Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen

Four days after young King Edward VI died on July 6, 1553, Lady Jane Dudley began her reign as Queen of England. (I call her by her married name because her in-law relationship to the Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley, was essential to her succession to the throne in the eyes of Edward VI). The delay in the accession came about because her father-in-law Dudley waited to announce the king's death while preparing for a smooth transition. Because of her Protestantism, because she was executed by "Bloody" Mary, because John Foxe promoted her cause, she became known as a martyr and victim of Catholic oppression in England--part of the Black Legend of Catholic cruelty. She has also been thought a victim of family abuse and manipulation, an unwilling pawn of Northumberland.
Two studies recently have questioned this view: Eric Ives' Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery and Leanda de Lisle's The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: Mary, Katherine, and Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Tragedy. Both books are all about the issue of the succession in the Tudor Dynasty, either from Edward VI to Jane or Mary, or from Elizabeth I to Mary, Queen of Scots, or the surviving Grey sisters, Mary and Catherine--so in neither book is Jane the main subject, really. I reviewed de Lisle's book, but have not read Ives' book, but as this reviewer notes, Ives' study is a "provocative and revisionist account" that takes nothing for granted:

Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery is not a biography. Rather, it is a book about a dynastic and political crisis. The ‘Tudor Mystery’ that Eric Ives has set out to solve is how the ‘legitimate’ Queen Jane, who commanded considerable political support, was overthrown in favour of the illegitimate Mary Tudor in ‘a wholly unexpected political coup’ (1). Viewing Jane’s rule from this angle produces a provocative and revisionist account of the summer of 1553. This alone would make Ives’ book an important piece of scholarship; that he wields an extensive array of archival evidence and provides the most detailed account to date of the succession crisis of 1553 makes this a book that no Tudor historian can ignore. . . .

Despite the title, Jane Grey is not the focus of Ives’s book, though Ives does discuss Jane’s education, family and religion at some length. His Jane is not the tragic figure who appealed to so many Victorians, but a ‘bluestocking’ and committed evangelical used as a political pawn by her indifferent parents. Jane married Guidlford Dudley reluctantly and was initially disinclined to take the throne: indeed, she was apparently surprised to discover that she was queen. Yet once on the throne she wielded power with a firmer hand than her earlier reluctance might suggest, adamantly blocking plans to invest her husband as king. Jane and her supporters had the advantage. They controlled the court, the state administration and the Tower, and Northumberland oversaw orders to the lord lieutenants in the counties to uphold Jane’s rule, whereas Mary possessed significantly inferior resources and was mistaken in her belief that her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V would come to her aid. Immediately after Edward’s death, few would have bet on Mary. Yet within thirteen days she had amassed considerable support, had been proclaimed Queen in London with the backing of the Privy Council, and Northumberland, who had led an army out of London in order to suppress Mary’s uprising, had surrendered. All of these developments need to be examined anew if Jane, not Mary, was rightfully queen.

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