Government Too Important: Lady Jane Grey and Exceptional Christians

Being in the limelight was not something Jane was used to, nor is it something she sought. In fact by all accounts, Providence would seem sure to appoint one of her cousins, either Mary or Elizabeth, to a high and lofty place of worldly renown rather than this young lady, not yet 16 years old. And this all suited Jane just fine. Christ was first, and pleasing Him mattered to her more than anything in this world. And while that sounds like a platitude, for Jane it would become a real test of faith, for she was about to be offered nearly the whole world, in exchange for a little compromise.[1]

Though Lady Jane Grey had many artistic and musical talents and spoke many foreign languages, it was her humility, great integrity and extraordinary love of God which now stand out in contrast to the ambitions of her father and father-in-law[2] who were willing to use all kinds of chicanery in their plot to replace the ailing King of England with a member of their family, namely Lady Jane. These two men used forged documents to lure Mary—the natural heir to the throne—away from her brother, King Edward VI, then used manipulation to persuade the dying king to order that Jane be his successor.

After the king died, the only thing that remained was to gain Lady Jane’s consent. When the throne was presented to her, her reaction was one of great resistance. She believed that

“…it were to mock God and deride justice, to scruple at the stealing of a shilling, and not at the usurpation of a crown. “Besides,” said she, “I am not so young, nor so little read in the guiles of fortune, to suffer myself to be taken by them….My liberty is better than the chain you proffer me, with what precious stones soever it be adorned, or of what gold soever framed. I will not exchange my peace for honourable and precious jealousies, for magnificent and glorious fetters. And, if you love me sincerely and in good earnest, you will rather wish me a secure and quiet fortune, though mean, than an exalted condition, exposed to the wind, and followed by some dismal fall.”[3]

Nevertheless, against her own better judgment and due to the pressures of all her immediate family members, Lady Jane Grey agreed to her enthronement on July 10th, 1553. When the tables were turned and Mary was proclaimed to be queen in Jane’s stead only nine days later, her conscience was given some relief. Upon hearing the news from her father, she told him:

“I better brook this message than my former advancement to royalty out of obedience to you and my mother, I have grievously sinned, and offered violence to myself. Now I do willingly, and as obeying the motions of my soul, relinquish the crown, and endeavour to salve those faults committed by others (if at least so great a fault can be salved) by a willing relinquishment and ingenuous acknowledgement of them.”[4] (emphasis mine)

By November of 1553, all of the conspirators were rounded up and put in prison, including Jane, her father, and her husband, Lord Guilford. Shortly afterwards, they would all be found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. On February 9th of the following year, Queen Mary would send an envoy, Dr. Feckenham, abbot of Westminster, in an attempt to have Jane renounce her faith in Christ alone and embrace Catholicism. Though he was very kind to Jane, his efforts failed.[5] On February 12th, about an hour after her husband was beheaded, she herself went to the block with this testimony on her dying lips:

Good people, I am come hither to die; and by law I am condemned thereto. The fact against the Queen’s highness was unlawful, as was the consenting thereunto by me; but, touching any procurement and desire thereof by me, or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof, declaring my innocence before God and the face of you good Christian people this day….[6] I pray you all to bear me witness, that I die a true Christian woman, and that I look to be saved by no other means but only by the mercy of God in the blood of His only Son, Jesus Christ; and I do confess, that when I did know the Word of God I neglected it, and loved myself and the world; therefore this plague and punishment is happily and deservedly happened unto me for my sins; and yet I thank God that He hath given me a time and respite to repent.[7]

Lady Jane Grey learned the hard way that attempting to gain political power or religious influence by abandoning principle was a losing proposition. It was only when she repented of submitting to the manipulations of others and regained her footing that she was able to have the greatest impact possible: as a witness to the Lordship and saving power of Jesus Christ. Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Seminary in California, adds:

When you look at the history of the church, it’s the people who refused to compromise, who in fact were the greatest influence in the long run…. Because I think as often as not, it’s really the person who has made the compromise that has been influenced, rather than becoming a positive influence on others….[8]

Exceptional Christians[9]

Many godly Christians only think about politics and government when an election day approaches or when the latter imposes some obtrusive regulation upon their lives. I don’t see a problem with that. Those folks don’t eat, drink and sleep politics, nor spend the day trying to figure out how to wheedle their way into the corridors of political power nor impose narrow and bigoted notions on the backs of an unsuspecting public as they are often accused of doing by the left. For some Christians, the stereotype simply doesn’t apply.

The standard day for these Christians is spent doing the things other Americans do: working hard, playing with the grandkids, taking out the trash and praying for a way to pay the bills. Some of us worship together at home with prayer, the singing of Psalms and the reading of Scripture. Nevertheless, we put our pants on one leg at a time, just like everybody else. Government is not in all our thoughts (cf. Ps. 10:4). If dominion means being the best grocer or school teacher one can be, many of us are already doing that. If it means to witness and do what is right in the field of medicine or law or business, we are doing that, too.

It is not that we deny Christ’s Lordship in every area of our lives, nor do we deny that God should rule in the workplace, family or church, as well as our personal lives. God rules in the civil realm as well, so even governing magistrates should behave like Christians. What we do deny is that politics and culture, which shall soon pass away, should be central to our lives. We are only pilgrims living under the world’s systems, which too shall pass. Even present suffering due to persecution is bearable only in light of eternity (Rom. 8:18-20).

It is central to the theme of this book, likewise, that more political involvement is not the key to pleasing God, but it is that our involvement should be righteous, both in our motivations and our actions.

It is our worldview that deceives us. Francis Schaeffer pegged it when he said:

“There is only one perspective we can have of the post-Christian world of our generation: an understanding that our culture and our country deserves to be under the wrath of God. It will not do to say the United States is God’s country in some special way. It will not do to cover up the difference between the consensus today and the Christian consensus that prevailed sixty years ago.[10]


[1] What could possibly be wrong with that? If you are a Christian, aren’t you a king’s kid? Shouldn’t we be using our talents to rule in this world? It’s a good thing to seek out places of influence, isn’t it? No, compromise for the purpose of influence-peddling is a deal with the devil. Whatever unethical deed a politician will do to get elected, he will do to stay elected

[2] The Duke of Suffolk and the Duke of Northumberland, respectively

[3] Chalmer’s Biography (1812), Lady Jane Grey (?–1551) [vol. 16, p. 316]

[4] Ibid.

[5] In her last meeting with Feckenham she wryly said “God will abundantly requite you, good Sir, for your humanity to me, though your discourses gave me more uneasiness than all the terrors of my approaching death.”

[8]Audio recording,  Interview with Office Hours, http://wscal.edu/resource-center/resource/the-myth-of-influence1

[9] I do not use this word to imply that these Christians are closer to God or more pure and spiritual. I mean they are the exception, not the rule.

[10] Francis A. Schaeffer (1984) The Great Evangelical Disaster, Crossway Books, p. 29.  It is notable that this was written in the middle of the Reagan years, when many Christians thought we had arrived, politically speaking.

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Comments

  1. PhD Historian says

    Wow … what a wonderfully biased and factually erroneous article! Chock full of the 19th-century Victorian mythology that was so lavishly heaped on Jane Grey by evangelicals eager to create a feminine quasi-saint through which opposition to the Catholic Emancipation Act could be voiced. May I suggest that the author read some legitimate historical works on Jane Grey, rather than the polemical nonsense of Victorian evangelicals?

    • Guest says

      And, of course, you, dear Dr, would not be biased in any way or influenced by an anti-Protestant or anti-Christian bent. I would be glad to read some articles with a contrary viewpoint, that I hope are as terribly unbiased as your review of my post and upon your recommendation.

  2. PhD Historian says

    For a good history of Lady Jane Grey, written by a man who was both a respected academic historian and a committed Christian Methodist lay minister, I suggest “Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery” by the late Eric Ives. You might also have a look at Leanda de Lisle’s “Sisters Who Would Be Queen”. Though Ms de Lisle is a Catholic, her book is similar to Ives’s in that she cuts through the false modern mythology and uses proper academic research and historiographic methodologies to uncover the Jane Grey reflected by documents survivign from Jane’s own era. And for the record, I am neither “anti-Christian” nor “anti-Protestant”. What I AM “anti-” … what I do oppose … is the falsification, whether deliberate or accidental, of history to serve an agenda. The Chalmer biography cited by this article was written to serve a very specific agenda and is largely useless in the context of Jane Grey.

    • says

      We have provided you a forum to challenge what has been written. Why not just come out with it? Please tell me what errors you allege in the vignette I have provided. To suggest that de Lisle and Ives have written without an agenda is to misunderstand human nature. You can certainly dispute the facts, if you will, but identifying an agenda, only shows (along with the tone of your first response) that you have an agenda as well.

      • PhD Historian says

        Errors of fact:
        Jane was already 16 at the time she was proclaimed queen. She was born in late 1536, not October 1537.
        There is zero documentation to suggest that she was either artistically or musically talented. I would be fascinated if you could produce such evidence from someone who actually knew her.
        There is zero evidence of “forged documents” being used to “lure” Mary “away from her brother”. I would be fascinated if you could identify those documents.
        Edward was not “manipulated” into naming Jane as his heir. The idea was his own, though Dudley later saw personal advantage in supporting Edward’s idea.
        The entire quote from Chalmer is pure fiction. For what Jane actually said, I refer you to Giovanni Francesco Commendone’s eyewitness account of Jane’s confession, “Il Successi d’Inghilterra”, later reprinted in Girolamo Pollini’s “L’ Historia Ecclesiastica della Rivoluzion d’Inghilterra” (1594).
        The same applies to the Chalmer quote on her removal from the throne: pure fiction. Again, see Commendone, Pollini, et al.
        The persons involved in the events of July 1553 were not “rounded up by November”. In fact, Dudley was tried and executed in the third week of August. Jane and Guildford were imprisoned on 19 July 1553 and *tried* in mid November. Jane’s father was held only very briefly, and then released on bond in August. He remained free (NOT in prison) from August until the following February. He even served as godfather to a child of Bess of Hardwick, alongside Queen Mary as the godmother(!), during that period of total freedom. The vast majority of the others involved (William Parr, William Paulet, William Cecil, and many others) were never imprisoned.
        Yes, I have an “agenda”, but it is not a religious one. It is a historical one. I am a historian, and I always get irritated when people misuse, misrepresent, or falsify historical facts. Was Jane a paragon of Protestant Christian virtue? Quite possibly. But can’t you demonstrate that using actual historical evidence, rather than by using 19th-century myth and fiction?