Archive for Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey, we hardly knew ye: Today in 1553, Henry VIII’s oldest daughter Mary was proclaimed queen. The Nine-Day Queen, Lady Jane, was imprisoned in the Tower and not executed until the following February! The poor girl.
This bit of graffiti is thought by some to have been made by her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, while he was imprisoned in Beauchamp (“BEECH-um”) Tower; Guildford was executed the day before his wife.
And should you be craving some more graffiti from days gone by, there are 8 fascinating minutes right here for you. The close-ups on the “Jane” graffiti begin at 4:34, for those rushed for time, but the entire piece is worth watching.
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.
Here’s a stellar 5:40 bit from Showtime on life after Henry VIII . He was a tough act to follow, for sure, but someone had to do it! Take a gander at how the succession went for the remainder of the Tudor period.
I just had to share this whimsical poster of Lady Jane Grey, featured in a new show at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. The show is called “Art for All: British Posters for Transport.” As you can see, the Nine-Days Queen (and a scissors, yikes!) are promoting the Tower of London. Cheeky!
Nestled on the inner grounds of the Tower of London is a darling little stretch of grass called the Tower Green. Today it may strike you as a cozy place to get a fresh air break during your tour of the Tower, but in the Tudor period it played host to a handful of beheadings.
Most of the poor souls who were beheaded at that time met their fate on Tower Hill, just northwest of the Tower of London and a place that today is…well, the Tower Hill tube station. But a few very special prisoners were given the gift of a private execution on the secluded spot within the Tower walls. “Private” was a relative concept, as there could have been a hundred or so people present. The seven “priviledged” victims of a private Tower Green beheading were:
- William, Lord Hastings in 1483 (two years before the Tudor dynasty began)
- Anne Boleyn in 1536
- Margaret, Countess of Salisbury in 1541
- Katherine Howard in 1542
- Jane, Viscountess Rochford (Anne Boleyn’s brother’s wife, and royal busybody who arranged for Kitty Howard to get a bit on the side) in 1542
- Lady Jane Grey in 1554
- Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (a former Liz I fave who became too big for his britches) in 1601
Today a plaque marks the spot where the Famous Seven lost their heads, the only grisly reminder in an otherwise sweet and seemingly-peaceful spot.
Get ready, because this is a particularly dark week in Tudor history. Today is the anniversary of Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution in 1587. It was a grisly affair, as it took more than one whack to do away with the poor girl.
On Wednesday the 10th, we have the murder anniversary of her husband (also her first cousin), Lord Darnley, in 1567. That same date marks the 1542 imprisonment of pathetic and misunderstood Kitty Howard.
Thursday the 11th marks the day Elizabeth of York died in 1503. The woman who gave birth to our tubby, turkey-leg eating womanizer fell victim to infection after having Henry’s little sister and died on her own birthday.
On Friday 12th we have the 1554 execution anniversary of poor nine-days-queen Lady Jane Grey, and her husband, Lord Guilford Dudley. And we continue the Headless Chronicles on Saturday the 13th, as we remember that day in 1542 when Kitty Howard and Jane Boleyn (Anne’s sister-in-law) were sent to the chopping block.
Whew! It’s getting bloodier than a Martin Scorcese movie. Stick around if you’re not the squeamish type.
Lady Jane Grey’s story is a sad and complicated one. I detailed it here if you would like a recap (and if you’re wondering how this chickadee became queen to begin with, voilà). This poor teenager showed up for centuries as a white shimmering figure around the Tower of London’s battlements and also around Tower Green, where she was executed.
It wasn’t bad enough to have been beheaded, but poor Jane had a stressful last few minutes of her life as well. She was blindfolded and then worriedly asked the executioner, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” His answer was no, so she attempted to lay her head down.
Not that she could see where the block was, being blindfolded and all. The crowd was still as she waved her arms around in the air, feeling for the block and in a panic asking, “What shall I do? Where is it??” A kind bystander guided her hands to it and that was the last Jane knew of this life. (This is a popular 17th century painting of the scene by Paul Delaroche.)
Jane would reportedly appear at the Tower on the anniversary of her death (these ghosts have twisted ways of celebrating anniversaries). The last time she showed up, she was spotted by two Tower guards on February 12, 1957, the 403rd anniversary of her execution. What has she been doing since then? Vacationing? Catching up on “Grey’s Anatomy”? No one really knows.