“Now, as touching my death, rejoice, as I do, my dearest sister, that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption; for I am assured that I shall, for losing a mortal life, win one that is immortal, everlasting, and joyful….” —Lady Jane Grey
The teenage years and adolescence are often characterized as tumultuous years marked by moodiness and rebellion against authority in its various forms. Interestingly, the whole idea of adolescence is a twentieth century idea. Adolescence was “discovered” by G. Stanley Hall, first President of the American Psychological Association, in 1904, and the word “teenager” was first coined in the 1940’s. Hall said this was a period between childhood and adulthood characterized by “storm and stress.”
Execution of Lady Jane Grey.
In the early 20th century, with the advent of child labor laws and universal education, “teenagers” had more time on their hands and did not have to become adults so quickly. During the last part of the twentieth century, mass media encouraged a youth culture with its own music, dress, and literature, while adolescence emerged as a field of study. The period of adolescence expanded beyond the teenage years into the twenties and even early thirties for some. Yet, this period of adolescence is unknown in many societies or in earlier periods of history. A period of childhood was followed by being an adult, without an intervening stage of development. The boy or girl looked forward to being a man or woman, and maturity was something valued, not postponed for years.
An example of the maturity which could be attained in the teenage years can be seen in the life and writings of Lady Jane Grey. Jane Grey was intimately connected with royalty from her youth. Her grandmother was a sister of Henry VIII, and Jane herself was named after Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife and mother of Edward VI. Jane’s father was a committed Protestant, and her mother was extremely strict. Jane found refuge from her harsh home environment by losing herself in her studies and becoming something of a prodigy. She was fluent in French, Italian, Latin, and Greek, and could also read Hebrew. Jane had a great interest in biblical studies, lovingly reading her Greek New Testament for words of eternal life. When she was fifteen, she corresponded with Heinrich Bullinger, the Swiss Reformer, about theological questions.
When it became clear that the he was not long for this world, young King Edward in his will sought to change the succession from Catholic Mary to the Protestant Jane Grey, his cousin once removed. Edward’s will was approvingly signed by the whole Privy Council as well as other nobles, bishops, and judges. The Earl of Northumberland, the power behind Edward’s throne, at the same time arranged for his son, Guildford Dudley, to marry Jane. Hers was an arranged, political marriage, as were many of the marriages of nobility of that day. May 25, 1553, Jane and Guildford were married in a gala triple wedding ceremony which included the marriages of Jane’s two sisters.
Six weeks after her marriage, on July 6, King Edward VI died. His death was kept quiet for a time, but on July 9th, Jane was told that she was queen. The fifteen-year-old Jane immediately fainted at the news. The next day she was proclaimed as Queen throughout London and taken to the Tower, where she would await her coronation. While Jane followed Northumberland’s and her parents’ instructions in acting as queen, Mary was gathering the support of an army and the people to march upon London and take the throne she thought rightfully hers. Jane’s “reign” lasted nine days, as Mary successfully took the throne to the acclimation of the people.
Northumberland was arrested and later executed. Jane and her husband Guildford were tried, convicted of high treason, and condemned. At first Mary tended to be lenient with Jane, preferring not to execute her. However, when Jane’s father became part of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion in January, Mary thought it too dangerous to allow Jane to live. Jane was beheaded on Tower Hill February 12, 1554, reciting Psalm 51 before the executioner struck the blow. She was only seventeen. Though she was the victim of the political and religious conflict of the times, Jane unwaveringly maintained her love for Christ and His Word to the end.
Before her death, Jane gave one of her prized possessions, her Greek New Testament, to her sister Katherine. At the back of the Testament, she wrote a letter expressing her Christian faith:
“I have sent you, my dear sister Katherine, a book, which although it be not outwardly trimmed with gold, or the curious embroidery of the artfulest needles, yet inwardly it is more worth than all the precious mines which the vast world can boast of: it is the book, my only best, and best loved sister, of the law of the Lord: it is the Testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches and wretched sinners, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy: and if you with a good mind read it, and with an earnest desire follow it, no doubt it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life: it will teach you to live, and learn you to die: it shall win you more, and endow you with greater felicity…”
At seventeen, Lady Jane had grown into a mature woman, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)
Diana Severance is the director of the Dunham Bible Museum of Houston Baptist University. Check out their special exhibition and lectures on Luther and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
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