Friday, May 18, 2012

May 18, 2012

The Fascinating Tale of Lady Jane Grey

“Lady Jane Grey, Queen For Nine Days.” Many of us were taught at least a little something about her, but it was not until I began studying the people of the Protestant Reformation era in greater depth that I learned what a fascinating figure she was. She was a faithful Protestant at a time when being a Protestant could very well be a death sentence . . . Henry VIII’s daughter Mary I ascended the throne and intended that England should have no more Protestants or dissenters, and Lady Jane was to be one of the first victims. 

So who was she? Born in 1536 and thus only seventeen at her death, she married young as was the order of the day, to Lord Guildford Dudley. Common sense dictated that there was no reason she should have had access to the crown. Yet, Henry VIII’s only son Edward VI, just before he died, declared that Jane, not his sisters Elizabeth or Mary, should have the kingdom. Whether or not he fully knew Jane’s regal character or only desired a strong Protestant figure, Jane found herself thrust into a whole new world.

It was difficult for women to get ahead in the sixteenth century. A scholarly woman was considered an anomaly; a scholarly woman who was a Protestant posed a double threat to Mary’s sovereignty. Lady Jane accepted her crowning only with great reluctance, and some believe she was “tricked” into having the crown placed on her head. She understood the immerse power she would wield and was unwilling to take on such a task at such a young age. When she finally did accept the power entrusted to her, it was not long after that fighting broke out between those who supported Lady Jane and those who supported Mary I. Both Jane’s and her husband’s families were up in arms over Jane’s refusal to crown Guildford Dudley king, and about the current state of rebellion in which their troops were finding themselves.

Mary I was victorious. She won over the people quite quickly; custom dictated that Lady Jane should pay for her “arrogance.” To give an idea of what Protestants faced under Mary’s reign, Mary was given the authority for Jane “to be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases.” Despite Jane’s tender age, she had the mien of a martyr . . . she admitted to having acted in a royal capacity, and she remained steadfast in her faith and met the charges against her without any great drama.

Lady Jane Grey was one of those people who could carry on pleasant conversations even with those who sought to sway her away from the beliefs she held dear. John Feckenham, Queen Mary’s confessor, was sent so he might lure Jane away from her “errors,” but instead he found himself garnering friendship with this outspoken young lady. Jane would bear unimaginable psychological distress before ever being led to the executioner’s block. It is said that she witnessed the procession of her young husband’s body as it was somberly transported from London’s Tower Hill.

Jane was prepared for her fate. Though she showed the same anxiety expected of anyone in her position, she remained calm enough to recite Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,
According to Your unfailing love;
according to Your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For the “sin” of taking over the kingdom Edward VI had bequeathed to her and looking distrustfully upon the woman called Mary I who would one day earn the moniker “Bloody Mary,” and of carrying the Protestant faith proudly like a banner, Jane was condemned to die. 

In 2006 an old portrait in Streatham, England, was analyzed in the hopes that it might depict Lady Jane Grey. It shows a young woman in a luxurious dark red bejeweled gown, carrying a small book (perhaps the Bible, which she loved so well?), and sporting a beautiful headpiece. Though her pallor is sickly, her eyes, dark and full of knowledge, stare straight ahead as she treats the viewer to a secret smile. I always find it difficult to imagine the calm and quiet way in which Protestants of this time gaze toward their future. It can be seen in their eyes; the knowledge that martyrdom awaits, and the assurance that their salvation is secure. Whether or not this portrait is of Lady Jane, it still makes one think.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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