Lady Jane Grey
The times which succeeded the demise of Henry VIII were troublous and stormy. His son, as Edward VI., succeeded him, but did not long survive. He, Edward, was persuaded to name as his successor neither Mary nor Elizabeth both his sisters, but Jane Grey, his cousin.
Lady Jane Grey was remarkable for many virtues and accomplishments. She was born at Broadgate, in Leichestersihire, in 1537. She was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII. Mary, second daughter of that king, after having been left a widow by the decease of Louis XII of France, married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and she had a daughter who married Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset. The offspring of this union was three daughters, the eldest of whom was Lady Jane Grey.
She was very early distinguished for her talents and promise. When still very young she had thoroughly mastered Latin, Greek, French, and Italian, and was conversant with at least three Oriental languages - Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic. She prosecuted her studies under many difficulties, as appears from Acham's history, in his "School-master."
Her father was created Duke of Suffolk. He was a man of strong ambition, and for that failing his daughter suffered. Her alliance with the Crown, as well as the favour in which her father stood with Edward VI., brought her, as a matter of course, sometimes to Court, where she received particular marks of the young King's esteem; but the greater part of her time was spent at her father's seat at Broadgate. Roger Ascham informs us that, "before he left for Germany, he went to Broadgate to take his leave of the noble Lady Jane Grey. Her parents, the duke and duchess, with all the household, were hunting in the park, but I found her in her chamber reading Greek. After some conversations, I asked her why she should lose such pastime in the park? Smiling, she said, 'Their sport in the park I reckon to be but a shadow to the pleasure I find in my study. Alas! they never felt what true pleasure means!' 'And how came you, madam,' said I, 'to this deep knowledge of pleasure?' 'I will tell you,' she replied, 'and tell you a truth which perhaps you will wonder at. Among the greatest benefits God ever gave me has been my having severe parents and a gentle schoolmaster.'" Ascham himself was her tutor.
It is not probable that Lady Jane remained long in the country after this visit. Her two uncles, Henry and Charles Brandon, both dying about the same time, she was left tot the machinations of her ambitious father and the Duke of Northumberland. The two dukes had now reached the height of their power, and upon the decline of the King's health, they began to contrive how to prevent those evils which they believed must ensue upon his death. To accomplish this end, no other method so much commended itself as the getting of the succession of the crown transferred into their own families; and, of course, the Lady Jane must act the principal part in this intended revolution. Those qualities of character which had rendered her dear to all who knew her, joined to her near relationship to the King, rendered her a fit tool to an ambition which she herself did not feel.
For the purpose of this project she was married to the Lord Guilford Dudley, forth son of the Duke of Northumberland, while no intimation was made to her of the real design of the match. Yet the union was one of true affection on both sides. The magnificence attending this marriage was the last glem of joy that shone in the palace of King Edward. He became so weak, within a few days, that the Duke of Northumberland deemed it necessary to carry his plan into immediate execution. Accordingly, he communicated the matter to the young monarch. After having stated all the objections which could be made against his majesty's two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and the Queen of Scots, who were the next heirs to the crown, he said, that Lady Jane, who was next in succession, was possessed of great talents, that her zeal for the Reformation was unquestioned, that nothing could be more acceptable to the nation than such a princess, and that for such reasons he was bound to set aside all partialities of blood and nearness of relationship as inferior considerations when the public good was in question. By these, as well as many other plausible arguments, the duke endeavored to prevail upon the King to assent to his views. To insure success, care was taken to surround the King with persons who should make it their business to frequently mention this subject, an to enlarge on the excellencies of Lady Jane. At length he yielded, and overlooking his father's will, set aside his sisters; and a deed was drawn up settling the crown on Lady Jane Grey, which document was signed by the King and all the Lords of the Council.
This was a complicated and delicate matter, and the next thing was to fix upon the best means of carrying the settlement into execution. Till this arrangement could be made, it was important to keep the compact secret. To this end the Duke of Northumberland formed a plan of deceit. He directed letters to the Lady Mary, in her brother's name, requiring her attendance at Greenwich, where the court then was, and she had reached within half a day's journey of that place, when King Edward died, July 6, 1553; but, having been apprised of the event, she escaped the snare which had been laid for her by the duke.
The Dukes, Suffolk and Northumberland, concealed the fact of the King's death from the public, in order that they might have time to win over the city of London to their party, and also obtain the consent of Lady Jane, who was even now entirely ignorant of the scheme of her father and her father-in-law. Her father now went to her and told her what the late King had done:--that he had left her the crown by letters patent; that the Privy Council and magistrates acknowledged her right tot he throne; and then Northumberland and he fell on their knees and paid homage to her as Queen of England. Poor lady! she was astonished; and replied, "The laws of the kingdom and natural right standing for the King's sisters, she would beware of burdening her weak conscience with a yoke which did not belong to it; that she was not ignorant that it was infamous to violate right in order to gain a scepter; and that it were to mock God, and to deride justice, to scruple at the stealing of a shilling and not at the usurpation of a crown. Besides," said she, "I am not so young an inexperienced as not to prefer my liberty to the chain you now propose for me, with whatsoever gold and precious stones it may be adorned. I will not exchange my peace for magnificent and gaudy feathers, and if you love me sincerely, you would rather wish me a lot quiet and secure, than an exalted situation exposed to the danger of a dismal fall."
But the exhortations of her father, the entreaties of her mother, and the persuasions of other relations at length prevailed, and Lady Jane consented, with a heavy heart, to be conveyed to the Tower, which she then entered with all the state of a queen, assuming the royal title, and being proclaimed with all due solemnity in the city. But her royalty was brief. On the 19th of the same month Queen Mary was proclaimed, and universally acknowledged. The Duke of Suffolk went to his daughter, and, in the gentlest terms he could use, told her the state of affairs, and that she must lay aside the dignity of queen, and return to private life. She replied, with a settled and serene countenance, "I am better pleased with this message than with my former advancement to royalty. From obedience to you and my mother, I have grievously sinned, and contrary to my own inclinations. Now I do willingly, and as obeying the motions of my soul, relinquish the crown, and endeavor to heal those faults committed by others, if it be possible, by a willing relinquishment and ingenuous acknowledgment of them."
Her reign lasted only thirteen days. But during the short subsequent periods of her life, her sorrows were many. She saw the greater number of the nobility and gentry, who had supported her title, brought prisoners to the Tower, and some of them were shortly afterwards executed.
On the 3rd November, 1553, Lady Jane and her husband were taken from the Tower to Guildhall, along with Cranmer and others, arraigned and convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death. It was not long before it was resolved to execute the sentence. The news did not greatly affect Lady Jane. She had expected it, and was so well prepared to meet her fate, that she was but little discomposed.
Two days before her death, Queen Mary sent Dr. Feckenham, Abbot of Westminster, to visit her, hoping that he might be able to bring her back to the Church of Rome, for she had strongly embraced the principles of the Reformation, and was a truly Christian conversation is depicted in our illustration. The conversation itself was such as this:
Feckenham -- "Madam, I lament your heavy case, yet doubt not you bear this sorrow of yours with a constant and patient mind."
Lady Jane -- "You are welcome, sir, if your coming be to give me Christian exhortation. As for my heavy case, I thank God I rather account it a manifest declaration of God's favor towards me."
F. -- " I am come from the Queen and her council, to instruct you in the true doctrine and right faith."
L. J. -- "I heartily thank the Queen's highness, who is not unmindful of her humble subject."
F. -- "What is then required of a Christian man?"
L. J. -- "That he should believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God."
F. -- "What! is there nothing else required in a Christian but to believe in Him?"
L. J. -- "Yes, we must love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength, and our neighbour as ourselves."
F. --" Why, then, faith justifieth not."
L. J. -- "Yes, verily; (as St. Paul saith) faith only justifieth."
F. -- "Why, St. Paul saith, 'If I have faith without love it is nothing.'"
L. J. -- "True it is, for how can I love him whom I trust not? or how can I trust him whom I love not? Faith and love go together, and yet love is comprehended in faith."
F. -- "How shall we love our neighbour?"
L. J. -- "To love our neighbour is to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to give drink to the thirsty, and so to do to him as we would do to ourselves."
F. -- "Why, then, it it necessary to salvation to do good works also, and it is not sufficient to believe?"
J. J. -- "I deny that; and I affirm that faith only saveth; but it is meet for a Christian, in token that he followeth Christ, to do good works,--yet may we not say that they profit to our salvation. When we have done all, we are unprofitable servants, and faith only in Christ's blood saveth us."
Freckenham had much more conversation with her on different points; but let this example suffice as an evidence of the simple and sincere faith in Christ which possessed Lady Jane's mind, and which, in her day, was so rare. When the abbot left her, seeing that he could not shake her faith, he said that he was sorry for her, "for I am sure," said he, "that we two shall never meet." "True it is," said Lady Jane, "that we shall never meet, except God turns your heart, for I am assured, unless you repent and turn to God, you are in an evil case; and I pray God, in His mercy, to send you His Holy Spirit, for He has given you His great gift of utterance, if it please Him also to open the eyes of your heart."
Such a person was Lady Jane Grey--a true Christian, and one of the most intelligent and accomplished women of her time. The ways of Diving Providence are inscrutable to man. Her acceptance of the crown was the result of ambition and intrigue, though not on her part; but if she had been permitted to reign, how different would the condition of England have been during the following years, as contrasted with what it was under the "bloody Mary"!
On Monday morning, February 12th 1554, the day appointed for their execution, her husband, the Lord Guilford, desired to take a last farewell, but could not. She bade him adieu from a window as he passed to the scaffold on Tower Hill, were he suffered with much Christian meekness, and she beheld his body, wrapped in a cloth, as it was brought back for burial.
In an hour afterwards she herself was led to execution, attended by Dr. Feckenham. When she came upon the scaffold--erected on the green within the Tower--she said to the people standing near. "Good people, I am come hither to die; and by law I am condemned thereto. The fact against the Queen's highness was unlawful, as was the consenting thereunto by me; but, touching any procurement and desire thereof by me, or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof, declaring my innocence before God and the face of you good Christian people this day. I pray you all to bear me witness, that I die a true Christian woman, and that I look to be saved by no other means but only by the mercy of God in the blood of His only Son, Jesus Christ; and I do confess, that when I did know the word of God I neglected it, and loved myself and the world; therefore this plague and punishment is happily and deservedly happened unto me for my sins; and yet I thank God that He hath given me a time and respite to repent." Then she repeated the fifty-first Psalm in a most devout manner, after which she stood up, and gave her handkerchief and gloves to the women attending her, and then undid her gown. The executioner offered to assist her, but she declined his aid, and turned towards her two gentlewomen, who helped her off with it, and to one of whom she gave a handkerchief to tie about her eyes. The executioner then kneeled down, and asked her forgiveness, to which she answered, "Most willingly." He desired her to stand upon the straw, in doing which she saw the block, and said, "I pray you, dispatch me quickly." Then she kneeled down, saying, "Will you take it off before I lay me down?" The executioner answered, "No, madam." Then she tied the handkerchief about her eyes, and feeling for the block, asked, "Where is it? what shall I do?" One who stood by guided her, and she laid her head down upon it, and said, "Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!" and immediately the executioner, with one blow, severed her head from her body.
Lady Jane Grey was a woman of extraordinary mental ability, and of unusual amiableness of disposition. But, moreover, she was a Christian indeed. She was regardless of an earthly diadem, fully estimating its cares and sorrows, and her desires soared after the better crown which fadeth not away. She left behind her some fragments of literary remains which distinctly show her clear understanding of the Gospel, and her sincere regard for the truth and grace therein revealed.
This page and its design are copyright
© 2003 by Kevin W. Michael.
All rights reserved.