Lady Jane Grey: Who Served the Nine Days Queen?
Written by Dr. James Taffe
Edward VI died on 6 July 1553. In his will, the boy king nominated Lady Jane Grey as his successor. A few days later, on 10 July, Jane ‘was convayed by water to the Tower of London, and there received as queene’.1J. G. Nichols (ed.), The Chronicle of Queen Jane and Two Years of Queen Mary, Camden Society (London, 1850), p. 3. The probable author of this account is Rowland Lea. In the royal barge, it was observed, there were ‘the two Duchesses’, Frances Grey, duchess of Suffolk, Jane’s mother, and Jane Dudley, duchess of Northumberland and Jane’s mother-in-law, and ‘other ladies attended by a great following’.2Calendar of State Papers, Spain, ed. Royall Tyler, 13 vols. (London, 1916), hereafter CSP Sp, XI, p. 106. 3 CSP Sp XI, p. 83. The next day, Imperial ambassadors in England reported that Jane ‘is at the Tower with her ladies and Council’.3CSP Sp XI, p. 83. Were these ‘ladies’ to attend upon the new queen in her royal household? Certainly this echoes the procession of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife and the mother of Edward VI, who, on 4 June 1536, was also accompanied by ladies when she travelled with the king by boat to Greenwich, where she would be proclaimed queen. In his report Sir John Russell identified these women as ‘her own servants’, among them ladies of her Privy Chamber, who ‘were sworn that same day’.4Muriel St. Clare Byrne (ed.), The Lisle Letters, 6 vols. (London, 1981), III, 713, pp. 395-6. Charles Wriothesley, A Chronicle of England during the Reigns of the Tudors, From A.D 1485 to 1559, ed. William Douglas Hamilton, 2 vols. (1838), vol 1., pp. 43-44.
Lady Jane Grey’s accession, however, was far from secure. Although the duke of Northumberland and the Privy Council had acknowledged her as their queen, Jane, like her predecessors, had to ‘construct’ her queenship. For this her household was of utmost importance. As Jane’s arrival at the Tower would have been the first instance in which she would been openly shown and declared queen to her subjects, it is likely that not only was she instructed on how to behave, and dressed in rich attire for the occasion, but also that a suitable, if temporary entourage befitting her new rank and status would have been appointed. Jane would live like a queen, taking up residence in the royal apartments within the Tower, attended by her servants. Who were these women? And where did they come from?
As queen, Jane may have appointed as her attendants women whom she knew personally. Previously Jane was not of an age or status to require her own household, but she would have retained a few of her own servants. Jane may also have made acquaintances and forged relationships while she resided in the household of Thomas Seymour, baron Seymour of Sudeley, and Katherine Parr, the queen dowager, from early 1547 until the end of 1548. Jane was placed in the household when she was around ten years old, wherein she spent time with the queen dowager and her attendants.5In 1547, John Harington, Seymour’s gentleman, visited Jane’s father and suggested that she take up residence with Seymour. Upon Katherine’s death in 1548, a grief-stricken Thomas considered disbanding his household, before resolving to keep it intact, with Jane to remain with him:
And therfore putting my hole Affyance and Trust in God have begonne of newe to establish my Houshold, where shall remayne not oonelye the Gentlewomen of the Quene’s Hieghnes Privery Chamber, but allso the Maids which wayted at larg, and other Women being about her Grace in her lief Tyme …And therfore doubting, least your Lordship might think any unkyndness, that I shoulde by my saide Lettres take occasion to rydd me of your Doughter so soon after the Quenes Deathe: For the Prof both of my hartye Affection towards youe, and good Will towards hir, I mynd now to keape her, untill I shall next speak with your Lordshipp.6Samuel Haynes(ed.), A Collectionof State Papers Relating to Affairs in the Reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth From the Years 1542-1570, Left by William Cecil Lord Burghley(London, 1740), pp. 77-78.
Here Thomas makes it clear that he intended for Jane to keep the company of Katherine’s gentlewomen and maids. The Seymour-Parr household is where Jane is likely to have struck up a friendship with Anne, Lady Throckmorton. Anne was born Anne Carew, and she may have been the ‘mistress Carew’ who served as a maid-of-honour to Katherine Parr from 1545 until her mistress’ death in 1548.7For the attendance of a ‘mistress Carew’ in Katherine Parr’s household, see, for instance,The National Archives, hereafter TNA, E179/69/48, and LC2/2. In around 1549, Anne married Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, who was also retained in Parr’s household as her sewer, or server.8StanfordLehmberg,Throckmorton, Sir Nicholas (1515/16–1571), diplomat and member of parliament. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. See Letters and Papers of Henry VIII,XXI, i., 1166 and TNALC 2/2for Throckmorton’s attendance on Katherine Parr.Perhaps it was in the service of Henry VIII’s sixth wife that Anne and Nicholas first met. A few years later, in August 1553, when Edward Underhill was interrogated by the council, he identified Anne as one of the ladies attending upon Jane when she was proclaimed queen. It is also likely that it was in the Seymour-Parr household that Jane met her gentlewoman, Mistress Jacob. When Jane was arrested and lodged on Tower Green in the custody of a gaoler, she was visited by a man, probably Rowland Lee, who sat down to dinner with the fallen queen and observed that ‘Jane, being ther present, she sitting at the bordes ende’ was attended by ‘Jacob my ladyes gentill woman.’9Chronicle, p. 25 Jacob is often described as Jane’s nurse, but this was probably not true, and it has been suggested that it was ‘an invention of the late seventeenth century, designed to highlight the poignancy of a young girl being locked in the Tower’.10Leanda de Lisle, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine & Lady Jane Grey(New York, 2009). This ‘Jacob’ could perhaps have been a relation of Nicholas Jacob, who served as one of Katherine’s yeomen from 1545 to 1547.11For instance,Letters and Papers of Henry VIII,XX, ii., 706, or TNALC 2/2for Nicholas Jacob’s attendanceon Katherine Parr. Leanda de Lisle suggests that‘Mistress Jacob’ may have been the wife of one of the Jewish musicians at courtemployed by Katherine. See Lisle, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen
Although Jane should have been free to appoint whomsoever she wished to have as her personal attendants, due to the frenzied nature of her queenship, it is more likely that most of her ladies were the wives, mothers, daughters, nieces and clientele of those men who had pledged their allegiance to Jane, many of whom had served in Edward VI’s household and council. Unlike the female staff of the new queen’s household, the male staff – her gentlemen, yeomen, grooms and pages, among others – could have been drawn from Edward’s household. Those who had served the now-deceased boy king would surely have sought preferment. Some of these men, like Sir John Gates, formerly a Gentleman of the king’s Privy Chamber, need not petition for their place in the new regime. Gates was clearly aligned with Jane, and as Captain of the Guard his support was significant as he could rally many others in the household to her side. Royal households functioned as the core military unit of the monarch. A ‘household-in-arms’ saw its servants muster men and arm them with weapons to prepare to fight on behalf of their royal master or mistress. On 9 July, Gates summoned the archers and
told them publicly of the King’s death, and asked them to swear allegiance to the Crown of England. This they did; and he then declared to them that the King had taken measures by his will for the administration of the kingdom, and told them that they must repair to the Tower the next day at noon to swear to abide by the will.12CSP Sp, XI, p. 78. As reported by theambassadors MM. de Courrières, de Thoulouse, Simon Renard and Jehan Scheyfve to the Emperor.
John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, delivered a rousing speech on 13 July to unite forces in the name of the queen:
My lordes, I and theis other noble personages, and the hole army, that nowe go furthe, aswell for the behalfe of you and yours as for the establishing of the queues highnes… shall not God counte you innocent of our bloodes, neither acquite you of the sacred and holley othe of allegiance made frely by you to this vertuouse lady the queues highenes, who by your and our enticement is rather of force placed therin then by hir owne seking and request…13Chronicle, pp. 6-7
The next day, the duke of Northumberland set out with his army, as did Gates with the ‘household’ corps. Their allegiance was critical. Although Edward nominated Jane as his successor, his sister Mary was regarded by many to be the rightful heir to the English throne. Historians have argued that Mary’s household provided crucial military support in the succession crisis of 1553, and ‘played a central role in securing the throne for their mistress’.14Anna Whitelock and Diarmaid MacCullouch, ‘Princess Mary’s Household and The Succession Crisis, July 1553, The Historical Journal, 50, 2 (2007), pp. 265-287(p. 287).J. L. McIntosh, ‘Sovereign Princesses: Mary and Elizabeth Tudor as Heads of Princely Households and the Accomplishment of the Female Succession in Tudor England, 1516-1558’ (John Hopkins University, Unpublished Ph.D thesis, 2002). Unlike Mary, prior to becoming queen, Jane did not have her own household, nor did she have a core affinity as a landed magnate. Whereas Mary could call upon the loyalty of her servants and mobilise the tenants, retainers and neighbours of her estate, rallying support in East Anglia and the Home Counties to challenge the existing regime, Jane lacked her individual magnetism, longevity and popularity in England.
Although Jane was initially supported by members of the ruling elite, chief among them the Edwardian Privy council, once it became apparent that Mary had the upper hand, Jane’s supporters started to defect. Her councillors, out of fear or treachery, each, in turn, abandoned her.15HastingsRobinson (ed.), Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation(Cambridge, 1846), p. 366. Her ladies, for a while longer at least, remained with Jane. Upon learning that Mary had declared herself as queen and demanded that Jane’s council renounce her, the duchesses of Suffolk and Northumberland reportedly ‘began to lament and weep’.16CSP Sp, XI, pp. 82-3 On 19 July, Anne, Lady Throckmorton, who had been at a christening at the nearby church of All Hallows, had returned to the Tower to an ominous sight: ‘the Cloth of Estate was taken down, and all things defaced’.17‘The examination and imprisonment of Edward Underhill’, in A.F. Pollard (ed.), TudorTracts(New York, 1964), p. 181.Anne Throckmorton had been participatingas a proxy on Jane’s behalf atthe christening of Underhill’s son. It was reported that, ‘with deep sorrow’, Jane ‘withdrew to a private room with her mother and other Ladies’.18Giovanni F.Commendone, The Accession, Coronation and Marriage of Mary Tudor, ed. C.V. Malfatti (Barcelona, 1956), p. 19, quoted in Nicola Tallis, Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey (London, 2016). Commendone was a papal envoy. But not for long, as Jane’s father soon urged all these women to leave the Tower. As Mary’s forces drew nearer, most of the fallen queen’s attendants ‘left… for their own homes, abandoning Jane’.19Giovanni F.Commendone, The Accession, Coronation and Marriage of Mary Tudor, ed. C.V. Malfatti (Barcelona, 1956), p. 21
Shortly thereafter Jane became a prisoner, lodged on Tower Green in the custody of the gaoler, Partridge,20Nathaniel Partridge, according to Tallis, Crown of Blood with only a few attendants of her own: Mistress Eleyn, Mistress Tilney, the aforementioned Mistress Jacob, and an unnamed male servant, described only as ‘hir man’.21Alison Plowdenclaims that the crown paid for her board and lodging(90s. a week), and allowance for her servants (20s. each a week).Alison Plowden, Lady Jane Grey: Nine Days Queen(Gloucestershire, 2004). It is difficult to identify these servants or convincingly establish any prior connection to Jane. It has been suggested that ‘Mistress Eleyn’, or ‘Allan’ in modern spelling, could be a relation of Jane’s uncle, Henry Fitzalan, earl of Arundel.22As suggested by Lisle, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen. ‘Mistress Tilney’, or Elizabeth Tilney, may have been the younger sister of Katherine Tylney, chamberer to Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife and queen.23As suggested by Tallis, Crown of Blood. All of this, of course, is guesswork and speculation – so fragmentary is the evidence, and so short was Jane’s tenure as queen, that we can only identify so few of the women in her service.
Jane stood trial at Guildhall on 13 November 1553, with ‘hir ij. gentyllwomen following hir’.24Chronicle, p. 32. These gentlewomen were surely Eleyn and Tilney, who we know attended to Jane on the scaffold at her execution on 12 February 1554. Proceeding from her lodgings on Tower Green, it was reported that Jane was dressed ‘in the same gown wherin she was arrayned, hir countenance nothing abashed, neither her eyes enything moysted with teares, although her ij. gentylwomen, mistress Elizabeth Tylney and mistress Eleyn, wonderfully wept, with a boke in hir hande, wheron she praied all the way till she cam to the saide scaffolde’.25Chronicle, p. 56 Upon the scaffold, Jane ‘stode up, and gave her maiden mistris Tilney her gloves and handkercher… forthwith she untyed her gown’. When the executioner ‘went to her to help her of therewith’, she refused him, saying to ‘let her alone, turning towardes her two gentlewomen, who helped her off therwith, and also with her frose paast [headdress] and neckercher, geving to her a fayre handkercher to knytte about her eyes.’26Chronicle, pp.57-58.Richard Davey’s account also names a ‘Mistress Sarah’, the wife of Partridge, who also apparently attended Jane on the Scaffold.(Richard P. B. Davey, The Nine Days’ Queen, Lady Jane Grey and her Times,ed. M. Hume (1909)).This source, supposedly a letter from a member of the Spinola family in London at the time, is likely a fraud, and the name ‘Sarah’ itself probably an invention of Davey. Leanda De Lisle, ‘Faking Jane’, BBC History Magazine, March 2010. Jane tied the handkerchief around her eyes, and stumbled towards the block – an 1833 oil painting, entitled ‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’, by Paul Delaroche, illustrated this moment, showing Jane’s gentlewomen to be clearly struck with grief – one of them stands facing the wall, fearful and unable to watch, and the other collapsed, overwhelmed, with Jane’s gown resting in her lap. Now kneeling towards the block, Jane spoke her last words, before her head was struck off with an axe.
It must have been distressing for Eleyn and Tilney to witness these harrowing events first hand. With mistress Jacob and the unnamed male servant, they had been her only companions and had endured with the fallen queen her imprisonment for nearly seven months. After wrapping Jane’s body in cloth and carrying it to be buried at the nearby chapel, Jane’s attendants were now relieved of their duty, but it was unlikely that they would soon forget their mistress who had met such a tragic end.
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