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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Akhenaten & Henry VIII: Two Game Changers

Akhenaten and Henry VIII

One of the things that I love about history is how often characters keep popping up whose lives are so similar and different at the same time. One of the kings that I am currently invested on –or rulers if the trolls of the internet want to get technical- is the pharaoh Akhenaten or Amenhotep IV. He was the younger son of Amenhotep III and his chief wife Queen Tiye. By a stroke of fate he became the crown heir after his older brother died at a very young age. Now, who does that remind you of? 😉

That is right, Henry VIII. Both were second sons who became crown Princes when their older brothers died. Not a lot is known about Amenhotep’s older brother (Thutmose). Some novels have him a scholar and a true prince unlike his younger and much more neurotic brother, Amenhotep. In short, Egypt would have fared better under his older brother. It is the same story we hear in historical fiction novels when the characters are talking about Henry and Arthur. Some say that if Arthur had lived, given his education and training, he would have made a better Prince but we can never know for sure. It is one of history’s many what-ifs.

If it is any consolation to everyone, given that they were crown heirs, Thutmose and Arthur Tudor might have become less glamorous, but more pragmatic rulers.

Henry VIII and Akhenaten were considered mavericks in their time because of their radical approaches to religion. The only difference is that Henry VIII still believed in the Catholic Mass and the old forms of worship whereas Akhenaten was a TRUE reformer. He really did believe that there was one god and that what he was doing was dictated by some invisible deity above. Who knows where he got his idea of the sun disk. Some say that he didn’t believe what he was doing and that like Henry VIII, he was in on it for the power. Perhaps but his actions say otherwise. He build another capital where he stayed during the last years of his reign and he disbanded many temples and got ahold of their wealth and established new temples and a new priesthood at the service of Aten (the sun disk). You might think ‘oh geesh monotheism. So no more art!’ Actually no. During his reign some of the greatest art work was produced. Just because he was a monotheist and enforced his belief down everyone’s throats, did not mean that he abandoned the glamor that he always knew. His chief wife Nefertiti is considered one of the most beautiful queens of Ancient Egypt. (But like with Anne Boleyn, some believe that her importance is overrated and that her bust was nothing more than a piece of propaganda. Like in the Renaissance, the busts and depictions of famous people took liberties with their physical appearances).

Both Kings had two Queens that overshadow the others: Nefertiti and Anne Boleyn. Pharaohs could have more than one wife and whoever gave them a son first (if the chief wife did not) inherited.  Nefertiti was his chief wife and Anne Boleyn although a victim of her and others ambitions, overshadows the other wives because of her daughter. Both of these women are believed to be drop-dead gorgeous but the reality is that the two of them had more of the 'it' factor, a natural charisma among the commons and courtiers respectively. Coincidentally both had daughters who became Queens (if the theory of Smenkhare and Neferneferuaten being Nefertiti's daughters is true)
Both Kings had two Queens that overshadow the others: Nefertiti and Anne Boleyn. Pharaohs could have more than one wife and whoever gave them a son first (if the chief wife did not) inherited.
Nefertiti was his chief wife and Anne Boleyn although a victim of her and others ambitions, overshadows the other wives because of her daughter. Both of these women are believed to be drop-dead gorgeous but the reality is that the two of them had more of the ‘it’ factor, a natural charisma among the commons and courtiers respectively. Coincidentally both had daughters who became Queens (if the theory of Smenkhare and Neferneferuaten being Nefertiti’s daughters is true)

Henry VIII broke away with the Catholic Church but not with tradition. Some changes were made, some which were considered radical by the conservatives and thought of as heretic, but not as radical as the staunchest Protestants wanted. The Six Articles by Gardiner were made, some changes were made to the Mass, the English bible was allowed, etc. And of course there was a proliferation of art and propaganda where Henry was at the top of the divine scale. He was the representative of God on earth not the pope or the saints.

With Akhenaten, he was on the top. The pharaoh had always had divine status as medieval kings did before Henry VIII. Never before though was a pharaoh granted so much power and importance. And like with Henry VIII, he pissed a lot of the polytheistic clergy off when he attacked their temples and made his single form of worship official.

(Left) Akhenaten and his family gloriously depicted worshiping the sun disk Aten. (Right) The "Tudor Dynasty" portrait which shows Henry VIII and his third wife -who was dead at the time- Jane Seymour and above them his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Both paintings were done with the purpose to propagate the myth of the powerful and glorious dynasty that is being favored by the Almighty.
(Left) Akhenaten and his family gloriously depicted worshiping the sun disk Aten. (Right) The “Tudor Dynasty” portrait which shows Henry VIII and his third wife -who was dead at the time- Jane Seymour and above them his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Both paintings were done with the purpose to propagate the myth of the powerful and glorious dynasty that is being favored by the Almighty.

Akhenaten prided himself as a great man, reformer, and warrior but his campaigns were not as great when compared to his predecessors and he has often been accused by historians to neglect his territories so he could continue to work on his religious policies. Henry VIII has similarly been accused by historians such as Robert Hutchinson as bankrupting the country by engaging in expensive wars which often ended in disaster. Though Henry never lost one war, he hardly ended his campaigns. The battle of the spurs was more a Pyrrhic victory. His father-in-law Ferdinand II of Aragon and Regent of Castile stabbed him in the back and his grandson Charles V did the same during the second phase of the Italian Wars when he made an agreement to end the war with Francis I of France behind his back. Sure, Henry VIII did gain Bolougne in the end but England was not able to keep it. Neither of these campaigns had the desired effect that Henry VIII wanted.

But whereas Akhenaten’s enemies and the people hatred for his religious policies won in the end; Henry VIII got to keep the break with Rome. His son changed the religious landscape even more, and his youngest daughter created a more moderate establishment as a way to please both sides but she couldn’t and so she became a tough enforcer like her father and brother.
Akhenaten also had two daughters  (Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten) who reigned as Queens but whereas Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor reigned after their brother, these reigned before him. The last of his offspring to reign was his young son Tutankhamun. His reign was short and tragic. He died at the age of nineteen (either of illness or murdered by his jealous general). After the reign of Neferneferuaten who continued with the religious policies of her father (albeit choosing a moderate approach like Henry’s youngest daughter Elizabeth), monotheism became extinct. There was no glorious “golden age” for either of his kids to keep the religious changes made during his reign. They were just very unpopular, people loved their gods and the priestesses and priests were too powerful to allow monotheism to flourish.

Sources:

  • Ancient Egypt: Everyday in the Land of the Nile by Hobbs and Brier
  • The Search for Nefertiti: The True Story of an Amazing Discovery by Joan Fletcher
  • Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII by Robert Hutchinson
  • Henry VIII by Derek Wilson