Thursday, 19 July 2018


The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, Paul Delaroche, 1833, National Gallery London

As the 465th anniversary of the brief reign of England’s “9 Days Queene” reaches it’s apex today (Queen Jane ruled from the 10th of July to the 19th, 1553, until she was infamously overthrown by Mary I of the House of Tudor), much speculation continues to abound as to whether the young royal can be – or ever was – recognized as a legitimate "Queen."

Nearly half a millennium has passed since the execution of Grey, yet it seems the very same theocratic and social divides which so infamously undermined Jane’s blink-of-an-eye reign remain today the chief and aggregate source of groups both denying, and validating the legitimacy of her rule.

Compounding the issue is the careful attribution of “Lady” to Jane Grey – not “Queen” on the Official website of the British Monarchy - a title of peerage granted the former monarch via her marriage to Lord Guildford Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland in May of 1553. Although the same site references Jane’s “reign” and acknowledges that the young royal was deposed, the choice of assigning her to a lesser title has only served to further confuse the issue of legitimacy.

The reality of Jane’s reign, as de-facto Queen of England and Ireland, and the legitimacy of her claim to the British throne can be traced through the Tudor family tree, and the various Acts of Succession, including the “Devise for the Succession” written, and amended by King Edward VI in 1553.

King Henry VIII would inadvertently continue to make
heads roll well after his death thanks to his various Acts of
Successions. His only legitimate son, sired by Jane Seymour,
Edward VI, would pick up where his indecisive father left off
with the creation, and later amendment, of his own "Device"
Jane was of re-instituted royal stock: as Great-granddaughter to Henry VII, founder of the House of Tudor, and Great-grand niece of King Henry VIII, the former monarch had blue blood coursing through her veins. She famously made an appearance in the Third Succession Act of Henry VIII (which I will discuss in detail below), which granted the King license to bequeath the Crown of England in his Will. 

Forgoing his children to death or sterility, the throne would by legitimate default fall to the heirs of Mary Tudor (note: not the same person as "Bloody Mary"),  the younger sister to Henry VIII and present Queen of France. Out was the line of sister Margaret (which would have (eventually) favored Mary, Queen of Scots), who defiantly wed Scotch king James IV, much to her brother’s disapproval – Scotland being a historical enemy of England.

Jane was the granddaughter of Mary Tudor, through Mary’s daughter Frances, Duchess of Suffolk. Henry’s Third Act of Succession, which directly included Jane as a default to the throne (she would even bypass her mother, who, for reasons unspecified by the king, was omitted from inheriting the Crown), would prove to be the young girl’s undoing.

Legitimacy often proved to be a fleeting construct of the Tudor court: Henry VIII’s second Act of Succession, passed in 1536, would infamously declare both of the king’s daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, as bastards of invalid unions, thus prohibiting either from inheriting the Crown.

It was only at the persistent prodding of Henry’s final consort, Catherine Parr, that a third Act of Succession would be passed some 7 years later, which would restore both Princesses to the line of succession, and which was further supported by Henry’s Will. Quite problematically, however, both were still declared as illegitimate spawn.

*CLICK TO ENLARGE* Edward VI's edited "Devise for the Succession"
Edward, the King’s only legitimate son, did issue a “Devise for the Succession,” which he revised shortly before his death – which initially listed the “heirs masles [males]” of Lady Frances as heirs apparent. However, as the sickly king grew ever more ill, and as it became increasingly apparent that he may not live to see Lady Frances conceive a son, he was inclined to favor the sons of Lady Jane. 

This too was an issue, as young Jane also had not yet sired any children – let alone a son. Again, the Devise was adjusted accordingly: “L Jane and[*] her heires masles [male heirs]” would be hastily scrawled on the document. 

Legally, Edward’s Devise fell into a grey area of validity. It was issued under Letters Patent, which by law could not overturn an Act of Parliament. Thus, Henry’s Third Succession Act, which was passed by the Parliament of England in 1543, remained the de-facto Act of Succession.

The Tudor era was fraught with religious turmoil – Edward was of staunch Protestant faith, as was Lady Jane Grey, and an ever-increasing segment of the English population, who frequently engaged in violent quarrels with old school Catholics. Edward’s duplicitous Uncle, Thomas Seymour (the very same who would later slice at the skirts of a young Elizabeth) married Catherine Parr after Henry’s death and took Jane under his wing and raised her in the faith. Jane would likewise be wedded to a devout Protestant in Lord Guildford Dudley, whose father, John, 1st Duke of Northumberland, was as eager to install himself or his heirs to the throne of England as was Seymour. He was also adamant on a wholly Protestant England – having Mary restored to the line of succession simply would not do.

Boy-king Edward VI was only 9 years old when he
inherited the throne from his father, Henry VIII. The Duke
of Northumberland, John Dudley would effectively rule
in the young monarch's stead during his brief minority.
Dudley's leadership would come to an abrupt end by the
early death of the King. His execution would soon follow.
Northumberland would strong arm Edward into adhering to the principles set forth by Henry VIII's second Act of Succession, which had previously made Mary illegitimate, and thus ineligible for the throne - taking full advantage of Edward’s shared conviction in the Protestant faith by further unleashing a campaign of fear in the mind of the king over Mary’s intense devotion to Catholicism. Of course, this was but a clever ploy by Northumberland to segue into talks of issuing a Devise of Succession, installing his daughter in law, Lady Jane, in Mary’s place. Northumberland certainly held influence over the young and impressionable king – he was the second most powerful person in the realm next to the Monarch – he served as de facto Regent during the minority of Edward.

There is much evidence to support Mary’s desire to keep Jane imprisoned for an indefinite period – but as civil war threatened to erupt and as Dudley’s underhanded machinations to strengthen his claim to a dynastic line of his own became known to the greater public, the pressure was on Mary to order for Jane’s execution. In fact, a sentence of death for both Jane and Dudley was ordered in 1553 – in Renaissance times, one did not typically linger for long periods of time after a warrant of execution was issued, yet Mary chose to allow both to languish in prison until 1554.

It was a tragic time for all involved – fighting crises of faith and with each party struggling to uphold the same, whilst simultaneously taking measures to preserve their own life. It was a fate that did not discriminate: even Mary had to make the call that meant life or death for Jane, versus life or death for herself and the followers of her faith – the very subjects a future Queen was duty bound to protect. Mary was left with little choice: Jane’s own father was a member of the recently formed Wyatt rebellion – an insurgent sect dead set on preventing Mary’s marriage to the Catholic Philip II of Spain by any means necessary. The rage was palpable: not only was Philip a devout Catholic, but a foreigner, from a historically rivalrous nation to England. This made Mary’s life, as much as Jane’s (if not more so) disposable.

Villain or victim? In an age not far removed from Kings
earning crowns on the battlefield, Mary Tudor was left
with little choice but to eliminate the competition.
Unfortunately, this meant sending a reigning Queen and
her young husband to their violent deaths. The fallout
for Mary was great - she may have gained the Crown,
but in death, Lady Jane Grey earned the distinction of
a martyr. Her execution was not one Protestant England
would forget. Mary's reign was infamously marked by
an onslaught of terror against members of the faith: bloody
scenes of protestants burned at the stake became her calling
card, and history has henceforth assigned her the pejorative
moniker "Bloody Mary."
In the end, Mary chose to save herself and her country by eliminating the very real threat posed by Jane’s continuing existence. The age of kingship through battle was still very much a recent reality for sixteenth century Britons - it was not unheard of for a contender to the throne to kill off the competition: the Tudor line of Monarchs was established by this very method in 1485, at the infamous Battle at Bosworth Field, which saw the forces of Henry Tudor (future Henry VII, grandfather to Edward) outnumber and assassinate the “usurper” to the throne, Richard III, Duke of York. That battle not only established the Tudor royal line – it effectively brought about the culmination of the 3 decades long war between the houses of York and Lancaster, the so-called “Wars of the Roses.”

In the same vein, the unfortunate Jane was little more than a pawn in the political and power hungry aspirations of the men sworn to honor and protect her – it didn’t start with Dudley, although he would be the one to effectively end her life. Thomas Seymour himself also envisaged a Protestant England, and did everything in his power – from visiting the private bedchamber of a pubescent heiress in Elizabeth (while scantily clad to boot) to marrying Henry’s widow, and ‘adopting’ Jane, conditioning her from an early age to follow the Protestant agenda (in the blind hope that he could achieve untold power through her, as it appeared all of his previous, lofty efforts for regal status amounted to naught.)

Seymour would later be executed for his treason.

Then there is the issue of Jane’s own father, the newly minted Duke of Suffolk, who was presently riding high on the power extolled by his recently acquired status, and who sought to add to his fortune though the wedded unions of his daughters. It was he who agreed to the arranged marriage of Jane to Dudley (the aforementioned son of the powerful Duke of Northumberland – who, incidentally, had aspirations of his own: should his offspring (Dudley) impregnate Jane with a son of her own, Northumberland would become grandfather to a future King). By allowing Jane’s marriage to Northumberland’s son, the Duke of Suffolk was, in effect, arranging a union for his own daughter with the young man who, thanks to a parent who cared less for the life of his child than his own prosperity, would become instrumental in securing her untimely death.

Jane was surrounded by duplicitous, ruthless men from every corner and though every stage of her young life. Her fate was sealed long before her guilty sentence was passed.

She was, however – and will forever remain, a former de-facto Queen of England.


Queen Jane’s tragic life would prove to be a rich source of inspiration in the artistic realm: Delaroche famously captured her likeness (and execution) in an imagined portrait (seen at the header of this article). In the stunning piece, the angelically clad 17 year old deposed monarch stumbles before the execution block, her arms outstretched, searching in vain for what is to become the final place where she will rest her head. The Delaroche portrait draws on contemporary eye witness accounts to the execution, which depict the teenager as having so pitiably uttered “where is it?” as she fell to her knees before the wooden block. Her eyes bound by a kerchief, the last gentle touch she would feel in her all too short life was by a deputy of the frigid, damp prison which had been her home for over a year, who guided her to her death.

In music, Jane would be the subject of the English balladeer. Her legacy would permeate the realm of muses, becoming fodder for poets and composers well into the 20th century, branching out of the Scepter'd Isle and into Western Europe. Arnold Schoenberg would borrow from the text of poet Heinrich Ammann (1864-1950), in the latter’s "Jane Grey" for his 12th opus, "Zwei Balladen" (two ballads). Jane Grey is the first of the two balladen. It was composed by Schoenberg very early in his career, falling in line with the famous Austrian’s oeuvre of lieder, which would come to symbolize his pre-atonal period (although Schoenberg described the balladen as "direct forerunners of the Second String Quartet" [op.10]). He would compose Zwei Balladen between March and April of 1907 for entrance into a ballad competition (he did not win).

Ammann's moving prose takes much poetic license – it favors displaying the grief of both executioner and Lord Dudley (in contrast to Jane, who walks to her death bravely, her head held high) as the young, equally condemned former consort king bids farewell to his wife, who is watching the progression of his death march from behind the window of her prison cell. It is this tender moment – when Dudley greets Jane for the final time, that Schoenberg’s ballad reveals it’s climax.

Listen below to “Jane Grey” by Arnold Schoenberg, from “Zwei Balladen" (Glenn Gould accompanies mezzo-soprano Helen Vanni:)

text (in English - click on "Continue Reading Here" for the German text):
They led him out through the courtyard, grim
The price of death to pay
Behind the casement stood his young wife,
The lovely Princess, Jane Grey.

Her fair young head
From the lattice leaned out,
Her throat gleamed white by my fay,
He raised his clanking fetters high,
And greeted his wife Jane Grey.

And as they returned with his headless form
She saw them bear it away,
Then she with joy trod the self-same path,
This fair young princess Jane Grey.

The headsman quailed at her comely grace
And wept for his gentle prey;
To join her Lord in eternity then went
The Princess Jane Grey.

The world has seem blooms young and fair
Unnumbered passed away
Yet none was more lovely, more pure and fair
Than Dudley’s wife Jane Grey.

And still the wind as it sighs
And moans through the leafy branches that sway,
Doth whisper low how untimely died
The fair young Princess Jane Grey.
English translation by Claude Averling.

- Rose.

German text:
Sie führten ihn durch den grauen Hof,
Daß ihm sein Spruch gescheh';
Am Fenster stand sein junges Gemahl,
Die schöne Königin Grey.

Sie bog ihr Köpfchen zum Fenster heraus,
Ihr [Haar] erglänzte wie Schnee;
Er hob die Fessel klirrend
auf Und grüßte sein Weib Jane Grey.

Und als man den Toten vorüber trug,
Sie stand damit sie ihn seh';
Drauf ging sie freudig denselben Gang,
Die junge Königin Grey.

Der Henker, als ihm ihr Antlitz schien,
Er weinte laut auf vor Weh,
Dann eilte nach in die Ewigkeit
Dem Gatten Königin Grey.

Viel junge Damen starben schon
Vom Hochland bis zur See,
Doch keine war schöner und keuscher noch
Als Dudley's Weib Jane Grey.

Und wenn der Wind in den Blättern spielt
Und er spielt in Blumen und Klee,
Dann flüstert's noch oft vom frühen Tod
Der jungen Königin Grey.

No comments:

Post a Comment