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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Edward VI: The Death of the First True Protestant King of England

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

On the 6th of July 1553, King Edward VI of England died at Greenwich Palace. He was fifteen. He was the first true Protestant King of England. Although his father initiated the break with Rome, it was his son who instituted a book of common prayer that changed the face of how people worshiped throughout the country. During his reign, there were many disturbances, within his family and in the realm. As the coinage was devalued, and his uncles fought for control over their nephew, Edward became colder and agreed that sacrifices had to be made to ensure the stability of his realm. The rebels were severely punished, his uncles were executed and everyone who celebrated the Catholic Mass was a traitor. On the latter, he faced a great backlash from his sister, the Lady Mary Tudor who refused to give up her religion and confronted him many times (on one occasion she forced him to recall all the times she’d been good to him and another one she confronted his officials when they visited her house head on and screamed at them as they left).

Because he was leaving no heirs, he created a document called “My Device for the Succession” in which he posed a legal question of who should take the throne if he died? The question was answered months later when he and his councilors excluded his sisters from the line of succession and replaced them with Frances’ male heirs and (in case there were none) her daughters from eldest to youngest and their male heirs.

Edward VI's eldest sister, Mary Tudor.
Edward VI’s eldest sister, Mary Tudor.

On Sunday the second of July, the contents of the King’s will were made public and church services excluded the usual prayers for Mary and Elizabeth. This was a powerful symbol of things to come.
His eldest sister did not miss a thing. She knew something was amiss before the will was made public. She departed from her homestead the next day to Kenninghall in Norfolk from where she could flee in case Dudley and co. tried to apprehend her.

On Thursday between eight and nine o’clock on the evening, Edward VI drew his last breath. He had been surrounded by his two chief gentlemen of the privy chamber, Sir Thomas Wroth and Sir Henry Sidney, his groom Christopher Salmon and his doctors, Doctor Owen and Doctor Wendy. His last words, uttered in the form of a hoarse whisper were:

“Lord God, deliver me out of this miserable and wretched life, and take me among thy chosen: how be it not my will, but thy will be done. Lord I commit my spirit to thee. Oh Lord! Thou Knowest how happy it were for me to be with thee: yet, for thy chosen’s sake, send me life and health, that I may truly serve thee. Oh my Lord God, bless thy people, and save thine inheritance! Oh Lord God save they chosen people of England! Oh my Lord God, defend this realm from papistry, and maintain thy true religion; that I and my people may praise thy holy name, for thy Son Jesus Christ’s sake!”

Raising his head and looking straight at them he asked “Are you so nigh? I thought ye had been further off.”

“We heard you speak to yourself, but what you said we know not” was their reply. Edward told them it was because he was praying to the Almighty then when Sidney took him in his arms, he said with a note of finality “I am faint; Lord have mercy upon me, and take my spirit” then he died.

Some people were quick to say that the King had been poisoned by the ambitious Dudley who was eager to see Jane Grey on the throne (since she was married to his younger son Guildford) but these rumors have no basis. The people who whispered such things were immediately put in the Tower. Machyn, a merchant reported this in his diary. “The noble King Edward the VI was poisoned, as everybody says, where now, thank be God, there be many of the false traitors brought o their end, and I trust in God that more shall follow as they may be spied out.” Although this can be used by some to prove that he was poisoned, it is highly unlikely. Edward had been sick once of measles but he recovered very quickly. Now he wasn’t so lucky. This was the Tudor era where sickness ruled their world and everyone could be taken in the blink of an eye.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.
John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

The Duke of Northumberland wanted to keep his death a secret for three days so it would give him enough time to install Jane as Queen and apprehend Mary Tudor before she could stir up any trouble or worse, escape to Flanders where she could receive Imperial support from her cousin, the Emperor and King of Spain.
His plans were foiled. Someone ran to Mary right away and informed her of her brother’s death and this gave her the perfect weapon to rally up her tenants and countrymen, being the first one to inform them of her brother’s death and the Duke’s plot as well as the coup d’ etat.

Elizabeth (I) Tudor.
Elizabeth (I) Tudor.


“The King was dead”
as Leanda de Lisle writes in her biographies of the Tudors and the Grey sisters, “but the Tudor women were not finished yet”. And their fight would last decades until only one was left standing and we know who that was.

Sources:

  • Edward VI: The Lost Tudor King by Chris Skidmore
  • The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this Day in Tudor England by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle

Thomas Cranmer becomes Archbishop of Canterbury

Thomas Cranmer young at his life

Thomas Cranmer, former chaplain to the Boleyn family, and Archdeacon of Tauton was invested on Passion Sunday as Archbishop of Canterbury in St. Stephen’s College at Westminster Abbey on the 30th of March 1533. Once he was consecrated, he set about working to dissolve the King’s first marriage, declaring it null three months later, making the King’s union with Anne valid. Ironically, he would also be the one to pronounce this union invalid when her trial began. Thomas Cranmer was one of the most influential figures in the English Reformation and thanks to him, the two versions of the Book of Common prayer were issued during Edward VI’s time. Unlike many other radical reformer, Thomas Cranmer became more pragmatic with age. He was still a religious devotee, but after seeing the kingdom being torn down by the wars of the religion, he agreed that there had to be room for some sort of middle ground. He was good friends with the Lord Protector and not very good friends with his ally, John Knox whom Cranmer thought too radical and fanatical.

When Mary I became Queen, trumping the Protestant’s plans to install Jane in her place, he accepted her as his new monarch, however he put certain conditions which he later insisted more upon. One of these were that he condemned the returned of the Mass, and also he started to encourage religious upheaval which led to his incarceration, the loss of his Archbishopric and his death (at the stake) on March 21st, 1555.

Sources:

  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
  • Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley