The first time I read the story of Jane Grey, her short reign, and her subsequent execution, I was both horrified and fascinated. Here was a young girl of only sixteen, who was cruelly misused by the adults around her, yet managed to find the strength to die with dignity and to maintain her faith until the very end of her tragically short life.
Jane was born the same week as Prince Edward, and was named for his mother, Queen Jane Seymour. A Tudor through her mother Frances Brandon, who was the daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk, Jane was born to greatness.
Jane’s parents, perhaps disappointed by her gender, were very harsh with their daughter and therefore she grew up to be a very restrained, serious young girl who found her solace in learning and religion. Taught at a very early age to embrace the Protestant religion, Jane was somewhat of a fanatic, and detested anything to do with Catholicism. She was also very intelligent, learning many languages and participating in communications with some of the most prominent and learned theologians and scholars in Europe.
Jane was much more suited for learning that for court, so she was understandably dismayed when her parents decided to betroth her to Guilford Dudley, the son of the Duke of Northumberland, who was the Lord Protector of England. Her parents eventually had to beat her into submission, knowing that there was much for them to gain by such an alliance. It was around this time that King Edward’s health began to decline and Northumberland took advantage of his religious fervor to convince Edward that his sister Mary would destroy the Protestant religions and force England to once again be bound to Rome. Edward was distraught at this idea and therefore very receptive to the idea of his cousin Jane succeeding him, and maintaining the faith.
When the King died, Northumberland had his daughter in law Jane declared Queen, must to her consternation. When told of her new title, she fainted and then burst into tears, telling those gathered that the crown was not rightfully hers, but belonged to Mary. Her parents, Northumberland, and her husband all attempted to convince her to accept the crown, and when she finally did, it was with grave reservations.
It was extremely brave of her to attempt to refuse he crown, her ambitious family and father in law were no doubt furious with her, as they fully intended to reign through her. In the end it was only after she prayed for God’s guidance that she seated herself on the throne, telling her new court that if her reign was indeed right in the sight of God, she would do her best. She later showed further courage by refusing to make her spoiled husband King Consort, telling him that she would make him a Duke instead. At this time a woman was expected at all times to be humble and submissive to their families and husbands, but Jane broke with this convention very publicly on several occasions. She might have been just a young girl, but she had very strong convictions and beliefs.
After Mary I had taken back the crown a few days later, Jane told her father that she was much more willing to relinquish the crown than she had been to accept it. All she wanted to do was go home and return to her studies; instead her mother and father abandoned her in the Tower of London and fled to protect themselves. Mary had at first wanted to be merciful to Jane and her husband, but when a rebellion lead by Jane’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, failed, the Emperor refused to allow his son Phillip to go to England and marry the Queen until Jane and her husband were dead.
Though she had been promised a royal pardon, Jane took the news of her impending execution with a calm demeanor, stating that she was “ready and glad” to end her woeful days. She was worried that she would be tempted in her last days, and this became true when Queen Mary offered her a pardon if she would convert to the Catholic faith. Surely this hope of freedom and a chance to escape death must have sorely tempted Jane, who after all was only 16, but she maintained her belief in the Protestant faith. She even participated in a debate with Catholic scholars in the days before her death, and though they had tried valiantly to change Jane’s mind, her faith would not be moved. At her execution Jane begged that those assembled would bear witness that she died a good Christian woman, and so she did.
Jane Grey died a dignified death, she died an innocent death. Much like her cousin Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, Jane was a victim of court factions and an ambitious family who abandoned their own flesh and blood to save themselves. The fact that someone that young could have the courage and conviction to stand in the face of death and not waver is something to marvel at. Her resolve, her faith, and her grace under fire are all reasons that I admire her, and am drawn to her story.