“I would challenge you on your lukewarmness.” What can we learn from a 17-year-old martyr from 500 years ago? Actually, a lot. In our second week of looking at powerful young adults in history (listen to our first one here on Charles Spurgeon), we take a moment to consider the bold, courageous, and devoted life of Jane Grey. We’re very thankful and grateful to have popular church historian Dr. Michael Haykin back on the show again to chat with us about her life.
Who’s Our Guest?
Dr. Michael Haykin (ThD University of Toronto) is professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin also serves as the director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He’s authored and/or edited over twenty-five books, including 8 Women of Faithand Rediscovering the Church Fathers.
Check out The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (where Dr. Michael Haykin teaches).
Also, check out The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies (where Dr. Haykin serves as director).
And here’s a book Haykin’s written that features the story of Jane Grey called 8 Women of Faith.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.
With me today is Dr. Michael Haykin. Michael is Professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. Michael has also written many, many books. Anyways, great to have you back on the show again Michael.
Yeah. It’s good to be with you Isaac, thank you.
Earlier this year Michael was gracious enough to take us through the main events of church history. We sort of split it up into four different conversations. So, if you’re interested in church history from pretty much the end of Acts all the way up to today, I’d encourage you to go back and listen to those.
Anyways, it was our third conversation when you were talking about the Reformation, Michael, that you mentioned in passing Jane Grey. You just said her name and a list of others where you said, “Here’s a martyr, Jane Grey.” And after the conversation I actually looked her up online and I listened to one of your presentations on her life.
I was just fascinated with this young girl’s life, and her boldness, and her courage, her faith. And it is Jane Grey that we’re going to be looking at today.
But, just so listeners can know, you live in Canada.
I do, yes. I commute to the states, that’s a bit of a long story. But, yeah. I come down here on two week stints.
That’s good. It’s always good to have another Christian leader from Canada on the show! So, that’s really exciting. So, anyways. I sort of already talked to our listeners about Jane Grey. But, Michael, why don’t you just give us the basic overview of Jane Grey.
Who is Jane Grey?
Yeah, Jane Grey was born in 1537. She would die, as you’ve already mentioned as a martyr in 1553. There is some discussion in recent days that her birthdate might be 1536. Be that as it may, she’s about 17 or 18 when she dies as a martyr. She was fourth in line by the will on Henry the VIII, who was king for most of her early life. Fourth in line to the throne.
So, if Henry the VIII had specified that if his son, Edward the VI, died without having children, then he would be succeeded by his half sister Mary the first. Who again, if she died without having children, it would be succeeded by her half sister Elizabeth. And then their first cousin or the second cousin Jane Grey. So, she’s born into a household of privilege and wealth.
And her mother, Francis Brandon was the daughter of Henry the VIII’s favourite sister Mary Tudor. And her husband, a man named Charles Brandon who was the Duke of Suffolk. So, she’s very close to the throne. She’s raised in the context of privilege. She has significant opportunities. In terms of education she would have learned a number of languages.
We know that she was competent in French, Italian, Greek, and Latin.
This would be part of an upbringing of a young woman at the time because it was expected that she would be able to kind of converse in that kind of lingo, frank of the day. Which would be either French or Latin, and Italian was just again a very common language that would often be taught.
Greek would have been a bit different. That’s partly because of her links to the Reformation. The reformers were very convinced, and rightly so, that there needed to be acknowledgement of the Greek for the understanding of the Scriptures. She’s exposed at a young age to the gospel. Her parents are … You would describe them as worldly. They’re interested in getting ahead in the world.
They arrange with Jane as a very young girl to go – probably around nine or ten – to the court of Henry the VIII where she lived in the household of Henry the VIII’s last wife, sixth wife, Catherine Parr, who was an Evangelical. And it’s probably in Catherine Parr’s home that she comes to faith. So, that exposure to evangelical faith would have also exposed her to the necessity of learning Greek.
She probably would have had one of her tutors at that time begin to teach her Greek.
By the time that she dies, she can write fairly fluently in Greek.
She’s not simply learning how to translate from Greek to English, but would also have been learning how to render English into Greek. Which often, today, when Greek and a lot of these … Well, the classical languages Greek, Latin, Hebrew are taught, people are not taught how to go from English to any of these languages. That’s normally not the way it’s taught. But, the older style would have taught them. So, she would have had that facility.
And, she’s exposed to the Reformation. She begins to correspond with a number of reformers on the continent. And by the time that she does succeed to the throne very briefly, she has a good grasp of Reformation theology and is able, as we will see, to converse about the faith.
Amazing. Would we know any of the reformers by name that she would have come in contact with?
Yeah. She has some contact with Heinrich Bullinger who was in Zurich. After the death of Huldrych Zwingli, the Reformation in Zurich went forward under the ministry and leadership of Heinrich Bullinger. So, she has some contact with Bullinger. I don’t think that we know of … none of the others that she would have contact with are well known figures. But, Bullinger would be the best known.
So, how then, Michael, did Jane come to sit on the throne of England?
Well, when Henry the VIII dies in 1547, his will specified that his son Edward would succeed him. Up until very recently, actually, this was the pattern that the eldest son and always son would succeed. Even though Edward’s sister, Mary and Elizabeth, are older than he, he was the heir as the oldest male.
He would reign for six years. From 1547 to 1553. He was very committed to the reformation. John Calvin from Geneva writes to him a number of times, describing him as the young Josiah – remembering the reformer of Israel in terms of worship and it’s life under the reign of King Josiah.
And there’s every evidence that Edward was definitely regenerate, committed to biblical truths, desires to see the Reformation go forward. This is a boy of 12 – 13.
He was never a robust individual. So, in 1552, he came down with measles. That led to pneumonia and tuberculosis. And he died in 1553. But prior to his death, he changed his father’s will. There used to be the argument by historians that those around him (fearing that if the throne passed to Mary who was an ardent Catholic that there would be a return to Roman Catholicism in Britain) were the ones who kind of manipulated Edward.
The evidence now is quite the opposite. Recent historians, particularly a man named Diarmaid MacCulloch, who has done a number of fine works, a number of fine books on the Reformation. And the one I’m thinking of here is called, in its North American imprint, Tudor Church Militant. And he argues that on the basis of significant documentation that we have from Edward that Edward was, indeed, committed to the Reformation.
He, himself, realized when he died around the age of 15, 16, that there was no way that Mary was going to continue the Reformation she was supposed to. This then posed a problem for the ongoing viability of reforming. Therefore, he changed his father’s will.
And he made Lady Jane his heir. He knew that she would continue the kind of pathway that he had begun to promote.
It’s interesting he bypassed Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a protestant at this point. And also a professing Christian. But, probably because her mother, Anne Boleyn, was pregnant when she married Henry the VIII. So, there was the charge of all the kind of stain of illegitimacy that kind of hung over her all her life, really. And so, probably for that reason he passed her by and made Lady Jane his heir. But did not tell her so.
So, when he died, his death was kept secret for a day or so.
And then representatives of the crown went to Jane and surprised her by bowing and kneeling to her, pledging allegiance to her. She had no idea what they were up to. And then it became very obvious what they were up to, and she fainted apparently. We were told that she fainted.
Because you cannot talk to the king’s person unless they give you permission, she was left lying on the floor until she came to.
When she did so, there was recorded a prayer that she made in which
she pledged herself to undertake, for the Glory of God, the rule of England. And that she required God’s grace and strength. And would reign as Queen for roughly nine days.
How old was she then?
Again, this is 1553. So, it all depends on whether or not she was born in 1536, 1537. So, she’s around 16 maybe 17.
Okay. So, you say around nine days. What exactly happened in those nine days until her death?
Yeah. There were a couple of official banquets, she signed two official documents as Queen Jane. She was never officially crowned, so some have argued, she really wasn’t in any way, shape, or form queen because she was never actually crowned. But, Edward the VIII who advocated and caused a crisis in the monarchy in the 1930’s, he was never officially crowned either. He was king for about 11 months, but his official coronation never took place. And nobody ever doubts that he was actually king.
I mention that because there’s a recent series of biographies of the kings and queens of England, looking at all of them. And Jane Grey has not been included. I wish she had been. And I suspect the argument is that she really was never queen, but there is one on Edward the VIII.
Anyways, she was never officially crowned but she did sign a number of documents as Queen Jane. So, there were, as I said, a couple of official banquets, a number of documents were signed.
Mary was living, at the time, in southeast England. She knew her father’s will, and that the writer’s succession from her father’s point of view belonged to her. She was not going to take this lying down.
She raised an army and marched on London. And in a kind of a bloodless coup d’état, took over London, took the crown. And imprisoned Jane.
At this point, Mary has a bit of a conundrum. Number one, the whole idea of executing a fellow noble person, especially somebody who has been a monarch, however briefly, was distasteful to many of these people. Even though Mary is a queen, again a Roman Catholic, and Lady Jane is an Evangelical Protestant – because all of them have the conviction of what we call the divine right of kings (that the king or queen is appointed by God, only God can really remove them and that by death. To do otherwise is to violate a fundamental kind of … Kind of part of fundamental order that God has established in the world). So, if Mary the first of England had had her drothers she would not have executed Jane.
But, two things take place. One is Jane’s father … When Mary marched on London, Jane’s father went out to meet Mary and claimed, he said …
Well, before that, at the time of Jane’s being appointed queen, and the declaration that she was queen, he had pledged to fight for her till the death.
Well, as soon as Mary launches her coup d’état he immediately switches sides. He goes out and meets Mary, and claims, it was a big mistake. So, he’s really kind of a … he’s the sort of man who shifts as the weather shifts. Anyway, within a few months of Mary’s taking power, he starts a rebellion. It’s put down, he’s executed. And the rebellion is in the name of Jane.
Mary realizes that Jane is just too … she’s just too dangerous a person. She’s an icon of Evangelical Protestantism.
And then the other thing is that Jane refuses to embrace Roman Catholicism. And Mary is prosecuting a program in England that eliminated all of the key protestant leaders. By the time that Mary is burned, is executed rather, she was burned, her head was … she was decapitated. By the time that she’s killed, Mary has already killed a large number of Protestant leaders by burning men like John Hooper, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimar.
And Jane just falls into that category of an incorrigible Evangelical. Mary wanted to try to save her soul, and she was going to execute her. So, she sent a man named John Feckenham to talk to Jane about four days before Jane was executed. We have the conversation because Jane recorded it afterwards.
The conversation revolves around three issues. One is the issue of “How are we saved?” Feckenham insists it’s by faith and works, and Jane is insistent on the Reformation principle that we are saved by faith alone – that works cannot ever measure up, that the Lord Jesus Christ’s death – it’s by faith in His death, and that death alone, that saves us.
Secondly, there is a debate, which was very central to the Reformation about “What takes place at the celebration of the mass?” Or, as the Evangelicals would describe it from the base of the Scripture, “The celebration of the Lord’s supper?” Feckenham is insistent that the bread and the wine are turned into the very body and blood of Christ. Jane’s response is, “No. This is not biblical, where do you find that in Scripture?” Part of the conversation revolves around that.
Then the final part of the conversation, which is again a very critical conversation, is, “How do we know truth? How do we know that we are saved by faith alone? How do we know that the Lord’s supper is not the celebration of the transformation of the bread and the wine as the very body and blood of Christ?”
Well, by Holy Scripture alone.
And Feckenham insists, “No, no we know truth by the church and Scripture. It’s the church’s interpretation of Scripture.” And Jane insists, “No, no. It’s Scripture alone.”
So, I guess to sort of put in our mindset. Here’s 16 or 17 year old Jane in prison, who’s arguing with this Catholic Scholar who is much older than she.
Yes. Now, unless you’re a historian who studies the Tudor period, you wouldn’t know the name John Feckenham. But, in his own day he was a renowned and gifted English Catholic apologist.
Jane wins the debate, there’s no doubt about that.
So, at the end of the debate, Feckenham was so moved by Jane’s plight that he asked if he could accompany her when she was going to be beheaded. Mary gave Jane two mercies.
One is, the mercy of beheading. Normally, you’re burned. The Roman Catholic Church always burned heretics.
And number two, it was to be a private execution. Normally, the executions of all the people that Mary was involved in, the men and women were executed publicly. So, huge crowds would gather. In this case, it would have been only a few people.
Feckenham knew that Mary would not allow Jane an Evangelical Chaplain. So, he asked if he could accompany her, which he did. On the day of her execution, in February of 1554, he was there. He went with her to the scaffold. He began to read Psalm 51 – the Penitential Psalm of David, after the murder of Uriah and the commission of adultery by Bathsheba. And David’s repentant.
And he only got halfway through it. He broke down weeping. It was a remarkable scene. Jane had to go over and comfort him. And she finished the reading of the Psalm, and then was led to the place on the scaffold where she would be decapitated, blind folded, and the last words she uttered in this world were, “Into thy hands, I commit my spirit.”
But, just before she had gone to the place of execution (and you can still go there. In the Tower of London there is a chapel called the ad Vincula Chapel. And in front, I was just there this summer, they’ve put up a beautiful huge kind of circular bowl in which the names of those who were executed at this point or this place are listed. And one of them is Jane Grey. Her body, then, was buried under the chapel.), just before she went to the place of execution, she had given her a prayer book, The book of Common Prayer, which had reformed worship along Evangelical lines had they issued in 1552 by Thomas Cramner. And she gave that prayer book to her jailer.
In it she wrote at the beginning in three sentences, one in Greek, one in English, one in Latin, something to the effect that “If justice be done with my body because of its sins, my soul will be justified before God. That even though my naïveté,” and that’s my word, that’s not her exact word, “should have caused me to receive mercy, God and posterity …”, and these are her exact words, “… will show me favour.” And it’s turned out that way. She becomes very quickly a paragon of Evangelical witness. An icon, in a good sense, or a poster child if you want to use our contemporary terms for the Evangelical faith.
The Victorians loved her story. They had a romantic, melodramatic streak. There is a very famous portrait of her being at the time of her execution, done by a Victorian portrait artist. And in recent years, again, there’s been a renewed interest in her. Probably the best book on her is Faith Cook’s Nine Day Queen of England.
Wow. That’s amazing. Thank you, Michael, for just sharing her story. Definitely is encouraging, especially since the point really of this little small series is to look at Charles Spurgeon and Jane Grey. To look at these lives of younger people. I mean, she died when she was 16 – 17 – martyred. To see her faith, and the boldness, and the courage, and the fact that she really knew what she believed, and was able to talk with this Feckenham was just amazing.
As we wrap this up, I want to ask you a couple of questions. And they’re sort of like shot gun approach, they’re just sort of quick answers. I want to give you some historical liberty here, which is probably something that, maybe, church historians love to hear. So, could you imagine some things that Jane may have been up at various times in her teenage life before she was made queen.
So, let’s say at a 9:00 PM on Friday. What do you think Jane would be up to?
Well, I think … I know by the time we encounter her as in the, kind of, the historical scenes that I’ve described there she would have been a fairly ardent Evangelical. Usually bedtime would have been around sunsetting. So, she probably would have been praying.
I mean, 9:00 PM Friday you’re probably turning in for bed and there would have been evening prayer, in The Book of Common Prayer.
In the household of Catherine Parr, there was morning and evening prayer. And she would have been used to a pattern that the last half hour before going to bed would have spent in prayer. So, there would be a short Bible reading, some prayers said.
That’s awesome I love that. Again, here’s one more thing with some historical liberty here. If Jane had the opportunity just for a moment to look into the future at the North American Evangelical Church what do you think she’d say? I’m even thinking especially to youth and young adult groups.
I think she would challenge us about our lukewarmness. And especially challenge young people that life in this world is brief. And
the decisions we make in this world – upon them hang eternity.
She was led by grace to make the right decision.
That there are some things that are more important than our lives. I think if she were to say anything down to the future, it would be that the choice that she made she would not regret.
I think as to give your life for Christ, after all what He has done for us, is the least that we can do in one sense.
I think her challenge would be to our lukewarmness.
That’s good. Michael, thank you so much for your time and your wisdom today. To our listeners, if you want to check out more resources from Michael, his books, or his blogs and all the different stuff you can just head andrewfullercenter.org. On there is lots of stuff that Michael has done. Yeah. Anyways, again, thank you so much Michael. And I hope to have you back on again soon.