Your cheeky guide to the dynasty

A Prayer from the Dying

Lady Jane Grey Preparing for Execution, oil by...

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Poor Lady Jane Grey! Just a queen for nine measly days in July 1553, then Mary I’s prisoner for seven long months. The stress made her hair start to fall out and gave her flaky skin, but that was going to be small potatoes next to, you know, losing her head the following February.

She carried this little prayer book to her execution (it’s now on display at the British Library, and there is a full transcript here); inside it, she’d jotted some final goodbyes. This one was to Sir John Bridges, the tower lieutenant:

“Forasmutche as you have desired so simple a woman to wrighte in so worthye a booke (good) mayster lieutenaunte therefore I shall as a frende desyre you and as a christian require you to call uppon god to encline youre harte to his lawes to quicken you in his waye and not to take the worde of trewthe utterlye oute of youre mouthe.”

 After mounting the scaffold and giving the requisite “I’m here to die, good people” line so common of the future headless at that time, she devoutly recited the Miserere mei Deus (Psalm 51) –in English, of course, because Latin was only for papists and she’d embraced the reformist cause. It goes like this:

 Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness
According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences.
Wash me throughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.
Behold, I was shapen in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn Thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of Thy help again: and stablish me with Thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach Thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou that art the God of my health: and my tongue shall sing of Thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew Thy praise.
For Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee: but Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.
O be favourable and gracious unto Sion: build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young calves upon Thine altar.”*

The composure necessary to recite all this just moments before being beheaded baffles me. I have the feeling that, if Jane were allowed a long reign, she wouldn’t have been a queen to mess with!

*This translation is from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer which is, of course, after Jane’s time.



  Claire Ridgway wrote @

When I read things like this and people’s execution speeches I am always in awe of their courage, dignity and composure.

By the way, did you hear that Lady Jane Grey’s prayer book actually belonged to Catherine Parr who left it to Jane when she died? That shows a close relationship between the two women and the fact that Jane allowed Guildford to write in it makes me think that they too were close. What do you think, Barb?

  Anne Barnhill wrote @

I didn’t know that prayerbook had belonged to Catherine Parr–how interesting. I didn’t think she and her husband were happy but that my just be some fiction I read somewhere. They were both so young. Her faith must have been very strong. I guess in such cases, faith is all we have to sustain us.

  barbalexander wrote @

I have always heard that they had no real relationship, so I wonder if someone else procured the book for him to write in it, or if perhaps there was some other reason for her to allow his message to his father-in-law in the book. At the same time, she is supposed to have wept upon seeing his body carted away from the block, so I guess their relationship is one we can’t be certain of!

  dewey wingate jr wrote @

yes her life was short ,but had menful and lasting effects. Who among us can say we will be remember, for tomorrow, much less 4 to 5 hundred years later. Yes you and your husband [ who was excuted too will be remembered.

  A Different Lara wrote @

I wouldn’t have been able to choke out a big long old monologue like that. WOW.

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