Thursday, September 16, 2010

Book Review: Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric W. Ives

This one took me a while to get through, but it was a very satisfying read. There has been a renewed interest in the "middle" Tudors with several new books in the past 10 years covering the period of 1547-1558. So, there has been a reexamination surrounding the events of the coup de tat in July 1553 that began with the placing of Lady Jane Grey Dudley on the throne per Edward VI's device for the succession and ending with the uprising centered in East Anglia that placed Mary I on the throne. These recent books have reexamined primary source materials and have debunked the popular version of the tale. John Dudley, evil Duke of Northumberland controls the boy king Edward VI, forcing him to remove his sisters from the succession in favor of his daughter-in-law, the innocent teenager, Jane Grey, who is beaten into a marriage she didn't want and ends up after a disastrous uprising by her father, the Duke of Suffolk, on the chopping block so that Mary I can marry the Spanish prince, Philip.

Let's take a different tactic: The Act of Succession of 1543/44 and Henry VIII's will established the following: Mary and Elizabeth Tudor are restored to the succession following their brother, Edward and his heirs, but they are still declared illegitimate. The "senior" cousins the Stuarts and Douglas' are excluded. The "junior" Tudors are included with one exception- the eldest daughter of Mary Tudor Brandon - Frances Brandon Grey - is excluded from the succession - leaving the heir from this branch - Jane Grey, her sisters Katherine and Mary and their cousin, Margaret Clifford. Edward VI becomes ill in the winter and spring of 1553, when he realizes that the illness may prove fatal he writes two versions of his Deuise for the Sucession. The Deuise(device) is further examined by lawyers and signed on the 22nd of June by 102 counselors and judges. Edward dies. Jane Grey Dudley is proclaimed Queen and Mary Tudor rebels and against all odds succeeds in overthrowing her brother's succession plans and becomes Queen.

So, many historians have all ready reexamined the period. John Dudley, while ambitious has been shown to be a competent government minister who was diligently working towards Edward's assumption of full Kingly powers upon his reaching the age of majority (which he was very close to achieving when he died). Jane Grey, while complaining of her strict upbringing by her parents was not forced into marriage with Guildford Dudley. And, most surprisingly, the Wyatt Rebellion had very little to do with Jane Grey being restored to the throne, but it was that uprising and her father's part in it that led to the pressure to carry out the months old death sentences on Jane and Guildford.

What Eric Ives brings to the discussion is a very detailed analysis of primary source materials. The first section of the book is devoted to analyzing the key players, Edward, Jane, Northumberland, Suffolk, and Mary. The second section discusses the device for the succesion, Edward's reasoning (for it is Edward's composition) and the government's agreement to placing Jane on the throne of England. The third section deals with Mary's uprising, her surprising victory, and how it actually came to happen and the mad scramble by the 102 courtiers who signed in favor of Jane and how only three persons ended up executed in the immediate aftermath. There is a discussion of the treason trial and Jane's evangelical writings which were smuggled out of England - thus leading her to become the eventual Protestant Saint of the next 450 years, instead of the mere footnote of history of other short reigned monarchs. Finally Ives examines the treatment of Jane by history from her prominence in Foxe's Acts and Monuments to the favorite artistic subject of the Victorian age to her continued prominence in fiction, romance and films.

The chapters that I particularly praise are those dealing with the Device for the Succession and Mary's rebellion. Ives places the initial writing of the Device to April 1553 and shows through documented evidence that no one expected Edward to die until he took a rapid decline in May. I will write a full note on the changes and implications of the versions of the Device in another note as it is too long for a quick review. Please note, however, that some other recent historians date the first version to the January/February 1553.

The chapter on Mary's rebellion is very interesting reading. If you have read any books on Mary's reign it is well known that no one expected her to succeed. There were many factors that worked in her favor. One, she was the sixth largest landowner in England and had many loyal retainers. Two, her base of operations was East Anglia, which had suffered during the Kett's Rebellion of 1549 when the Duke of Northumberland, then Earl of Warwick clamped down hard in the area. Northumberland's law and order policies had made him unpopular among the common people. They was no attempt to secure Mary before Edward died and no attempt to raise an army to control her until three or four days after Edward had died. Finally, she acquired heavy ordinance when six ships from the Royal Navy decided to support her. Up until the 18th of July, it was a given that there would be a battle and that Mary would lose. Once it was clear that beyond certain areas (such as Cambridge) were declaring for Mary and she had more than just foot soldiers to back her claim, it was over without a shot being fired.

One detail of Jane's life I did not know before reading this book. Her treason trial took place outside the Tower at the Guild Hall. So she did leave the Tower once during the months between her proclamation as Queen and her execution. I also learned that Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury was also convicted of treason at that same trial (as were Jane's husband Guildford, and Guildford's brothers - John, Henry , Ambrose and Robert).

It is a very detailed book. Like the recent Alison Weir book you will learn a lot about minor courtiers and their relationships to the major players, thus learning why certain people behaved as they did. You will also meet the early William Cecil, who transferred from the staff of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, to the government of John Dudley, supported the succession of Jane Grey ---and survived to eventually become Elizabeth I's Secretary of State.

Enjoy the read.

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