgar and starring Helena Bonham Carter as Jane and Cary Elwes as Guildford, the story is played as a romance, set amidst a darkening world of domestic intrigue and national crisis. In her sensuality and political consciousness this Jane is reminiscent of her early eighteenth-century namesake, though attention is paid to her religious and scholarly inclinations. The large number of scenes in the film allows for the inclusion of historical incident and a good deal of what might be called historical effect. As with Tudor Rose there is more accuracy of detail than in the earlier plays, where, even had the dramatists wished to get things right, the constraints of staging were greater. But as Trevor Nunn has said, his film is essentially about the legend, written and directed with a knowledge of the historical Jane. Though visually beautiful, it aims to be a psychological portrait rather than an historical pageant, a narrative of the gradual destruction of an unworldly girl by forces beyond her control. This may capture the psychological truth about Jane far better than the host of former plays, poems, ballads and didactic writings. A later generation will have to judge whether this version is any less obviously the child of its time than earlier ones.

Carole Levin (essay date 1985)

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SOURCE: Levin, Carole. “Lady Jane Grey: Protestant Queen and Martyr.” In Silent but for the Word: Tudor Women as Patrons, Translators, and Writers of Religious Works, edited by Margaret Patterson Hannay, pp. 92-106. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1985.

[In the following essay, Levin argues that Grey was a stronger figure than history has given her credit for, a woman of considerable learning whose letters, prayers, and scaffold speech show her to be courageous and uncompromising in her religious beliefs.]

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, attempted to subvert the Tudor succession and make his daughter-in-law, Jane Grey, queen of England in 1553. The attempt failed, and Lady Jane was executed the following year at the age of sixteen. By the end of the sixteenth century, the English people perceived Lady Jane Grey as the ideal young victim: beautiful, modest, deferential, quiet, and passive. This image, presented in 1599 by Thomas Decker and John Webster in their play, The Famous History of Thomas Wyatt, was further developed by seventeenth-century historians and passed into popular historical mythology, thus making Lady Jane Grey so endearing, especially to the Victorians. Many later historians, such as David Mathew and Barrett L. Beer, have continued to accept the conventional notion of Lady Jane Grey as a weak, powerless victim of political intrigue. But though the myth has clear historical roots, Lady Jane Grey was actually a far stronger figure than this picture would lead us to believe. One of the best educated women of the Tudor period, she was in fact a Protestant queen and martyr of great courage and forthrightness whose life and writings represent a rigid and uncompromising Protestantism that made her one of the best known women of her age.1

Lady Jane Grey's modern biographer Hester Chapman has presented this alternative view: “She was … of the stuff of which the Puritan martyr is made: self-examining, fanatical, bitterly courageous, and utterly incapable of the art of compromise in which the Tudors specialized.”2 David Mathew agrees with Chapman about the intensity of Lady Jane's religious conviction, but is less impressed with her intellectual abilities: “Lady Jane had one great quality, a burning religious zeal which lit up the character of a rather simple girl.” Mathew also describes Jane Grey as passive, and adds that while she was “beautifully educated and very learned,” he doubts that she was at all intelligent (p. 144). Beer characterizes Lady Jane as “easily manipulated … confused and bewildered” (p. 156). I would argue that Mathew and Beer are wrong in their summations of Jane Grey's character. To understand why Lady Jane Grey was more than simply a political pawn, it is necessary to examine carefully both her background and the uncompromising stance of piety she exhibits in her writing.

Most of Lady Jane Grey's works were written during the last six months of her life, while she was a prisoner in the Tower of London. The concerns she expressed in her prayers, letters, and dying speech demonstrate what constituted a religious life, how one could combat the temptations of despair and appropriately prepare for a tranquil death. These concerns link Jane Grey with other political and religious dissidents who sojourned in the Tower and also confronted these issues in their writings.

Lady Jane Grey, the granddaughter of Henry VIII's younger sister Mary, was born in October 1537. Since Henry VIII had only one son, Edward, it was a time of insecure succession. From the time of her childhood many people considered her an important pawn who might, with luck, even become a queen. Her education was appropriate to one of her position and her times. It not only reflected the Reformed church, but also the impact of humanism on attitudes toward women's education. In the first half of the sixteenth century the upper classes considered educating their daughters fashionable, and Lady Jane learned to read as a small child. By the time she was seven, her first tutor, Dr. Harding, had begun her instruction in Latin and Greek as well as a smattering of such modern languages as Spanish, Italian, and French.3 Lady Jane Grey was also to spend a considerable amount of time in biblical and classical study.

Soon after the death of Henry VIII, Lady Jane Grey joined the household of his widow, Catherine Parr. Indeed, such an upbringing away from home was normal for persons of high station at the time, and since Jane Grey was a princess of the blood, the dowager queen's household would be one of the few considered suitable for her. Within a few months of the king's death, Catherine married her former suitor Thomas Seymour, younger brother of the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and maternal uncle to the new king. Many people were scandalized, but Thomas Seymour had plans for attaining power in his nephew's reign, and marriage to the dowager queen could be quite useful. So could control of Lady Jane Grey, and Seymour negotiated with her parents, Henry and Frances Grey, accordingly, promising to arrange a marriage between Jane and her cousin Edward VI. For her parents, having Jane in the queen's household became potentially very important, since through this marriage she would become queen of England.

For Jane Grey it may have been important for other reasons. The Protestant faith in which she had been raised would be further developed under the influence of Catherine Parr, a humanist with Erasmian and Protestant sympathies who had strong ties with Reformers. Parr's book, Lamentacion of a Sinner (1547), was “contemporaneous and controversial,” argues William Haugaard,4 and clearly explicated Protestant attitudes toward the old and new faiths. Roland Bainton describes Lamentacion as “one of the gems of Tudor devotional literature” (p. 165). For Parr, reading the Holy Scripture was of central importance to Christian devotion. Parr argued in favor of justification by faith although she did not reject the importance of good works growing out of faith, as when she claims, “This dignitie of fayth is no derogation to good woorkes, for out of this fayth springeth al good workes. Yet we may not impute to the worthynes of fayth of workes, our justification before God” (in Haugaard, p. 358). These doctrines, central to Protestant theology, will also be found in the later writings of Lady Jane Grey. Undoubtedly, until her death in 1548, Catherine Parr exercised some influence on Jane's development.

After his wife's death, Thomas Seymour dabbled with treason, and he was executed as a traitor in March 1549. By then Lady Jane was back at Bradgate with her parents, who were disappointed that she was not to marry the king and instead had to settle for her betrothal to the son of the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour. But while her political future seemed less bright, she was becoming known both for her outstanding piety and her learning. At this time, she corresponded with such Continental Protestant divines as Martin Bucer and Johann Heinrich Bullinger, and it may have been their influence that gave Lady Jane's theology such a Calvinist tinge.

During this period Roger Ascham visited Bradgate and left a striking picture of this fourteen-year-old young woman in The Scholemaster, which was written for didactic purposes and published in 1570. That his account actually reflects his personal perception, however, is confirmed by letters written by Ascham at the time.5 Ascham describes his encounter with Lady Jane Grey: “I found her in her chamber reading Phoedon Platonis in Greek, and that with as much delight as some gentlemen would read a merry tale in Boccaccio.” Ascham asked Lady Jane why she was not enjoying herself with the others who were out hunting. She responded that those “good folk, they never felt what true pleasure meant.” In answering the question as to how she learned the nature of this true pleasure, Jane replied candidly,

I will tell you … and tell you a truth which perchance you will marvel at. One of the greatest benefits that ever God gave me is that he sent me so sharp and severe parents and so gentle a schoolmaster. For when I am in presence either of 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 which I will not name for the honor I bear them, so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell till time come that I must go to Master Aylmer, who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing whilst I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping because whatsoever I do else but learning is full of grief, trouble, fear, and wholy misliking unto me. And thus my book hath been so much my pleasure, and bringeth daily to me more pleasure and more, that in respect of it all other pleasures in very deed be but trifles and troubles unto me.6

Her reply certainly contradicts the traditional picture of a meek and mild Lady Jane. Though mistreated by her parents, she claims to have compensated for this unkindness by exercising her mind and finding pleasure in study. She had enough insight to recognize that she was mistreated, and did not feel the necessity to hide that information from a sympathetic stranger. Unwilling to accept her parents' treatment of her unquestioningly and in silence, she had the courage and forthrightness to speak out.

Two other incidents occurred late in Edward VI's reign that Protestant hagiographers greatly emphasized in their discussions of Lady Jane Grey in the years after her death. Both of these incidents involved her Tudor cousin, the Lady Mary. One occurred when she was visiting Mary. In defiance of the law Mary had mass said in her household. While passing the chapel, Lady Jane saw Anne Wharton make a low curtsey to the sacrament on the altar. Jane asked Lady Wharton why she had curtsied, and whether the Lady Mary was in there. When Lady Wharton replied no, “that she made her curtsey to Him that made us all,” Jane quipped, “Why … how can He be there, that made us all, and the baker make him?” Her satiric levity insulted Mary once it was reported to her, and she “did never love [Jane] after,” John Foxe reports. Lady Jane demonstrated the same blunt integrity in another confrontation with Mary, this time over the issue of appropriate clothing. Mary had sent her cousin a richly elaborate dress as a gift, but, according to John Aylmer, Jane refused to wear it, saying “Nay that were a shame to follow my Lady Mary against God's word, and leave my Lady Elizabeth which followeth God's word.”7

Of course most Tudor strategists considered Jane Grey to be more important for her position than for her great learning or her convictions. This concern for her political value became significant in 1553 when it was evident that Edward VI was dying. According to Henry VIII's will, should Edward die without heirs the crown would pass first to his Catholic daughter Mary, and only then to his Protestant daughter Elizabeth. Either of these choices, however, would have meant the end of his career to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and de facto ruler of England since the fall of the Duke of Somerset. Whether the decision to upset the succession and overturn Henry VIII's will began with the dying boy-king, who wanted to maintain England as a Protestant country, or with Northumberland, who wanted to maintain his power, is still disputed.8 In any event, in May 1553 Lady Jane Grey was married to Dudley's youngest and only unmarried son, Guilford, an alliance that was pivotal in a whole series of marriages Northumberland arranged to augment his position. Though Lady Jane had strongly resisted the marriage on the grounds she was already precontracted to the late Duke of Somerset's son, her parents finally forced her to do their bidding. Edward VI produced a will that omitted both his sisters and made Lady Jane Grey his heir. This attempt to upset the succession failed miserably, and Mary was acclaimed queen without a battle. Jane, who had entered the Tower as queen, remained as prisoner. In February 1554, as an aftermath to the Wyatt rebellion against Mary's Spanish marriage, Jane was executed.

It was during her last months in the Tower that Jane accomplished the slender body of writings for which she is known. These include a letter to a friend newly fallen from the Reformed faith (probably her first tutor, Dr. Harding), a prayer composed within a few weeks of her death, letters to her father and sister Katherine written when she knew she was condemned to die, and her speech from the scaffold. A few days before she was executed, in the presence of Tower officials, Lady Jane Grey debated Dr. Feckenham, Mary I's confessor, about Christian doctrine. Feckenham had hoped to convert the sixteen-year-old prodigy, but the attempt proved fruitless. The debate was recorded and is also included in accounts of Jane Grey's works.9

While Lady Jane Grey was politically of little importance at the time of her execution in 1554 (Elton, pp. 380-81), once she died she immediately became a symbol of Protestant heroism and martyrdom. The publication of her work in 1554 was, considers John King, “the most powerful contemporary Protestant attack on the Marian regime.”10 In the decades after her death Protestant writers told and retold the story of her patience, her courage, and her willingness to testify for the true church. Writing in 1555, John Bradford used the example of Lady Jane's death to demonstrate “that life and honour is not to be set by more than God's commandment” (in Foxe, VII, 238). An Italian residing in England during Mary's reign was also impressed; he described Jane's execution as causing “great sorrow of the people, especially when it became known to everybody that the girl, born to a misery beyond tears, had faced death with far greater gallantry than it might be expected from her sex and the natural weakness of her age.” He added that at the actual moment of her death, she “submitted the neck to the axe with more than manly courage.”11

Within a year of her death a doggerel poem purporting to be Lady Jane's last words, in which she laments her death in bad rhymes, was sold in London in broadside, and went through more than one edition. More significantly, there were immediate editions of her actual writings published by English Protestants abroad during Mary's reign, and her writings were also published in a variety of collections under Elizabeth. The most complete collection appears in Foxe's account of her life in his Actes and Monuments, popularly called the Book of Martyrs. This edition would, in fact, probably have reached the most people, since Foxe's work was one of the most widely read books in the Elizabethan period.12 Foxe's edition may also have been the most accurate, given the sources that were available to him (King, p. 437).

Lady Jane Grey's writing, completed while she was in the Tower under sentence of death, are part of a larger genre of Tower writing that was accomplished in the early Tudor period. Such people as Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were among those who wrote verse while in the Tower in the reign of Henry VIII. Perhaps the most famous writer to produce significant works while in the Tower was Sir Thomas More, who wrote A Dialogue of Comfort as well as a series of letters, mostly to his daughter, Margaret Roper, during his imprisonment. In A Dialogue of Comfort and the letters to Margaret, More expresses the concern over how a Christian ought to behave when his strength is tested by such adversity as he was experiencing. Another underlying theme to his work is More's preparation to meet his death appropriately, if his death was indeed what God willed. Though More was Catholic, and Lady Jane Grey was Protestant, Jane Grey's Tower writings reflect many of the same concerns.13

Lady Jane Grey's writings are a clear exposition of Protestant theology. She believed in salvation through faith alone, in the Bible as the sole authority, that the only two sacraments were baptism and the eucharist, and that the latter was taken as a memorial only. She writes in the tradition of early English Protestants who extravagantly denounce those who do not agree with their theology, yet who are also cognizant of their own unworthiness—aware that, despite any deeds they might do, they are still miserable sinners whose salvation will come only through faith in Christ.14 Jane Grey expressed either contempt or pity for those who do not follow these precepts. Though some of her writings express a confidence that borders on arrogance, near her death she also revealed the temptations, especially to despair, with which she had to wrestle. Her writings suggest that this theology provided her great comfort as she faced her own death. One temptation never occurred to her apparently: born after the break with Rome, Jane Grey was raised her whole life as a Protestant. Since she knew no other way of worship, she did not feel any temptation to turn to Catholicism when Protestantism was under attack and personal danger was acute, and she scorned those less stalwart than herself.

Lady Jane demonstrates this perspective in the letter to a friend who had converted to Catholicism. In the second edition of the Book of Martyrs Foxe identifies the friend as Dr. Harding, Jane's first tutor, and this identification is for the most part accepted.15 The letter is a vituperative condemnation of Harding for renouncing the Reformist faith. She filled it with biblical allusions of earlier apostates she knows her correspondent will also recognize. The tone and language of the letter appalled many Victorians, and they suggested, on no good authority, that the letter was actually the work of John Aylmer (Nicholas, p. lxxvii). Jane's contemporaries, however, had no trouble believing it to be her own work, and sixteenth-century Protestants applauded her forthrightness. Foxe in his introduction commends Lady Jane's “sharp and vehement” letter, since it came from “an earnest and zealous heart,” and its purpose was “to reduce [Harding] to repentance, and take better hold again for the health and wealth of his own soul” (VI, 418).

In her letter Lady Jane does not spare Harding or show any sympathy for the political pressures he faced; rather, for betraying the true faith, she calls him “the deformed imp of the devil, … the unshamefaced paramour of Antichrist … a cowardly runaway.” For Lady Jane, Harding's denial of the true faith is especially unforgivable because of his role as teacher: “Wherefore hast thou instructed others to be strong in Christ, when thou thyself dost now so shamefully shrink? … Why dost thou now show thyself most weak, when indeed thou oughtest to be most strong?” Reminding him of the fates of other apostates, Lady Jane adds, “Throw down yourself with the fear of his threatened vengeance, for this so great and heinous an offence of apostacy: and comfort yourself, on the other part, with the mercy, blood, and promise of him that is ready to turn unto you whensoever you turn unto him” (VI, 418, 419, 421).

That Lady Jane heartily believed the sentiments expressed in the letter to Harding can be further inferred by her markedly similar response when she heard Northumberland had recanted and accepted the Catholic faith. Jane had nothing but contempt for Northumberland, especially since she blamed him for the woes to her and to her house. These were all done in the name of retaining the Protestant faith, yet he apostated and hoped for mercy. Jane told visitors, “As his life was wicked and full of dissimulacion, so was his ende thereafter. I pray God, I, nor no frende of myne, dye so.” Jane suspected that Northumberland's conversion was not sincere, but accomplished in the hopes of being pardoned. To her this rationale was unworthy of consideration. Even though she was so young, she would not consider apostasy as a means of prolonging life. “Shoulde I, who (am) yonge and in my (fewers) forsake my faythe for love of lyfe? Nay, God forbed!”16

The tone both of the letter and of this reported conversation castigating those who fall from the faith places Jane Grey squarely in the militant tradition of the early English Protestants.17 Lady Jane clings strongly to this tradition in her theology as well. She explicated her religious beliefs clearly in her debate with Queen Mary's confessor, Dr. Feckenham, Dean of St. Paul's and Abbot of Westminster. After an initial conversation with her, Feckenham was convinced he might actually be able to bring Lady Jane to his beliefs. He arranged for them to have a public debate on disputed issues of theology. At first Lady Jane was reluctant since, she said, such debates should be for the living and not for the dying; Feckenham, however, finally brought her to agree. The debate was conducted in the presence of Tower officials, one of whom, presumably, recorded its principle points (Chapman, p. 197).

The debate began with Feckenham asking Jane what is required of a Christian man. Jane responded that faith alone justifies. She also recognized the importance of love, but added, however, that “Faith and love go both together, and yet love is comprehended in faith.” Jane Grey did not deny the importance of good works—the necessity to “feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and give drink to the thirsty, and to do to him as we would do to ourselves”—but she did not see such charity as a means to salvation. Despite any deed, “yet we be unprofitable servants.” Good works were one way of honoring Christ and following his example: “I affirm that faith only saveth: but it is meet for a christian, in token that he followeth his master Christ, to do good works; yet may we not say that they profit to our salvation” (VI, 416).

As well as representing the two sides in the classic conflict about salvation through faith or through works, Lady Jane and Feckenham also expressed opposite views of the sacraments. Lady Jane, as a Protestant, accepted only baptism and the Lord's supper, rather than the entire seven sacraments. Using the Scriptures as her sole authority, Jane claimed she could find justification for only the two sacraments. Feckenham and Lady Jane also disagreed fundamentally on the nature of the eucharist. Jane did not believe that in taking the sacrament she received “the very body and blood of Christ.” Rather, she said, she took the bread and wine to “put me in remembrance.” Feckenham grilled Lady Jane, “Why, doth not Christ speak these words, ‘Take, eat, this is my body?’ Require you any plainer words? Doth he not say, it is his body?” Jane's response was clever but also passionately sincere. “I grant, he saith so, and so he saith, ‘I am the vine, I am the door;’ but he is never the more for that, the door or the vine.” And Jane asked Feckenham in turn, “Where was Christ when he said, ‘Take, eat, this is my body?’ Was he not at the table, when he said so? He was at that time alive, and suffered not til the next day. What took he, but bread? What brake he, but bread? and what gave he, but bread?” Lady Jane was also upset that the Catholic church did not allow the laity to drink the wine of the Lord's supper: “Shall I give credit to the church that taketh away from me the half part of the Lord's Supper … which things if they deny to us, then they deny to us part of our salvation.” Jane ended her discussion of the Catholic method of giving the eucharist with the same extravagant language that marked her letter to Dr. Harding. “And I say, that is an evil church … the spouse of the devil, that altereth the Lord's supper. … To that church, say I, God will add plagues.” Yet Jane's farewell to Feckenham, once their debate ended with them both recognizing the futility of continuing, was gentler: “I pray God, in the bowels of his mercy, to send you his Holy Spirit, for he hath given you his great gift of utterance, if it pleased him also to open the eyes of your heart” (VI, 417).

The assurance in her faith that Jane expressed in the debate with Feckenham wavered in a prayer she wrote shortly before her death. Though still very stylized in the tone of early English Protestant writings, the prayer expresses her personal doubts and fears, giving us more of a hint of the woman behind the theology. In her prayer she described herself as a “poor and desolate woman.” The exuberance of language, the piling on of image after image that is typical of Lady Jane Grey's other religious writings is very marked here. Passionately, she proclaimed, “I, being defiled with sin, encumbered with affliction, unquieted with troubles, wrapped in cares, overwhelmed with miseries, vexed with temptations, and grievously tormented with the long imprisonment of this mass of clay, my sinful body, do come unto thee, O merciful Saviour, craving thy mercy and help, without the which so little hope of deliverance is left, that I may utterly despair of any liberty.” Jane, who had nothing left to her but her faith, begged God to “be merciful unto me now, a miserable wretch” (VI, 423).

The temptation that Jane wrestled with, that she most feared she would succumb to, was despair. She feared losing her faith in God's presence: “How long wilt thou be absent? for ever? O Lord, hast thou forgotten to be gracious? … Is thy mercy clean gone for ever? … Shall I despair of thy mercy, O God?” While she assured God she would not despair—“Far be that from me”—the possibility was so real for Jane that she had to pray for strength against it. “O merciful God, consider my misery, best known unto thee, and be thou now unto me a strong tower of defence. … Suffer me not to be tempted above my power.” Jane felt she could not achieve such strength on her own, and that God knew better than she what would be the best for her: “Give me grace, therefore, to tarry thy leisure, and patiently bear thy works. … Only, in the mean time, arm me, I beseech thee, with thy armour, that I may stand fast” (VI, 423).

Apparently, Jane found that her prayer was answered; she was able to exhibit both an honest appreciation of her situation and a serenity to meet it. Both of these attitudes are expressed in the letters she wrote to her father and her sister Katherine the night before her execution. In her letter to her father, she did not gloss over the fact that it was his actions in joining Wyatt's rebellion that were bringing about her death. She began her letter, “Father, although it hath pleased God to hasten my death by you, by whom my life should rather have been lengthened,” yet she also assured him that she gave God “more hearty thanks for shortening my woful days.” Indeed, insisted Jane, “I may account myself blessed.” In the matters of the attempted coup, Lady Jane had a clear conscience since she was “constrained, and, as you wot [know] well enough, continually assayed,” but “mine enforced honour blended never with mine innocent heart.” Jane had heard that her father was not only “bewailing” his “own woe,” but “especially, as I hear, my unfortunate state.” Thus while Jane clearly assigned to her father his share of responsibility for bringing on her death, she apparently did not want him to feel too despondent. She knew that both she and her father were soon to die, but “although to you perhaps it may seem right woful, to me there is nothing that can be more welcome, than from this vale of mesery to aspire to that heavenly throne of all joy and pleasure with Christ” (VI, 417-18).

The same resignation, even joy, at meeting her death is present in the letter she wrote her sister Katherine. Although it contains advice, the letter is also a statement about her own life and the way she regarded it as it was ending. The letter was written in some blank pages at the end of the New Testament, a book, she assured Katherine, that “shall teach you to live, and learn you to die.” Knowing the Bible would give Katherine more than the possession of great lands, because with God's Word she will be the “inheritor of such riches, as neither the covetous shall withdraw from you, neither shall they steal” (VI, 422). Lady Jane Grey, about to be executed at sixteen, recognized that youth was no guarantee against the necessity of facing death: “And trust not that the tenderness of your age shall lengthen your life; for as soon (if God call) goeth the young as the old.” As it turns out, this advice was pertinent to Katherine as well; she died at the age of twenty-eight after years of imprisonment for her imprudent marriage to Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford.18

Though Lady Jane Grey believed herself innocent of the charge that led to her execution, she would also acknowledge in her scaffold speech guilt for loving the world too much and for forgetting God. She does not want Katherine to make the same mistake. “Defy the world, deny the devil, and despise the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord.” Lady Jane also advises Katherine to do what she had evidently managed though with some difficulty herself: “Be penitent for your sins, and yet despair not: be strong in faith, and yet presume not. … Rejoice in Christ, as I do.” Jane also alludes to the fact that, had she converted to Catholicism, she might have prolonged her life. She tells her sister, however, that such a choice would have been an unworthy one: “I pray God grant you, and send you of his grace to live in his fear, and to die in the true christian faith, from the which (in God's name), I exhort you, that you never swerve, neither for hope of life, nor fear of death” (VI, 422).

Lady Jane expressed recognition of both her innocence and her guilt, as of the precepts of her faith, in the final statement she made, her speech given upon the scaffold. Observers reported her calm demeanor as she spoke to the onlookers. Jane's avowal of innocence, which she expressed in her letter to her father, was reiterated, as was the guilt and unworthiness she expressed in her prayer. Lady Jane believed herself guiltless of the treason for which she was condemned, on the grounds that she had been coerced into these actions. “I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact 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 God, and the face of you, good christian people.” Yet she also admitted her sins as well: “I confess, that when I did know the word of God, I neglected the same, loved myself and the world.” As a result, “this plague and punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins.” While God had been just in so ordering her death, she was also aware of his mercy, “that of his goodness he hath thus given me a time and respite to repent.”19

To the very last minutes of her life, Lady Jane stayed true to the Protestant precepts in which she had been brought up and from which she derived such comfort. She also believed to the end that faith alone, and nothing else, brought one to salvation. “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 man, but only by the mercy of God, in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ.” Since, as a Protestant, she did not believe in purgatory and thus saw only blasphemy in prayers for the dead, she asked the people to pray for her only while she lived: “And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you assist me with your prayers” (VI, 424).

To this decorous, probably well-rehearsed speech, Foxe added a description of Lady Jane Grey's last moments. After requesting the executioner to “dispatch me quickly,” she tied a handkerchief around her eyes. She misjudged the space, however, and could not then find the block, saying, “What shall I do? Where is it? Where is it?” Those closest to Lady Jane may have been so appalled at seeing someone so young and courageous about to die, that they could not move to help her (Chapman, p. 207). This is the only time Lady Jane Grey ever faltered, and even then it was not her fault; she was blindfolded and literally could not find her way. Finally one of the bystanders guided her. She “laid her head down upon the block … and said, ‘Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit,’ and so finished her life” (VI, 424).

John King suggests that “there is no reason to doubt the authenticity” of the works Lady Jane Grey produced in the Tower or of her final speech. The authorities during Mary's reign were extremely lax in their attempts to stop prisoners' works from being sent out so that they might be published. Lady Jane, in writing her letters, prayers, and scaffold speech, would have been well aware of their potentially wide distribution, and shaped them accordingly; her private words were also public testimonials of her faith (pp. 421-22).

Though the year before the people of London had responded with sullen silence to the proclamation declaring her queen, in the years after her death Lady Jane Grey's writings were frequently published. Her courageous death at such an early age, in a period of such religious conflict and change, was worthy of note. Foxe's portrayal of Lady Jane Grey did much to make the Elizabethans aware of her, and the immensely popular Holinshed's Chronicle continued this picture of the indomitable Lady Jane Grey. Yet Lady Jane's brave death was not an example that her cousin and eventual successor, Queen Elizabeth, wished to acknowledge. As David Mathew states, “Her life and death was a subject on which neither Queen Elizabeth nor Cecil, her great minister, would ever dwell” (p. 160). After all, for the queen, trying to maintain the Anglican settlement, Jane's lack of compromise would hardly be a useful example.

Perhaps in part due to this need for conciliation, by the end of the sixteenth century this portrayal of Lady Jane Grey was beginning to change into the one with which we are more familiar. Though Lady Jane is the heroine of the aforementioned Decker and Webster play the authors deemphasized the strengths of character noted in such previous accounts as Foxe. The Jane Grey of the play is quiet, modest, and deeply in love with her husband Guilford, who speaks far more articulately than she does. In the seventeenth century such historians as Bishop Burnet describe Jane as “so humble, so gentle, so pious” (II, 469). A woman of such tender age who could berate her parents, former tutor, and cousin Mary for not following the high ideals she set for herself may have been too uncomfortable a model by the end of the sixteenth century, as the belief in classical education for women and the need for even young women to battle papists both were lessening. The image of Lady Jane Grey was thus reworked to smooth away the harsh edges, but the resulting picture scarcely does her justice.

Lady Jane Grey, queen of England for only nine days, died on the executioner's block at the age of sixteen. The writings she left behind her are few: a prayer, some letters, a dying speech. Yet they provide us with a rare glimpse of a sustaining theology, and offer us some insight into the mind of one of the best educated women of her age. Elizabethans found in her devout life and brave death an exemplarly model of strength, educated conviction, and unfailing devotion. Though it is true, as many historians have argued, that Lady Jane Grey was a pawn in the political intrigue of 1553, she was also a strongly determined and articulate woman not afraid to speak out for what she believed, no matter what the consequences. Lady Jane Grey is worth noting not only for her political position, but also as an example of a sixteenth-century Protestant woman who died steadfast to her faith.


  1. Thomas Decker and John Webster, The Famous History of Sir Thomas Wyatt in The Dramatic Works of John Webster, ed. William Hazlitt (London: John Russell Smith, 1897), I, see for example, pp. 8, 10, 36, 39, 55, 57, 60. Seventeenth-century historians who developed this view include Bishop Gilbert Burnet, History of the Reformation of the Church of England (1681; new edn., Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1829), II, 469, and Peter Heylin, The History of the Reformation of the Church of England (London: H. Twyford, J. Place, T. Basset, W. Palmer, 1670), p. 148. Lady Jane Grey was the darling of Victorians. See, for example, George Howard, Lady Jane Grey and Her Times (London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1822); David W. Bartlett, The Life of Lady Jane Grey (Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1886); and Richard Davey, The Nine Days' Queen (London: Methuen and Co., Ltd., 1909). For more recent interpretations, see David Mathew, Lady Jane Grey: The Setting of the Reign (London: Eyre Methuen, 1972), and Barrett L. Beer, Northumberland (Kent, Oh.: The Kent State Univ. Press, 1973). Roland Bainton includes a brief sketch of Jane Grey in Women of the Reformation: In France and England (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975), pp. 181-90.

  2. Hester Chapman, Lady Jane Grey (London: Jonathan Cape, 1962), p. 56.

  3. On educating daughters, see, for example, Frances Murray, “Feminine Spirituality in the More Household,” Moreana, 27, 28 (1970), 92-102; M. J. Tucker, “The Child as Beginning and End: Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century English Childhood,” in Lloyd DeMause, ed., The History of Childhood (New York: Harper-Torchbook, 1975), pp. 229-58; and Pearl Hogrefe, Tudor Women (Ames: Iowa State Univ. Press, 1975), p. 5. Nicholas Harris Nicholas points out that it is questionable whether she had any real proficiency in languages other than Greek, Latin, and French in The Literary Remains of Lady Jane Grey: With a Memoir of Her Life (London: Harding, Triphook, and Pepard, 1825), pp. xii-xiii. See also, Josephine Kamm, Hope Deferred: Girls' Education in English History (London: Methuen and Co., Ltd., 1976), p. 39.

  4. William Haugaard, “Katherine Parr: The Religious Convictions of a Renaissance Queen,” Renaissance Quarterly, 22 (1969), 355. On Parr's influence, see John King's essay in this collection.

  5. Ascham's description of Lady Jane Grey in The Scholemaster is consistent with his earlier accounts of the meeting. Writing to John Sturm in December 1550 he calls Lady Jane one of the two most learned ladies in England (the other was Mildred Cooke Cecil, daughter of Anthony Cooke and wife to William Cecil). He recounts finding Jane reading Plato, adding that she was “so thoroughly understanding it that she caused me the greatest astonishment.” In a letter to Jane herself written in January 1551 he tells her that of all his travels and all the variety of experience he has had, “nothing has caused me so much wonder” as the visit to Bradgate. Roger Ascham, The Whole Works, ed. J. A. Giles (London: J. R. Smith, 1865; new edn., New York: AMS Press, 1965), I, Part i, pp. lxxi, lxxiv-lxxvi.

  6. Roger Ascham, The Schoolmaster, [sic], ed. Lawrence V. Ryan (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1976), pp. 35-36.

  7. The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, ed. Rev. George Townsend (rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1976), VIII, 700 (unless otherwise indicated, all quotes by Jane Grey will be cited in text by volume number and page number of this edition); John Aylmer, An Harborowe for Faithfull and Trewe Subjects (London: J. Daye, 1559), STC 1005.

  8. The traditional explanation has always been that the whole plot was developed by Northumberland. A recent exponent of this perspective is Beer, pp. 148-49. Wilbur K. Jordan, Edward VI: The Threshold of Power (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1970), p. 517, however, argues that Edward originated the idea of a changed succession and convinced Northumberland to go along with it. See also G. R. Elton, Reform and Reformation: England, 1509-1558 (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1977), pp. 374-75, and Mathew, pp. 135-36, for an appraisal of the evidence.

  9. The 1554 edition of Jane Grey's writings, Here in this booke ye have a godly epistle made by a faithful Christian (STC 5153) states that Jane herself wrote the account of the Feckenham debate, but this seems highly unlikely, and Foxe does not mention it. Sixteenth-century editions of her work include Here in this booke (1554), which includes the debate with Feckenham, her letter to her sister Katherine, and her scaffold speech. Her letter to her sister was also published as “An Exhortation written by the Lady Jane, the night before shee suffered” in Otto Werdmuller, A Most fruitefull, pithe, and learned treatise, how a Christian man ought to behave himself in the daunger of death, trans. Miles Coverdale (Antwerp, 1555; London, 1579), STC 25251 and 25253. Thomas Bentley, ed., Monument of Matrones (London: H. Denham, 1582), STC 1892-94, contains the debate, her prayer, and her letter to Katherine. The Life, death, and actions of the most chast, and religious lady Jane Grey (London: Printed for G. Eld, 1615), STC 7281, contains all of her writings including a longer scaffold speech, though the meaning is unchanged. Except for this, the differences between the editions are minimal. I have chosen to use Foxe, since it was best known in its time; see VI, 415-525.

    Lady Jane Grey's writings are also collected with a long biographical introduction in Nicolas, The Literary Remains of Lady Jane Grey.

  10. See, for example, not only the account in Foxe, but also the references to Lady Jane Grey in Aylmer and in Holinshed's Chronicles, ed. Henry Ellis (London: J. Johnson, etc., 1808; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1965), IV, 22; John N. King, English Reformation Literature: The Tudor Origins of the Protestant Tradition (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1982), p. 419.

  11. The Accession, Coronation, and Marriage of Mary Tudor as Related in Four Manuscripts of the Escorial, trans. and pub. by C. V. Malfatti (Barcelona, 1956), p. 72.

  12. Ruth Hughey, “A Ballad of Lady Jane Grey,” Times Literary Supplement (Dec. 7, 1933), p. 878. On the impact of Foxe, see William Haller, The Elect Nation: The Meaning and Relevance of Foxe's Book of Martyrs (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), p. 14, and D. M. Loades, The Oxford Martyrs (New York: Stein and Day, 1970), p. 30.

  13. See, for example, Steven May's unpublished paper, “Tudor ‘Tower Verse’: The Poetics of Imprisonment,” pp. 2-4. I wish to thank Professor May for generously sharing his work with me while in manuscript. On More, see Elizabeth F. Rogers, ed., The Correspondence of Sir Thomas More (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1947), pp. 502, 507-08, 564; Louis L. Martz and Frank Manley, eds., The Complete Works of St. Thomas More (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1976), XII, see especially, pp. lix, lxv, cii, cvi-cvii. I am indebted to Anne Lake Prescott for her help with the works of Thomas More.

  14. Catherine Parr describes herself as a “wretche and of my self always redy and prone to evyll” in her Prayers or Medytacions, cited in Haugaard, p. 355. Lady Jane Grey's extravagance of language and wit are also reminiscent of the earlier martyr Anne Askew, see Foxe, V, 548-51.

  15. Nicolas does not accept this, however; see pp. lxxvi-lxxvii. King suggests that simply referring to Harding as “a friend” works to universalize the letter (p. 420).

  16. The Chronicle of Queen Jane by a Resident in the Tower of London, ed. John Gough Nichols (Camden Soc., 1850; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1968), p. 25.

  17. See, for example, William Tyndale, Doctrinal Treatises, ed. Henry Walter (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1848); Simon Fish, A Supplication of the Beggars (London, 1529), STC 10883; Robert Barnes, A Supplication Unto Henry VIII (2nd edn., London: J. Bydell, 1534), STC 1470. See also, A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation (New York: Schocken Books, 1964); James Edward McGoldrick, Luther's English Connection (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1979); William A. Clebsch, England's Earliest Protestants (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1964).

  18. Foxe, VI, 422; for an account of Katherine Grey's life, see Hester Chapman, Two Tudor Portraits (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1960), pp. 149-238.

  19. Foxe, VI, 424. Though Lady Jane Grey's speech in some ways follows the formula of scaffold speeches given in the sixteenth century, it is also both individual and passionately sincere. For a discussion of scaffold speeches, see Lacey Baldwin Smith, “English Treason Trials and Confessions in the Sixteenth Century,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 25 (October 1954), 471-98.


Principal Works


Further Reading