Lady Jane Grey, Queen for nine days, executed at the age of 17, was more than just a pawn in the religious and state politics of Tudor England. We will write more about the end of her short life in a future post, but for today we want to focus on her early life.
Jane was born at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, famous today for its herds of red deer and fallow deer. Jane was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset and his wife Lady Frances Brandon. Through her mother, Jane was great-granddaughter to Henry VII. Jane had a very difficult childhood, even by the standards of the time.
A strict childhood
Her mother, Lady Brandon, was a strict and really very cruel disciplinarian. She seems to have been irritated by Jane’s personality. She thought that Jane was too meek and gentle, and attempted to toughen her up with regular beatings. Starved of affection and a mother’s love and understanding Jane became a bookworm. She turned out to be a very able scholar and quickly mastered skills in the arts and languages. Despite this Jane felt that nothing she could do would please her parents. She confided in a visiting tutor from Cambridge, Roger Ascham, saying,
“When I am in the presence of either Father or Mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it as it were in such weight, measure and number, even so perfectly as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yes presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs and other ways … that I think myself in hell.”
Jane Grey – scholar
Jane threw herself into her studies and became learned in Latin, Greek and Hebrew as well as modern languages. Through the teachings of her tutors, she became a committed Protestant. Her faith was clearly a source of strength to her throughout her short life, and at her execution – more of that in a future post.
Young, beautiful and learned Jane, intent
On knowledge, fount it peace; her vast acquirement
Of goodness was her fall; she was content
With dulcet pleasures, such as calm retirement
Yields to the wise alone; — her only vice
Was virtue: in obedience to her sire
And lord she died, with them a sacrifice
To their ambition: her own mild desire
Was rather to be happy than be great;
For though at their request, she claimed the crown,
That they through her might rise to rule the state,
Yet the bright diadem and gorgeous throne
She viewed as cares, dimming the dignity
Of her unsullied mind and pur benignity.
by William Hone (1780 -1842)
Inscribed beneath a portrait of Lady Jane Grey