Documents of Lady Jane Grey: Nine Days Queen of England 1553
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Innocence offended is the stuff of legend. It is not misleading to say that Jane was a gifted girl, who, obedient to the wishes of her parents, married Lord Guildford Dudley, reluctantly became queen, was deposed by Mary Tudor, tried, found guilty of treason, and executed. This sketch suggests some of the elements of a fairy tale and is easily turned into one. The political confusion of the mids encouraged the fanciful, for many works by or about Jane were lost or purposely destroyed, perhaps even portraits. Rumour and speculation tilled the gap in the public record.
Fantasy was given further licence in the decades immediately after her death because it was then impolitic to write about her. Whether by error or deliberate lie, myth fused with history in a way so irresistible that few writers checked the facts even when and where they were available. Who would wish to impugn a girl so highborn and so ill-used? Better to point a moral with her tragic tale. In life Northumberland put her in royal garb. In death others would dress her up to suit themselves. The mythic Jane who has emerged may be more to the public's taste than the historical Jane could ever be.
Her many faces are fascinating, less for what they tell us about her than for what they tell us about ourselves. Embellishments in the written record began to fill out the bare bones of Jane's story soon after Mary's death in Ballads were among the first to take her up.
About Jane GREY (Queen of England)
See F. Furnivall, Ballads from Manuscripts. There was no mention here that Jane might have erred in accepting the crown or that Guildford wished to be king despite his wife's objections. This was Jane as the embodiment of anti-Catholicism, a role she never deserted once Protestantism became fully established in England. It is very unlikely that a last minute conversion to Rome would have saved her, but to Protestants, especially puritans brought up on Foxe's Book of Martyrs , Jane died 'for faith and purity'.
In their imagination she had a Christ-like holiness, and as such could do no wrong. Jane the unrivalled scholar has been as appealing as Jane the Protestant saint. Her surviving letters suggest that she was academically gifted, though perhaps less than a genius. But most of her champions have been influenced less by her literary remains than by Roger Ascham, who mentioned her briefly in his work The Schoolmaster, published posthumously in That Ascham wrote about their meeting at Bradgate more than a decade after the event to give support to an argument about education is rarely mentioned.
This, of course, does not make his description of Jane untrue, but one must suspect it as overblown. To Ascham she was the 'sweet and noble' lady, whose sole pleasure was the pursuit of knowledge and whose devotion to her gentle tutor Aylmer was in stark contrast to her fear of her cruel and overbearing parents. This portrait of a sad, thoughtful girl was especially attractive to Protestants, who varnished it and hung it beside Jane the martyr.
He wrote the poem while on diplomatic service in Spain in the early s, but it was not published in England until , years after his death. Written in Latin, it describes Jane as without peer in learning, soul, or beauty and comparable with Socrates for steadfastness in the face of death. Her 'murderer', Queen Mary, is savaged throughout. Chaloner, though a Protestant, had been in Mary's employ. Most intriguing is his assertion that Jane was pregnant at the time of her execution. Perhaps he knew something that his contemporaries did not, but it is more likely that a pregnant Jane was a deceit which made the 'marble-hearted' Mary appear all the more vile.
While most of us do not expect historical accuracy from poets, it is interesting to note how often later champions of Jane would pull Chaloner's Elegy off their shelves and hold it up as truth. One should not expect historical accuracy from playwrights any more than poets. In historical drama distortions of the subject are inevitable, for events must be condensed, complexities of doctrine and politics simplified.
Grey, Lady Jane (1537–1554)
Moreover, vigorous narrative must take precedence over accuracy of detail if a play is not to be dull. With Jane dramatists have sought to serve their art by turning her into a romantic heroine. The first play to do so was by John Webster and Thomas Dekker. First produced in published Lady Jane survives only in fragments, but enough remains to suggest that Webster was not writing with historians in mind. Much is made of the trial, for instance, in which Jane and Guildford 'my Dudley mine own heart' plead for each other's lives.
No defence was made in the actual trial where they both pleaded guilty.
On the day of their execution Jane laments: 'My dearest Guildford, let us kiss and part'. In this fiction Jane is executed first and her head brought to Guildford. What little is known about their relationship would suggest that they were unlikely to have enjoyed one another's company, but in the theatre, as elsewhere, Jane and Guildford have been lovers ever since, perhaps in posthumous compensation for lives which seem too sad, too tragic, for us to bear.
At the end of the seventeenth century the playwright John Banks produced a more robust and sensual couple in his Innocent Usurper: or, the Death of Lady Jane Grey , republished In a fresh invention Jane accepts the crown only when Guildford threatens suicide by falling on his sword. As in Webster, a trial without a spirited defence is anathema, and the lovers plead for each other's lives.
Drawing on Chaloner's Elegy , Banks alludes to an 'abortive infant' at the end of the drama. This fitted well with the strident anti-Catholicism of the play, which was likely to suit the prejudices of England under William III. In the eighteenth century Jane takes on several fresh disguises, perhaps the most notable being her appearance in The Tragedy of the Lady Jane Grey written by the playwright and poet Nicholas Rowe.
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First performed in it was dedicated to the Princess of Wales. Ingenuously, Rowe admitted that he heightened. Jane's features 'to make her more worthy of those illustrious hands to which I always intended to present her'.
Unlocking our Collections: The Proclamation of Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554)
Rowe's play is an encomium to a Tudor princess who might be confused for a Hanoverian, if only by a Hanoverian. The anti-Catholicism is cleverly interwoven with the plot, for Jane puts down her Plato and picks up the crown only to save English Protestantism. At the end of the play Mary offers Jane and Guildford life in exchange for a recantation of their faith, but London was not worth a mass and they 'bend their heads with joy'.
The love story is elaborate. Video clips are automatically supplied by broadcasters and distributors.
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But before his death, Edward, who despised Catholics, drew up a document of succession that cut out his devoutly Catholic half-sister Mary. Despite weirdly gauzy and silent dramatic reconstructions that are little more than tableaux — and Mary looks disconcertingly sultry — this is a handy guide to the briefest of reigns and the manipulation of a young woman which could not possibly end well. Continues tomorrow and Thursday. Summary Historian Helen Castor presents a three-part docu-drama piecing together the story of the woman who was the de facto Queen of England and Ireland for nine days in In the first episode, Helen investigates an incendiary document, written on his deathbed by King Edward VI, which cuts his sister Mary Tudor out of the line of succession and leaves the throne to his cousin Jane.
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