Few today remember teenage royal Jane Grey when talking about history: ‘the nine days queen’, who was deposed by Queen Mary and soon thereafter beheaded for presenting a Protestant threat to Mary’s Catholic throne. Many that do remember see her as a tragic victim of Queen Mary. Even fewer today remember (I didn’t even know) that Jane had two younger sisters that survived her (for a time) who were heirs to the throne in their own right, yet had equally tragic lives. This was a really interesting and heart-breaking look at the Grey girls whose sons, but for the whims of a queen, might have sat on England’s throne.
Katherine Grey and her sister Mary were ultimately punished for their status in society, and were unwilling and in some cases unwitting victims to one of Queen Elizabeth’s chiefest fears: being pressured to name an heir. Elizabeth was a real person, not just ‘Gloriana’ or ‘the Virgin Queen’ and although no one loved more than Elizabeth to perpetuate her own aura of mystique, she was prey to very real human qualities like jealousy and cruelty.
Elizabeth came to the throne at age 25, after a very tumultuous time period for the English. After that we tend to think that she rode that wave of popularity clear into the 17th century until the day she died in 1603, but in fact she worked every day of her life to keep her position. We’ve already seen through histories lens how this affected Elizabeth. She imprisoned her cousin Mary Queen of Scots and eventually bowed to pressure to behead her for treasonous plots against the throne. Elizabeth, as I mentioned already absolutely refused to name an heir to her throne, and held hostage the lives of any females around her who could present a threat to that – namely by going about their own lives, falling in love, secretly marrying and bearing male children which were that threat Elizabeth hated.
Outraged by her Grey cousins doing what she could not: marrying the one she loved and having children, Elizabeth immediately separated her cousin Katherine (the first to ‘rebel’) from her husband. Katherine bore her two children in prison and died in prison, young and heartbroken, some say she starved herself.
As Elizabeth aged, not gracefully (she had all unflattering portraits of herself destroyed), and was reminded time and time again of her position in the world (an unmarried woman) she held to her throne even tighter. After many years of remaining single, Mary Grey followed her sister Katherine’s example – she also gave her heart to a man and paid the price. I don’t want to go into all the details because the book is interesting enough and real enough to recommend for you all to read!
Ultimately the Grey girls’ sons would have ruled England if not for Elizabeth’s refusal to treat her family who was right under her nose with respect and kindness. Instead she personally made the decision to treat them as threats to her person, and when she eventually died her government had wheedled the deal to which James IV of Scotland (Mary Queen of Scots son) became James I of England. All’s well that ends well? Or were the Grey sons robbed?
I believe Elizabeth had many qualities that made her tenacious and successful, as well as immensely intelligent. I also believe while her upbringing must have been lonely, insecure and even fearful at times; Elizabeth’s other qualities of jealousy and maybe sadness gave her a cold heart towards others and caused her to behave cruelly. I don’t believe it is excusable either, since all conditions are ones Elizabeth imposed upon herself. This story is about the three Grey sisters, Jane, Katherine, and Mary; yet there is no story without Elizabeth. And Elizabeth does not escape from this story without some battering to her reputation.
I believe the author was very fair to both sides, and gave a really nice and clear view of these women history has forgotten, or has smacked with an unflattering Tudor worldview brush.
I apologize if this is a little lackluster, I deleted an ENTIRE draft while trying to SAVE it. I’m still mad.