A History Serial: A Reluctant Queen (Part 1)
"The faith of the church must be tried by God's Word, and not God's Word by the church; neither yet my faith." ~Jane Grey
Throughout history, the name "Lady Jane Grey" has rung in our ears... some of us may not know of her, or have only heard fleeting snippets of her life, her brief reign and her tragic death. The life of Lady Jane Grey, the 9 day Queen of England, who was executed by Queen Mary at the young age of 16, has been seen most widely in history as an unfortunate, overly-romanticized young victim and pawn of ambitious men, men like the Duke of Northumberland and her heartless, ambitious parents who wanted her on the throne to feed their desire for power and control. But to view her as just that, would be missing a big and perhaps the most vital picture of that noble young woman. For Lady Jane Grey, even in her youth, was a devout Christian, earnest in her Evangelical faith, courageous in the midst of the trails and turmoils of her time, a humble servant of the Lord, and ultimately a martyr for Him. In this post, I wish to tell briefly of her life, her struggles, the times she lived in, her death, but most importantly her faith! In the beginning I will be obliged to give a brief introduction to the political times and events surrounding Jane and her life, but as I progress I'll try to deal more on the spiritual aspect of her life.
According to tradition, Jane was born the same month of the same year as Edward VI (October 1537), however many modern historians put her birth as early as April/May of that same year in Bradgate Park, Leicestershire. Her father, Henry Grey, the 1st Duke of Suffolk was descended from Elizabeth Woodville and her first husband Sir John Grey. Henry Grey was a protestant in faith, probably out of political expediency and there is little evidence that he had strong conviction in his beliefs for most of his life except perhaps near the end. Jane's mother, Lady Frances Brandon was the daughter of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor (Henry VIII's sister), making Jane the grandniece of Henry the VIII and cousin to the young Prince Edward VI. Francis Grey, known to have inherited much of the temperaments of Henry VIII, has been portrayed as obese, ambitious and cruel, and it must be said that whatever her ambitions, she certainly carried little regard or affection for young Jane. As Faith Cook writes in her book, Nine Day Queen of England, "she [Francis] saw the child merely as a tool with which to further her own ambition for power and prestige". Of course this wasn't unnatural for her time, for children during this period of history had little rights, and young girls in nobility were seen as only a pawn for their families to rise in power. Being the eldest daughter of her two younger sisters, the beautiful Kathrine and the poor hunchback Mary, Jane's parents had high hopes that she and Edward VI would be wed, making her the wife of the future King of England. But Jane, in her own right, was fourth in succession to the throne, according to King Henry VIII's Act of Succession. If Edward, the heir, failed to produce an heir of his own, the throne would pass onto Mary, Katherine of Aragon's daughter, then onto Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's daughter... but the irony of it was that Henry had declared his two daughter illegitimate. Hence, unless the aged and sick king got the Act repealed in Parliament, an act he failed to do, the throne would pass directly unto Frances Grey's children. Jane being the eldest, was put on the line of succession at the young age of 6, though in view of the circumstances, there was indeed very little likelihood that she'd be made queen of herself. Only time would tell.
Jane had a very unhappy childhood, evident by the kind of parents she had, and the high standards demanded of a girl in her position. As said before, her mother held little affection for her, her whole aim to train Jane and the her sisters in all the protocol considered necessary in royal circles. However, Jane had an outstanding intellectual capacity, for she soon gained a facility in Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian, as well as a study of the Scriptures at a very young age, and had a love for books and study. Jane's first tutor was John Aylmer, a Cambridge graduate who was also gripped with the teachings of Scripture. His tutelage had a profound impact on Jane's entire life, and was one of her greatest friends throughout childhood. It was indeed perhaps Jane's happiest hours where she spent it in the company of her tutor. Faith Cook says in her book, "His kindly approach to his gifted pupil presented a sharp contrast to the rebukes and criticisms which she regularly received from her parents."
At the age of six, she began studying Greek, Latin and the modern language and was reading proficiently her English Bible, the one translated by the martyred William Tyndale. Some other parts of her curriculum included, hunting, hawking, dancing and needlework, as was music to which Jane showed clear talent. There is that story that I found quite amusing while Jane was but twelve. One late summer, her family, apart from her were out hunting in the parks when an unexpected visitor arrived, Roger Ascham, who had been tutor to Princess Elizabeth and a warm friend of Reformation beliefs. AschamAscham went to the girl and was astonished to find her absorbed in reading Plato's Phaedo in Greek 'with as much delight as some gentlemen would read a merry tale in Baccaccio"! He was surprised and asked her why she hadn't joined enjoying herself with the others in the park. Her reply was quite astounding!
"I wist [know] all their sport in the park is but a shadow to that true pleasure I find in Plato," Jane replied seriously, "Alas, good folk, they never felt what true pleasure meant." Jane continued in a rather lengthy speech that showed all the pent-up sorrows of her childhood,"I will tell you, and tell you the truth, which perchance ye will marvel at. One of the greatest benefits that ever God gave me is that he sent me so sharp and sever parents and so gentle a schoolmaster. For when I am in the presence of either Father or Mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it as it were in such weight, measure, number, even so perfectly as God made the world; or else I am sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea, presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs [blows] and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them), so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time come that I must go to Mr Alymer, who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing that I am with him, And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping because whatever I do else but learning is full of grief, trouble, fear and wholly misliking to me."
In 1544, soon after her seventh birthday, her parents arranged to 'introduce' their daughter to court, in the hope to make Henry VIII aware of his "precocious great-niece", and further their growing dream of an arranged marriage to the king's son and heir. It is astounding the Sovereignty of the Lord in all this as I'll explain later on. The ailing King Henry had taken a sixth wife, Katherine Parr. In Cook's book she quotes from an early historian who described her [Kathrine's] "great piety, beauty and discretion... next to the Bible, she studied the King's disposition". I'm pretty sure it was no pleasant task for her to 'study the king's disposition' and we can, from history see, where she got that strength from. It seems that she was a true Christian, and a lover of God and His Word and had surrounded herself with ladies-in-waiting who shared like spiritual ideals, examples of these women were, Catherine Brandon and Anna Askew. It was Kathrine's influence that brought evangelicals like Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley to preach in her court. Kathrine became a mother to the motherless young prince, Edward, who studied with other young royals in the court, and was at an early age introduced to the Protestant faith. It was in this background that Jane was introduced to "court life". Early on, Jane formed an attachment with Queen Kathrine and perhaps it was with some joy to her that her parents, eager for the public eye to be turned upon them, decided to let their daughter leave her home and take up residence at court as one of the maids-of-honour surrounding Queen Kathrine at Hamption Court Palace. Here she was offered love and consideration that she knew little of in her nine years. I'd like to quote from Faith Cook's book concerning that time in Jane's life. She had been referring to young Edward's strong conviction in the Evangelical faith and his earnest study of the Word under godly tutors and goes on to speak of Jane, "Nine-year-old Jane, meanwhile, had settled in among the Queen's ladies-in-waiting although much of her time was taken up with her education. Whenever she was able we can well imagine that Jane Grey would join a number of others who, like Katherine herself, were sincere Christians gather together regularly to study the Scriptures. Whatever the ulterior motives her parents may have had for placing Jane in the royal court at this time, a divine purpose transcended any human arrangements. During this period of her life the teachings of the Bible, carefully inculcated by John Aylmer, became regenerating truth in the child's heart. Forgiveness of sin and acceptance with God, not through any acts of merit on the part of the sinner, but through the grace and mercy of God in Christ, became a felt experience for Jane as she found in the Son of God both a Saviour and a friend. Now prayer became no mere formality but a path to personal communion with God." She then went on to say, "Historians, with little understanding of true heart-religion, and with an accompanying measure of prejudice against any for whom faith in God is an all-consuming dedication, use such words as 'fanatical' and 'extreme' when they speak of the religious zeal of Lady Jane and of Prince Edward. The truth remains that these children had been caught up in an astonishing work of God, loosely called the Reformation- one that brought spiritual renewal to generations of men and women and which would affect the whole course of history." It is obvious from what we see here, that through God's Spirit, working mightily in her life, she became a "believer", and truly trusted Jesus as her Lord and Saviour and would, by His grace, cling to Him till the end.
The following events are really hard to document here, simply because of the magnitude of the political upheaval of the time, and the ambitions and power-struggles that were swirling the royal court. I'll try to do my best, though because the incidents that followed set the stage for Jane's ascension to the throne, and her subsequent martyrdom. First of, Henry VIII died, and Edward VI came to the throne, still but a child but eager to reform his country to the Protestant faith he held so strongly and childlike faith. During Edward's reign Evangelical preachers were free to practice their faith without interference. Many considered him then, "the Josiah of England". As he was quite young, he had Lord Protectors and councilors to guide him in his leadership until he reached of age. There were power squabbles between the Protectors... until finally the Duke of Northumberland, a power-greedy man and bigot, took control and became the Lord Protector. At the age of fifteen, Edward's health was declining fast. He was diagnosed with consumption and his life was ebbing away fast, and with his life, many were fearing the freedoms he had offered them while on the throne. For the next in line in succession was Mary, and she was a devout Catholic who didn't tolerate the Reformers... what would become of all Edward had done throughout his reign? the Duke of Northumberland was an ambitious man, and he feared that if Mary came to the throne he wouldn't be able to keep his own head in tacked, much less keep his hold on power. His mind turned to the young Lady Jane Grey, who was now fifteen. Fourth in line to the throne, and an Evangelical, Northumberland saw many possibilities and knew that if Jane came to throne, and he worked things through... she would be the answer to his problems. His first step was to go to Jane's father, Henry Grey. He explained things, and the danger of Mary coming to the throne, then he laid before him the dazzling prospect of Jane becoming queen. The Duke explained what was on his mind. His plan was to marry his youngest son, Guilford, a handsome but awfully spoiled young man. Thus, with Guilford as the de facto king, the Duke would be able to retain his power. The prospect appealed to Henry Grey, and even more I'm sure to Francis Grey.
But not to Jane.
She knew nothing of the plot to put her on the throne, and if she had known she would have certainly been horrified. But the simple fact of marrying young Guilford Dudley shocked her... wasn't she already engaged to Edward Seymour? How could her parents so lightly renege on their pledges? Jane, only a slip of a girl of fifteen, refused. Her bullying mother took her daughter and gave her such a beating "as only a woman of Frances Grey's physique could bestow". Bruised and humiliated, Jane had no alternative and knew she was defeated. She gave in, all the while not knowing that Edward, her cousin who had grown up with her in court, was dying and that the Duke of Northumberland was manipulating him to make Jane as the next queen of England. Edward, fearing lest all of his life's work would be for loss, was easily persuaded and signed Jane as his next heir.
Soon after Jane's marriage, she was summoned to the Palace. There she was told of the king's death, then the Duke said, "His Majesty hath named Your Grace as the heir to the crown of England..."
Faith Cook writes, "It was all too much. The grievous news of her cousin's death and the even greater shock that the crown had been left to her was more than the girl could sustain. The colour drained from her cheeks as she swayed and fell to the floor in a death faint... moments later she came around, and still those silent figures stood there watching her. Terror overwhelmed her and she burst into tears: tears first of all for Edward... 'so noble a prince', she managed to sob. Then controlling herself as she had long learnt to do in her difficult childhood, she spoke clearly deliberately: "The crown is not my right, and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir..."
This was not what the gathered nobility had expected or wanted to hear. In turns, Jane's ambitious parents, her angry father-in-law the Duke and her young husband glared, cajoled, and shouted at her to obey. Jane, stunned and silent, looked about her, hoping for someone to help her... what could she do? Slowly she knelt down and turned to the only one she could trust, "to her God for direction in this desperate hour"... we can only surmise or guess what transpired in that prayer, what Jane felt in her heart. As Cook writes, "Perhaps God gave her some inner assurance of His purposes behind all these perplexing events and His peace to her troubled spirit." Still on her knees, she spoke aloud, calmly, "If what hath been given to me is lawfully mine, may Thy divine Majesty grant me such grace that that I may govern to Thy glory and service, to the advantage of this realm."
I know I'm quoting a lot from Faith Cook's book... but she seems to put it in a way a lot better than I could ever do, so here is what she writes, "Once Lady Jane had seen her way as ordered by her God, she became controlled and strong. Allowing someone to help her from her knees she was led to the waiting throne and seated upon it. Then all present knelt before her one by one, kissed her hand and professed loyalty 'even to the death'."
You'll hear the rest of the story soon Lord willing, in "A History Serial Part 2"!
God bless and have a great evening in the Lord,