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

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

As Edward VI lay on his deathbed in 1553 he wanted a protestant heir to the throne – (or at least his advisors did ). He was only 15 years of age. Rather than name his Catholic half-sister Mary as his successor, he left the throne to his aunt’s descendents, in the knowledge that Jane, a staunch protestant, would be next in line to the throne.

Mary I Declared Queen

However, within only a few days, Mary had gathered enough support to ride into London in a triumphal procession. Parliament declared Mary the rightful Queen – and Jane and her husband were imprisoned for treason. Jane’s husband Guilford was publicly beheaded at Tower Hill. A horse and cart brought his body back to the Tower of London, past the rooms where Jane was held prisoner. Jane was then taken out to Tower Green for a private execution rather than a public one – this was expressly ordered by Queen Mary out of respect for her cousin.

Queen Mary

Queen Mary, allowed Jane a private execution

The Scaffold

On ascending the scaffold Jane gave her gloves and handkerchief to her maid, and then recited Psalm 51 in English. Tyndale had translated the Bible into English in 1525, but any editions before 1570 were very rare so it is possible that Jane translated this psalm herself, as she was a scholar of biblical languages. The Roman Catholic priest sent by Mary to try to convert Jane to Catholicism, stayed with her during the execution.

“What shall I do? Where is it?”

Jane is reported to have turned to the executioner saying, “I pray you dispatch me quickly”. Then, indicating her head, asked, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” to which the executioner answered, “No, madam”. Jane put on her blindfold herself, wanting to go to her death with dignity – however once blindfolded, she could not find the executioner’s block, and began to panic, crying “What shall I do? Where is it?” (This is the moment depicted in the painting by Delaroche above) An unknown hand helped her, and with her head on the block, Jane spoke the last words of Jesus from St Luke’s gospel, “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!” She was then beheaded.

Psalm 51

edge2Have mercy upon me, O God,

according to thy lovingkindness:

according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

edgeCreate in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

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Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey

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.

Bradgate Park

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.

Bradgate Park (prakashodedra on Flickr: Click image)

Bradgate Park (prakashodedra on Flickr: Click image)

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.”

Photo of Bradgate Park by American-Psycho-UK on Flickr (click image)

Photo of Bradgate Park by American-Psycho-UK on Flickr (click image)

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

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