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Lady Jane Grey's Clocks

by Heather Hobden

As the first reigning Queen of England - though for only a few days, Lady Jane Grey has become famous. Much has been written about her, but generally her interest in mathematics and astronomy and her collection of clocks and watches has been overlooked.


A royal school-girl

Jane was born at Bradgate - just north of Leicester. The park and the remains of the house still remain and are open to the public. She was born on the 31st October, 1537, three weeks after Jane Seymour gave birth to King Henry VIII's only legitimate male heir Edward, who was born on the 12th October 1537.

Jane was named after Queen Jane, who had died on the 24th October, probably from food poisoning rather than birth complications, this seems to have been recognized at the time. (see notes at end).

Henry VIII delighted with his new son, told Jane she could ask for anything she wanted. He then left Hampton Court for another of his houses and went hunting.

Jane fell ill after consuming a dish of ortalans she had demanded at 10 o'clock at night - after the kitchen staff would have just put out the fires and retired to bed. (Jane loved fattened game birds, quail was sent to her from Calais.) The new Queen's apartments were still unfinished. Her food had to come from the King's privy kitchen some distance away. The re-awakened staff had to get the fire started and search for ortalans - there were none in the larder. Eventually they found some a few days old in the larder of the apartment of a French envoy in another part of the palace. Then they had to be roasted whole. Ortolans are caught alive and fattened by blinding or kept in a dark box so they overeat, when fat they are drowned in brandy and roasted whole. They are placed in the mouth whole (except feathers) and eaten bones, insides, and all, but the head, which is bitten off.

Correspondence between Henry VIII and his doctors and political advisors reveal not only the cause of her death for which the women looking after Jane were blamed for allowing her to eat whatever she wanted, even when - as in this case - it was unwise. This was unfair since Henry VIII himself had ordered that Jane be given whatever she asked. He then left. Leaving Jane with the remaining servants to look after her. There had been no one left with the authority to counteract her orders, and tell her it was unwise.

The letters also show that he was already making lists of candidates for the next Queen. In the end, though, it was Jane he chose to be buried with. However instead of Jane joining him in the magnificent sepulchre he had spent his life planning but never built - he joined Jane in a vault under the floor of St. George's Chapel Windsor. With the economic recession they could now blame him for, (without risking their necks), they were not going to any unnecessary expense.

Jane Grey's father was Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset and her mother Frances, was the eldest daughter of Henry VIII's younger sister Mary, who had been Queen of France, and then became the fourth (or fifth as one was married twice) wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. So Jane's mother, was Henry VIII's niece and a member of the royal family, and Jane was in-line after her mother to the succession to the throne.

When Henry VIII died in 1547, and Edward became King of England, there was between Jane and the chance of her inheriting the the throne, Edward's two half-sisters, Mary, daughter of Katherine of Aragon, (who was next in line to the succession), Elizabeth, daughter of Queen Anne Boleyn, and Jane's mother Frances. Mary Queen of Scots, being grand-daughter of Henry VIII's elder sister Margaret (whose first husband had been the King of Scotland) should have come before Frances but was omitted when Henry VIII was considering his will and succession. When Henry VIII died, the 5 year old Queen of Scots was expected to eventually marry 9 year old Edward and become Queen of England anyway. After Henry VIII's death though, Edward VI's uncle, the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset sent troops to to enforce this and her mother took her to France where a few years later she married the Dauphin, re-inforcing the Scottish/French alliance.

Jane was nine years old at the time Edward became King of England. With two younger sisters, Katherine, born in 1539, and Mary, born in 1545, Jane now seemed old enough to be sent away to further her education. She was to stay with Katherine Parr, Henry VIII's last Queen, who now married Thomas Seymour, the King's uncle, and younger brother of the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.

King Edward's half-sister, the Lady Elizabeth had remained living with her step-mother Katherine. Although Elizabeth was four years older, she and Jane were to be educated together for a short time, sharing the same tutor - Roger Ascham.

Elizabeth was very interested in mathematics and astronomy. When she was ten years old she asked William Buckley, tutor to the King's henchmen and later lecturer in mathematics at Cambridge, to make her a ring dial.

Jane had already been well educated at home in Bradgate. Jane's nurse since she was a baby, Mrs. Ellen was to remain her closest companion and the most important member of her staff. From the age of seven she had lessons under Dr. Harding her tutor in which included Latin, Greek, and French. Her favourite lesson was music.

Jane's own interest in mathematics and astronomy probably dates from the time when she was living with Katherine Parr. Katherine herself was an intelligent and educated woman with a lively - sometimes dangerous - interest in political and religious reform.

In 1549, Katherine died after giving birth to a daughter - Mary. Jane and Elizabeth remained in the household for a short time after Katherine's funeral at Sudeley Castle. Thomas Seymour hoped to keep both royal girls in his control. He extracted £2,000 - an enormous sum into those days, from Jane's parents to retain guardianship of Jane, by promising them that he could arrange their daughter's marriage to King Edward VI.

When they discovered that Thomas Seymour had been making improper advances to the Lady Elizabeth, Jane's parents took their daughter home.

Thomas Seymour had also over-estimated his influence over his royal nephew. His attempts to see him were thwarted. On one occasion the King hid in the jakes (loo) until his uncle gave up and went away.

Thomas Seymour then tried to enter the King's bedroom at night by way of the Privy Garden. Armed with two loaded pistols, he climbed up the wall and through a window. Edward's pet dog barked at the intruder and Thomas shot it. After which Edward had no hesitation in signing his uncle's death warrant.

Jane had been happier with Katherine, although now she was back at home with her parents and two younger sisters. Her parents were both big and athletic - fond of outdoor sports - they could not understand why they had such petite and in Jane's case especially, bookish daughters. They frequently became frustrated and angry when their daughters failed to meet their expectations.

In 1549 (when Jane was 12) her parents employed a new tutor for their daughters: - John Aylmer a fanatical Protestant. He set the girls, Jane, Katherine and Mary to writing letters to Swiss and German Protestant leaders - amongst them Bullinger of Zurich and his pupil Ulmer. Ulmer came to live at Bradgate and teach Jane and her sisters Latin and Greek. Thus Jane became firmly associated with the Protestant cause - a factor which would lead to her execution at sixteen.


A royal lady at Court

At the age of 14, Jane was no longer treated as a school girl but as a royal lady. She attended the Court. Although their parents were tall, Jane and her sisters all grew up to be well below average height. Jane was thin, not as pretty as her sister Katherine, and had gingery mousy hair and freckles. But still she was a great match. A marriage was arranged to Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, the eldest son of the Duke of Somerset. But the Earl of Hertford's father was no longer Lord Protector. After riots amounting to civil war in 1549, the Duke of Somerset lost his position as head of the governing council. (Edward Seymour eventually married Katherine and they had two children but this annoyed Queen Elizabeth who put them in the Tower).

King Edward VI's new council was led by John Dudley, who became Duke of Northumberland. Edward was now considered old enough to take some active part in the new government and resented his uncle almost imprisoning him in Windsor Castle during the rebellion.

The death of Frances' two younger half-brothers by her father's 5th wife, gave her and her husband the title of Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. Jane's father was a important member of the King's Council. Jane was now formally betrothed to one of the Duke of Northumberland's sons, Guildford Dudley. The wedding which was expected to be a grand state occasion was arranged to take place in May 1553.

Jane gave King Edward a clock for a New Year's gift. Edward VI was interested in astronomy. (See website on King Edward VI's Defence of Astronomy). His tutor, John Cheke, did much to encourage the study of mathematics, both at the royal Court and at Cambridge University where he was a Professor of Greek, and appointed William Buckley as mathematics lecturer. Cheke designed a quadrant for the King with William Buckley, and an astrolabe made by Thomas Gemini which was a gift to the King from the Duke of Northumberland.

The Duke of Northumberland and his wife Joan were both patrons of the sciences. Amongst the mathematicians sponsored by the Duchess of Northumberland was John Dee, who at her request wrote a treatise on the cause of tides and another on the heavenly bodies. Dee was also employed by her son-in-law Henry Sidney (a close friend of the King) to coach Richard Chancellor in mathematics and navigation. They also compiled a new ephemeris table together, as preparation for the expedition which in May 1553 was to set out from London to search for a sea route to China round the north coast of Siberia. This expedition was sponsored by the Duke of Northumberland. Thanks to this extra mathematical training and the instruments that were made for him, Richard Chancellor's ship survived and found a safe harbour in the north of Russia, from whence they were taken to the court of Tsar Ivan IV (later called "the Terrible") and established a trade with England. The other two ships sheltered for the winter in an uninhabited fjord and the crews slowly perished from the cold and starvation.

The numbers of mathematicians and others interested in developing science at court, meant that the English court attracted visits by eminent foreign mathematicians like the Italian Girolamo Cardano. Jane would have had the opportunity of meeting such visitors as she was now part of the cliche of intellectual ladies gathered around the Duchess of Northumberland and her daughters at the Court. The King's older sister Mary had also been a close friend of Joan and her husband for many years since she and Joan were young girls at court - but now because of her adherence to Catholicism was living in Essex where she was allowed to keep her Catholic household despite the opposition of her brother.

Mary was given back her title of Princess, which had been taken from her by her father when he had declared her a bastard. Jane was sent to stay with Princess Mary for a time. Princess Mary was a year older than Jane's mother and the two cousins had been brought up together as girls. With no children of her own, Princess Mary was kind to Jane and her little sisters. She gave Jane pretty dresses and chose to ignore any gauche anti-Catholic comments from her, as she did from her brother, as being due to them being at an easily influenced young age.

It may have been Princess Mary who started Jane's collection of watches and clocks, for Mary collected watches and sponsored clockmakers. At least one of Jane's watches is known to have been a present from Princess Mary.

Two portaits of Mary when she was Queen show her wearing the same watch, in gold filigree with four black crosses. This also doubled as a pomander - an essential piece of jewellry. For Tudor plumbing had not improved since Wolsey built Hampton Court with its jakes (loos) which could be flushed into the drains. It was worse. From one of her Essex palaces Mary and her ladies would go down to the beach at five in the morning - and no one thought it strange that the palace of the leading lady in the Kingdom, sister to the King had no toilets or bathrooms.

A favourite solid fragrance inside the pierced ball of the pomander was a dried orange pierced all over with cloves. Ladies wore their pomanders hanging on a chain or ribbon from the waist, in front of the dress, and watches were worn in the same way. This was fine for a fragrance, terrible for a watch - and we know that Princess Mary's watches needed frequent repairs.


Christmas festivities in 1551 at the court in Greenwich Palace had been a splendid round of festivities on a Space theme, organised by the Lord of Misrule George Ferrers (who emerged from the Moon) and his retinue.

The following summer King Edward went on a long progress around southern England. And the following Christmas Ferrers again organised a massive round of festivity for the Court - this time with the theme of "Outer Space". Although the bills for the previous Christmas still had not been paid.

The Duke of Northumberland skipped spending Christmas at Court. On the 3rd January 1553, he told William Cecil in a letter how ill he had been and how tired he was.

"When others went to their sups and pastimes after their travail, I went to bed with a careful heart and a weary body; and yet abroad no man scarcely had any good opinion of me. And now by extreme sickness and otherwise constrained to seek some health and quietness I am not without a new evil imagination of men. What should I wish any longer this life, that seeth such frailty in it? Surely, but for a few children which God hath sent me, which also helpeth to pluck me on my knees, I have no great cause to desire to tarry much longer here".

On February 10th 1553, Princess Mary arrived in London to visit her brother at Westminster. Massive entertainments were planned for her visit by George Ferrers. But they had to be postponed. For on the same day - 15th February, of Princess Mary's ceremonial arrival at the court, her brother fell ill. He had a fever and apparently was suffering from a cold. It was three days before Mary was able to visit him in his bedroom.

Edward remained in his bedroom for the next month. The cold had gone to his chest, he had difficulty breathing and became weak and thin. He had recovered enough to open Parliament at Westminster on the 1st March. It was Edward VI who gave Westminster Hall to the House of Commons. This was an important parliament for Edward for although still only 15, he was given his majority and full powers of authority. It was also at this parliament that pubs were licensed for the first time. Another legacy of Edward VI's reign.

By the time Parliament was dissolved at the end of March the King seemed to be getting fit and well again, and went out into the park when the weather was fine. On April 11th The King with his Court were conveyed in barges down the Thames to Greenwich. As the royal barge passed the Tower, guns were fired from the ships in the docks.

Then Edward became ill again, and his physicians requested the consultation of other eminent physicians at a council meeting. From a short list of 6, 3 were chosen by Northumberland. These included his own physician, Robert Recorde - an Oxford don, famous for his publication on the Copernican system of the universe in 1552 which he dedicated to King Edward. Two ladies - the wife of Erasmus Kroken - were paid "for things provided", and the Lady Darrell who was paid "for her paynes thenne" are amongst those listed in the Privy Council records of 14th October 1553. (Women were allowed to be apothecaries, though not surgeons or doctors, and women were expected to have acquired some knowledge on the preparation and use of medicines.)

In early May, Edward showed signs of getting better. On the 7th May, Northumberland wrote to William Cecil Secretary of the Council:

"But nowe I will recompfort you with the joyfulle compfort which our phesicians hathe thies too or three morniynges revyved my spirites withalle, which ys that our soveraine lord dothe begine very joyfullye to encrease and amend, they haveing no doubt of the thorro recoverye of his highnes, the rather because his majestie is fully bent to follo theyr councelle and advyce."


Jane's wedding - now Lady Jane Dudley

Jane's wedding on the 21st May 1553 to handsome 18-year old Guildford Dudley should have been the most spectacular social occasion for the Court that year. She was to share her big day and the expensive feasting, games and jousts that went with it, with two other brides. Her sister Katherine (aged 13) was married to Lord Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke's eldest son, and Northumberland's daughter Catherine married Lord Hastings, the Earl of Huntingdon's son.

Two things spoiled the day. Many of the guests went down with food poisoning - attributed to the wrong sort of mushrooms used by one of the chefs. The King sent presents of fabric and jewels for the brides, but was not fit enough to attend the wedding. Jane and her new husband were now happily living together.

During the second week of June, King Edward relapsed with fever. He was unable to keep anything down so his physicians prescribed "restoratives" and he hardly got any rest. His legs swelled and he had to remain in bed. Frances, Duchess of Suffolk, Jane's mother, visited him - ominiously, as she was next in line to the throne after the King's two half sisters.

The King wrote his Device for the Succession himself. On the 11th June, a chosen list of judges, lawyers and others, together with some of the Council were summoned by the King to a meeting to present his device for them to put into legal order. But they went away with many misgivings and objections. In fact they said that the execution of this device after the King's death would be treason.

The King summoned them again on the 15th June and demanded why they had not obeyed his commands. To which they replied that the existing provisions of the Act of Succession could not be changed except by a new Act Parliament. The King was furious and called them traitors. They went away this time to obey his commands in writing out the documents in legal format on parchment with the Great Seal.

They were then all summoned by the King on the 21st June to sign the document - 101 of them did so - those who could find no way of avoiding it.

The reason for their objections was that Edward had omitted his sisters from the succession. He gave three reasons: they might marry a stranger born out of the realm, they had both been declared bastards by their father, and were only half sisters to the King. The King's cousin, Frances, Jane's mother, might have been next but the succession skipped all the women in line to the throne - it was to pass directly to Frances' sons - (of which there were none as yet) then to her daughter Jane's sons (no children at all yet - she had only just married) - and so on. Mary Queen of Scots who should have been before Frances was still off the list.

By the end of June, even Edward himself had given up all hope of recovery. He said he felt so weak that he could not resist any longer and he was done for. He had no strength to stir, could hardly breath, his body no longer performed its functions, his nails and hair were dropping off and all his person was scabby.

(This was also a symptom of lead poisoning. Lead was used in plasters which were used by the physicians in their treatment. They also used arsenic and antimony - and Edward had the symptoms caused by poisoning by those substances.)

The physicians (some of whom had attended both sick beds) recognised his illness as the same which had killed off his half brother the Duke of Richmond, in 1536, aged about 17 and a half. But Richmond had become ill suddenly midday on the 18th July and died in the early morning of the 23rd July. Edward was ill for months. He was just over 15 and a half when he died.

The Council started drawing up their own plans for the succession, and obtaining licences to employ their own men-at-arms.


Jane becomes next in line to the throne

Edward took another look at his Device for the Succession. - He changed "to the L'Jane's heires masles" by crossing off the 's' and inserting "and her" above the line. Jane, not her mother or the King's sisters - ahead of her in the line-up, was now the direct heir to the throne, in a device of disputed legality, signed by reluctant but loyal subjects of the King who felt bound to obey his last wishes. (Forgery was suspected but it looks like the King's writing - and no one - even Northumberland now father-in-law to Jane, but a longtime friend of Mary, stood to benefit from this change in the succession).

Edward died between 8 and 9 in the evening on July 6th 1553. Henry Sidney was with him at the end. Edward's best friend, Barnaby Fitzpatrick - known as the King's "bedfellow" had been sent to France by Northumberland.

Edward's body was left where it was, the Council attempted to keep the news secret to prevent his two sisters taking action.

On the 9th July, Lady Mary Sidney - whose husband was with the King when he died, and who was Jane's sister-in-law, went to collect Jane to take her to Syon House - residence of Mary's father, the Duke of Northumberland.

Jane was told she was now to be proclaimed Queen. She fainted with the news, but soon rallied. Dressed in her most splended court dress and wearing platform soled shoes to make her look taller, she and her husband Guildford boarded the royal barge to be rowed down the Thames to the Tower of London where all England's monarchs stayed before their coronation.

Meanwhile Mary and Elizabeth (who had each been told of their brother's death secretly) collected an army together at Mary's castle of Framlingham in Suffolk. Men flocked their to support Mary's claim.


Jane the Usurper in the Tower

Ten days later Princess Mary was proclaimed Queen and with her sister Elizabeth entered London in a triumphal procession.

Jane's father rushed to tell his daughter in the Tower she was no longer Queen and tore down the canopy over her chair of state.

Jane was removed from the royal apartments to be lodged in the Gentleman-Gaoler's house on Tower Green. Her husband was locked up with his brothers in the Beauchamp Tower - where Guildford wrote his wife's name "Jane" on the wall of his prison cell.

All the jewels and other things that had been taken for Jane from the royal wardrobe in the palace of Westminster, had to be returned - but her own personal possessions had been mixed up with them. Queen Mary offered to send them back to her.

Jane wrote to Mary she no longer needed her dolls. She asked for her clothes, furs, jewrellry, small pictures of her family, and even (for a state prisoner!) a bow and arrows, sword and dagger. She also asked for her clocks and watches.

Jane's mother and her younger sisters were at the court attendant upon Queen Mary. Jane heard she might be allowed to return too if her marriage was dissolved. But the idea had been briefly considered and dismissed.


Jane's Clocks

Jane's clocks are in the list headed "Stuff delivered to the Lady Jane, Usurper, at the Tower, by commandment only, over and above sundry things delivered by two several warrants."

About six months later, Jane's father led an uprising against the Queen, taking advantage of the unpopularity of Queen Mary's plans to marry Philip II of Spain, (unpopular out of fear he would then become king and England would just be part of the Holy Roman Empire - which actually Queen Mary had no intention of happening) and led an armed rebellion against the Queen with the intention of re-instating his daughter on the throne. He failed and was beheaded. Jane's mother Frances, remained at court in attendance on her cousin, now Queen Mary, and married her groom of the stables. She was now 36 and was soon to give birth to a son. Her two younger daughters were also at the court.

(The engraving is from Foxe's Book of Martyrs and not contemporary). Jane and her husband remained in the Tower, kept apart so Jane would not become pregnant. Queen Mary had no alternative but to see Jane and her husband executed before her wedding to Philip. It was a condition of the marriage. Jane (perhaps not realizing that politics must come before sentiment) still thought the Queen would forgive her and reinstate her at court with her sisters.

But Jane had been proclaimed Queen of England. She had an English husband whose father led the earlier rebellion against Mary. Jane was also associated with the "reformed religion" (Protestant), cause. She could continue to be a focal point for any future xenophobic or protestant opponents of Queen Mary.

The day before their execution the couple were allowed to spend together, but although they had been happily married for the short time they had been together, Jane is said to have been reluctant to be with her husband one last time.

On the morning of the 12th February, 1554, Jane saw her terrified young husband being taken to the scaffold on Tower Hill, and then his headless body being brought back in a cart. It was then her turn.


King Edward VI's Defence of Astronomy


a film about Jane (my grand-daughter liked this)


Lost Portraits of Jane?
There are no genuine contemporary surviving portraits of Jane, reliably identified.

A full length portrait which looks just like another portrait of Mary as Princess aged about 28, has been variously identified as Jane, then as Catherine Parr. It is definitely Mary.

At the time Jane married portraits of herself as bride and her husband, might have been commissioned, since then as now, wedding pictures were desired. But either there were portraits now lost or unidentified, or her parents may have had more important things to worry about. Since she became so famous later, that has not stopped later artist's impressions and art experts searching for possible representations in portraits of ladies of the time. It is amazing - and suspicious, when the lost portraits turn out to be someone famous, and not as more likely, someone forgotten. To quote an example:
"David Starkey, a specialist in Tudor history, believes that he has identified a miniature in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art as the only known contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554), queen regnant for nine days (10 July-19 July 1553)."
However: - the age of the sitter in the portrait is clearly indicated and painted beside her head: xviii - that is aged 18 or in her 18th year. Jane was born in October 1537 and executed 12 February, 1554. She never made it to 18.

And there is another portrait identified as Jane which looks like a woman of about 40.

Note re Jane's birth date:
There has been some disputes from certain historians about the date of Jane's birth, but the known date October 1536, looks right. There seems no other reason for her to be called Jane and her mother not to be present at Queen Jane's confinement and her baby's christening. Although she was on the list being the King's niece and one of the "Great Ladies", she was not able to attend because of her own condition. Jane was not the first child, two sons born earlier died.

Note re Jane Seymour's death: The details were in the doctor's reports.


This website written, designed and maintained by Heather Hobden
The Cosmic Elk


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