Lady Jane Grey – The Nine Days Queen

When Edward VI got sick and it was obvious that he wasn´t going to survive, the discussion of who was going to be his Lady Jane Greyheir started. The obvious choice would have been his eldest sister Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon who had been restored to succession towards the end of Henry´s Life.

But while Henry´s break with Rome had more to do with Rome itself than with the catholic faith – Henry himself was never anything but catholic – his son by Jane Seymour had been raised to become a convinced protestant and it wasn´t conceivable to him or to the people around him to leave the throne to a devout catholic, which was exactly what Marys was.

The solution was Jane Grey – granddaughter of Henry´s sister Mary and his best friend Charles Brandon. She had received a humanist education, was very scholarly and was in correspondence with some of the most prominent European thinkers of the time. She was presented as an alternative heir to the throne by Edward´s own maternal uncle, Thomas Seymour, who was guardian of Lady Jane during his marriage to the dowager Queen, Katherine Parr, and allegedly even suggested Jane Grey as a wife of the young King.

634px-Edward_VI's_'devise_for_the_succession'Technically, Jane could have had a claim to the throne, but for reasons unknown, Henry had removed Frances – the mother of Jane Grey and daughter of Mary – from the line of succession.

Edward died on July 6th 1553, 16 years of age, and Jane, being the same age, found out three days later that she now was Queen of England. According to herself later on, and popular belief, Jane was strongly against being proclaimed Queen (this has been put into question by some latter day historians). Her opinion would however have mattered very little as she was under the authority of her father-in-law, John Dudley*, Duke of Northumberland and her parents.

Jane Grey only got to be Queen until July 19th and has because of this gone to history as the Nine Days Queen. It would become clear that Mary had a considerably greater support for her claim to the throne than Northumberland anticipated, and when he left London with armed force to met Mary and her forces at her manor at Hunsdon though640px-Lady_Jane_Grey_letter_as_Queen East Anglia, the parliament shifted their support and declared Mary Queen of England.

When she arrived in London on August 3rd it was to the sound of cheering citizens. Jane was apprehended and brought to the Tower, as were her husband Guildford Dudley, the son of Northumberland. Northumberland himself was executed as early as on August 22nd.

Jane pleaded to Mary for mercy, and for the longest time it looked, as she would actually get to keep her life, as Mary seemed sympathetic to the assurances on Jane´s part that she had simply been a tool in the hands of Northumberland. Mary was however in the middle of marriage negotiations with the future Philip II of Spain. Spain made it quite clear that it was out of the question for Philip to set foot on English soil as long as Jane Grey was alive. To Mary, it was far more important to marry and if possible produce an heir than it was to keep her word given to the child of her cousin.

Lady Jane Grey was beheaded on this day, February 12th 1554; the same year she would turn 17. She is buried at St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower. Her husband was executed as well on this day.

The two letters published on this post is, first from the top, the declaration of Edward VI where he declare Jane as his heir and the second is a letter written by Jane Grey, signed with ”Jane the Quene”

*In the event the surname Dudley seems familiar, it´s no coincidence. The Duke of Northumberland had several sons, and one of those would later on enter the stage as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, with a very special role to play in the life of Elizabeth I.


The Sisters who would be Queen; Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey – Leanda de Lisle

Lady Jane Grey – A Tudor Mystery – Eric Ives

John Dudley Duke of Northumberland 1504–1553 – David Loades


Elizabeth of York

I have written about her quite recently, in relation to the anniversary of her wedding to Henry VII, but she is well worth mentioning again. Not least because it was today she was born, 11/2, 1466 as the oldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

It was also today she died, the 11/2 1503, as the wife and queen of the first Tudor-regent, as the mother of the future Henry VIII and grandmother of Elizabeth I.

Contrary to what is sometimes said, that she loved her uncle Richard III and continued to do so for the rest of her life, there are credible sources stating that she and Henry VII had a happy marriage.

May she rest in peace.


In my end is my beginning


The quote in the headline in attributed to Marias Stuart, queen of the Scots, who on the 8th of February met her death through beheading at Fotheringhay Castle, sentenced for conspiring to murder her the cousin of her father as well as regent of England, Elizabeth I. As the only surviving child of James V of Scotland – son of Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII – and Mary of Guise, Mary became queen at the tender age of 6 days and Scotland came to be ruled by a council of regency, not least since Mary Stuart from the age of 5 lived in France where she had been married to the dauphin, one day to become Francis II. She returned to Scotland in 1561 after only a short time on the French throne as Francis died in 1560, only a year after being crowned king.

The execution of Mary, which took place on this day 428 years ago, is connected to her claim to the English throne as a successor to the childless Elizabeth I. to the chagrin of Elizabeth, Mary shortly after her return from France, had married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (I will return to this at some point), an arrogant and self-absorbed man who also was her cousin through the half-sister of her father, Margaret Douglas. Together they had the son James, who in other words was of blood royal though both parents, which almost made his claim to the throne stronger than that of Elizabeth. Mary demanded that James should be named heir to the English throne, but Elizabeth was of the opinion that as soon as she named an heir, her days would be counted, not least due to the strong support enjoyed by Mary from the English Catholics.

Mary, who can´t, even with an endless amount of good will, be said to have been a good monarch, fled toTrial_of_Mary,_Queen_of_Scots_-_Documents_relating_to_Mary,_Queen_of_Scots_(1586),_f.569__-_BL_Add_MS_48027 England after a number of very strange decisions and events which included the murder of Lord Darnley, where she hoped to enjoy the protection and support of Elizabeth. This, however, was not to happen and Mary instead found herself under house arrest for the next 19 years, during which Mary committed herself to one conspiracy after another directed against Elizabeth. What was finally to become her undoing was the so called Babington plot which entailed a Spanish invasion led by Elizabeth´s former brother in-law, Philip II. It has to be said that Elizabeth over the years had had an enormous forbearance with a number of attempts to overthrow her, in which Mary more as a rule than an exception had been involved, but now it had to end.

Mary was arrested August 11th and was sentenced to death on October 25th based on evidence gathered by the master spy of Elizabeth, Sir Francis Walsingham. On February 8th she was finally beheaded in the Great Hall of Fotheringhay Castle. It took several blows with the axe to separate her head from her body, and it´s said that her small lap dog had hidden under her skirts during the execution where it was found soaked in blood and had to be thoroughly bathed to remove the blood. When the executioner lifted up Mary´s severed head, the long auburn locks were revealed as a wig, and the now 44 year old Mary turned out to have very short, completely grey hair.



When Elizabeth was informed of the execution of Mary, she claimed that she had been misunderstood, and that her intention had never been to take Mary´s life. Maybe the reminder of her own mother death was too strong, as well as the knowledge that if some queens could be executed, so could they all. That if find the quote to be an appropriate headline for this post is because that she was right of sorts. When Elizabeth passed away on the 24th of March 1603, Mary´s son, James VI of Scotland, took the throne as James I of England.


Mary, Queen of Scots and the murder of Lord Darnley – Alison Weir

Mary, Queen of Scots – Antonia Fraser

Calendar of State papers, 1587


Lady of the English – Empress Matilda

Empress_MathildaEmpress Mathilda (or Maude, both names are used) isn´t the most well-known of the English regents, at least not outside England. But as granddaughter of William I – better known as William the Conqueror and victor at the Battle of Hastings 1066 – and grandmother of both Richard the Lionheart and the reluctant signer of Magna Carta, King John, as well as a participant in the civil war known as The Anarchy, she´s an interesting acquaintance.

She was born on this day, February 7th, 913 years ago, 1102.

While still a child she moved to Germany to be wed to the future emperor of the Great Roman Empire in 1114, Henry V. Matilda participated in the ruling of the empire and also acted as regent in Italy in her husband´s name. He was almost 20 years older than her, and the marriage was to be childless. Henry V died in 1125, five years after the White Ship disaster in which Mathilda´s brother William Adelin, heir to the throne, had died and left England in a vulnerable situation.

Matilda hurried to her father Henry I in Normandy where he made his court swear fealty to Matilda and her future children. She also entered a second marriage, this time with Geoffrey of Anjou, count of Anjou, Toulouse and Maine, to defend the southern borders of the empire. The marriage was reputedly unhappy, both due to age difference and cultural barriers. The realm of the English regent at this time consisted of large lands in France as well. Together with Geoffrey she had the son Henry Curtmantle, later Henry II.

Geoffrey of Anjou deserve a special mentioning, not least due to his habit of wearing a broom flower in his hat, a PlantaGeoffrey_of_Anjou_Monument Genista in Latin, from which the house he helped found, The Plantagenet’s, derive its name. The first monarch to actually use the name was his son by Matilda, Henry, and the last one was Richard III

But back to Matilda; a female heir to the throne was nothing that was relished in 12th century Europe and the resistance among the barons, whose support was needed, was strong and Matilda was prevented from being crowned after the death of Henry I. Instead she called herself the Lady of the English (the empress title came from her position as empress in the Holy Roman Empire 1114 – 1125). Instead Mathilda’s cousin, Stephen of Blois, assumed the throne with the backing of the church

Together with her half-brother Robert of Gloucester and the backing of her maternal uncle, the Scottish king, David I, Matilda invaded England from Normandy in 1139, and action that initiated the civil war known as the Anarchy. This period will at a later point get a post of its own.

Henry_II_of_England_croppedMatilda never won the war against Stephen, instead it would be her son, who at the time of the invasion had stayed behind in France. Henry Curtmantle, however, never defeated Stephen in battle, but instead made a peace agreement with him after Stephen´s son and heir Eustace had died, which meant that Henry would take the English throne after the death of Stephen which occurred in October 1154. Henry Curtmantle began his reign as Henry II in December that same year.

Henry would become a sometimes ruthless king that spent a great deal of his reign in the saddle, riding back and forth through his vast realm on both sides of “the narrow sea” (the English channel) in an effort to keep it together. I have written briefly about him in my previous post about the murder of Thomas Becket (yet to be translated). He was the first to use the name Plantagenet and would later become dad to the latter day legend Richard the Lionheart.

Matilda herself withdraw to Normandy in 1148 but to a high extent functioned as a political advisor for her son, not least did she try to mediate in the conflict between Henry and Becket

She died in 1167, 65 years old and was put to her final rest in Bec Abbey in Normandy.


Sources: The Plantagentes; the warrior kings and queens who made England – Dan Jones

A History of Britain 3000 BC-AD 1603 – Simon Schama

For a fictional account of Mathilda, I recommend the book Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, or for that matter the tv-series with the same name based on said book.


Magna Carta 800 years

On June 15th it will be 800 years since a legendary document was signed at Runnymede in close proximity to Windsor.RunnymedeMagnacartaisle The document has come to continue to have significance throughout the centuries, and in England it can still be brought up in the political debate as a monument over guaranteed rights.

When a debate in 2008 brought up the possibility to prolong the period suspected terrorists could be held without charges being brought against them from 28 days to 44 days, the earlier Member of Parliament for Labour, Tony Benn (dead march 2014) stated that this was the day Magna Carta died.

But what was the background?

Magna Carta was, reluctantly mind you, signed by King John – known to from basically every movie about Robin Hood, from Errol Flynn´s interpretations to Disney´s cartoons to Sir Walter Scott´s Ivanhoe to Kevin Costner in tights.

In every modern depiction he is portrayed as the villain prince who aim to take the throne from his brother, Richard the Lionheart. And that really happened; when Richard was taken prisoner on his way back from the crusades, John did try to seize power.

He King_John_from_NPGwasn´t liked well enough to succeed, but he did manage to cement a genuinely bad reputation that have survived through the centuries. He ascended as a likewise disliked king at the death of his brother Richard in 1199. While historians today are in agreement that he had some talents, there is also an agreement that his many shortcomings as a king dominated, among other what has been described as “repulsive, even dangerous personality traits”; among others malice, pettiness and cruelty. Material for both books and films, in other words,

That he found himself at Runnymede that day in June 800 years ago was a result of a group of Barons whose patience with John´s self-indulgent ways to seize power and funds had come to an end.

Magna Carta was intended as a peace treaty which among other things ensured a more reasonable distribution of power between the upper layers of society, protection for the Barons against unlawful arrests and access to swift justice and limitations to feudal taxes. The Magna Carta is said to have been inspired by the Charter of Liberties signed by Henry II in 1154, which among other things promised that the King wouldn´t plunder Church properties or demand outrageous fees for inheritance or marriage. To make sure the Magna Carta A_Chronicle_of_England_-_Page_226_-_John_Signs_the_Great_Charterwas honoured a council of 25 Barons was put in place, which obviously didn´t help, as no party in the end respected the signed charter, and the conflicts resulted in what is known as the First Baron´s War, a civil war which raged between 1215 and 1217. While John very much was the cause of the conflict, he never saw the end of it, as he died in 1216 from what is believed to have been dysentery.

5136cMagnaCarta_wlThe mythology surrounding the Magna Carta has lived on well into the 20th century, and the charter is seen as being the ground work of both the British democracy as well as the American constitution and the UN declaration of Human Rights.

The judicial importance however began to diminish already in the 16th century as new laws was founded.

But that was then and this is now. Today four copies of the Magna Carta of 1215 still exist (it was elaborated and changed in 1216 and 1217), all of which are kept in England, but they haven´t been brought together until the first week of February this year. Between February 2nd to 5th they were shown to the public at the British Library after which they were brought to the Parliament, and the public had the opportunity to view them during guided tours for most of the month.

Celebrations will continue throughout the year with lectures, theatre plays, debates and exhibitions. For a calendar over the different events, click here.

The history of Magna Carta is much longer than I have written here, but on the same site as you find the above calendar, you will find much of what you may want to know.

Sources: A Knight at the Movies – Medieval History on Film – John Aberth

The Plantagenets – The Warrior Kings and Queens who made England – Dan Jones

Why Magna Carta? Angevin England Revisited – Natalie Fryde

King John, Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta – Marc Morris