Bookish, bartered and betrayed: few girls, even in the British Royal Family, were as hounded as Lady Jane Grey. Almost three hundred years after her execution, Charles Dickens, who made a specialty of exploited children, wrote that the English axe "never struck so cruel and so vile a blow." Jane was a cousin of Edward VI, the only son of Henry VIII. As
Edward lay dying, he tried to secure the legacy of his father's Reformation by making Jane, an ardent Protestant, queen. She was fifteen. The scheme failed—her reign lasted nine days, the shortest of any British monarch—and she was held in the Tower of London [for seven months]. The icy morning of her death, in February, 1554, Jane watched from a window as the headless corpse of her husband, Guilford Dudley, returned from Tower Hill in a cart. On the scaffold, she asked for forgiveness in accepting the crown but maintained her innocence in the plot that had resulted in her succession. She recited the Fifty-first Psalm—"Let the bones you have crushed rejoice"—and asked the executioner to kill her quickly. Her nurses shrank back, in tears. Jane, blindfolded, knelt and groped for the block, asking, "What shall I do? Where is it?"
—Cynthia Zarin, "Teen Queen: Looking for Lady Jane." The New Yorker, October 15, 2007.
The day before Jane Grey was executed she wrote a letter to her younger sister on a page of a Greek New Testament. she wrote: "Consider that I shall be delivered of this corruption". She was only 16 years old at the time of her death, yet showed (true) grace under pressure.
Reflecting on these event as a Protestant Christian, a number of thoughts come to mind.
First, what did God think he was doing? Under Edward VI the formal structure of the Church of England, including the Prayer Book used throughout the country, was being established on a firmly biblical basis on the clear understanding that God saved his people by grace alone, through faith alone. (The 2001 book by Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation is the best around on this subject). Yet instead of Lady Jane, we got Mary—a Roman Catholic Queen who within a reign of just under five years had killed nearly 300 Protestants for their faith, mainly by burning them at the stake.
Lots more thoughts too, and that one is incomplete, but let's stop there for the moment.