Thursday, 29 July 2010

Nobody's Daughter & Lady Jane Grey

Paul Delaroche, The Execution Of Lady Jane Grey, 1833.

It was back in March when I first blogged about the CD artwork for the band Hole's newest album, Nobody's Daughter. When I actually got to see the CD itself, upon opening the case I discovered that the executed queen theme continues inside. Not only are Marie Antoinette and Ann Boleyn on the front and back cover, inside is Paul Delaroche's 1833 painting, The Execution Of Lady Jane Grey. 

This work can be seen at The National Gallery in London, and from February to May 2010 formed part of a major re-examination of Delaroche's work (Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey) I'm really sorry that I didn't get to see it, as the exhibition displayed Delaroche's preparatory drawings. I always love to see the process from preliminary sketch to finished piece, and the tracing of a work in progress. 

 Theatrical and sentimental in style, The Execution Of Lady Jane Grey nevertheless captures the essence of the tragedy of Lady Jane Grey's death and the chain of events that led up to it. Although she was not executed in a dungeon, as depicted, eyewitness reports tell that she did indeed fumble her way to the block, crying out that she could not find it in her blindfolded state.

Beheaded for treason on the 12th of February, 1554 at the mere age of sixteen (some academics place her age at death as seventeen), Lady Jane Grey reigned as Queen of England for only nine days following the death of her cousin, Edward VI. Edward's guardian and uncle, Northumberland, seeking to retain his hold over the Protestant crown, effectively forced Lady Jane upon the throne in order to prevent the succession of Edward's half-sister, the fervently Catholic Princess Mary. For the next few days, confusion was the only real reigning force, as Mary gathered her Catholic supporters about her and set about organising a counter-coup to topple the Protestant usurpers. As soon as Northumberland left London with his troops, the Privy Council swore allegiance to Mary instead, and Jane's ineffectual reign came to swift end.

As unwilling a participant she may have been in whole affair, Lady Jane Grey was nevertheless tried and found guilty of high treason. Her status as kinswoman of the new Queen Mary granted her the merciful favour of beheading (rather than to be hung, drawn and quartered) and a private, not public execution.

Interestingly, History Today's blog discusses the fact that the possible model for the painting was a French actress by the name of Anais Aubert. The terror and confusion upon the face of Delaroche's Jane Grey is skilfully evident despite the blindfold she wears as she reaches for the executioner's block. The sadness, the fear and the tragedy are palpable.

Anais Aubert
Images courtesy of History Today


  1. I absolutely love this painting and although I live in London I still managed to miss this exhibition. I was gutted. I always go to see her when I'm at the National Gallery and I find her life story so incredibly dramatic, so unfair and sad...

  2. Me too. This exhibition has been floating round in the back of my head, but I never managed to see it. I feel exactly the same as you about Lady Jane. Tragic really is the most apt word to use. If you're interested in reading more about her, Alison Weir's book Children of England is brilliant. She breathes life and personality into her, and it makes her story all the more sad, but still worth knowing. (If you haven't already read it, that is!:) )

  3. I haven't read this book and I'm adding it to my Amazon wishlist now. I always wanted to find out more about Lady Jane and if you recommend this book it means that it must be good!

  4. Ah, thanks Polly!It is, can't recommend it highly enough! Her book on Henry VIII's wives is also really excellent, too. Hope you get to read Children of England soon! x