Jane Grey, the early years: An Outstanding Prodigy & Evangelical leader in the making

6804,Lady Jane Dudley (née Grey),by Unknown artist

There is no question that Jane Grey was for all intent and purposes a prodigy, even for her times. Today we expect children to learn the basics. But back in the sixteenth century, things were different, especially for noblewomen, who were expected to make their families proud by finding a suitable husband who’d make a powerful ally. In the case of Jane Grey, being the eldest of her sisters, meant she had to meet most of society’s expectations. Having royal blood, and being related to the King through her mother, meant that she had to work harder than Katherine and Mary, and just as hard -if not more- than her bastardized cousins, Ladies, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.

Jane Grey HBC black and white 1

But Jane Grey exceeded everyone’s expectations, especially her father whose continual indulgence made her appreciate him more than her mother who was stricter. When her thirst for knowledge became evident, she became a ward in the Parr household. Queen Dowager Kathryn Parr had recently remarried, for the fourth and last time to her true love, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley. The couple’s manor, Sudeley Castle, became a safe haven for many intellectual curious girls like Jane. Among them was Jane’s cousin, and Kathryn’s favorite royal stepdaughter, lady Elizabeth Tudor. Elizabeth Tudor was nearly Jane’s equal, but after she fell from grace, Jane took her place in Kathryn’s heart.

Jane lamented the Queen Dowager’s death, and after she was returned to her parents, she berated them and begged them to send her back. She wrote how unfair they were treating her. Several historians and novelists have taken this as ‘proof’ that Jane Grey’s mother was a wicked woman and her husband, an indolent fool, or her partner-in-crime who saw their daughter as nothing more than tool in their quest to gain more power. As easy as it is to turn this into a dualistic tale of good and evil, heroes and villains and so on; the truth is that her parents were neither of these things.
Lord Henry Grey, Marques of Dorset and (after the fall of Somerset) Duke of Suffolk, and Frances Brandon, were self-serving aristocrats. This is not unusual given that a family’s number one interest was in promoting their children to other courtiers in the hopes that they would marry into equally or more powerful families to further their riches. Family mattered more than everything else, and this is where religion comes into play as well because it was believed that the best way to raise successful wives and lords, was to instill the fear of god in them. As a result, Jane’s intelligence became highly by Reformers in England and abroad.

Jane Grey black and white 3

Soon after, she became one of the leading figures in the Evangelical movement. In 1552, shortly after Somerset’s execution, her family gained more prominence. Renown Protestant figures like the pastor Michael Angelo Florio whose congregation looked after Protestant exiles, praised her and held her as an example for other Protestant women to follow. He wasn’t the only one, older women like William Cecil’s wife, Mildred Cooke, thought the same. In a letter she wrote in Greek, she compared the adolescent girl to the fourth century bishop of Caesare, Basil the Great, and gave her a copy of one of his many works. Her former tutor Bullinger introduced her to the works of Theodore Bublinger who had translated the Koran -this has led some historians to believe that she might have also been taught Arabic. As her popularity among scholars grew, Jane’s self importance also grew and so did her arrogance. Her father, by this time Duke of Suffolk, together with the Marquis of Northampton (William Parr -Katherine Parr’s brother), and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, supported the King in his reissue of the prayer book which completely outlawed the mass and introduced more radical reforms inspired by Swiss and German reformers such as Bullinger and Ulm. There were few opponents in Edward’s council to these new reforms, but among them was Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury who had been a good friend of the “Good Duke” (Edward Seymour) and believed these reforms were too radical and too soon to be implemented. Also in this year, Henry began to make plans for his eldest daughter and heir’s betrothal. Jane was not he first bride her father in law had in mind for Guildford. Margaret Clifford, another descendant of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon was his first choice but her father said no since Guildford was only a fourth son and in spite of his pleas and the king’s, the earl’s mind remained unchanged. As the king’s health got worse the following year, he gave his blessing to Northumberland and Suffolk to wed their four teenage offspring. In a triple marriage ceremony in May 25 1553, Jane was married to Guildford, Katherine to Lord Herbert, and Catherine Dudley to Lord Hastings. With the pieces set, it was only a matter of time before Edward’s passing led to their final move.

Sources:

  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
  • –. The Sisters who would be Queen. Harper. 2009.
  • Ives, Eric. Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.
  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors. Grove Press. 2016.

Mary Tudor and Jane Grey: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Mary I and Jane Grey

On the 11th of July 1553, the country was split in two over the issue of Mary Tudor and Jane Grey. People were undecided as who to support. One part of the country was rallying to Mary -those in East Anglia who knew her very well- and another one with Jane and were doing everything in their power to ensure the coup was successful. The Privy Council sent back Mary’s messenger with an uncompromising rebuke informing her that it was Jane who was the rightful queen, not her and by rebelling against her rightful sovereign, she was committing treason. But Mary was not going to be easily deterred. She was the daughter of Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, she had been next in line after her brother Edward VI. If the Council was not going to respect her father’s will, then she was going to make them.

Mary Tudor played by Sarah Bolger in
Mary Tudor played by Sarah Bolger in “The Tudors” s.4

As tensions began to mount, Jane issued a proclamation in which she warned people of the severe punishments her reign would inflict on those who dared to oppose her and to show that she meant business, the boy who had cried her cousin’s name the day before, had his ears cut off.

Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter in the movie
Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter in the movie “Lady Jane”. The movie perpetuated the Victorian myth of the passive Jane opposite her evil parents, especially her ruthless mother Frances.

This shows Jane as an active participant in the coup, willing to do everything that was required of her to defend her family and her position. Jane might not have wanted the crown but now that she was close to becoming the first Queen of England, she saw it as her duty to defend it with everything she got. To her this was more than just ambition. As with Mary, she saw herself as a religious crusader and she viewed Mary’s religion as evil and contrary to what she had been taught. When she had been a few years younger, she and her mother Frances visited their cousin Mary and she mocked one of her servants for praying before the altar asking how could they believe that God lived in the bread “when the baker made it?”

The real Lady Mary Tudor
The real Lady Mary Tudor

Not surprisingly, Mary Tudor is also seen in a narrow light, thanks in part to the Book of Martyrs and Hollywood movies where she is portrayed as the opposite of Jane and her sister Elizabeth. Mary was as Jane, a woman of her times. And a very proud woman whose lineage told her that it was her, and not Jane who was the rightful Queen. She had prepared her entire life to fight for what she considered was rightfully hers and by all means it was since her father had restored her and her sister to the line of succession, falling right behind their brother Edward. When the Privy Council passed her over in favor of the Grey sisters, Mary decided that she was not going to wait any longer. She was the first one to inform the country that her brother was dead and they wanted to crown Jane Queen instead of her, and she began to calling all her allies and the common people to come and fight for her.

The real Lady Jane
The real Lady Jane

Although Jane signed many proclamations with Jane the Quene; it was clear that she and the Council were in for a hell of a fight. Mary, against all odds, was gaining lots of supporters. Her cousin had abandoned her, he had his own affairs to look out for and he did not believe that his cousin could win without any significant support. As far as he knew, Mary Tudor’s quest for the crown was a thing of the past. So you can imagine his surprise, and the Council’s surprise when they received information of the“innumerable companies of the common people” that were coming to support her from Norfolk and Suffolk. And that had been in only five days. Who knew how more supporters she would gain in the following days?

Jane however, put on a brave face. She was not going to be cowed by Mary’s common force. She called on the people to fight the next day on the 12th, offering them ten pence a day if they joined her.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric Ives
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter