Debunking the Myth of Lady Jane GreyBreaking News
The traditional story runs like this: Lady Jane Grey was born in 1537, the daughter of Henry VIII's royal niece, Frances, and her husband, Harry Grey, Marques of Dorset. The stout, bejewelled woman in a double portrait by Hans Eworth is still used to illustrate Frances's nature. "Physically she bore a marked resemblance to Henry VIII," notes Alison Weir, a best-selling historian, in her book "The Children of Henry VIII". Here was a woman, "determined to have her own way, and greedy for power and riches," who "ruled her husband and daughters tyrannically and, in the case of the latter, often cruelly."
The myth is encapsulated in Paul Delaroche's 1833 portrait of Jane, bound and dressed in white on the scaffold, a painting with all the erotic overtones of a virgin sacrifice.
So how did the myths begin? The answer is with Jane. Aware of the damage being done to the Protestant cause by its association with treason, she announced on the scaffold that while she was guilty in law of treason, having been proclaimed queen, she had never sought the throne but merely accepted it. From this kernel of truth wider claims about Jane's innocence took root. In the 17th and 18th century her story was influenced by the feminine passivity deemed appropriate in a young girl. A sexual dimension is evident in Edward Young's 1714 poem, "The Force of Religion", which invites men to gaze on a pure Jane in her "private closet". In the following decade the portrait of Lady Dacre was mislabelled as Frances.
The effigy of the slim and elegant woman on Frances's tomb in Westminster Abbey has since been ignored in favour of spurious comparisons to Henry VIII. She was far more useful as a sexist archetype, the powerful, sexual, ambitious and mannish mother, to be pitted against Jane, her helpless, chaste and feminine daughter. Although Mary Tudor inspired John Knox's diatribe against "the monstrous regiment of women", she was a less useful counterpoint to Jane as she was seen as being led by male figures–her foreign husband, priests and so forth. The re-invented Frances, by contrast, "ruled her husband".
comments powered by Disqus
- The Anthropocene epoch: scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age
- ‘No Vacancies’ for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias
- New Yorker profiles activist who's drawing attention to lynchings
- Wisconsin GOP senator wants to replace history professors with Ken Burns videos
- UT removes Confederate inscription that it previously said would stay
- NYT publishes historians' plea for the revival of political history
- Some Ohio University professors ditch the textbooks, and the prices
- Renowned Israeli Holocaust Historian: ‘If I Were a British Jew, I’d Be Worried’
- Heather Ann Thompson pries loose the long-kept secrets of Attica in her new book
- Lonnie Bunch remembers his first day on the job as director of the new black history museum