Lady Jane Grey
Webster's dictionary defines courage as "that quality of mind which enables one to encounter danger and difficulties with firmness, or without fear, or fainting of heart."
God has used many men and women throughout church history to accomplish His purposes. English Reformers exemplified incredible courage, standing firm in the face of persecution often to the point of death. But there is something about the story of one particular sixteen-year girl of noble blood that is uniquely captivating and convicting.
Meet Lady Jane Grey, renowned through history as the nine-day Queen of England, and one of the greatest reformers who ever lived. Born of royal lineage, Jane’s parents heaped all of their royal ambitions upon their eldest daughter. They desperately hoped that one day circumstances and bloodlines would dictate that Jane be crowned Queen of England. Jane began to distinguish herself as a young girl, showing signs of an acute intellectual ability and a profound devotion to Scripture. She rose to the top of the royal classroom, rivaling King Edward himself "both in regard to religion as well as her intelligence." She quickly became fluent in Latin, Greek and Hebrew and grounded herself in biblical truth.
Just when hopes for the crown began to look even more promising for Jane’s parents, plans began to unravel. Thomas Seymour, the man essentially responsible for arranging a royal marriage for Jane, died. Following that, eleven-year old Jane's relationship with her parents began to deteriorate as they found that instead of submitting to their will she had developed opinions of her own and was prepared to articulate them.
With prospects of a politically advantageous marriage diminishing, Jane's parents soon regarded her as a failure, instead favoring her already beautiful nine-year old sister, Catherine. Jane soon found that, "whether [she spoke], [kept silent, sat, stood or went, ate, drank, was merry or sad, was sowing], playing, dancing, or doing anything else," it resulted in her being "sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) ... that I think myself in hell."
Jane responded to this persecution, as she would later in life, by resting in the "presence and sustaining power" of Christ. She read the Scripture fervently, utilizing her Greek knowledge to study the New Testament, and she learned to seek God's presence through prayer.
When German reformer Heinrich Bullinger praised the thirteen year old on her understanding of Scripture, Jane replied to him saying, "I must ascribe solely to that great Being who is the author of all my natural endowments. To him, O worthy man, may your prayer be continually directed on my behalf."
A few years later, the Protestant-friendly King Edward VI succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of fifteen. But before he died Edward put into place his “Devise for the succession” in order prevent Mary, his devoutly Catholic half-sister, from succeeding the throne and jeopardizing all of his evangelical reforms. The document declared Mary and his other half-sister, Elizabeth, illegitimate and settled the crown on his cousin: Jane Grey.
Royal officials summoned a reluctant Jane – not knowing about Edward’s death – to Syon House. John Dudley was the man largely responsible for making sure the crown passed to Jane, and his head was on the line if it passed to Mary instead. Dudley led the fifteen year old Jane into the Chamber of State, where her family and an empty throne awaited her.
When John Dudley announced Edward’s untimely death, a “stupefied” Jane began to tremble. Then came the words she dreaded to hear: “His majesty hath named Your Grace as the heir to the crown of England.”
Instead of a grateful response, John Dudley was met with a paralyzed girl, whose color drained from her cheeks and crashed to the floor in a “dead faint.”
After a few seconds, Jane awoke and adamantly stated that the crown wasn’t hers to have, as “Queen Mary is the rightful heir.” Her parents scowled at her, reminding Jane of her duty to obedience, while an aghast John Dudley made it known she would be “doing wrong” against her country.
With attacks swirling all around her, Jane took refuge in the only person truly on her side amidst the present and impending chaos – Christ. Jane bent down on one knee, praying silently until she calmly said, “If what hath been given to me is lawfully mine, may thy divine Majesty grant me such grace that I may govern to thy glory and service, to the advantage of this realm.”
But Jane’s reign didn’t last long. With the majority of the country oblivious to who Jane Grey even was or what she stood for, Mary found it easy to rally support amongst the populace. The Catholic daughter of Henry VIII ousted Jane a mere nine days into her rule, throwing the reluctant Queen into prison.
Just as Edward VI had predicted, Mary began to undo all of the church reforms Edward had implemented. Mary instituted laws that forbade clergy to marry, banned the “Common Prayer Book” and began the swift and forceful removal of evangelical preachers like John Rogers, John Hooper and Miles Coverdale.
Meanwhile, Jane sat in prison largely unaware of what had transpired around her. When she heard that John Dudley had tried in vain to switch from Protestant to Catholic in order to appease Mary and save himself from death, Jane exclaimed “I pray God, I, nor no friend of mine, die so. Should I who am young and in my few years, forsake my faith for the love of life? Nay, God forbid!” That conjecture would soon be tested.
After talking with Jane on the eve of her execution, Queen Mary’s chaplain told her that he believed if given more time, he could convert Jane to the Catholic faith. Exhibiting a modicum of compassion for her cousin, Mary stated that if Jane abandoned her faith she would be granted a full reprieve. Surely this young, smart girl would agree to the favorable terms and avoid the horrors of death.
Jane listened to the terms in silence, with her subsequent reply sealing her fate: “You are much deceived if you think I have any desire of longer life; for I assure you, since the time you went from me, my life has been so tedious to me, that I long for nothing so much as death. Neither did I wish the Queen to be solicited for such a purpose.”
Jane Grey was executed on February 12, 1554. With her head on the block, Jane quoted the last words of Jesus on the cross: “Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!”
The story of Lady Jane Grey is a poignant example of what Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12; “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Even as a teenager, Jane defied the Queen’s attempt to undercut her faith, choosing a physical death over an eternal one.