On This Day In History: 12th February 1554

On this day in history, Lady Jane Grey was executed on Tower Green following the execution of her husband Guildford Dudley.

Lady Jane Grey, who personally I believe should be known as Queen Jane I, is famously known as the Nine Days Queen however Eric Ives in his wonderful book “Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery” states that the correct figure for her reign is more like 13 days (Ives 2009, 2). Jane’s story is one of the saddest in Tudor history, she was written into the succession by Edward VI in his “advice for the succession” and came to the throne upon his death, something which she did not want. The story goes that when she was told she was now Queen of England, she collapsed in tears, and that she refused to wear the crown. Shortly after she and her council received news that Mary had been proclaimed Queen in Norfolk and was on her way to London to take her throne. And it didn’t take long for her council to desert her completely and go over to Mary. Support for Mary was widespread, and Jane found herself imprisoned in the Tower along with her husband Guildford.
After being proclaimed Queen, Mary deliberated over having her young Cousin executed but found herself increasingly under pressure. But it was Wyatt’s rebellion in 1554 that sealed Jane’s fate, when her father took part in the attempt to remove Mary from the throne. Following the rebellion, Mary had the death warrants of Lady Jane and Guildford signed, realising that she could not risk any more threats to her throne, and people rallying to Jane’s course especially since her father had been involved in the failed rebellion.
And so, on 12th February 1554, Lady Jane Grey walked to the scaffold on Tower Green. There she gave her prayer book to the Lieutenant of the Tower, having written a note inside it for him:
Forasmuch as you have desired so simple a woman to write in so worthy a book, good Master Lieutenant, therefore I shall as a friend desire you, and as a Christian require you, to call upon God to incline your heart to his laws, to quicken you in his way, and not to take the word of truth utterly out of your mouth. Live still to die, that by death you may purchase eternal life, and remember how the end of Methuselah, who, as we read in the scriptures, was the longest liver that was of a man died at the last: for as the Preacher says, there is a time to be born and a time to die; and the day of death is better than the day of our birth. Yours, as the Lord knows, as a friend, Jane Dudley (Ives 2009, 275-276)
According to Ives, Jane was highly composed as she gave her final speech to the crowd whereas her ladies were weeping. Her nerves began to show as she turned to the executioner and asked, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” and the executioner answered simply, “No Madam”. Then as she knelt, blindfolded she reached out panic stricken and unable to find the block and cried out “What shall I do? Where is it?”. A bystander lead her gently to the block and it was over. Lady Jane Grey, Queen Jane I, was no more and England was ruled by Mary. Hours later, Jane’s headless body still lay on the scaffold, and according to Ives the Tower was “drained…of all resolution”. She was eventually buried in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula, where today her grave can be seen marked by the altar.
Jane Grey is one of my favourite Tudor women, and I see her as a pawn in a bigger political game. To me, and to many others I am sure, she was an innocent and her death was a terrible tragedy, she was a victim. There are certainly others who see her as more of a warrior, a woman who called an army to her to try and stop the onslaught of Mary, that Jane had a hand in everything that happened – for example De Lisle notes that when she noticed her councillors becoming discontent she continued sending out letters to Sheriff’s and Justices Of The Peace demanding their allegiance, as well as ordering further guards around the Tower and the gate keys be brought to her at 7pm each evening (De Lisle 2008, 120-122). But whatever your view of the young Queen, her end was certainly a tragedy, and this poor girl deserves to be remembered not only for her short reign and terrible end, but for her brilliant mind. I will be working on a post about her life at some point, as part of my “Inspiration” series so please do keep an eye out for that. Until then I really recommend checking out Eric Ives “Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery” as it is an absolutely fantastic book and meticulously researched. Another good one, although written with a much more different viewpoint is “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen” by Leanda De Lisle, whilst I did not enjoy this one quite so much it is still a pretty good read if you are looking for an overview of Jane’s life as well as that of her sisters.
Ives, E, 2009, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery, Wiley-Blackwell, Sussex
The Anne Boleyn Files, http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/8409/lady-jane-greys-execution/ accessed 12th February 2012
De Lisle, L, 2008, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine & Lady Jane Grey, Harper Press, Oxfordshire.
Photo credit: The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche from http://www.kingsacademy.com/mhodges/11_Western-Art/20_Early-19th-Century-Romanticism/Delaroche/Delaroche.htm, accessed 12th February 2012.

Inspirations from History: Edward Seymour

Edward Seymour Earl of Hertford and Duke of Somerset is a man who has interested me now for a very long time, especially the events leading up to his fall from grace and execution. Of course you all know of my love for his wife Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset and I just have a huge fascination not only with her but of Edward’s reign as Protector, and how he fell from Grace. I’m not going to lie, the Showtime TV series The Tudors inspired me to start reading more on Edward Seymour despite the fact I knew quite a lot about him anyway. It helped that I adored the on screen relationship (or lack thereof!) between Edward Seymour and his wife.

So who was Edward Seymour?
  • He was born in around 1506 to Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth
  • In around 1527 he had his first marriage to Catherine Filliol annulled on the grounds of adultery.
  • He married Anne Stanhope before March 1534
  • 5th June 1536, he was made Viscount Beauchamp
  • 15th October 1537 he was made Earl of Hertford.
  • Edward became Lord Protector upon the death of Henry VIII and the ascension of the boy king Edward VI. Henry’s will did not include provision for a Protector, rather for the government to be looked after by a Regency Council however a few days after Henry’s death the council decided to give Seymour almost regal power and 13 of the 16 council members agreed for him to take the post of Protector.
  • Edward’s brother Thomas wanted a share of the power, and Edward tried buying him off but Thomas was hell bent on getting power, he began smuggling pocket money to the King. In 1549 after Thomas kept vying for power, and scheming to marry the Princess Elizabeth, the council had Thomas arrested. He was condemned by act of attainder due there being a lack of evidence for treason, and he was beheaded on 20th arch 1549.
  • Edward Seymour was an exceptionally skilled soldier, with a special interest in the war with Scotland. Due to his skill the English won a decisive victory at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547.
  • After April 1549 England was subject to social unrest, the best known of which being Kett’s rebellion, caused by encroachment of landlords on common grazing lands. Government placed the blame at Seymour’s door and was the start of Seymour’s downfall.
  • By 1st October 1549, Seymour knew he was in danger and withdrew to Windsor with the young King. On 11th October the Council had him arrested due to his failures in war, his vanity, his refusal to listen to any one other than his own mind and doing things his own way. By Feb 1550, John Dudley Earl of Warwick emerged as the next Protector.
  • Somerset had previously been released from the Tower but by 1551/2 he was back there, and executed for felony in January 1552, for conspiring to overthrow Warwick’s regime.
  • He is buried in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula at the Tower of London.
Despite his downfall, Seymour was known as The Good Duke and in all the books I have read about him seems to have been very popular with the people. In my opinion he wasn’t vain or power hungry at all, he was trying to keep England running well until Edward VI came of age. However as often happened at the court, factions struggled for power and often overthrew each other, as is what happened here in quite possibly one of the most famous coup d’etat’s of the late Tudor period.
If anyone is interested in reading more about Edward Seymour I recommend the following books:
Ordeal By Ambition: An English Family In The Shadow Of The Tudors – William Seymour (here at Amazon)
Edward VI The Young King: The Protectorship of the Duke of Somerset – W.K. Jordan (here at Amazon, but beware of prices as this is a pretty rare book nowadays, but very very good!)