Originally posted at Sarah’s History Blog – Lady Jane Grey as Leader
At the end of Queen Jane’s reign, William Cecil wrote ‘Jana non Regina’ on a document relating to her brief rule. Leanda de Lisle describes this in ‘The Sisters Who Would Be Queen’ and adds ‘It might have been her epitaph.’ (p.124, de Lisle) Although Jane ceased to be Queen on 19 July 1553, this did not mean that she totally relinquished her role as leader.
De Lisle writes, ‘Her father had wanted her to be a queen and an evangelical leader. She had been the former, against her better judgement but she remained determined to fulfil her destiny as the latter.’ (p.144, de Lisle) Throughout her imprisonment and even at her death, Jane demonstrated the leadership qualities that she had begun to display as Queen.
We know that according to Jane’s letter to Queen Mary in August 1553 that she had refused to make her husband, Guildford Dudley, King. In what Professor Eric Ives describes as ‘the one written appeal from Jane that would have been allowed’ (p.19, Ives), the former Queen writes,
‘I was reasoning of many things with my husband, he assented, that if he were to be made King, he would be made so by me, by act of parliament. But afterwards I sent for the earls of Arundel and Pembroke, and said to them that if the crown belonged to me, I should be content to make my husband a duke, but would never consent to make him King.’ (p.499, Stone)
Here Jane shows that she was willing to flex her royal muscles by not giving into her husband’s demands.
That Jane was taking on the role of leader during her reign is also shown by her active participation. Dr Stephan Edwards (in his October 2007 talk at the Surrey History Centre) argued that ‘once she had accepted the crown, Jane made full use of the power that came with it.’ (Edwards) He made the point that Jane signed many documents with her own hand during her reign and that this continued even after John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland had left London to lead his troops against Mary.
De Lisle argues that ‘it was as a prisoner in the Tower that (Jane) would truly come into her own.’ (p. 124, de Lisle) Jane can be seen as embracing her role as an ‘evangelical leader’ through her speech and the writings that were later published. On the 29th of August 1553, the writer of ‘The Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary, and Especially of the Rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyat’ dined with the former Queen in the home of Master Partridge, the Gentleman Jailer of the Tower. When talk turned to the Duke of Northumberland’s conversion to Catholicism before his execution, Jane made her feelings on the subject very clear. Unlike the late Duke, she would not convert in order to save her life. She is reported to have said:
‘ I pray God, I, nor no frende of myne, dye so. Shoulde I, who (am) yonge and in my fewers, forsake my faythe for the love of lyfe? Nay, God forbed.’ (p.25, Nichols)
Jane’s stand against the return of the Catholic Mass is also shown in her letter to the Greys’ former chaplain, Thomas Harding. In the autumn of 1553 Jane learned that Harding had returned to the Catholic faith. Her response was a letter which de Lisle describes as ‘damning all those who attended Catholic communion.’ (p.138, de Lisle)
Published after her death, Jane writes:
‘I cannot but marvel at thee and lament thy case; that thou, which sometimes wert the lively member of Christ, but now the deformed imp of the devil; sometimes the beautiful temple of God, but now the stinking and filthy kennel of Satan; sometimes the unspotted spouse of thy Saviour, but now the unshamefast paramour of Antichrist; sometimes my faithful brother, but now a stranger and apostate; yea sometimes my stout Christian solder, but now a cowardly runaway.’ (p.22, Nicolas)
Ives writes that ‘the care she gave to constructing the letter suggests that Jane was hoping for general circulation.’ (p. 257, Ives)
The same could be said for Jane’s farewell letter to her sister Katherine. Written on the last pages of her Greek Testament, Jane’s letter urges her sister not to abandon her faith and to follow Jane’s example.
‘…I pray God grant you in his most blessed hour, and send you his all-saving grace to love in his fear, and to die in the true Christian faith: from which in God’s name I exhort you that you never swerve, neither through hope of life, not fear of death… Farewell once again, my beloved sister, and put your only trust in God, who only must help you.’ (p.43, Nicolas)
Also in circulation after her death was the debate between Jane and Dr John Feckenham (a Benedictine monk) whom Queen Mary had sent to try and convert Jane to save her soul before her execution.
Both de Lisle and Ives agree that Jane wanted her dialogue with Feckenham to be published, ‘Given the little time she had to write between his final visit and the end, this says much of her determination that her death should have meaning.’ (p.257, Ives) De Lisle suggests that perhaps ‘Jane had not forgotten Anne Askew, burned for heresy by Henry VIII in 1546, and whose arguments with her persecutors had been recorded for posterity. Jane intended to preserve the best of her exchanges also.’ (p.146, de Lisle)
Jane’s beliefs can be seen in these extracts from her dialogue with Dr Feckenham and they underline her reformed faith.
‘Feckenham: How many Sacraments are there?
Jane: Two: the one the Sacrament of Baptism, and the other the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper…
Feckenham: Why, what do you receive in that bread: do you not receive the very body and blood of Christ?
Jane: No, surely, I do not believe so: I think at that supper I receive neither flesh nor blood, but only bread and wine; the which bread when it is broken, and the wine when it is drunk, putteth me in mid how that for my sins the body of Christ was broken, and his blood shed on the cross, and with that bread and wine I receive the benefits which came by breaking of his body, and by the shedding of his blood on the cross for my sins.’ (p.36-37, Nicolas)
Jane proclaimed her faith in the moments before her death with her speech from the scaffold. Ending with what Ives describes as a ‘defiant Protestant twist.’ (p.277, Ives)
‘I pray you all, good Christian people, to beare me witnesses that I dye a true Christian women , and that I looke to be saved by none other meane, but only by the mercy of God in the merites of the blood of his only sonne Jesus Christ…And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you to assyst me with your prayers.’ (p.57, Nichols)
Jane only reigned for nine or thirteen days but her legacy as Protestant martyr has lasted. Ives describes how the Feckenham discussion, the letters to Thomas Harding and Katherine Grey and her scaffold speech were printed soon after Jane’s death. ‘…In 1554 there appeared An Epistle of the Ladye Jane, a righte virtuous woman to a leaned man of late falne from the truth, conjecturally from the press of John Day…In the same year or the next came Here is this booke ye have a godly Epistle made by a faithful Christian.’ (p.21, Ives)
Jane’s death was reported by John Banks to Henry Bullinger (in a letter dated March 15th 1554) in terms of its religious significance.
‘But although this family is now overthrown and almost extinct, on account of their saving profession of our Saviour, and the cause of the gospel; yet all godly and truly Christian persons have not so much to mourn over the ruin of a family so illustrious, as to rejoice that the latest action of her life was terminated in bearing testimony to the name of Jesus…’ (Letter CXLI, p.303, Robinson)
Jane can be seen to have succeeded as an evangelical leader through the stand she took against the resumption of the Catholic Mass, her refusing to convert and the affirmation of her faith at her death. Although we will never know what kind of Queen, Jane would have made, her actions during her short reign and her imprisonment at least allow us a glimpse of her as a leader.
De Lisle, L. (2010) The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey, HarperPress.
Edwards, S.J (2007) A Queen of a New and Pretty Invention – Lady Jane Grey and the Loseley Manuscripts – My notes from a talk by Stephan Edwards.
Ives, E. (2009) Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery, Wiley-Blackwell.
Nichols, J. G (ed) (1850) The Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary and Especially of the Rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt, Written by a Resident in the Tower of London, Llanerch Publishers
Nicolas, N.H Harding, The Literary Remains of Lady Jane Grey: With a Memoir of Her Life, Triphook & Lepard.
Robinson, H. (ed) (1846) Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation, Written during the Reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and Queen Mary (Volume One), University Press. URL: http://archive.org/stream/originallettersr01robiuoft/originallettersr01robiuoft_djvu.txt Date accessed: 18 March 2013
Stone, J.M. (1901) The History of Mary I Queen of England, Sands & Co