April 7th, 2008

Friedrich moonlight

Paul Delaroche, the Execution of Lady Jane Grey

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A detail from the painting of 1833, for English people perhaps the most familiar of all 19th Century history paintings, and in my view one of the finest examples of its genre. The historical background is this. Henry VIII, who had broken with Rome, was succeeded by his only son, Edward VI, who died young and childless in 1553. During Edward's reign, a serious effort was made to turn England into a truly Protestant country, but his legitimate successor, Mary, was an ardent Roman Catholic. So Lady Jane Grey who was descended from Henry VII through her mother, was proclaimed Queen as the Protestant alternative, but she was deposed by Mary's supporters within 9 days. Queen Mary did not generally like to have people killed unless it was her duty to burn them as heretics, and it is possible that Jane, who was merely a victim of other people's machinations, would have been spared if it had not been for the Protestant rebellion of Sir James Wyatt in January 1554. She was executed later in that year, at the age of 16.

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