April 22nd 2017


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COVER STORY The populist wedge: political disaffection comes to Australia

EDITORIAL Human Rights Commission needs to start afresh post Professor Triggs

CANBERRA OBSERVED Liberals' soul searching too painful to publicise

ABORTION Law condones the act as it criminalises the image

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump makes calculated response to Syrian atrocity

CHINA No easy way to reverse malignant one-child policy

FOREIGN AFFAIRS French election may determine Eurozone fate

ECONOMICS The taxing of companies: a clarifying perspective

PHILOSOPHY Rights bereft of obligations: or, Socrates versus the pig

MUSIC Classical colours: Mozart's fusion of opposites

CINEMA Beauty and the Beast: A fairytale of true enchantment

BOOK REVIEW Santamaria: a man against the tide

BOOK REVIEW The teen they would have made queen

Heartening response to readers' survey

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BOOK REVIEW
The teen they would have made queen




News Weekly, April 22, 2017

CROWN OF BLOOD: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey

by Nicola Tallis

 

Michael O’Mara Books, London
Hardcover: 400 pages
Price: AUD $29.99

Reviewed by Bill James

 

Most people know (or most people used to know!) that King Henry VIII was succeeded by his three children by three different mothers: Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

Fewer are aware that on Edward’s death, there was a brief and unsuccessful attempt to block Mary’s accession to the throne with Lady Jane Grey, sometimes known as “The Nine Day Queen”.

Although Henry famously broke with the pope over his divorce, he remained a Catholic in almost all other respects until his death in 1547. However, the genie was out of the bottle, religious change was in the air, and his son Edward grew up a thoroughgoing evangelical.

By the time this boy king was approaching his death six years later, at only 15, he had overseen the Protestantisation of the Church of England by figures such as Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.

His half-sister Mary, as ardently Catholic as Edward was Protestant, was next in line for the throne, and threatened to destroy everything that he had accomplished.

From the point of view of leading Protestants, both lay and clerical, this boded not only spiritual disaster for the English people, but mortal danger to themselves as individuals.

A plot was therefore hatched to bypass Mary, and place on the throne instead the 17-year-old Lady Jane Grey, bottom right, who was strongly Protestant.

The rest of the story can perhaps best be handled by a series of questions.

Who were the plotters?

The leading role was taken by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, pictured right, who led the Regency Council set up to help the young King Edward rule, and who not only wanted to retain Protestantism and his own life, but who arranged the marriage of Jane to his son Guilford Dudley, in the hope that Guilford would effectively be king.

Northumberland was supported by Jane’s parents, who were motivated by similar fears and ambitions.

 

What was Jane’s claim to the throne?

She was the granddaughter, through her mother, of Henry VIII’s younger sister.

Although in the end Henry had nominated his daughters Mary and Elizabeth as next in line after Edward, he had, inconsistently, never removed the previous declaration of their illegitimacy, which in theory disbarred them from reigning.

Shortly before his death, and at Northumberland’s urging, Edward overruled his half-sisters’ claims, and named Jane (his cousin’s daughter) as his successor.

 

Did Jane want the throne?

No. She was just as horrified at being declared queen by the Council, as at being forced to marry Northumberland’s son, for whom she never evinced any affection. Her assertion at her trial that she regretted taking the crown, but had been coerced into doing so by older and more powerful men, was a plea for mercy, but was also almost certainly sincere.

Why did the attempt to replace Mary with Jane fail?

The English people seem to have been fond of Mary, as they had been of her mother, Catherine of Aragon, and Mary’s claim to the succession appeared straightforward and self-evident. By contrast Northumberland, the power behind the throne under Edward, was very unpopular, and Jane was practically unknown.

The Council’s support for Jane had been largely forced by Northumberland, and this artificial consensus disintegrated in a matter of days as the Councillors witnessed the people’s rejection of her as queen.

Since the Conquest, England had had only one experience of a queen: the disastrous civil war which erupted over Matilda, in the early 12th century. But in 1553 all the candidates (Mary, Elizabeth, Jane) were women, so the question was not one of gender, but of who had the clearest claim.

The imperative need for a just and peaceful succession had been reinforced by the chaotic Wars of the Roses in the previous century, and in terms of accepted dynastic principles, Mary was the obvious choice.

 

Why did Mary execute Jane?

She did not want to, even though Jane had been found legally guilty of treason. Against the urgings of her advisers she protected her cousin’s daughter, of whom she seems to have been genuinely fond, their profound religious differences notwithstanding.

Mary was finally forced to get rid of Jane after the abortive Wyatt’s Rebellion, in which Jane’s father had stupidly become involved despite Mary’s leniency towards him, and despite the obvious peril in which his actions placed his daughter.

One of the notable features of these events, in the light of her later infamy as “Bloody Mary”, is the seeming kindness and moderation of Mary at this point in her career.

She avoided unnecessary executions, and even those which were unavoidable, such as Northumberland’s, were carried out by decapitation, rather than by the barbarous option of hanging, drawing and quartering, which was available under the law for traitors.

Mary appears to have squandered an enormous fortune of popularity and goodwill by her later actions, such as her marriage to Philip II of Spain, and her public burning of nearly three hundred Protestants.

 

Who won?

Jane lost the battle but won the war, in that England became Protestant after Mary’s death, despite the later half-hearted effort of James II (1685–88) to turn the clock back. She also won the PR campaign, because in the short term she became a Protestant martyr commemorated by writers such as John Foxe, and in the long term she has come to be regarded as the romantic and tragic teenaged target of a sour and vindictive middle-aged loser.

 

What sort of person was Jane?

There are no surviving portraits of her, but she is reported as being attractive enough. A serious girl, she apparently took little interest in clothes and amusements, but loved her books. She knew Latin, French and Italian; was interested in learning Hebrew; and read Plato in the original Greek.

The preponderant influence in her life was her Protestant faith, and as an adolescent she conducted a correspondence with the scholarly Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor in Zurich.

 

Was Jane, properly speaking, ever really a monarch?

The facts that she reigned for so short a period, and was never crowned, have led some to claim that she wasn’t. Tallis thinks otherwise, arguing that she was recognised as queen by Edward VI and the Council; that she was publicly proclaimed as queen; and that, finally, “the fact that she was referred to as such by many of her contemporaries is perhaps the most revealing evidence that this was indeed how she was regarded”.

It is true that she was never actually crowned, but, as Tallis points out, neither were Edward V (1483) nor Edward VIII (1936).

 

What sort of queen would she have been, had she retained the throne?

This is the realm of “what ifs”, and Tallis goes so far as to raise the possibility that, given her radical Protestantism, “it could have been Jane who was remembered for the burning of religious ‘heretics’ rather than her cousin [her mother’s cousin, strictly speaking] Mary”.

We will never know.

 

Was Jane a victim?

This question, perhaps more than any other, lies at the heart of Tallis’ brilliant biography, and her answer takes the form of an unavoidable contradiction – unavoidable, because true to the facts.

The answer is yes, because Jane was merely a young woman, vulnerable because of her ancestry, who was manipulated by cynical, fearful and power- hungry men.

The answer is no, because while later regretting her compliance, she acted throughout with great strength and self-possession in the face of rapidly changing and totally unforeseen circumstances.

For some readers, the interest of Jane’s story might lie as much in its religious as in its personal aspects. Jane faced the axe with a courage and dignity captured in iconic paintings such as Paul Delaroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833), which is reproduced in the book.

One of those present at her beheading was a Catholic priest, Doctor John Feckenham, who had been delegated by Queen Mary to visit Jane in her cell, and attempt to win her to Roman Catholicism before she died. The feisty Jane not only defended her faith, but tried to change his, urging him to trust in Christ alone for salvation!

The two finished up respecting and liking one another, and Feckenham not only attended her execution, but they embraced and farewelled one another before she knelt at the block.

Given that each believed the other was irrevocably bound for an eternity in hell, and that they would therefore never meet again, it is a moving conclusion to Jane’s story.

Tallis has done an outstanding job of helping readers to understand something of the experience of a female adolescent living in a cultural milieu different from ours in so many respects, and living through unique and tumultuous circumstances into which she was unexpectedly thrust.


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