Lady Jane Grey was queen for only nine days yet many do not consider her queen because she did not have a coronation – however, Edward Plantagenet (son of Edward IV) was given the title of Edward V even though he did not have a coronation. So why don’t we refer to Jane as Queen Jane I of England? Both monarchs “reigned” for a very short period of time before they died. Edward’s death is a mystery while Jane’s death was ordered by Queen Mary I after she had no choice but to execute her “rival”.
In this article we focus on what Jane Grey looked like and which of the portraits available to us may closest resembles the “Nine Day Queen” we’ve been described.
‘Today I saw Lady Jane Grey walking in a grand procession to the Tower. She is now called Queen, but is not popular, for the hearts of the people are with Mary, the Spanish Queen’s daughter. This Jane is very short and thin, but prettily shaped and graceful. She has small features and a well-made nose, the mouth flexible and the lips red. The eyebrows are arched and darker than her hair, which is nearly red. Her eyes are sparkling and reddish brown in colour. I stood so near her grace that I noticed her colour was good but freckled. When she smiled she showed her teeth, which are white and sharp. In all a gracious and animated figure. She wore a dress of green velvet stamped with gold, with large sleeves. Her headdress was a white coif with many jewels….The new Queen was mounted on very high chopines to make her look much taller, which were concealed by her robes, as she is very small and short.’ – Baptisa Spinola, 10 July 1553
Here is another description of Jane’s intelligence – found on TudorPlace.com.ar:
Ascham described Jane in a letter of 1550:
“Yet I cannot pass over two English women, nor would I wish, my dear Sturmius, to pass over anything if you are thinking about friends to be borne in mind in England, than which nothing is more desirable to me. One is Jane Grey, daughter of the noble marquis of Dorset. Since she had Mary, queen of France as grandmother she was related very closely to our King Edward. She is fifteen years of age. At court I was very friendly with her, and she wrote learned letters to me: Last summer when I was visiting my friends in Yorkshire and was summoned from them by letters from John Cheke that I should come to court, I broke my journey on the way at Leicester where Jane Grey was residing with her father. I was straightway shown into her chamber: I found the noble young lady reading (By Jupiter!) in Greek, Plato’s Phaedo, and with such understanding as to win my highest admiration. She so speaks and writes Greek that one would hardly credit it. She has a tutor John Aylmer, one well versed in both tongues, and most dear to me for his humanity, wisdom, habits, pure religion, and many other bonds of the truest friendship. As I left she promised to write to me in Greek provided I would send her my letters written from the Emperor’s court. I am awaiting daily a Greek letter from her: when it comes I will send it on to you immediately.”
Of the above images, which do you believe resembles Jane the best from the description given?
Next, let’s compare the images of Jane with her sisters, Catherine and Mary. I picked the one I believed has the most similar features – you may believe otherwise and that is okay.
In 2007, Historian David Starkey believed he identified the only contemporary image of Lady Jane Grey.
Dr. Starkey, a Tudor specialist, claimed that he was “90 per cent certain” that he had succeeded in identifying the first contemporary portrait of Jane Grey, the pious Protestant pawn who was queen for nine days in 1553 before being beheaded at the Tower of London.
The portrait, less than two inches in diameter, belongs to an American collection and is known to date from the mid-16th century. The sitter has never before been named, but Dr Starkey said that he had identified her as Jane Grey from a brooch on her dress and a highly symbolic jewellery spray of foliage behind it, linking her to her husband.
Here is another portrait of Jane’s sister Catherine Grey that I’ve put next to the image that Startkey identified – do you see similarities?
Lastly, we’ll look at the most commonly used image of Jane, the Streatham” portrait from the 1590s is believed to be a later copy of a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey. From the first description, this one does seem to cover all the bases: “small features, a well-made nose, the mouth flexible, lips red, eyebrows arched and darker than her hair, which is nearly red. Her eyes are sparkling and reddish brown in colour.” Would you agree that this would be the most likely portrait of Jane Grey?
We may never know for certain what many of the Tudor figures looked like – paintings are not pictures and contemporary accounts of these people are by people. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? With all this being said, from the description of Jane at the beginning of the piece and comparison with her sisters I still believe the Streatham portrait is most likely the only true image we have of Jane.
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