Talk by Dr Stephan Edwards

On Thursday I attended a talk about Lady Jane Grey at the Surrey History Centre. Below are my notes from the talk.

You will be able to read the full transcript of his talk at his website at a later date.

A Queen of a New and Pretty Invention – Lady Jane Grey and the Loseley Manuscripts

A talk by Dr Stephan Edwards
Surrey History Centre
18 October 2007

The talk by Dr Edwards focused on two aspects; her date of birth and her actions during her nine day reign. He started by saying that his assessment of these is at odds with the traditional views.

Date of Birth

The traditional view is that Lady Jane Grey was born in early October 1537. There is no written record of her date of birth and historians in the 100 years after her death only described her as being ‘young’ when she died.

Peter Heylyn writing in 1660 was the first to offer a suggestion for her date of birth and described her as being some months older than King Edward IV. By the time Agnes Strickland wrote her book about Jane during the Victorian Era, the age difference between Jane and Edward had been reduced to a few days.

Both were put forward as ‘paragons of protestant religious virtue’ with a personal aptitude to learning that was influenced by Queen Katherine Parr. Edwards views this as a desire by 19th century writers to present role models to Victorian youth.

Every writer since then has used October 1537 as Jane’s date of birth. Edwards argues that the available evidence does not support this assumption.

 For Jane to be born in the first 12 days of October, she had to have been conceived no later than the third week of January 1537.

 Henry Grey was away on military duty (putting down the Pilgrimage of Grace) in late 1536 and the beginning of 1537. Jane could not have been conceived in time to be a full term baby.

Edwards argues that Jane was not born after July 1537 and gives evidence against the October date.

Letters describe Frances Grey’s movements during this time.

 One letter, about preparations for the birth of the child of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, excludes the Greys from the christening, as Frances Grey had been at Croydon where plague had been reported.

 The second letter has Frances Grey staying with the Archbishop of Canterbury during the summer.

 As Jane was probably born at Bradgate (the Grey’s finest residence), it is unlikely that Jane was born during the July-October period when Frances was staying at Ford with Archbishop Cranmer.

 The Greys attended the funeral ceremonies for Queen Jane Seymour on 12/13 November 1537. Frances played a prominent role, riding in the same coach as Lady Mary.

 Frances Grey would almost certainly have been ‘churched’ (a religious ceremony 40 days after giving birth) before re-entering public life. So she could not have attended this ceremony if she had recently given birth.

What date of birth does the evidence support?

Edwards states that there are two sources of evidence that suggest the general time period when Jane was born.

 A letter from John Aylmer to Henry Bullinger from 1551 in which he describes Jane as ‘now fourteen years old.’ The letter is undated but the date assigned to it by 19th century editors is 29 May 1551.

 At the time it was common practice for bundles of letters to be sent together when a courier was available. Another letter was sent with it dated ’29 May 1551.’

 The letter also mentions the death of ?, who was known to have died in February 1551, so the letter had to be written after that event.

 Therefore Jane was born after February and before May.

 Jane’s Italian tutor (Florio) wrote a treatise on the life of his former pupil in the 1560s and it was published in 1607. Written in Italian, it states that Jane was 17 when she died.

 To fit both dates, 14 in 1551 and 17 at the time of her death, Jane must have been born between late May 1536 and early February 1537.

 However, Jane’s parents, Henry and Frances Grey were married in 1533 and are known to have had 2 children (who did not survive) before Jane. Their first child would have been born no earlier than March 1534. Therefore the earliest Jane could have been born was September or October 1536.

Edwards states that the precise date of Jane Grey’s birth will remain unknown.

Nine Day Reign

Although Jane Grey did not seek the crown, Edwards argues that his research using the Loseley manuscripts shows that once she accepted the crown, Jane made full use of the power that came with it.

The collection shows that Jane signed many official papers with her own hand.

 e.g. a letter to William Par written the day after she became Queen.

 Edwards argues that this is her signature because Henry VIII and Edward VI used a facsimile signature (a dry stamp to sign documents). There is no example of a ‘dry stamp’ for Jane in every known signature available.

 There is an example of a letter that she did not sign herself (written to her subjects in Surrey). This was signed by a Secretary due to time constraints. This was authenticated by the use of a seal attached to the document. No complete seal for Jane’s reign survives.

Raises the question, if Jane was a helpless victim, why did she sign? Duke of Northumberland (John Dudley) could have done this for her and used the royal seal to authenticate it.

The Loseley Manuscripts suggest that Jane was not coerced into signing.

 Dudley left London on the 13th/14th July with troops to capture Mary Tudor. The majority of the Privy Council remained behind under the leadership of the Head of the Council (Paulet). Paulet became disillusioned and left the Tower of London on the 15th of July.

 Despite Dudley’s absence and Paulet’s disillusionment, documents bearing Jane’s signature were still despatched.

 e.g. letter from Jane the Quene to Sheriff and JPs of Surrey, dated 16th July.

 e.g. letter to Thomas Cawarden dated 19th July, ordering more tents for the troops at the Tower.

 Lady Jane signed her name on a significant number of documents and did so with her own hand. It is reasonable to conclude that she was not forced to sign by Dudley, as her signature was not forged.

Edwards has compared the signatures on all the documents in the Loseley Manuscripts and only the one signed by the Secretary stands out. He has then compared them to other known Lady Jane signatures.

 Prayer book (Jane Dudley)

 Letter to Sir Thomas Seymour (Jane Grey)

The ‘Jane’ matches on all documents. Edward concludes that this suggests that the signatures on the Loseley Manuscripts are genuinely hers and that once Lady Jane accepted the crown, she was an active and assertive Queen.

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