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.
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Queen Mary (I) Tudor’s First Proclamation

Mary I Tudor portrait as queen by eworth mor

On the 18th of August 1553, Queen Mary I issued her first royal proclamation in which she ambiguously told her subjects that they were free to worship as they pleased (in silence). This proclamation was open to interpretation and it reads as follows:

“Her Majesty being presently by the only goodness of God settle in the just possession of the Imperial Crown of this realm and other dominions thereunto belonging, cannot now hide that religion which God and the world knoweth she hath ever professed from her infancy hitherto, which Her Majesty is minded to observe and maintain for herself by God’s grace during her time, so doth Her Highness much desire would be glad the same were all of her subjects quietly and charitably to embrace. And yet she doth signify unto all Her Majesty’s said loving subjects that of her most gracious disposition and clemency Her Highness mindeth not to compel any her said subjects there unto unto such time as further order by common assent may be taken therein.”

She added that all her subjects were “to live in quiet sort and Christian charity” and told them that any further religious changes would not be done unless with the consent of parliament. In spite of the religious violence surging in London as a consequence of radical Protestants, Mary made no move to ban the Protestant religion or change her father’s establishment (initially).

One of the many aims in Mary’s reign was reforming the Church from within. Like her maternal grandmother she recognized the crippling state of the Catholic Church in her country, and sought to remedy it. Many of the priests and bishops who were responsible for tending to their flock couldn’t speak the language, those who did were not in tune to the needs of their flock and other simply didn’t want to associate with the common people, instead they wanted to take as much money as they could and live off from their benefices. Things like these had allowed the Protestant movement to grow. Mary’s only option was reforming the entire structure of the English church. She took advantage of the printing press to produce a substantial body of homilies and reference material, much of it penned by the bishop of London, Edmund Bonnet. She also took a strong stance against married priests (something Elizabeth I also did in her reign) and in March 1554, nine months after her accession, issued an order that deprived every priest of their benefices and removed “according to their learning and discretion, all such persons from ecclesiastical promotions who contrary to the laudable custom of the church have married and used women as their wives.” One of the people affected by her policy was the Archbishop of York who had been married under Edward’s regime. While her councilors advised her it was best to wait, Mary was anxious to see religious change in the country. As a princess she had been educated by the best Humanists in her day and she was in the most true sense, a renaissance princess and like her mother and father, she blamed the current state of the country and the distrust in the Catholic Church on the priesthood. During her reign many charters and religious institutions were founded, re-founded, and established as well as scholarships to encourage young men to continue their education.

As for the Protestants, their relative freedom to practice their faith “in quiet sort and Christian charity” would all change following the Wyatt Rebellion, after which her polices became stricter and they would become more so after her marriage to Philip of Spain (who even disagreed with some of the measures, believing they were too soon).

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson

A Faithful Admonition to the Professors of God’s Truth in England

Queen Mary I of England, Ireland and France
Queen Mary I of England, Ireland and France

On July 20th, 1554, John Knox published a controversial pamphlet in which he not only denounced the Catholic Church and England’s first Queen Regnant, Mary (I) Tudor. The pamphlet titled “A Faithful Admonition to the Professors of God’s Truth in England” accused the Queen of being an “incestuous bastard” and compared her actions (of restoring the Catholic Mass) to those of Queen Jezebel. For those who can’t remember, Jezebel was the queen of the biblical King, Ahab. The prophet Elijah denounced her pagan ways and warned the King not to let her invite her priests to their land, but the King was so enchanted with her that he refused. So after her “reign of terror” began against the good God-fearing people of Israel, Elijah began plotting against her. One day he found the answer to his prayers by throwing her out the window. When she fell, the dogs came forward to lick her blood off her corpse. It was a gruesome end to this pagan queen.

John Know was the leading figure of the Evangelical movement in Scotland, he was a pupil of the late George Wishart who died for his beliefs in 1546, this event angered many in Scotland and led to Cardinal Beaton's brutal murder and left Knox as the leader of the movement.
John Know was the leading figure of the Evangelical movement in Scotland, he was a pupil of the late George Wishart who died for his beliefs in 1546, this event angered many in Scotland and led to Cardinal Beaton’s brutal murder and left Knox as the leader of the movement.

Clearly, John Knox was comparing himself to the prophet Elijah, and Mary to Jezebel. To many Protestants, the Catholics were pagans because they worshiped idols and people like Mary, had to be stopped. But there was also a misogynist element to it. Mary was the first woman to ever rule England –the only other woman who came this close was her ancestor, Lady Matilda. And because of this she was constantly under attack. When John Knox accused her of being another Jezebel, he said she was worse than the original pagan queen, because she (Jezebel) had “never erected half so many gallows in all of Israel, as mischievous as Mary has done in London alone.” And he went on to criticize her intended marriage with Philip of Spain (who coincidentally arrived on England that day), saying:

“Oh England! If you obstinately will return into Egypt:  That is, if you contract marriage, confederacy or league, with such princess as maintain and advance idolatry … if for the pleasure and friendship of such princes, you return to your old abominations, before used under the Popery, then assuredly, Oh England! You shall be plagued and brought to desolation by means of those whose favors you seek, and by whom you are procured to fall from Christ and to serve the Antichrist.”

Queen Jezebel
Queen Jezebel

Knox’s use of the bible was enough to scare any follower and turn them against their new Queen and her intended marriage with the Prince of Asturias and King of Naples. But as her father. Mary was determined to get her own way.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor byy Anna Whitelock

A Triple Wedding and a Coup in the making

Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter and Guildford Dudley played by Cary Elwes. The movie featured a very idolized Victorian version of Jane, one where her greatest strengths are neglected.
Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter and Guildford Dudley played by Cary Elwes. The movie featured a very idolized Victorian version of Jane, one where her greatest strengths are neglected.

On May the 25th 1553 a triple wedding was celebrated. The couples were Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley, his sister Lady Catherine and Lord Hastings, and Jane’s sister, Lady Katherine and Lord Herbert -the son of the late Anne Parr -sister to the late Queen Dowager and Baroness Sudeley, Katherine Parr.

Lady Jane Dudley nee Grey
Lady Jane Dudley nee Grey

The wedding was a master plan in the making. Initially the ailing King, Edward VI had been considered as a potential suitor for the eldest of the Grey sisters since negotiations to continue his betrothal with Henry II’s eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth of France, were not going very well. Among the many reformers abroad who encouraged this union was Ulmer and Bulm who told their former apprentice she would flourish there. Jane’s popularity was rising and all that fame soon got to the teenager’s head. She began to make bolder statements against her cousin Mary and others who refused to follow the ‘true faith’. In Jane perspective, this was holy war, and she had become one of her faith’s greatest pioneers. But as the year 1552 came and went, it became clear to anyone that Edward’s days were numbered. He had survived a brush with death when he overcame the measles in 1551, but he wasn’t going to be so lucky this time. Edward began to draft a legal document that was more of a legal exercise that posed an important question on who would be king or queen after he died. The succession did not favor women as many people think. In fact “My Device for the succession” as it was titled, still favored male succession. It stated that if Frances failed to give birth to any male issue before he died, the throne would pass on to Jane and her sons. If Jane failed to have any sons then the throne would pass on to Katherine and her sons. And if she failed to have any sons as well, then to Mary and her sons.

To strengthen Jane’s claim and the Protestant alliance, the teenagers were married on the same day.  Not surprisingly, supporting the Evangelicals was France (whose own ambassador, Boisdauphin was present at the wedding) who were as opposed as they were to see the Lady Mary Tudor succeed her brother (since she would favor Spanish interests over French).

Lady Katherine Grey and her firstborn son, Edward Seymour. She married for a second and last time which landed her in the tower of London and then under multiple house arrests. At the time of the triple marriage, she was married to Lord Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke and the late Anne Parr -sister to the late Queen Dowager  and Baroness of Sudeley, Katherine Parr.
Lady Katherine Grey and her firstborn son, Edward Seymour. She married for a second and last time which landed her in the tower of London and then under multiple house arrests. At the time of the triple marriage, she was married to Lord Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke and the late Anne Parr -sister to the late Queen Dowager and Baroness of Sudeley, Katherine Parr.

The wedding took place in Northumberland’s London residence, at Durham House. The young couples wore “silver and gold fabrics forfeited to the King from the Duke of Somerset in 1551 and figuratively at least, marked with his blood.” (Lisle). Perhaps it was appropriate they were wearing such clothes since this wedding -albeit sanctioned by the head of their  church- was a declaration of war against their future rival, Lady Mary Tudor. The triple ceremony was attended by almost all of the nobility. They enjoyed a great number of entertainments such as masques, jousts, and a great feast. When the celebrations ended, the two Grey sisters went to their new homes with their respective fathers-in-law. Jane at Sion in Richmond, and Katherine at Bayanard’s Castle near the Thames (coincidentally the same palace one of their ancestress –Cecily Neville, Duchess of York  aka “Queen by Rights” and “Proud Cis”- had once possessed and where some historians suggest, Richard engineered his usurpation).

Edward VI. The last Tudor King.
Edward VI. The last Tudor King.

It is unclear whether the marriage was consummated or not. Some believed that it wasn’t because of her young age. But it is important to remember that in the Tudor age, the age of consent for girls was twelve and for boys fourteen. Both Jane and Guildford were well past that age range. Then again, the argument against it holds up very well too. Since she was her mother and Edward’s heir, her health was of the utmost importance. Consummating the marriage could result in a pregnancy which could result in her death or inability to have more children (as it had happened to her great-great-grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond).

Three days later, Edward VI’s doctors confirmed that he was dying. Edward had sent expensive gifts to the Grey sisters and to Catherine Dudley to congratulate them on their union. This proved his own validation for the Evangelical elite’s schemes against his sisters, and more than that, his own involvement with them. For Edward, it was imperative that England remained faithful and he believed that the only way that could be achieved was if another Evangelical succeeded him to the throne and that someone was Jane who was just as passionately Evangelical as he was.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Ives
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Inglorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Caroll