Or: The Lady Doth Protestant Too Much, Methinks
In 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed by her Protestant followers as the Queen of England. Her reign, however, lasted the historical equivalent of about seven minutes, as she was quickly overthrown and executed by the staunchly Catholic Mary, whom by all reliable accounts was not nearly as much fun to be around.
Foxe, a Protestant himself, was chased out of England upon her death, fleeing for the Continent, where he remained until Elizabeth I came to the throne and again made the country safe for denying transubstantiation. During his time in exile, he wrote a book with the following title:
'Acts and Monuments of these latter and perilous days, touching matters of the church, wherein are comprehended and described the great persecution and horrible troubles that have been wrought and practices by the Romish prelates from the year of Our Lord a thousand to the time now present.'
Put THAT in your card catalog. The book was an enormous success, for, among other things, dramatizing great moments in Protestant martyrdom. Which brings us back to Lady Jane.
One of the more interesting and historically relevant passages in this pageturner of his is 'The Words and Behaviour of the Lady Jane Grey Upon the Scaffold,' a record of the condemned Queen's final moments. Perhaps he really stood witness, perhaps not; but in a country starved for entertainment-there were no playhouses to be constantly closed for sedition and licentiousness yet--whoever was topping the bill on the execution list could be relied upon to draw a crowd.
The text is as follows:
These are the words that Lady Jane spake upon the scaffold, at the hour of her death. First, when she mounted upon the scaffold, she said the people standing thereabout, 'Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact against the queen's highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me; but, touching the procurement and desire therof by me, or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency before God and the face of you, good Christian people, this day.' And therewith she wrung her hands, wherein she had her book. Then said she, 'I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman, and that I do look to be saved by no other mean, but only by the mercy of God, in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ; and I confess that when I did know the word of God I neglected the same, loved myself and the world; and therefore this plague and punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins; and yet I thank God of his goodness that he hath thus given me a time and respite to repent. And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you assist me with your prayers.' And then, kneeling down, she turned her to Fecknam, saying, 'Shall I say this psalm?' and he said, 'Yea.' Then she said the psalm of Miserere mei Deus in English, in the most devout manner, throughout to the end; and then she stood up, and gave her maiden, Mistress Ellen, her gloves and handkerchief, and her book to Master Bruges. And then she untied her gown, and the hangman pressed upon her to help her off with it; but she, desiring him to let her alone, turned towards her two gentlewomen, who helped her off therewith, and also with her frows paste, and neckerchief, giving her a fair handkerchief to knit about her eyes. Then the hangman kneeled down and asked her forgiveness, whom she forgave most willingly. Then he willed her to stand upon the straw; which doing, she saw the block. Then she said, 'I pray you, despatch me quickly.' Then she kneeled down, saying 'Will you take it off before I lay me down?' and the hangman said, 'No, madam.' Then she tied the kerchief about her eyes, and feeling for the block, she said, 'What shall I do? Where is it? Where is it?' One of the standers-by guiding her thereunto she laid her head down upon the block, and then stretched forth her body and said, 'Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit'; and so finished her life, in the year of our Lord God 1553, the twelfth day of February.
Which is, I suppose, as much as one should have to say upon the subject of one's own death, if given the chance. I imagine my own speech would have a lot more 'please God, no's' or 'oh, you bastards' in it.
The Fecknam character, by the way, is John de Feckenham, abbot of Westminster, employee of Mary, converter of heretics. He took his best shot at turning Lady Jane, but, well, there you have it.
At any rate, Foxe's narrative, embellished or otherwise, enjoyed such success that it, along with the rest of his Acts and Monuments, was placed, with every Bible, in every English church at the time.
I got this from an old college handout, but think it was from:
'John Foxe.' The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. 1. Ed. H. Abrams. New York: Norton, W. W. and Company, Inc. 1995.