I've always wondered why this song is my favorite from this prolific period of Bob Dylan's output. The chorded guitar and the organ opening up the tale of this young girl and her relationship with her parents has always given me chillbumps. But I never really knew the history of Queen Jane. Or, if I did, I forgot it.
It would be hard to make the sad story of Lady Jane Grey fit exactly into the lyrics, but the overarching theme is probably this: The young Lady Jane was Queen of England for only nine days, and the singer of this song is reminding his lady love that her fall from whatever pedestal she's on will likely be as swift. It's either that, or the singer is Eternity itself welcoming Lady Jane Grey to His world of forever. Take your pick.
The Queen Jane from history was quite a remarkable young lady, if you can believe what the books tell you. Apparently, she spoke and wrote both Greek and Latin, and also knew Hebrew, Chaldee and Arabic. Her parents had arranged a marriage between her and Lord Guilford Dudley. She would watch her husband's headless body be paraded before her not soon afterwards, just hours before her own death.
The part of the story that made me jelly-kneed was when she was being readied for execution. Beheading was the custom at the time. It is said that the executioner (what a job to have back then, eh?) knelt and asked for her forgiveness. She gave this forgiveness willingly, and then they all waited for five minutes in silence. This was apparently the custom while the soon-to-be-slain awaited a potential pardon. Can you imagine the length of those five minutes to this young girl who just happened to be in the wrong family at the wrong time?
The executioner told the little girl where to stand. She asked him to make it as quick as possible. She began to kneel down on the block and then turned to the executioner and asked if he would remove her head before she laid it down on the block. He assured her he would not. Then she tied her handkerchief around her eyes; perhaps to avoid the old wives' tale about how you can see your own bloody neck hole, if your eyes are pointing in the correct direction, once the head is removed. However, once she had blindfolded herself, she had a panic attack and could not find the block upon which to lay her head. She began to cry in a whispered voice, "Where is it? What shall I do? Where is it?"
The people around her seemed unsure of what to do at this point. One of the watchers at the base of the scaffold climbed up and helped her to the block. Her last words were, "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
She was approximately sixteen years old. She never lived long enough to have children who resented her.