Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Lady Jane Grey

by Michael Bayus

It was on this day, 465 years ago, at approximately 11 hours UTC: that Jane, the rightful queen of England, France and Ireland, was judicially murdered.

As there are countless re-tellings of the events of Lady Jane Grey's execution on that day, I won't make you read another.

Rather, I would like to take a few moments to reflect on Lady Jane's life.

Lady Jane Grey, was born in June of 1536 to Henry and Frances Grey, later Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. Lady Jane was the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary. Under the terms of Henry the eighth's will, the Suffolk family stood fourth in the line of succession to the throne. Consequently, Lady Jane received a princess's education. She was precociously intelligent, reading Greek, Latin and Hebrew by the time she was 9 years old, and was a staunch advocate of the newly established Protestant faith. With the accession of the nine-year-old Edward VI in 1547, the English court became embroiled in a sequence of complex power struggles in which Lady Jane, Edward's cousin, became a pawn. As Edward's health deteriorated in 1553, the powerful nobleman John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, persuaded the young king to exclude his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth and decree that the crown should instead pass to his cousin Jane. She was then hastily married to the Duke of Northumberland's son, Lord Guildford. Northumberland's hold on power seemed secure when Jane was proclaimed queen on Edward's death in July 1553. However, Mary's Catholic supporters staged a rising, Northumberland's army melted away and just thirteen days later the reign of Queen Jane was over. Although her innocence was never doubted, Jane's existence as a possible figurehead of Protestant revolt made her an unacceptable danger to the new regime. She was executed on February 12th 1554, aged 17.

Lady Jane Grey, who was almost eighteen in February of 1554, had matured into a remarkable young woman, only averagely attractive, but with far better than average brains. She spoke Latin, Greek, French, Italian and some Hebrew. She was a patron of London’s Strangers Church for European Protestant exiles, and was admired amongst a circle of clever Protestant women that included William Cecil’s intellectual wife, Mildred. There is no evidence to support the later romanticized gossip amongst Italians that Jane married at the insistence of her mother and the threats of her father. It was usual for the daughters of the nobility to have an arranged marriage made around their sixteenth birthday, and even if Edward lived, Jane’s marriage had great promise. When her father died his title, Duke of Suffolk, was likely to pass to Jane's husband Guildford, who was close to her age and remembered by contemporaries as a comely, virtuous and goodly gentleman.”

Jane was informed that she was named Queen on the 9th of July 1553, three days after her cousin, King Edward VI, died. Once she realized how big the coup was and that it wasn’t going away,
Jane accepted her new role and signed many letters as "Jane the Quene". This came after Mary had declared herself Queen of England and denounced the coup. But while it was expected of Jane to give her signature to important documents and urge others to come to her aide, “The only action which Jane is known to have taken as queen was to deny her husband, Guildford Dudley, the Crown Matrimonial.”

 Jane had alleged that she had been forced into marriage by her parents and that “relations with her spouse were not good.” Yet I contend that it was common of noblemen’s sons and daughters to go into arranged marriages without question, and aware of her position and her lineage, Jane would have known that she had little choice in matters such as these. And being the religious woman she was, marriage was viewed as one of the most important things in a woman’s life. It is possible that Jane might have not liked being married to someone she barely knew, but due to her religious fervor, had come to accept it. But given how kings and queens saw themselves, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Jane might have said this in order to get her way. Jane would die on the 12th of February 1554, after her husband.

 Jane was made into a passive figure later on, a Protestant martyr who refused to accept the crown, who was the victim of her parents' abuse. Think of this distortion as a Snow White washing of Jane. The Victorians wanted to think of Jane as the poor royal trapped in the tower, at the mercy of her evil cousin, and older woman, envious of her beauty, and a dangerous mother who is lusting for power and sees her daughter as nothing more than a tool. And while everyone fights one another, poor Jane stays true to herself, unwavering in her faith, choosing death instead of being a sell-out. While this is partly true (Jane was a fervent believer who never wavered in her faith), it is largely made up. Jane had to be seen as the epitome of the good, Christian woman who was submissive, yet defiant when it came to her faith. During the Victorian age, this myth became bigger and it is one that has endured.

Jane was a strong woman, no doubt. One of the most educated women of her time, who was also independent and although she did not covet the crown, once she was in that position, she did her duty to the best of her ability, urging her father, her father in law, and many others to rally to her cause and stop Mary. When everyone abandoned her, she had no choice but to admit defeat. Jane accepted Mary's reign, so long as Mary would not bring back Catholicism. When Mary did this, Jane became angry and asked the people to "return to Christ's war!" Although her outburst might seem inconsequential to us, it didn't seem so to Mary and her councilors. Several urged her to deal with her right away and Mary often hesitated to do so, but after the Wyatt Rebellion, Mary signed her death warrant.

The Lady Jane, while she was a prisoner in the Tower of London during the last 8 months or so of her short life, took the time to write. Because she knew that what she wrote would be published posthumously, she wrote very carefully worded letters that she, I believe, conceived as performance pieces. She was careful to express her thoughts in a very special way. It was important to her that she be remembered, not just remembered but in a very particular way.

She was so good at it, that people who have read what she wrote, conscripted her for their own use.

I contend that she never expected that. When she knew her death was imminent, she wrote three epitaphs. One in Latin, one in Greek, and one in English.

If Justice is done with my body, my soul will find mercy in God. [Latin]
Death will give pain to my body for its sins, but the soul will be justified before God. [Greek]
If my faults deserve punishment, my youth at least, and my imprudence were worthy of excuse; God and posterity will show me favour. [English]

I believe that %98 of what you read about the Lady Jane Grey is wrong, and it is my life's work to tell her true story.


Michael Anthony Bayus was born in Union town, Pennsylvania and became blind shortly after birth. At three years of age, he was given a small organ on which he began creating tunes and improvising chord progressions. Michael began formal lessons at age eight and began playing in church at fourteen. He has played numerous recitals throughout the United States.

Mr. Bayus earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and a Master of Music degree from The Catholic University of America, where he served as an assistant to Dr. Robert Grogan at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. He has been fortunate to study under Virgil Fox, Gunter Kaunzinger, Marilyn Mason, Marie-Claire Alain, and Jean Langlais.

At the age of eight years, Mr. Bayus was given his first Tape Recorder ostensibly to record, and track his progress as an Organist. Instead, Michael used his Tape Recorder to create and produce Sound
Plays for his own amusement and amazement.

Along the way, while in High School and College, Mr. Bayus participated in various Workshops and courses in Broadcasting and while in College, produced a Radio Drama about the Lady Jane Grey as a final exam for one of those courses. Michael first knew about Lady Jane after hearing a BBC produced radio drama about her at age 12, and became passionate about her from age 14. Mr. Bayus has made the study of Lady Jane Grey's life his life's work ever since.

To that end, Mr. Bayus has published Project GreyNoise, an Audio Book about the Lady Jane Grey.

In Project GreyNoise, Lady Jane Grey is trapped in the 21st century, but willingly. Because she knows that in order to affect change and to accomplish her goal, she must act. It’s hard for her because she knows that if she were to tell people that she really is Lady Jane Grey from 1554, people would think she is crazy. So she plays Miss Jane Dudley, and she oversees an exhibit about herself and dresses up in Tudor costume, and enjoys being herself twice a day, (morning and afternoon,) for her show. As the story goes on, Mike suggests that she put on shows about events in her life as short plays or vignettes in the evening. She does it all so well that she gains a reputation around town. She is very entertaining, and she talks Tudor History as though she really lived it, because she has.

We also get to know Jane, as she assumes the role of Miss Jane Dudley, a hard working modern-day young woman, as she interacts with those she meets when she is not working her exhibit. Only Mike, and Jess know for sure just who she really is. Mike is her best friend, and Jess is the caring Mother that she never had. Her goal is to debunk all of the myths, and misinformation that has grown up around her since her death in 1554. The Victorians really did a number on her, and she has a big job on.’

For further information or to purchase, visit http://ProjectGreyNoise.com

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Editor's Weekly Round-up, February 10, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Never miss a post on English Historical Fiction Authors.

Stephanie Cowell gives us the story behind the story in this Editor's Choice. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

84, Charing Cross Road - The love story of a New York City woman and a London bookshop

by Stephanie Cowell

In New York 1949, in the years not long following the terrible losses in the world from the War, a young writer who had never gone to college sent a letter to a bookshop called Marks and Co. in Charing Cross Road, London. She was determined to be self-educated. She wanted a number of classic books, then only available in old editions; the great cheap reprints of today had not yet been envisioned. She sent the bookshop a list of what she wanted. Back came a letter from one FPD (Frank Doel) for Marks & Co. saying they had copies of a few things on her list and would send them book mail. The invoice would be enclosed with the books. Yes, there really was a world when you could order anything and the seller did not doubt you would pay for it. In England Lyons Tea Shops were all over, and Elizabeth would not ascend the throne for three more years.

Through the mail, Helene Hanff wrote, “I enclose $4 to cover the $3.88 due you, buy yourself a cup of coffee with the 12 cents…Now, do you have….” And back came more estate-quality editions so beautiful she hardly dared read them.

Helene Hanff,who fell in love with an English bookshop
But she was a writer and writers are often poor. The bookshop staff wanted her to visit, but Helene could not afford to go. Instead her best friend went and wrote back to her: “It is the loveliest old shop straight out of Dickens; you would go absolutely out of your mind over it. ….It’s dim inside, and you smell the shop before you see it; it’s a lovely smell….it combines must and dust and age, and walls of wood and floors of wood…the shelves go on forever; they go up to the ceiling….”

You never know what happens when you write a first letter to someone. “Gentlemen” which was the first salutation evolved into “Dear Frankie.” The request for books developed into a friendship with the whole bookshop staff. It led to her sending boxes of meat and dried egg and nylon stockings, things unavailable then in England except under the strictest rationing. 

The correspondence of Ms. Hanff and bookseller Frank Doel continued for twenty years. Their letters were collected into a small book call 84,Charing Cross Road which became an underground classic and earned Helene Hanff hundreds of fan letters from strangers in English-speaking countries around the world. It became a BBC live television play. It became a West End play and a Broadway play and eventually a movie with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

Anthony Hopkins as bookseller Frank Doel in the film
But Helene never met her friend Frankie; he died suddenly in 1968 . Almost the whole of the London antiquarian book trade attended his funeral on a bitterly cold day.

When Helene finally sold enough television scripts to go to England, she found to her great sadness that the bookstore she had made so famous in her little book had closed. Someone had saved the sign for her though. She subsequently wrote two charming small memoirs about her adventures seeing London and England at last, hosted by her huge number of fans and her English publisher. It was a dream come true. The books are The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and Q’s Legacy, which is also about how an American girl who could not afford college fell in love with English literature.

Many people love the 1987 movie version but I feel it pales next to the vivid writing of the actual letters. So if you have not read the actual 84, Charing Cross Road, you can do it in much less than an hour and it will transport you back to the time when you wrote snail mail to bookshops for what you wanted if not available here and didn’t have to pay until after it came and when a London book shop could keep a staff of six or eight employees while selling books through the mail for about two dollars each and probably a lot less if you went in person.

Charing Cross Road as seen in the film

In 1997 my husband and I made our own pilgrimage to 84, Charing Cross Road. At that point, the shop was empty and there was nothing but the plaque commemorating it (see above) and the book Helene had written about it. It was very sad, but there were still a number of second-hand bookshops on the street, and I bought a book in one which I still have today. It was not an antiquarian book but a used paperback, but still I love it.

A few years before I had written Helene Hanff a fan letter; she still lived in the Manhattan apartment house whose address was listed in her books. She was then about 80 years old. She wrote me a lovely handwritten letter back which lies buried in one of the many boxes of papers or I would hope to scan it for this article. I was perfectly thrilled to receive it.

the original edition of the book of letters
I own almost all her books. Mostly they are the story of how one woman loved English literature so much that she made an ordinary Charing Cross antiquarian bookshop into one of the most loved bookshops in the world ever. And so it remains in people’s minds many years after the world it celebrated has changed forever.

This article is an Editors' Choice, originally published on Aug 13, 2015

Stephanie Cowell is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet. She is the recipient of an American Book Award. Her next novel is on the love story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning to be followed by the conclusion of the Nicholas trilogy and an Edwardian love story between two men in the English midlands. Her work has been translated into nine languages. Her website is http://www.stephaniecowell.com. e-mail: StephanieCowell@nyc.rr.com

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, February 3, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

This week on English Historical Fiction Authors, a timely look at the life of a man who cooked for Queen Victoria.  

by Lauren Gilbert

Join us every week when our contributing authors tell of saints or sinners, politics or war. Read about kings and queens, the common people, and social customs from ancient times to post-WWII. Never miss a post on EHFA.