Debunking the myth of Lady Jane Grey
February 28, 2010 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Debunking the myth of Lady Jane Grey. And it's not just that Guildford was never as beautiful as Cary Elwes.

Also, neither of them were proto-Marxists. That bit in the film was just crazy. But the sheep were apparently quite accurate.
posted by jb (16 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
oops. via A&L daily.
posted by jb at 7:32 AM on February 28, 2010

"Nancy Mitford startlingly told Evelyn Waugh that this image was the source of her adolescent sexual fantasies."

posted by The Whelk at 7:57 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Marvel is getting really outlandish with these What If...? stories.
posted by griphus at 8:03 AM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Guildford was never as beautiful as Cary Elwes.
Well, he certainly was no Farm Boy.
posted by njbradburn at 8:14 AM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

History badly misrepresents and diminishes women -- look, here's my shocked face! I'll call up the Empress Theodora (and all the other Theodoras who get bad press) and we will have a good laugh....

OK, more seriously, an interesting article about a historical figure I have not bothered to learn much about. Nice!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:34 AM on February 28, 2010

What I found really interesting was that my recollection from the movie was that Jane's father and Guildford's father were the primary instigators--I didn't really remember her mother at all. But apparently history has re-written Jane's mother as the problem. Nice post!
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:48 AM on February 28, 2010

I was a bit more persuaded by the idea that her mother Frances has been demonised or at least unfairly painted and set in a standard misogynist frame; I get the point about the virginal imagery of the Victorian-imagined Jane (and the much earlier poem by Thomas linked from the article is quite something) but that's been forgotten for decades AFAIK and while she certainly does appear to have thought her religion through for herself, I would suspect she actually was largely a pawn in the power play of her family and associates - by which I mean it does seem it's the myth of Frances needs debunking more than that of Jane herself.
posted by Abiezer at 8:49 AM on February 28, 2010

Bugger; poem by Edward Young. Not sure where I got Thomas from.
posted by Abiezer at 8:51 AM on February 28, 2010

Without meaning to be dismissive about the article, which is very interesting, I knew I was going to be grumpy as soon as I saw the pop history she was arguing against was Alison Weir, who's one of the few pop history authors that I've actually put down a book and refused to finish it over the sheer badness of her history. I very much enjoy pop history that draws from art, literature, and other cultural materials as much as it does from traditional historical sources. But when I see that the author of the book the article is pushing (Leandra de Lisle) is a columnist for the Spectator and doesn't seem to have any scholarly training, I'll admit I get the history snob heebie jeebies. It makes me wonder what the current scholarship in the field is and how aware the author is of it, and whether her work would stand up to cursory examination by someone who knows what they're talking about.

So I'm intrigued by the take in the article, but I'm wary of how well the competing theses (the Weir take vs the de Lisle take) are going to work out to be supported by the primary sources. I'll still probably take a look the next time I hit the bookstore. Thanks for posting.
posted by immlass at 9:03 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I didn't see any reference to a book hanging out on my to-read list, Eric Ives' Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery--a study by a far, far better historian and biographer who also wrote the standard biography of Anne Boleyn. And some of this debunking has been going on for a while; Rosemary Mitchell, for example, wrote an article on the 19th-c. mythology of Lady Jane for this book (disclaimer: I'm also in there), and Billie Melman discusses the same topic in The Culture of History.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:06 AM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

(side note: that Delaroche painting is amazing up-close)
posted by Jon-A-Thon at 11:16 AM on February 28, 2010

awesome post, thank you! I'll be looking forward to reading this book. I have a ba in medieval history and have always been particularly interested in women in medieval history and woman writers from that time (yes, there are a bunch!)

one of my personal heroes, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was also greatly slandered and misrepresented both in her own lifetime and after, for daring to even try to define her own life and fate at all. Nearly all the 'legend' regarding her is patently false or unsubstantiated. the verified history is fascinating though!
posted by supermedusa at 11:53 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

It seems odd to write an article about 'debunking the myth of Lady Jane Grey' without mentioning Foxe's Book of Martyrs, which did more than any other book to create the legend of Jane as an iconic Protestant martyr. But if Leanda de Lisle had mentioned this, it would have become obvious that she wasn't 'debunking the myth' at all, as her description of Jane as 'an exceptionally well-educated Protestant who shared her parents' intense religious convictions' comes straight out of Foxe. As it happens, I agree with this interpretation of Jane's character, but it's hardly original, and it's a bit disingenuous of de Lisle to suggest that she's overturning the 'traditional story' when in fact she's perpetuating it. Still, she has a book to sell, so I suppose it's understandable.

The Delaroche painting is the centrepiece of a new exhibition at the National Gallery (and Lady Jane Grey's blindfolded face currently appears, in harrowing close-up, on posters all over the Underground); there was a good tie-in piece by Jonathan Jones in last week's Guardian, asking why this painting of Lady Jane Grey's beheading was such a hit in 1830s France and arguing that what Delaroche was really depicting, indirectly, was the French Revolution. This strikes me as a far more interesting and persuasive explanation of the painting's popularity than de Lisle's rather clunking description of it as a 'festishised' (sic) 'image of female helplessness'.
posted by verstegan at 12:03 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

So the debunking is Jane's powerlessness and her mother's abusiveness?

Hm. What was the medieval version of TMZ and tabloids?
posted by medea42 at 2:05 PM on February 28, 2010

I like Kate Beaton's take on Sexy Tudors, too.
posted by zoomorphic at 3:42 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Not from Guilford after all but from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse
posted by MrLint at 7:22 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

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