England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey – Episode 1

Although Lady Jane has featured in historical documentaries such as ‘She – Wolves: England’s Early Queens’ and ‘Bloody Tales of the Tower’, ‘England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey’ is the first that focuses on Jane.

Presented by Helen Castor, it also features ‘Jane’ historians, Leanda de Lisle and J Stephan Edwards.

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The assistant producer (Lucie Crawford) got in touch to say she had been using my website and I met with her to discuss Jane. I also answered questions and suggested sources throughout the summer.

What was wonderful about the programme was the chance to hear about all the new developments about Jane over the last 10 years and to view documents that relate to Jane and her nine days as Queen.

Episode 1 – How Jane became Queen and brought England to the brink of civil war

Helen Castor – One Tudor monarch who has all but been forgotten – Queen Jane. She was the first woman to be proclaimed Queen of England but few would recognise the name Queen Jane.

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John Guy – I’ve been in this game for 40 years and I have to tell you there is no trickier Tudor subject that Jane Grey.

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Helen Castor – It is Edward’s handwriting but we don’t know if it was Edward’s idea? Whether he was under pressure or if this was exactly what he wanted.

Leanda de Lisle – You can’t have an empty throne.

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Joanne Paul– Jane’s education is special, she is educated to a greater degree, even than someone like Princess Mary or Princess Elizabeth. This is largely because she has no brothers and becomes the sole recipient of the family ambition.

Helen Castor – Durham House. Today it is Victoria Embankment Gardens.

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John Guy – Jane was reluctant to enter this marriage. She agreed to do it because her parents pushed her into it.

Helen Castor – Whether or not there was violence, Jane was certainly put under pressure.

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Helen Castor – We don’t know the date or the precise details but sometime in the weeks before his death a final change is made to the devise. Two words have been added in Edward’s own handwriting. Two words that would change the course of English History.

Stephan Edwards – Faced with fact that a woman was going to have to inherit the throne, whether they liked it or not. The only woman available at that moment was Jane Grey.

8th July

Stephan Edwards – Behind the scenes, ships were sent north to prevent Mary fleeing overseas. Crucially Northumberland has the dead king’s devise for the succession in the young king’s handwriting.

The fact that Jane did not know she was Queen on the evening of 8th July, is a clear indication of how Northumberland and the Privy council viewed Jane, she was effectively a cipher, a figurehead.

9th July

Helen Castor – Publicly nobody considers Jane to be particularly important, publicly no one knows the succession has been changed and that includes Jane.

With a team of oarsmen Jane’s journey to Syon took more than an hour and a half.

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Helen Castor – Today the front of the house is on the other side but in the 16th century it was here, the side accessible from the river. It is still recognisable as the house where Jane arrived on 9th July.

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The story goes that this is the room, the long gallery where Jane heard that she was to be Queen.

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John Guy – She is told that now she is going to be Queen. French Ambassador reports what she said, that the rightful heir is Mary.

Stephan Edwards – The traditional story has it that she burst into tears and didn’t want to be Queen. If you look at Jane’s own account that she conveyed to Queen Mary some weeks after the event, she does describe bursting into tears but it is very clear if you read it closely that those tears were for the death of Edward VI, they weren’t for the circumstance she was in.

She prayed to God to give her the strength to do the job that had been given to her, which indicates to me that she was somewhat accepting albeit reluctantly, that this was the role God had chosen for her, so she had to make the best of it.

Helen Castor – Bolstered by her faith, Jane accepts the crown that afternoon. For Jane, the 9th of July marks the day that she prepares to become the first Queen of England.

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Helen Castor – Letter written by Mary on 9th July from Kenninghall.

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Helen Castor– Mary has signed the letter ‘Mary the Quene.’ The letter sent by Mary to gather support, is addressed to Sir Edward Hastings.

Mary has moved into action with enormous courage and speed. No question in Mary’s mind that she is the lawful sovereign.

Anna Whitlock – The prospects of Mary winning were so slim.

10th July

Helen Castor – Time for Jane to make her first public appearance as England’s Queen.

It is a strange idea, a young woman making this exact journey, with one life left behind her in Chelsea and another up ahead and though she does not realise it yet, there is no going back down this river, no going back to her old home, her old title, her old friends, her old life. For Jane, everything changes at the end of this river journey.

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Helen Castor – Jane’s entrance to the Tower is full of pomp and ceremony.

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But almost immediately the first stirrings of disquiet begin to spread amongst the assembled crowd.

We know this thanks to two letters that came to light in 2013, believed to be written by a Venetian diplomat.

The letters describe Queen Jane being accompanied into the Tower by her mother, Frances Grey.

Leanda de Lisle – People were shocked, why was she carrying her daughter’s train? This was going against the norm.

Helen Castor – Unease was further stirred by the unusual prominence in the procession of Northumberand’s son, Jane’s new husband, a teenage boy with no claim to the throne at all.

‘The husband stood with hat in hand, not only in front of the Queen.

Stephan Edwards – We see Guildford in a whole different light in these letters, he assumes a position of prominence, even physically, to the extent that he is at the front of the procession, in front of his parents and in front of Jane. Which tells us that he was intended…to be king through her.

Helen Castor – Do you think part of the plan for this marriage was that if Jane becomes Queen then Guildford becomes King?

John Guy – Oh absolutely.

Stephan Edwards – Never been a King who had come to the throne in right of his wife. The ultimate goal was to make Guildford King.

Helen Castor– Letters show that people thought that Northumberland had poisoned the king. Northumberland had so much to gain from pulling off this coup. We will never know for sure if Northumberland was behind the change to Edward’s Devise but what is cetain is that he was a hated figure.

John Guy – Northumberland is very unpopular in the country because he put down the revolts of 1549 using German and Geonese mercenaries.

Helen Castor – On 10th July, Northumberland knew he had to convince the people that Jane was the true Queen. The Privy Council does something unprecedented in English history, they order multiple copies of her proclamation to the throne to be printed and distributed. It was the first time that a new monarch was announced in print.

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Leanda de Lisle – Just as she enters the Tower, the terrible image one has of the doors of the Tower closing and they will never open again for Jane.

Helen Castor – A dispatch arrives at the Tower from Princess Mary.

Anna Whitelock – This is the moment Mary’s life has been about.

Helen Castor – Council draft a letter in response for Jane to sign, the first that will carry her signature as Jane the Queen.

A signature that in a few day’s time would be held as evidence of treason.

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Andrea Clarke – Dated 10th July, written to William Parr, Marquess of Northampton. Definitely Jane’s handwriting and it calls upon him to defend her just title.

Helen Castor – These letters stand as proof of the enormous tensions of day one of Jane’s reign. Clear response to Mary’s threat.

Dramatic change in Jane during her first day as Queen. On the 9th, Jane was very reluctant to accept the role. Now she is asking for reinforcements, now Jane is prepared to go to war.

11th July

Helen Castor – It is telling that Northumberland has to offer almost twice the usual daily rate to recruit an army.

Stephan Edwards – Northumberland had to offer an outrageously high pay rate, it was so outrageous that everyone felt the need to record it. So, it is clear that the only thing that was getting people to muster to Northumberland was money.

Anna Whitelock – Mary is mobilising an arm, ready to fight. Ready to assert her claim to the throne.

Helen Castor – Jane continues to send out letters. She is growing in confidence as the days pass.

Stephan Edwards– She is always cast as the very innocent pious puppet of the men around her.

Leanda de Lisle – Jane was a much more interesting individual than that, she had strong views.

Helen Castor– As a child she was surrounded by influential figures, who were tough, uncompromising and not afraid to voice their own opinion. What might be surprising is, how many of them were women.

Stephan Edwards – She was exposed, not only to Katherine Parr… also to other strong willed, highly educated women, like Mildred Cecil and Katherine Willoughby.

Helen Castor – Perhaps she wasn’t the puppet history paints her as.

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Stephan Edwards – Mary and Elizabeth were strong and assertive women and we are asked to believe that their cousin would be submissive?

No, she was part of that Tudor dynamic and she knew how to put herself forward. She knew how to violate norms and she did it in a relatively acceptable way and she did it with the crown.

Helen Castor – Jane does something that Northumberland could never have predicted. Jane would not let Guildford be king. Extraordinary act of independence. Jane was Queen and she would rule alone.

This is the moment we see Jane take control. If the plan was to install a King by default, Jane wasn’t having it. The men had made their plans, they tried to control the crown, the country, Mary and Jane. And she said no, this was her moment.

Stephan Edwards – This was a critical turning point in the entire succession crisis.

Leanda de Lisle – A teenage religious ideologue who is prepaed to die for her religious cause.

Helen Castor – In two days, Jane has occupied the throne and the role entirely. Her transformation is complete, her rule has begun.

In a country that had never had a ruling queen, this was now a battle between 2 women, both determined to fight for the throne, both believing that this was their time.

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My 5 minutes of fame!

Episode 2