Many have heard of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, a book recording the stories of Christians who had been martyred from the time of Christ until the year 1583. It was written by John Foxe, a notable English Reformer. Yet many do not know a great deal about the young lady who inspired him to write the book.
Lady Jane Grey, Foxe's inspiration for the book, is also known as 'England's Nine Day Queen.' Her life story has been the subject of several books and even a movie, but in these mediums her faith in Christ is often greatly understated. According to John Foxe, a personal friend of Lady Jane, her faith was the reason that she was executed. When she gave him the idea for his book, she most likely did not realize that her death, too, would be chronicled within its pages.
Lady Jane Grey was the oldest daughter of Henry Grey and Lady Frances Brandon. Sadly, her relationship with her parents was painful and strained. In Daughters of Destiny, an excellent book compiled by Noelle Goforth, there is written an account of Lady Jane's treatment by her parents. It says,
"Her parents acted upon the maxim that to spare the rod is to spoil the child; and not withstanding her amiability and honorable diligence, subejcted her to a very severe discipline. She was rigorously punished for the slightest defect in her behavior or the most trivial failure in her studies. Her parents taught her to fear, rather than to love them... It is no wonder therefore, that she turned with ever-increasing delight toward her studies."
And how she studied! Under the guidance of her tutors, she became extremely well versed in theology as well as several foreign languages, including Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
Centuries later, the famed poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, would praise Lady Jane's knowledge and most of all--her character. He wrote this of her:
'Seventeen--and knew eight languages--in music peerless--her needle perfect, and her learning beyond the Churchmen; yet so meek, so modest... Seventeen--a rose of grace! Girl never breathed to rival such a rose; rose never blew that equaled such a bud?'
It has been said that it is the most beautiful flowers that grow in adverse conditions. Lady Jane is an example of this, for the time in which she lived was dark and tumultuous. Queen Mary
(also known as 'Bloody Mary') was given the throne by Parliament after her brother, the king, died. However, her brother had named Lady Jane as his successor and as a result of several nobles who did not desire the throne to go to Mary, Lady Jane was temporarily given the title of queen. Her reign lasted for nine short days and was ended when Queen Mary, with an army of twenty thousand men, took the throne. Queen Mary seemed disposed to spare Lady Jane's life on the condition that she convert to Catholicism. This, Lady Jane refused to do, boldly citing Bible references contridicting Catholic doctrine. For this, Mary ordered her execution.
The following is an excerpt of the record of Jane's death from Foxe's Book of Martyrs.
It includes a letter which she wrote to her sister, Katherine, before she was to be executed. The letter in which she bids 'farewell' to her sister, eloquently displays Lady Jane's love for God, firm faith and immense courage:
I have here sent you, good sister Katherine, a book, which although it be not outwardly trimmed with gold, yet inwardly it is more worth than precious stones. It is the book, dear sister, of the law of the Lord. It is his testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches; which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy: and, if you with a good mind read it, and with an earnest mind do purpose to follow it, it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life. It shall teach you to live, and learn you to die. It shall win you more than you should have gained by the possession of your woeful father's lands. For as, if God had prospered him, you should have inherited his lands; so, if you apply diligently to this book, seeking to direct your life after it, you shall be an inheritor of such riches, as neither the covetous shall withdraw from you, neither thief shall steal, neither yet the moths corrupt. Desire with David, good sister, to understand the law of the Lord God. Live still to die, that you by death may purchase eternal life. And trust not that the tenderness of your age shall lengthen your life; for as soon, if God call, goeth the young as the old; and labour always to learn to die. Defy the world, deny the devil, and despise the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord. Be penitent for your sins, and yet despair not: be strong in faith, and yet presume not; and desire, with St. Paul, to be dissolved and to be with Christ, with whom even in death there is life. Be like the good servant, and even at midnight be waking, lest when death cometh and stealeth upon you as a thief in the night, you be, with the evil servant, found sleeping; and lest, for lack of oil, you be found like the five foolish women; and like him that had not on the wedding garment, and then ye be cast out from the marriage. Rejoice in Christ, as I do. Follow the steps of your master Christ, and take up your cross; lay your sins on his back, and always embrace him. And as touching my death, rejoice as I do, good sister, that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption. For I am assured that I shall, for losing a mortal life, win an immortal life, the which I pray God grant you, and send you of his grace to live in his fear, and to die in the true Christian faith, from the which, in God's name, I exhort you that you never swerve, neither for hope of life, nor for fear of death. For if you will deny his truth for to lengthen your life, God will deny you, and yet shorten your days. And if you will cleave unto him, he will prolong your days, to your comfort and his glory: to the which glory God bring me now, and you hereafter, when it pleaseth him to call you. Fare you well, good sister, and put your only trust in God, who only must help you."
A prayer made by the lady Jane in the time of her trouble, and also a letter to her father, a part of that to Mr. Harding, are here omitted for want of space. It remaineth now, coming to the end of this virtuous lady, to infer the manner of her execution, with the words and behaviour of her at the time of her death. First, when she mounted the scaffold, she said to the people standing thereabout, "Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact against the queen's highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me; but, touching the procurement and desire thereof by me, or on my behalf, I do wash my hands therof in innocency before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day. I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman, and that I do look to be saved by no other mean, but only by the mercy of God, in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ: and I confess, that when I did know the word of God, I neglected the same, and loved myself and the world: therefore this punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins; and yet I thank God, that of his goodness he hath thus given me a time and respite to repent. And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you assist me with your prayers."
And then, kneeling down, she turned her to Fecknam, saying, "Shall I say this psalm?" and he said, "Yea." Then said she the psalm of "Miserere mei Deus," in English, in most devout manner throughout to the end. Then she stood up, and gave her maiden, Ellen, her gloves and handkerchief, and her book to Mr. Bruges. After this, she untied her gown, in which the executioner offered to help her; but she, desiring him to let her alone, turned towards her two gentlewomen, who helped her off therewith, and also with her frowes, paaft and neckerchief, giving to her a fair handkerchief to knit about her eyes. Then the executioner kneeled down and asked her forgiveness, which she willingly granted, and said, "I pray you dispatch me quickly." Then she kneeled, saying, "Will you strike before I lay me down?" The executioner said, "No, madam." Then tied she the handkerchief about her eyes, and feeling for the block, she said, "What shall I do? Where is it?" One of the standers-by guiding her thereunto, she laid her head down upon the block, and then stretched forth her body, and said, "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit;" and so finished her life, in the year of our Lord 1554, and 12th day of February, about the 17th year of her age.
--An excerpt from
Foxe's Book of Martyrs. For the detailed account of Lady Jane's death and for other letters that she wrote before her execution, the full version can be found here.
Tennyson, Alfred Lord. Queen Mary and Harold
Elliot, Elisabeth. "The Weight of Wings" Let Me Be a Woman: Notes On Womanhood for Valerie
Goforth, Noelle. Daughters of Destiny
Foxe, John. Foxe's Book of Martyrs
Wikipedia's entries concerning Lady Jane Grey
, Queen Mary,
and John Foxe
Labels: devotion, IRL