Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lady Jane Grey 2: Facts and Fiction

So Lady Jane was dead; but her story lives on. As time passed, more and more details were added to it, to make her image suit the ideals of the times. She was depicted as the very first Marian martyr, an innocent Protestant maiden who was good, devout and pious, ready to die for her faith. 

The famous painting by Paul Delaroche depicts a beautiful maiden, dressed in a flowing white dress, her eyes bound by a white cloth. She is guided to the block; two ladies are overwhelmed with grief, while the executioner waits, axe in hand. The beauty of the maiden with her helpless form contrasts with tragic atmosphere of the painting. The grey walls behind suggests a closed room, which is historically inaccurate, as Jane was executed in the open on a scaffold. In reality, her hair would probably be bound up (imagine how those flowing tresses would get in the way), and she is said to have worn black—the same dress that she had worn to her trial. But nevertheless, it does picture how many have come to view Jane throughout the years—a helpless victim, the ideal embodiment of female purity and submission.

Browsing through websites for information, I noticed an interesting fact. The mainstream idea was that yes, she was a pawn in her family’s dangerous games, and had no decision over her fate. However, some claim otherwise, that she was a not-so reluctant participant in the scheme to take over Mary I in the line of succession. I thought that it might be interesting to highlight certain controversies over her life, and her short reign. Of course, we might never gain light of the reality behind the moves of Lady Jane, or those who were manipulating (or said to manipulate) her. At least, we might be able to gain a neutral view of history, and not be inclined to take any extreme views of her life.

View 1: Jane’s parents, especially her mother Frances Brandon, is said to be particularly harsh on her.

Fact: This viewpoint is very much based on an account of Master Ascham after Jane’s execution. He finds her reading alone at home while her parents had gone on a hunting excursion. The book was Plato’s Plaedo and Jane appeared to have much interest, as well as a good understanding of it. He asked her how she could derive so much pleasure in reading, instead of hunting with her parents. She revealed that one of the benefits that God ever gave her that was, despite having such sharp and severe parents, she had a gentle schoolmaster in Dr. Alymer. She then began to pour out her woes—how she was expected to be perfect in everything she did before her parents, or else receive taunts, nips, slaps and pinches which made her think herself in Hell. And so she seeks pleasure in learning from Dr. Alymer and in reading her books that everything else she did seemed to land her in nothing but trouble.
Dispute: Was Jane’s parents really that cruel? Or was Jane only whining about her parents in their absence, as any teenager today would do? Or was such treatment typical of the times she was born in? I came across a website (which I cannot find again) makes certain claims. Firstly, Dr. Ascham wrote this sometime after Jane’s execution. Was this account coloured with prejudice against her parents, who had a hand in Jane’s downfall? If her parents were that cruel, would they have left her in peace to read her book and receive guests, instead of dragging her along with them in their hunt? Her parents did provide her with an adequate education, and satisfied her thirst for knowledge. Hunting was also a favourite pastime of the nobles, and there’s nothing that indicates that Frances enjoyed hunting excessively.

Regardless of what the truth is, Frances has been regarded as a strict disciplinarian and a stern, unloving mother who treated her child miserably. The lack of correspondence prior to Jane’s execution seems to highlight the distant relationship between the two. It is possible that the letters, if any, did not survive till this date. Frances’ second marriage to Adrian Stokes, her young master of horse, also was not viewed favourably. However, she married him a year after her husband’s death. Leanda de Lisle, author of ‘The Sisters Who Would Be Queen’ writes, "By not choosing a nobleman, she protected her surviving daughters from further conjecture concerning the throne. "( And according to the website, Frances is depicted as mannish and brutal--a woman of power, as opposed to her feminine and chaste daughter, which reflects the view of the times— a woman welding power loses her feminine charm, and becomes somewhat masculine. Visit the link to read more.
A portrait of Lady Darce and her son, once misidentified as that of Frances Brandon and Adrian Stokes
View 2: Mary I chose to execute Jane as Philip I insisted that she do so.

Dispute: This claim may have be planted to represent Mary as such a desperate woman to get a husband such as to sacrifice the life of an innocent young girl. It is portrayed in ‘Lady Jane’, where Mary gazes adoringly at Philip’s portrait and tells Jane that she is lucky to have married young. In ‘Innocent Traitor’ by Alison Weir, this forms part of the plot, where Mary is caught between her compassion for the young Jane and her love for Philip. Here is a site that explains it all in detail, as well as several other myths regarding Jane’s life.

View 3: Jane was in love with her husband/ Jane loathed her husband
Fact: Jane appeared not to be in love with her husband, as the two rarely spent time together. After all, their marriage was arranged by their parents, and was more for convenience as many matches were in those days. “The Jane is in love” thing is largely a plot of ‘Lady Jane’, while the idea that Jane loathed her husband was spawned from the fact that she refused to make him king. Her husband was said to have thrown a fit, and involved his mother as well, but Jane refused to give in. She is said to have refused to marry him, but relented after severe punishments from her parents. Also, she refused to see him on the night/morning before their execution, although she did watch him go to his death by her window. She was also said to have spoken of her husband’s ‘childishness’ during her days of imprisonment. 
Jane and Guilford
However, as far as history is concerned, we do not know about Jane’s exact feelings towards her husband. It is quite obvious that she was not madly in love with him, but did she hate him that badly? Or was she indifferent towards him and would rather spend more time with her books? There is also a marking of the words 'Iane' (‘Jane’) on one of the tower walls, allegedly carved by Guilford. However, we can never be sure. Even if he was the one who carved it, it could refer to his mother, whose name was also ‘Jane’.
There are things in history which had been coloured by the romantic views of later generations. There are also remarkable men and women whose lives had been written into books and poems, whose figures had been embodied in vivid portraits, whose stories had been acted out numerous times, on stage and on screen. Jane was one of them—her short and tragic life makes her such a captivating subject to be portrayed in various art forms. However, we cannot conclude that a person is completely good or evil, nor can we judge someone based on accounts and sketches written by contemporaries on his or her life. What we do have are the facts, the dates and the numbers; but what is history without any feelings put into it? Perhaps history appeals to us outside the textbook as we can symphatise with the hardships, conflicts and struggles of the people portrayed in it. For we are only human, and something about these famous people resonate with a part of us, and may coincide with something that we are facing in our lives. Naturally, Jane’s story will continue to fascinate many.

To tell the truth, I too can’t help but symphatise and feel deeply for Lady Jane, despite having read both sides of the story,. I feel sorry how she was a product of her birth and circumstances, and admiration at how she handled her execution calmly, with dignity befitting one who had reigned as queen, even if it was for a short while.

1 comment:

  1. I like this post. Very insightful and thought-provoking


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