Leanda de Lisle Q&A (Sisters Who Would Be Queen)

Thanks to all those who submitted a question, Lara for letting me use the questions from her ‘Tudor Q&A Blog’ and especially to Leanda for taking the time to answer them.

From Stephen: Are there any plans for TV/film of the book?

I am meeting with a production company who want to discuss a documentary of some sort. No plans for a film yet, but I do think Katherine’s story in particular, would make a great love story.  Any script writers out there?!

From Anonymous: What do you think of the miniature that Starkey has claimed to be of Lady Jane Grey? Do you agree or disagree? Do you think the Streatham portrait is the real Lady Jane?

The Streatham portrait is a memorial portrait of Jane painted over forty years after she died. It may have been influenced by an earlier portrait of her, but equally may not have been. Starkey’s miniature was painted by Levina Teerlinc who knew Jane and painted two miniatures of her sister Katherine.

IF it is of Jane it is likely therefore that it bears a resemblance to her. But is it? Those who argue against it say that the sitter has blue eyes. But Teerlinc habitually painted her subjects with blue eyes, including the brown eyed Elizabeth. We have only one description of Jane’s colouring, quoted first by an extremely unreliable twentieth century historian, so I wouldn’t put too much store by eye and hair colour.  Sceptics also point out that the age of the sister is given as 17 (in her 18th year). I think she was 16 when she died, but I also say it is possible she was 17. Her contemporaries describe her variously as being 16, and 17, so the age of the sitter in the miniature is acceptable.

So what is in the miniature’s favour?  Starkey argues that the broach worn by the sitter is the same one described in an inventory of Jane’s possessions n the Tower, but it is a pretty commonplace broach, and I don’t think it proves anything one way or another. I am more interested in the leaves and flowers she is wearing. Starkey describes them as gilly flowers representing Guildford Dudley and acorns representing Robert Dudley (from the Latin for oak Robur). There is some debate over whether the gilly flowers are some other kind of flower, and it might be interesting to show them to a botanist so ask their opinion on Starkey’s identification of it as being a type of gilly flower called Cheiranthus cheiri. But what is certainly true is that other images said to be of Jane have similar flowers and leaves. Such a picture – painted on wood from the 1540s and so possibly contemporary, with some over painting, is the Wrest Park picture, and the sitter resembles that of the miniature, despite the over painting reducing the tip of the nose. There is also a carving in the Tower commemorating the imprisonment of the Dudley brothers, with a garland of four different flowers representing four different brothers.

It seems to me unlikely but not impossible that Jane was painted between May 1553 when she married, and July when she became queen, but I cannot see why, of all the Dudley brothers, she would wear acorns for the then insignificant Robert. If it is of Jane it seems to be more likely that it was painted in the winter of 1561/2 when Katherine Grey was in the Tower with her new baby son, and her friends were desperately trying to get the support of the now very important Robert Dudley, for her to be named Elizabeth’s heir (in return for their implied promised support for Robert’s marriage to Elizabeth).

We know there was a small, portable portrait of Jane owned by Katherine’s husband, because Arbella Stuart mentions it is a letter in the winter of 1602/3. In short we don’t know if the miniature is of Jane, but it seems possible, and if it is it would be a genuine likeness of her.

From Tudorrose: I have a theory that the Teerlinc miniature could be one of Guilford’s sisters either Mary or Jane Dudley. What are your thoughts?

I think that is an interesting theory, and certainly possible. My own view is that if it isn’t Jane Grey then it could also be Amy Robsart-Dudley, as this would explain the oak leaves of the otherwise insignificant third brother, Robert.

From Anonymous: If Lady Jane Grey had remained queen, how do you think would her reign have differed from that of her cousins Mary and Elizabeth Tudor? How would her Protestant beliefs have influenced her policy?

If Jane had triumphed over Mary Tudor I think it likely that there would have been considerably more bloodletting than England saw in August 1553.  Jane called for the execution of rebels in Buckinghamshire before she was overthrown. Had she triumphed Mary would also surely have been executed along with her leading supporters in Norfolk and elsewhere. Mary would have continued to have posed a real threat while alive. But once Mary was dead opposition to Jane would have found another focus-.

The Dudleys were an unpopular family, and while Jane might have attempted to mitigate this by making her husband a duke and not a King, (as she said she would) the fact remained that female rule was still a novelty, and if she did not give her husband power then oppositional factions would have gathered around him as they did around her cousin Darnley, after he was later refused the crown matrimonial by Mary Queen of Scots.  If Jane had a son the focus of opposition might even have been her own son, as James VI of Scots became for his mother Mary, Queen of Scots. After all, many Protestants did not approve of female rule.

If she didn’t have a son, and worked closely with her husband, then opposition might have focused on her sister Katherine (whose father in law, Pembroke, had quarrelled in the past with Jane’s father in law, Northumberland). Other possible focuses of opposition are Elizabeth Tudor or Mary, Queen of Scots, depending on who they married.
And one of the ways in which Jane might have stirred up considerable opposition was in the religious arena.  Jane was a fervent Protestant of quite a radical sort. She was intolerant of Catholics and the persecution that did not begin under Elizabeth until the 1570s would have begun much earlier (she described Catholics as Satanic). Her Protestantism was also more extreme than Elizabeth’s. The Church of England would likely have developed on more similar lines to that of Scottish Presbyterianism, and this would have angered not only conservative areas of England and Wales, but would have upset senior figures in the nobility, who would not all have taken kindly to being lectured by religious ministers on their gambling, their dress, or their extra-marital habits (just as it annoyed many nobleman later in Scotland). But the trouble with ‘what if’ that there are so many variables that possible outcomes are limitless!

From Laputasghost: How do you think Jane’s trial and execution affected her sisters and also how it coloured their future behaviour towards the Queen, as in disobeying Elizabeth over her consent for them to marry?

I think it affected the sisters in different ways. Jane singled out Katherine as her heir in a last letter to her sister exhorting her to ‘live to die’, ‘despise the flesh’ and accept martyrdom rather than change her religion.  Katherine, however, unable to flee England as her step-grandmother did under Mary, and unwilling to die a martyr, played the Catholic during Mary’s reign, and learned to deceive. She knew that life was short, and while religious, she had no intention of despising the flesh and looked for fulfilment in love and marriage not martyrdom. She was prepared to risk everything for the man she eventually fell for in 1558/9, just as Jane was prepared to sacrifice everything for her beliefs. She hoped, perhaps, that Elizabeth would forgive her, as Mary Tudor had at first appeared willing to forgive Jane her treason. But she didn’t.

While we have no evidence that Katherine looked up to or admired Jane, whose advice to die for her faith she was obliged/felt obliged to reject, Mary Grey was more safely removed from the harsher aspects of Jane’s character. She shared her elder sister’s interest in theological debate and kept a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, with its description of Jane’s death. But like Katherine she also hoped to find fulfilment in marriage, and believed that if she followed her mother’s example and married a commoner, that this might be acceptable to Elizabeth. It wasn’t.

Had Queen Mary actually pardoned Jane, how do you think Mary would have treated her? Would she have kept her at court, in the Tower or under house arrest as she did her sister? I can’t imagine Mary would have allowed her to remain free.

It would depend when she was pardoned. If it was before the January revolt then she might have been as free as the rest of the Grey family. After the revolt Mary was convinced that treason was rooted in Protestantism, and would have expected Jane to attend mass and court when called on to do so.

From Amanda: The Grey sisters mother Frances, was passed over in the succession. Just how happy do you think she would have been about this?

Frances was never chosen to be Queen, but under the terms of King Edward’s original will she was to be Guardian of England until such time as she or one of her daughters had a son – who would be King. I don’t think she was at all happy about the last minute change to Edward’s will, made in June 1553, which passed the throne directly to Jane as Queen. One of Jane’s uncles specifically said how angry Jane’s father was about the decision.

We don’t know for certain what Frances felt, but the dying Edward called her to a private meeting at his bedside after he had made his final decision, presumably to ensure she accepted his wishes.  It seems likely she shared her husband’s concern that the change was a power grab by Northumberland, hoping to rule England through his son, Guildford. Certainly this is what she implied to Queen Mary, to whom she claimed she had opposed Jane’s match to Guilford.  It is interesting how Jane describes rushing home to her mother as soon as she is told Edward has named her his heir in June, and again how she asked for her mother to be sent for when Edward died in July. Jane made clear she did not wish to be Queen, but having been obliged to accept the role she went on to make it clear she intended to rule as well as reign, and be a mere cipher of the Dudleys.

From Anonymous: ‘Suffolk knew that if this plot failed his daughter would without doubt be executed. But if Jane’s speech at Partridge’s dinner table reflected her true feelings, she would have surely judged this a gamble worth taking.’ Did anything else other than the letter to Harding and the speech at Partridge’s table lead you to this theory?

The Harding letter and diner table comments are basically it – but there are also the letters she sent out while Queen, on necessity of opposing the introduction of Catholicism by force of arms.

From Tamise: Have you made any significant changes to the US edition of your book?

Well all books contain errors, sometimes made in the editing process, and extra time gives you an opportunity to correct them. In the US edition and the forthcoming UK paperback I have taken the opportunity to correct these slips. For example, I describe Jane’s reign as lasting thirteen days, and I later say she ruled for just over a fortnight – corrected now to under a fortnight!

In the US edition I have also cut sentences to make a snappier read, but have also added extra footnotes and text. I have added some details, for example, on Jane’s execution, including Michel Angelo Florio’s description of her words on seeing Guildford’s body, and discussed in a footnote why I thought, on reflection, that it was worth including.
I have added details on Mary Tudor’s effigy that I discovered late and thought rather fascinating. I have discussed in greater detail Jane’s motivation for her actions. I have also added detail on the Duke of Norkfolk’s execution under Elizabeth and on the Treatese of Treasons, an anonymous document that accused William Cecil and his brother-in-law Nicholas Bacon of plotting to place his kin, Katherine Grey and her heirs, on the throne.
I have expanded the Epilogue on the afterlife of the Grey girls and added in the Author’s Note some reflections of the controversial Hans Eworth portrait in the Fitzwilliam collection, said to be of Jane Grey, or Jane Dormer, or Mary I. I know it is frustrating for those who live in the US to wait for books that come out first in the UK, but there is an upside!

From Burtonreview.blogspot.com What are your plans for future books?

Well, I have started research, but I haven’t yet presented the outline to my publishers so at this stage it has to remain secret!

Are you going to stick with the Tudor Era?

Probably not for my next book.

What is the hardest aspect of writing a non-fiction book?

Sometimes the facts aren’t there to paint a fully rounded picture of a person or events. Also it is very tempting to tell people everything you have found out, and that can get in the way of the story.

Do you think you would ever consider writing Fiction?

Yes – but I have no idea if I would be any good at it!

From Anonymous Had Jane Grey been allowed to live, do you think she would have been really dangerous to Mary Tudor’s position as Queen? Mary certainly seemed to think so, but I’m just wondering if you think she would have been as big a rallying point to Protestants.

Mary needed to show ruthlessness, after the  mercy she showed 1553 was read as weakness. But I think Jane proved to be more dangerous dead than alive. Alive she was only a convicted traitor. Dead she became a martyr.

‘The Sisters Who Would Be Queen’ was ‘blogged’ by PhD Historian at Tudor History Q&A in December 2008.

During the discussion the following questions were raised:

Does de Lisle have an opinion on the portrayal of Jane in the film ‘Tudor Rose’?

I loved the opening scene in Tudor Rose, with King Henry on his death bed. It was fabulous. I even experimented in opening my book with the dying Henry writing his will in December 1546 (obviously excluding the entirely fictional speech portrayed in the film) – but it didn’t work. Jane, depicted puffy sleeves was very sweet, in a slightly saccharine way: nothing like the clever, spirited teenager of the 1550s!

Is there any information on what Mary “Rose” Tudor might have thought about the marriage of her elder daughter being a bid to consolidate support for the Boleyn marriage?

Shortly before she died in June 1533 Mary Rose sent the King a letter assuring him of her love and loyalty. I think she had decided if this meant accepting the Boleyn marriage then so be it.

Is there any evidence for Bess of Hardwick’s close acquaintance or employment with the Grey sisters or their mother?

Yes. Bess was a lady in waiting to Frances and celebrated her marriage to Sir William Cavendish at Bradgate in 1547. Four of her subsequent children had Grey godparents – only Mary Grey was not a godparent.  That she kept a picture of Jane and had letters or other written work of hers is suggested in a letter written by Arbella Stuart in 1603. Katherine Grey was close to a St Loe stepdaughter.

The Dudleys have taken almost as much of a beating from the “traditional” portrait of Jane Grey, as her Grey parents, particularly in regard to Jane’s mother-in-law and husband Guildford. Guildford seems like a sort of proto-Darnley, spoiled, petulant, and whining about his right to be king.  Does de Lisle offer any new evidence that might adjust the record?

The negative descriptions of Guildford are based entirely on the letter Jane is said to have written to Mary after she was overthrown, quoted in Italian sources, and an anonymous rumour, also made after she was overthrown and probably coming from the Grey camp, that she had intended to make her husband a duke, but not a king, as he wished. In the letter Jane follows her mother’s lead in blaming her treason on the ambition of the Dudleys (Frances visited Mary in July 1553 to plead for her family).

If we look at more neutral sources, the contemporary record paints a much more positive picture.  He is described in the procession to the Tower, when his wife claims it as Queen, walking with his cap in his hand – ie playing second fiddle. A few foreigners refer to him as a King during Jane’s reign but we do not see his signature claiming anything of this sort: only hers as ‘Jane the Queen’. On the last day of her reign Jane names a new godson after him (no signs of a quarrel).

At some point Guildford also writes a charming note to his father in law in a prayer book wishing him a long life (no signs of a quarrel there either). He remains a quiet prisoner in the Tower, but refused to convert to Catholicism. He is said to have asked Jane for a last embrace on the night before his death, which he went to bravely – and there were no tears as was later said.

The information about Frances possibly acting as a Protestant propagandist is very interesting. Is there any suggestion that Cecil was involved? Some research done over the past few years have indicated that he was involved in running an anti-Marian printing press on property owned indirectly by him; de Lisle has indicated elsewhere that she believes him to be a tireless supporter of the Grey claim during Elizabeth’s early reign, much to the Queen’s annoyance. It would fit if he had made contact with Frances and encouraged her subversive activities or even facilitated them.

The press that printed Jane’s letters and scaffold speech within weeks of her death was the one hidden on Cecil’s estate. He was also a neighbour and friend of Frances’s stepmother, to whom she was close.

Does de Lisle suggest that if Katherine Grey had married someone else than Hertford, her situation might have been less calamitous? The usual reading is that love was behind it, but it could be read that Katherine made a very calculated dynastic decision.

Although marrying a commoner didn’t make things much easier for Mary Grey, Elizabeth might well have been less angry with both sisters if Katherine had chosen a less suitable husband than Hertford. I did ask myself how calculating Katherine and Hertford were, but concluded that while ambition may have played a role early in the romance their physical passion, jealousy and reckless behaviour strongly suggests they were genuinely in love.