The story of Lady Jane Grey, the 'traitor-heroine of the Reformation', is perhaps the most poignant personal tragedy in British political history. The grand-daughter of Henry VIII's younger sister Mary and eldest child of the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, this unworldly though resolute girl was flattered, favoured, and ultimately butchered on the block of political expediency.
In a more settled age she probably would have lived a quiet, privileged life in the service of her family and her religion.
She might have remained unscathed in the turbulent politics of the mid-sixteenth century but for the recklessness of her parents and the ambition of her father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland, whose desire to make her queen upon the death of her cousin, Edward VI, ended in calamity. Yet in British constitutional history her fall from grace is not considered a national disaster. Here she is but a vapour, an insubstantial thing whose reign marks little of consequence save a brief delay in Mary's rule.
What she might have become had Northumberland succeeded and her reign endured is pure speculation, except to say that if she had had the army which hedges kings the grounds for her claim to the succession would appear more convincing. Dead before her seventeenth birthday, few historical characters are so often met yet so little known as Lady Jane Grey.
Academic historians have tended to ignore her because of her constitutional unimportance and the problems of documentation. A few biographers have struggled to sift fact from fiction with mixed success, but a full-bodied portrait is impossible given the fragmentary evidence of her fragmented life. She is unusual in that artists and imaginative writers have played such a significant part in her reconstruction, or one might say more accurately her apotheosis. Many people have come into contact with her only through children's books, the theatre, cinema, Harrison Ainsworth's novel, The Tower of London , or Paul Delaroche's dramatic paintings.
The iconography of Jane is a fascinating subject in itself. Innocence offended is the stuff of legend. It is not misleading to say that Jane was a gifted girl, who, obedient to the wishes of her parents, married Lord Guildford Dudley, reluctantly became queen, was deposed by Mary Tudor, tried, found guilty of treason, and executed.
This sketch suggests some of the elements of a fairy tale and is easily turned into one. The political confusion of the mids encouraged the fanciful, for many works by or about Jane were lost or purposely destroyed, perhaps even portraits. Rumour and speculation tilled the gap in the public record. Fantasy was given further licence in the decades immediately after her death because it was then impolitic to write about her.
Whether by error or deliberate lie, myth fused with history in a way so irresistible that few writers checked the facts even when and where they were available. Who would wish to impugn a girl so highborn and so ill-used? Better to point a moral with her tragic tale. In life Northumberland put her in royal garb.
In death others would dress her up to suit themselves. The mythic Jane who has emerged may be more to the public's taste than the historical Jane could ever be. Her many faces are fascinating, less for what they tell us about her than for what they tell us about ourselves.
Embellishments in the written record began to fill out the bare bones of Jane's story soon after Mary's death in Ballads were among the first to take her up. See F. Furnivall, Ballads from Manuscripts. There was no mention here that Jane might have erred in accepting the crown or that Guildford wished to be king despite his wife's objections. This was Jane as the embodiment of anti-Catholicism, a role she never deserted once Protestantism became fully established in England.
It is very unlikely that a last minute conversion to Rome would have saved her, but to Protestants, especially puritans brought up on Foxe's Book of Martyrs , Jane died 'for faith and purity'. In their imagination she had a Christ-like holiness, and as such could do no wrong. Jane the unrivalled scholar has been as appealing as Jane the Protestant saint. Her surviving letters suggest that she was academically gifted, though perhaps less than a genius. But most of her champions have been influenced less by her literary remains than by Roger Ascham, who mentioned her briefly in his work The Schoolmaster, published posthumously in That Ascham wrote about their meeting at Bradgate more than a decade after the event to give support to an argument about education is rarely mentioned.
This, of course, does not make his description of Jane untrue, but one must suspect it as overblown. To Ascham she was the 'sweet and noble' lady, whose sole pleasure was the pursuit of knowledge and whose devotion to her gentle tutor Aylmer was in stark contrast to her fear of her cruel and overbearing parents. This portrait of a sad, thoughtful girl was especially attractive to Protestants, who varnished it and hung it beside Jane the martyr. He wrote the poem while on diplomatic service in Spain in the early s, but it was not published in England until , years after his death. Written in Latin, it describes Jane as without peer in learning, soul, or beauty and comparable with Socrates for steadfastness in the face of death.
Her 'murderer', Queen Mary, is savaged throughout. Chaloner, though a Protestant, had been in Mary's employ. Most intriguing is his assertion that Jane was pregnant at the time of her execution. Perhaps he knew something that his contemporaries did not, but it is more likely that a pregnant Jane was a deceit which made the 'marble-hearted' Mary appear all the more vile.
While most of us do not expect historical accuracy from poets, it is interesting to note how often later champions of Jane would pull Chaloner's Elegy off their shelves and hold it up as truth. One should not expect historical accuracy from playwrights any more than poets. In historical drama distortions of the subject are inevitable, for events must be condensed, complexities of doctrine and politics simplified. Moreover, vigorous narrative must take precedence over accuracy of detail if a play is not to be dull. With Jane dramatists have sought to serve their art by turning her into a romantic heroine.
The first play to do so was by John Webster and Thomas Dekker. First produced in published Lady Jane survives only in fragments, but enough remains to suggest that Webster was not writing with historians in mind. Much is made of the trial, for instance, in which Jane and Guildford 'my Dudley mine own heart' plead for each other's lives.
No defence was made in the actual trial where they both pleaded guilty. On the day of their execution Jane laments: 'My dearest Guildford, let us kiss and part'. In this fiction Jane is executed first and her head brought to Guildford. What little is known about their relationship would suggest that they were unlikely to have enjoyed one another's company, but in the theatre, as elsewhere, Jane and Guildford have been lovers ever since, perhaps in posthumous compensation for lives which seem too sad, too tragic, for us to bear.
Gregg Olsen. Editors of Reader's Digest. Crash Into Me. Liz Seccuro. Joseph Balzer.
Featured Volunteer Reviews
The I Chong. Tommy Chong. Wisdom of Our Fathers. Tim Russert. Bobby and the Drug Store Robbery. Jane Gilgun. Laughter the Best Medicine Work. Between Good and Evil. Susan Schindehette. Listening Is an Act of Love. Dave Isay. True Crime Online. Killer Charm. Linda Fairstein. Laughter Still Is the Best Medicine. Give Some Take More. Scherell Simonet. Michael Gourdine.
This Is Zodiac Speaking. Chuck Klosterman.
- The Many Faces of Lady Jane Grey.
- Get The Lithub Daily?
- The Face of Fear!
- Predator Girl;
Lessons of Redemption. Kevin Shird. Crimes and Secrets of a Desperate Dad. Steve Mayfield. Edna Buchanan.
Why Reading Science Fiction is Good For Military Officers
Area 51 Murders. Bob Moats. Fatal Embrace. Cris Barrish. Street Corner Symphony. Robert L. Leland Gregory. MK Pachan.
Idiots in Love: Chronicles of Romantic Stupidity. Martha Frankel. Rebel in High Heels. Charlotte Laws.
The Face of Fear by R. J. Torbert (ebook)
Deadly Lust. McCay Vernon. Into Their Own Hands. Gary Provost. Hurricane Street. Ron Kovic. My Life to Live. Agnes Nixon. In Cold Pursuit. It shifts our paradigm to different subjects. Science fiction gives military officers a break from military history and current events. We, as members of the profession of arms, must keep up with developments in strategy, technology, policy and tactics related to our profession.
But at times military officers need to give themselves an intellectual break from the deep import and seriousness of such reading. Science fiction, with its focus away from current events offers this break. And not only in books. For a more contemporary example, try the work of the Angry Staff Officer , whose obvious affection for Star Wars which I share has carried over into posts on his blog. It nurtures hope. Reading science fiction nurtures our hopes that there is something better in the future.
While conflict, catastrophe and climate change features in many science fiction novels often to deliver cautionary tales , much science fiction is highly optimistic in nature. Maybe it is just a personal bias, but uplifting stories of positive futures grill me with hope that in some way our service is helping to make this happen. And it informs us about bad potential futures. Reading science fiction allows one to think about a range of bad potential futures. The dystopian future genre, particularly for younger readers, has been popular of late.
But this is not new. It is good that military officers should read such descriptions of alternate futures; it is the first step in us ensuring that they do not come to pass.