Tag Archives: England

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Paul Delaroche  Oil on Canvas  1833

On this day, February 12, 1554, teenage former queen of England Lady Jane Grey was beheaded at the Tower of London.  Her cousin, Edward VI, named her as his successor on his deathbed in 1553.  He was bypassing both of his half-sisters, Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn.

Many historians believe the king was pressured by his advisor, who happened to be Jane Grey’s father-in-law, the Duke of Nuthumberland.  And although that may have played a role in his decision, I think he genuinely believed Jane Grey was the right choice for the role.  She was well-educated and well liked, having lived with his step-mother and sixth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr.  It’s said her husband, Lord Guidford Dudley, was the most well liked man in all of England.  And most importantly, she was Protestant.

Of course, she also had a very strong claim to the throne.  She was the granddaughter of Mary, King Henry VIII’s younger sister.  According to his will and the line of succession she was third in line.  Had it not been for a change of heart to add his daughters back in line late in his life, she would have been the first in line.  Many at the time refused to recognize the change in succession, making Jane Grey the most legitimate candidate in their eyes.

However, the line of succession set forth by Henry VIII was clear.  More importantly, Jane Grey’s supporters abandoned her as soon as it was clear that the tide was turning in Mary’s favor.  The young queen, only 16 or 17 years old, was left to face a charge of treason, along with her husband and father.  The treason charge was based on the fact that she signed papers “Jane the Queen” during those nine days.  Although there was an unsuccessful rebellion, Wyatt’s Rebellion, to fight for her cause, it’s generally believed she was not involved in any way.

There is an amazing account of the execution of Lady Jane Gray called The Chronicle of Queen Jane, and of Two Years of Queen Mary.  Below is an excerpt from this anonymous work.

The hangman went to her to help her of therewith; then she desyred him to let her alone, turning towardes her two gentlewomen, who helped her off therwith, and also with her frose paast” and neckercher, geving to her a fayre handkercher to knytte about her eyes.

Then the hangman kneeled downe, and asked her forgevenesse, whome she forgave most willingly. Then he willed her to stand upon the strawe: which doing, she sawe the block.

Then she sayd, booke, good mayster lieuftenaunte, therefore I shall as a frende desyre you, and as a christian require you, to call uppon God to encline your harte to his lawes, to quicken you in his waye, and not to take the worde of trewethe utterlye oute of youre mouthe. Lyve styll to dye, that by deathe you may purchase eternall life, and remembre howe the ende of Mathusael, whoe, as we reade in the scriptures, was the longeste liver that was of a manne, died at the laste: for, as the precher sayethe, there is a tyme to be borne, and a tyme to dye; and the daye of deathe is better than the daye of oure birthe. Youres, as the Lorde knowethe, as a frende, JANE DUDDELEY.”

Here is a link to the book in its entirety: Chronicle of Queen Jane

Paul Delaroche was a highly lauded and critically acclaimed French history painter.  His tendency to paint British historical events made him very popular in England as well as France.  His scholarly dedication to historical accuracy made him popular with art critics and academics alike.

This painting, although showing one brief moment, has the ability to tell such a story.  The former queen’s ladies wail at the loss of their mistress.  One had been her maid since infancy.  Lady Jane Grey reaches her hand out for the block, unable to see.  Her white dress seems to remind the viewer of her youth and innocence, as well as her willingness to accept the punishment of her cousin, the queen.  The executioner looks calm and patient, ready to do his duty.

It’s such a beautiful painting for such a dark moment.  I find it so striking and lovely, and much more powerful than a gruesome, bloody painting would have been.  And although Delaroche took some liberties with the setting, he did a superb job of depicting an important historical event accurately and wonderfully.

When you think about it, Lady Jane Grey is just another person destroyed in the wake of Henry VIII.  His muddled succession wishes, the division between not only his counrtymen, but his own children in their views of religion, and his overall disregard for human life he seems to have passed down to his heirs.  So today we remember Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Day Queen, her life given in the service of sovereign and country.

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HRH Princess Anne, Princess Royal

 

June Mendoza  Oil with Pastel  1983

Happy Birthday to Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, Princess Royal, who turns 66 today.  Princess Anne holds the title Princess Royal, as she is the eldest daughter of the British Monarch, HRH Queen Elizabeth II.  She is the younger sister of Prince Charles.

Often over shadowed by her older brother and her younger brother, Prince Andrew, Duke of York and their children, Princess Anne began taking on royal duties at a young age.  Following her graduation, she immediately began representing the Royal Family at engagements.  She was the first member of the Royal Family to have an official visit to the Soviet Union in 1990.

Aside from her royal duties, she keeps extremely busy with charitable work.  She has been the president of Save the Children for over twenty years.  She continues to maintain a hectic schedule saying she likes to be busy and is meant to work.

By all accounts, HRH is down to earth and level-headed.  Her children, Zara and Peter, do not have titles.  She refused their right to honorary titles.  Instead, they carry the last name of their father, Mark Phillips, whom she divorced in 1992.  Most would argue this divorce made it easier for nephews Charles and Andrew to obtain divorces shortly after.

Although the divorce caused a bit of a stir, she hasn’t created much controversy.  Aside from some love letters to and from her second husband (hence the divorce), she’s kept a pretty low profile.  Her biggest “scandal” (if one can even call it that), was her statement that the UK should reconsider their ban on horse meat consumption.

The statement caused quite a kerfuffle, particularly since HRH is an accomplished equestrienne.  She was the first British Royal in history to participate in the Olympics in Montreal in 1976 (Zara would follow her in 2012 in London winning a team silver metal).  However, she gave some very legitimate and interesting arguments about horse welfare when owners know they can sell the horses for meat after their athletic careers are over to keep them in good health.

Her official title is Her Royal Highness The Princess Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise, Princess Royal, Royal Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Extra Lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Dame Grand Cross and Grand Master of the Royal Victorian Order, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.

June Mendoza is an Australian portrait painter.  She is a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and has painted several royal portraits.  This painting was commissioned in 1983 for the Royal Scots, in which HRH Princess Anne is the Colonel-in-Chief.

I find this portrait interesting partly because it is so flattering.  Of course, Princess Anne is quite a bit younger in this painting, but it seems she may have taken just the right amount of liberties to accentuate her positive attributes.  It’s also interesting to see her presented in such a girly, fluffy dress.  HRH has always been considered a tomboy, and has never been shy about admitting she has no interest in fashion.  Aside from the odd selection of dress, I think it’s still a lovely portrait.

Happy birthday to the most under appreciated British Royal, HRH Princess Anne, Princess Royal!

The Vienna Portrait

Michael Sittow  Oil  1500-1505

There are few subjects I can talk about more than Henry VIII and his wives.  I’m pretty convinced I’m probably the premiere expert in at least a six block radius.  Of course, I have no way to prove this.  It’s probably better that way.

Generally, this portrait is considered to be Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII.   Today is the anniversary of their marriage.  The daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, THAT Ferdinand and Isabella), she with betrothed to Prince Arthur at the age of three.

What most people don’t realize, is although she was a princess of Spain, Aragon, and Castile, she also had a strong claim to the English throne in her own right.  Some historians would suggest she actually had a better claim than either of her husbands or her father-in-law, Henry VII.  Her ancestry  goes back to John of Gaunt, the Plantagenet Duke of Lancaster, son of King Edward III.

If you take even a short look through her ancestry you’ll see that her heritage is more British, and certainly more royal, than practically anyone in history.  And although popular culture likes to portray her as dark complected with black hair, she actually had a very Anglican appearance with a pale complexion and red hair.  Yep, red hair.

She was married to Prince Arthur at 16 years old for less than six months before his death.  Both succumbing to a sickness shortly after they wed, the marriage was never consummated.  She became a pawn between her father, King of Castile, and her former father-in-law, King Henry VII of England.

Catherine was raised to be a queen.  She was well-educated and extremely smart.  She would not be played.  To support herself and her ladies-in-waiting she became the official Spanish ambassador to England.  She was the first female ambassador in all of Europe.

After several years of limbo between the two fathers, everything changed when Henry VII died suddenly.  There are many conflicting opinions as to Henry’s opinion of Catherine before their marriage, but he married her immediately after he became king.  That was this day, June 11, 1509.

I happen to be of the opinion that Henry was quite fond of Catherine at this point.  They had known each other well during his most formative years.  I believe he felt a sense of protectiveness for his brother’s young widow, but also respected her lineage and intelligence.

Like I said, I could yap about this for days.  I’ll save some for another day and choose to just remember the happy occasion of their wedding today.  Happy anniversary King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon!

Queen Victoria

Franz Xaver Winterhalter  Oil  1843

Today we celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria, who was born this day in 1819.  Sorry to the folks in Canada and Scotland that celebrated on Monday as a bank holiday.  I guess you’ll all be at work today and can’t read this anyway.

Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India was born fifth in line to the crown.  Just months before her 18th birthday, her uncle, King William IV, was the last man standing between her and the crown.  He swore to her he would stay alive until her 18th birthday so her mother (his sister-in-law) would not be regent.  He kept his promise, and died a month after her birthday.

However, even as a queen she needed a chaperone as she wasn’t married.  She wasn’t thrilled about her mother living with her.  Her mother’s overbearing “advisor” (most likely lover) was unwelcome and powerful, a dangerous combination.

The best remedy to an overbearing mother living with you is to get married.  Victoria’s beloved Uncle Leopold (her mother’s brother), King of Belgium, put forth his nephew Prince Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.  Yep, that was her first cousin.

The Queen had always enjoyed his company and found him handsome and intelligent.  They were married in 1840 and had nine children and 32 grandchildren.  Theirs was a love affair of the ages.

The Victorian age is generally known for its extreme modesty.  This is mostly given to the fact that the Queen was raised in practical seclusion with intense rules set forth by her mother to avoid any scandal to ensure she would be queen.  That’s why this painting is so fascinating to me.

This oil painting was only recently unveiled at Buckingham Palace.  The Queen commissioned it herself as a gift to her husband, Albert.  It was painted in 1843 by renowned royal painter Franz Xaver  Winterhalter.

Winterhalter was the court painter of King Louis-Philippe of France, but painted portraits for several royal families around the world.  He was in demand all around the globe, including Russia and Mexico.   He painted over 120 portraits for the English royal family during Victoria’s reign.

Queen Victoria was 24 when she sat for this painting.  It reminds me a bit of those “boudoir” photos that have become popular recently.  It’s meant for her husband alone, and it shows a side of her only he should see.

It’s not so much the amount of skin shown, as the off the shoulder costume was quite popular, but other aspects that would have made it quite scandalous (at least to her mother).  The necklace rests on her chest, which draws your eyes down the pristine white skin.  Of course, she’s completely covered.  The hair seems almost carelessly tossed over one shoulder and lands near the necklace as well.

Her look is far off and wistful, longing.  She is not a queen in this portrait.  She is a young wife.

Queen Victoria reigned for over 63 1/2 years before her death at age 81.  Until this year when her great-great granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II surpassed her, she was the longest reigning monarch in history.  She is most commonly known for her long mourning period after the death of her husband.  She continued to wear black from the time of his death in 1861 until her own death in 1901.  She was buried in white, by her own request.

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty.

 

 

 

St. George and the Dragon

Vittore Carpaccio  Tempera on Panel  1502

Traditionally, the people of England celebrate St. George’s Day on April 23 to commemorate his martyrdom on this date in 303 AD.  Like most saints, it’s very difficult to separate historical fact from myth.  St. George’s story swirls with contradictions and mystery.  I won’t even bother to try to get to the bottom of it,  I’ll just hit some highlights.

St. George was a Roman soldier in the time of Emperor Diocletian in the late 200s CE.  His father had been a Roman army official in what is modern day Turkey.  His mother was from Palestine.  They were both Christians and raised George in their faith.

Possibly because the emperor knew his father, George rose quickly through the ranks and was part of the Imperial guard by his mid 20s.  On February 24, 303 CE Diocletian issued an edict essentially demanding the conversion of all of his army.  Each soldier was to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods.  Not only did George very publicly refuse, he declared he was a Christian.  Although offered riches and land, he held to his beliefs.

He knew his execution was imminent, so he gave his money and possessions to the poor.  He suffered through torture, although the stories of his torture vary widely.  Most stories say he died on three separate occasions and was brought back to life.  Eventually, he was decapitated to finish him off.

There are many, many stories and myths surrounding the slaying of the dragon.  Most involve some sort of damsel in distress.  There is one version that I like best.  It says that Diocletian’s wife, Empress Alexandra, witnessed George’s torture and suffering.  She was so moved by his resolve that she too converted to Christianity.  She is the damsel present in the story.

The dragon is the representation of Diocletian himself.  George “slayed” Diocletian not by killing him, but by standing by his faith.  By doing so, his death brings Empress Alexandra to the light, freeing her from her unchristian life and missing out on eternal afterlife.

It’s said his story was brought back to England by the Crusaders.  The story also spread to the Eastern Roman Empire and eventually to Georgia, where he is also the patron saint.  No, the country was not named for him, but they don’t really mind if you think that.  There are numerous stories of St. George protecting armies and heartening soldiers.

Vittore Carpaccio was a Venetian artist in the late 15th, early 16th centuries.  He was one of the early masters of the Venetian Renaissance and studied under Bellini.  His style evolved into what is considered “orientalist,” which is the category in which  St. George and the Dragon falls, generally meaning he used a Middle Eastern setting with more accurate architecture and details.

Like many versions of the St. George story, this painting is set in Beirut.  The buildings in the background are obviously designed to represent Lebanon.  The landscape is sand with little vegetation.  It is slightly annoying to me that St. George is blonde as his father was Turkish and his mother was Palestinian, but I guess you can’t have everything.

In the far right you see the woman, Empress Alexandra in my mind.  She’s in prayer to be saved.  St. George is on his stallion slaying the dragon with his lance.  And scattered on the ground are body parts and skulls, representatives of the victims of the beast.

Regardless of how you view the St. George story, I encourage you to take a close look at this wonderfully macabre painting.  I also encourage you to read some of the many, many versions of his story.  Happy St. George’s Day!

 

 

 

Her Majesty the Queen

Lydia de Burgh  Oil Painting  1955

Happy 90th birthday, dear Queen!  I could spend days and days writing about Her Majesty, but instead I’ll just hit some highlights.

HRH Princess Elizabeth of York was being raised to be a royal princess, the niece of King Edward VIII.  It wasn’t until she was 10 years old that her future changed.  The King abdicated for the love of a woman (certainly worthy of a post of its own in the future.)  She would now become the daughter of the King and heir to the throne.

At just thirteen she met the man she would marry and never had eyes for anyone else.  He was the extremely handsome and downright dreamy navy man, Philip, Prince of Greece and Denmark.  Not a bad catch.  This wasn’t an arranged marriage and was discouraged by her father, the King.  Again, look out for a future post about their lives together.

At 18 years old, after much persuasion, her father allowed her to join the war effort.  She joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service with the rank of subaltern.  She was trained as a mechanic and ambulance driver during WWII.  To this day, she still loves to drive.  She is the only female member of the royal family to join the military in history.

In 1947 she wed her prince, who gave up his titles, his religion, and his navy career to become a naturalized British citizen and the Duke of Edinburgh.  She used her war rations to purchase her wedding dress.  The ingredients for her cake were donated by the Australian Girl Guides.  She would send a layer of her cake to Australia in appreciation.

Just a few years later at the young age of 25 she would ascend the throne after the death of her father.  Officially, her title was by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Queen, Defender of the Faith.  She was Queen not only of Great Britain, but also Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and numerous islands and smaller countries.  Throughout her reign she has been the Queen of many countries and territories, including Pakistan, Kenya, Jamaica, Malta, and many others.  Her reign is now the longest in British history.

Lydia de Burgh was the first resident Irish artist commissioned to paint Her Majesty the Queen in 1955.  She was a student of the masters, and I believe that shows in this portrait, which I love.  The coloring of her skin is lovely, and the detail in the fabrics and the wall are subtle but intricate.

The queen is young and pensive, but somehow strong and determined.  I think her face has a hint of sadness at the loss of her father while he was so young, and also the loss of the freedom she would have enjoyed as the niece of a king as opposed to a queen at 25.

You can send Her Majesty a birthday greeting here: https://www.royal.uk/messagetothequeen