on 8 October 2011
Like his previous work on Anne Boleyn, this book is essentially a thorough, well researched and meticulous presentation of the proclamation of a relatively remote Tudor claimant to the throne, the subsequent ramifications which unfolded because of it and the series of events which preceded it.
The reasons for catapulting a young, shy, sixteen year old granddaughter of Mary Tudor in favour of her formidable cousin, Mary, have over the centuries been explained away by the deviousness or ambitions of her parents, and in particular, John Dudley, the then Duke of Northumberland, who has gone down in history as the prerogarator of the whole affair.
Ives' work however very interestingly challenges this theory (which has been conventionally accepted by even some of the most senior and respected historians of our time) whilst not discrediting Jane in the process.
Ives reveals that Dudley was an accomplished soldier (more suited to the military than career politics) who had to contend very early on in life with the ramifications of his father's execution for treason shortly after the accession of Henry VIII, and uses a series of contemporary letters and accounts written by Dudley to support his assertion, that far from courting controversy (and ambition), Dudley was actually an insecure individual, constantly fearing that he would become victim to court gossip or the disfavour of the monarch as his father and some of his contemporaries had.
Ives also contests that far from actively encouraging the downfall of his rival, Edward Seymour, Dudley supported and sustained Seymour during his tenure as Protector insofar as was possible and that it was he, rather than the popular Seymour, who encountered public dissatisfaction as a result of recession, levies and poor management conducted by Seymour which led to higher public taxation.
Ives makes a convincing argument for the case that Dudley, far from being the scrupulous and conniving individual depicted of late, was a man committed to his government, work, religion (only converting to Catholicsm before his execution in exchange for a vain promise of life) and touchingly dedicated to his wife, family and even his various sons and daughters-in-law.
Indeed, so impressed was I with this depiction of Dudley's character and the conviction with Ives' arguments, that I also found myself questioning why this man had gone down in history for his notorious role in these events, although as Ives also admits, his protagonists' claims have not entirely been without foundation, especially with regard to why Dudley married his son, Guildford, off to Jane and contracted almost last-minute alliances with the Earl of Pembroke before Edward's demise in May 1553. Such actions could surely indicate that Dudley was clearly aware of the state of Edward VI's health at this crucial time.
Yet, Ives convincingly argues that Edward's devise for the succession was entirely his own invention and not that of Dudley.
One example he cites to support this argument is Dudley's apparent recognition of Mary as heir in February 1553, and furthermore, no contemporary courtier or ambassadorial account seems to indicate that anything was seriously afoot (this was not the case in relation to the downfall of Anne Boleyn in 1536).
Dudley's role in these events only comes into prominence when Edward's health takes a serious turn for the worse, leading to Edward's "devise" as it would be called, which essentially consisted of supplanting his sisters as heirs in favour of the legitimate, Jane Grey and her "heirs male".
As we can see from the vivid description of the devise, it was incredibly idealistic, unpractical and ultimately, unworkable. The contents of the devise meant appointing the succession to any of the male heirs of Henry VIII's sister, Mary Tudor (who were all female) and leaving the female parent to rule as regent until that male heir had reached the age of majority.
As Ives points out, such a devise was unrealistic, as it could clearly have benefitted the heirs of Eleanor Brandon, or the remaining two Grey sisters and very possibly led to rival factions and conflict between the various heiresses.
As suggested by Ives, one analysing the plot in great depth, would hardly conclude that this was the work of John Dudley.
Nevertheless the "devise" is divulged here in fascinating detail and surely reveals as much about the idealistic but deluded Edward at this time as it does about the other two main characters in the plot, Dudley and Jane.
Ives' focus on Jane is also equally as fascinating and lucid, revealing this girl to have been a formidable intellect as well as a devoted reformer, who, like her cousin Elizabeth, may similarly have harboured some attachment towards Thomas Seymour and was certainly in her element when brought up under the guardianship of the Queen Dowager, Katherine Parr.
All in all, I was very impressed with this work, although I have to agree that the title is slightly misleading, choosing not to focus on Jane's life as a whole but on the events which precipitated and succeeded her nine day rule in 1553. However, Ives does delve into some depth on Jane's early life, her rigorous and scholarly upbringing for example, and the religious life with which she was exposed to at her home in Bradgate, which became a sort of meeting-place for the trendy, up and coming reformist circles of the 1550s.
One aspect of Ives' assertion which I do not agree with is his conclusion that Jane was the legitimate heir to the throne. As he himself attests, the devise so avidly postulated by Edward VI, was practically unworkable anyway and was also based on Edward's manipulation of Henry VIII's 1536 Act of Succession and subsequent Will (which meant that conjointedly, despite Mary and Elizabeth having been declared "illegitimate" by the same Act, Henry was able to appoint a successor of his own choosing, which is what he then did when nominating Mary and Elizabeth as heirs in 1547, should Edward fail to produce any issue).
As Ives states, this reasoning might well have been lost on the majority of the lay population of the day, but the "natural" rules of succession based on hereditary right (which would become a sore point for Elizabeth on the point of Mary, Queen of Scots) was a popular concept known to both the lay people and the nobility alike, and would have settled the matter, coupled with the argument that Henry's first two marriages were contracted in "good faith", thus arguing Mary & Elizabeth's technical legitimacy.
However, disagreements on the conclusion aside - this is nevertheless a truly magnificent piece of work on the demise of a remarkable and talented young girl. This work illuminates on the events which lead to this dramatic tragedy and Ives also introduces a new dimension to the argument, particularly on the role of John Dudley, which leads to some sympathy towards Dudley as a potential victim of Tudor politics as well as Jane.
I would thoroughly recommend this book for anyone wishing to study this event in greater depth.