Category Archives: Kari Bovee

Lady Jane Grey – The Nine Days Queen

I have always held a special fascination for Lady Jane Grey, the nine days Queen. She died a religious martyr at seventeen years of age, and lived her life as a political pawn and social ladder for her overly ambitious parents. What must it have been like for such a young woman to knowingly and willingly face death rather than defy her parents or her religion?

Lady Jane Grey, born in October of 1537 was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, the marquis of Dorset, and Frances Brandon, niece to King Henry VIII and the third in line to the throne. Jane was named for the King’s wife, Jane Seymour, who gave birth to Edward VI just two days after Jane’s birth. Henry and Frances had big plans for their daughter and hoped she would one day marry the prince.

They raised Jane with strict rules and very little freedom. Her role in childhood was to prepare herself for greatness. She said of her parents, they expected her to “do everything as perfectly as God made the world, or else I am sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened . . . that I think myself in hell.”

At the age of nine, Jane was sent to the court of King Henry VIII to serve his sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr, and to learn about court life in preparation for her future.

The Dorset’s desired only the best education for their daughter and hired royal tutors. Jane proved to be extremely precocious and found her greatest refuge in her studies. Jane would often neglect her domestic lessons in dance, music and riding to lose herself in the more intellectual pursuits.

At a young age she was reading the Greek philosophers, and through her tutor would correspond with German Calvinist and Zwinglian ministers. The correspondence later became known as the Zurich Letters.

When King VIII died, his son Edward VI inherited the throne at ten years of age. Katherine Parr married Thomas Seymour who had taken a liking to Jane and saw big things in her future. He also assumed that through his connections in court he could arrange a marriage for Jane with the new King, young Edward. He offered the Dorsets two thousand pounds to become her legal ward. Eager for their daughter to someday become queen, they complied. Jane, free of her parents’ strict household, found great comfort in her friendship with Katherine Parr. Her two years in the Parr/Seymour household were known as some of her happiest days and it was through Parr’s influence that Jane found her love of the Protestant church. Sadly, Katherine Parr died in 1548 due to complications with the birth of a daughter. Jane stayed to serve as chief mourner at her funeral and then was sent home. By this time, Thomas Seymour had fallen out of favor with the throne, so all hopes of Jane marrying Edward VI were dashed.

The Dorsets refused to give up hope for their daughter and formed an alliance with John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who was one of sixteen executors of Henry VIII’s will. When Thomas Seymour was executed, Dudley reclaimed his title of Lord High Admiral with direct access to the young King. Jane was fifteen years old at the time. Her parents informed her she was to marry Dudley’s youngest son, Guilford. In her only documented act of defiance to her parents, Jane refused. The result was a sound beating from her mother until she submitted.  In May of 1553, Jane married Guilford, a handsome and charismatic young man who was also arrogant, spoiled and known as a “mama’s boy.” The marriage was not consummated until a year later, and then the couple still continued to live apart.

During this time, the King, young Edward VI became gravely ill. The next in line to the throne, according to his father’s will, was Mary Tudor, Edward’s half- sister, a woman devoted to the “old church” Catholicism. Greatly influenced by his step mother Katherine Parr, Edward had also become a fervent Protestant. Dudley, along with other Protestant followers close to the king encouraged him to change the succession. In late 1552, Edward began his Device for the Succession eventually naming his cousin Jane Grey, heir. Two months later, Edward VI died.

Three days after Edward’s death, Jane was called before the Council and was told she would be Queen. Horrified, she fell to the floor in a faint. When she finally recovered she announced, “The Crown is not my right, and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir.” Her parents, enraged, tried to reason with her. Jane dropped to the floor and prayed for guidance. After several minutes, she rose and took her seat on the throne.

Many people felt Mary was the rightful heir and were not pleased with Jane as Queen. At her coronation there were few cheering subjects. At first Jane refused to wear the crown, but later complied. She had been raised for this position and she decided to embrace the role she felt God called her to. However, when she was told that Guilford would be named King and a crown was being fashioned for him, she claimed she would gladly make him a Duke, but he would never be King. Finally, she would not be swayed from a decision.

Meanwhile, Dudley knew Mary Tudor would try to claim the throne. He left with an army to capture her, but was met by her army marching toward London. While he was absent, the royal council proclaimed Mary the rightful Queen. The proclamation was made and the people of London rejoiced. To save himself, Jane’s father signed the proclamation, went to his daughter’s apartments, and tore down her canopy of estate. Jane was no longer Queen. Jane stated, “Out of obedience to you and my mother I have grievously sinned. Now I willingly relinquish the crown. May I not go home?’

Her father left her in the Tower where she and Guilford became prisoners. Dudley, her father and Guilford were soon executed but Jane had been told the Queen would pardon her. When Sir Thomas Wyatt rebelled against Mary, she realized her Protestant enemies would stop at nothing to take her throne. She signed Jane’s death warrant. Uneasy with her decision, Mary sent John Feckenham, dean of St. Paul’s to Jane to try to convert her to the Catholic faith. Mary knew Jane had taken the throne under duress and if she could be persuaded to claim Catholicism as the one true faith, she could justifiably save her. Jane, true to herself and true to her faith, refused.

In my novel-in-progress, Jane the Quene, I open with Jane’s execution. I wanted to show her great dignity and courage during such a terrifying ordeal. She was a young woman with strong convictions and a desire to always do what was expected of her. She was truly an obedient servant to her kingdom, and her faith.


She emerged from the Tower upon the arm of the Queen’s lieutenant. Her diminutive frame and large eyes gave her the look of a bewildered child. Deep red, wavy locks framed her tiny, heart-shaped, face. She wore black and walked steadily, her head held high. She carried a well-worn prayer book.

            They were met at the scaffold by a tall man, wearing vestments of the church. Several other chaplains attended him. She spoke to him.

            “Dr. Feckenham, may God grant all your desires and accept my own hearty thanks for all your attention to me. Although, indeed, those attentions have tried me more than death can now terrify me.”

            The tall man gave her a faint smile, full of helplessness and pity, and took her elbow as she began to mount the stairs. Her two ladies-in-waiting wailed as she ascended, unflinching, her mouth set in a determined smile. When she reached the top of the scaffold, she stopped and addressed the small crowd:

            “I am to die this day for accepting the crown and thus committing treason, but, I do wash my hands in innocence, before God and the face of you, good Christian people. And now, while I am alive, I pray you to assist me with your prayers.”

            She knelt, looking heavenward into a sunless sky and recited by memory the fifty-first psalm:

 Have mercy on me, O God, in your faithful love,

In your great tenderness whip away my offences;

Wash me thoroughly from my guilt,

Purify me from sin.

For I am well aware of my offences,

My sin is constantly in mind.

Against you, you alone, I have sinned

I have done what you see to be wrong . . .”

She then nodded to her ladies. One of them, her nurse Mrs. Ellen, moved toward her, trying desperately to stifle her sobs. The young lady handed over her gloves and handkerchief, and then handed her prayer book to the Queen’s lieutenant. As she began to remove her heavy cloak, the hooded executioner moved forward to assist her, but she brushed him off. Mrs. Ellen removed the lady’s headdress and neckerchief and took the heavy robes. The executioner knelt before her and asked for forgiveness, which was customary.

            The young lady smiled and said, “I give it willingly, sir.”

            There followed a five minute silence. Crows could be heard from the crow’s keep, their crude squawking penetrated the silence, sending a shiver down her spine. Dr. Feckenham, the tall lieutenant, raised his face to the sky, closed his eyes, and fervently prayed.

            Finally, the executioner told her where to stand, placing her directly in front of the square block. She held her hand out to Mrs. Ellen for her handkerchief, eyes never leaving the wooden stump. She addressed the executioner.

            “I pray you dispatch me quickly.” Kneeling down, she looked up at him, confusion on her childlike face. “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” she asked, holding out the handkerchief.

            “No, madame.”

            With slightly shaking hands, she tied the cloth around her eyes and then reached her hands toward the block.  Her hands flailed in front of her, seeking the wooden perch. “Where is it? What shall I do? Where is it?”

            A man from the crowd climbed up the scaffold and gently helped her place her hands on either side of the block. She whispered her thanks and then in a clear voice spoke the words, “Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

            The axe went down, sudden and swift. The executioner grabbed the blood soaked head by the hair and held it out in front of the crowd. “So perish all the Queen’s enemies,” he shouted. “Behold, the head of Jane Grey, a traitor.”


Picture: 343429 Com de Laroche Jane, Suite, Wikimedia

Rebel Empress

While researching an idea for a new novel, (I was specifically looking for a famous horsewoman in history) I stumbled across the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.  She was indeed an avid horsewoman and was actually known as “the finest horsewoman of her day.”  She excelled at the hunt, taught her horses tricks, and trained with famous circus riders at the riding school she built at Godollo in Hungary.

As I researched further, I became intrigued with the rest of her compelling, fascinating and tragic story.

Born Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Munich, Bavaria 1837, “Sisi” as she was known to her family, grew up far from court in the Bavarian countryside at Possenhofen Castle.

Her parents, Duke Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria, and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, raised their four children with little discipline and few rules.  The children spent much of their time riding and pursuing country sports rather than learning the protocols and etiquette of court life.  This fact probably led to Sisi’s later philosophy that to be an individual and non-conformist would be the greatest achievement of all.  Her quest of this individualism would be her biggest challenge and one that she never quite achieved.

As in most royal families, marriages were arranged.  When Sisi was fifteen, she accompanied her mother and her older sister Helene to Bad Ischl, Austria to meet Helene’s betrothed, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.  The arrangement was orchestrated by Franz Joseph’s domineering mother, ( also Helene and Sisi’s aunt) Princess Sophie of Bavaria.  Although Helene was considered the beauty of the family, Franz Joseph became instantly infatuated with Sisi.  He defied his mother and told her if he could not have his cousin Elisabeth he would have no one at all.  The betrothal was announced five days later.

Elisabeth’s married life was far different from her free-spirited childhood.  Hapsburg court life was rigid and strict.  Her Aunt, the Archduchess, was an overbearing and demanding mother-in-law who interfered in the new couple’s life at every turn.  Soon, Elisabeth began to display health problems.  She had difficulty with her lungs and would suffer from spasms of coughing, and also developed several phobias.

Ten months after the wedding, she gave birth to her first child, Sophie, named after her mother-in-law, by her mother-in-law.  This was to set the stage for next child born to Elisabeth, Gisela who was also immediately taken from her and put in the care of the Archduchess.  The Archduchess also made it abundantly clear her disappointment at Elisabeth’s inability to bear a son.  The Archduchess was to suffer several other disappointments when her son, Joseph Franz took Elisabeth and his two daughters to Hungary for a visit in 1857.  During the visit, Elisabeth fell in love with the Hungarian people, particularly the Magyars, an ethnic group associated with the Hungarians, (whom her mother-in-law despised) and urged her husband to show mercy to Hungarian political prisoners.  She was later chastised for her “political meddling.”  The trip also proved horribly tragic for Elisabeth as both her daughters became ill with diarrhea.  Gisela, the baby, recovered quickly, but two year old Sophie succumbed to the illness, which was later determined as Typhus.  The death of her first child sank Elisabeth into a depression which would reoccur and haunt her for the rest of her life.

Elisabeth was painfully learning that most aspects of her life were not in her control.  She felt she had no identity as a mother or the wife of an emperor.  In her depression, she began to shun all responsibilities and spent much of her time riding.  Grieving her daughter, she would also stop eating for days at a time.

Known as a great beauty, Elisabeth realized her physical appearance was an attribute greatly valued by society.   Her looks became the primary source of her control and her self-esteem. She became obsessed with her face, hair and figure. Unusually slender, Elisabeth’s waist measured 19 inches.  At 5’8 inches tall, she weighed 110 lbs.  Living on a strict diet of beef broth, milk and eggs, she was able to reduce her waist to 16 inches in diameter. She weighed herself daily, and if the scales tipped above 110, the next few days would constitute a strict fast.

Elisabeth also emphasized her tiny waist through the practice of “tight lacing.”  She had corsets specially made of leather, to hold up under the strenuous lacing, and would only wear them for a few weeks at a time as they would eventually stretch.

The only “flaw” in her beauty was her teeth.  Due to either poor dental care in her youth, malnutrition from dieting, or from the possible effects of bulimia, her teeth deteriorated early.  In public, she would often hide her face behind a small leather fan.  After age 32 she refused to have her photo taken or sit for portraits.

In addition to extreme dieting, Elisabeth also developed a rigorous and disciplined exercise routine.  She had gymnasiums built in every castle where the royal family resided.  She had mats and balance beams and mirrors installed in her bedchamber so she could practice on them each day.  She rode her horses often, sometimes three to five hours at a time.  Another of Elisabeth’s unusual beauty traits was her hair.  Thick and golden brown, her tresses reached somewhere between her knees and ankles.

Every two weeks, her hair was washed with special “essences” of eggs and cognac.  The process took hours, so activities and obligations for the day were cancelled.  Her hairdresser was forbidden to wear rings and was required to don white gloves while dressing the royal coif – an activity that took two to four hours a day.

In 1858, Elisabeth finally bore a son and heir.  This, coupled with her sympathy toward the Hungarians made her an ideal mediator between the Magyars and her husband, the Emperor.  Liberal and forward thinking, Elisabeth’s interest in politics developed as she grew older. She firmly placed herself on the Hungarian side whenever there were difficult negotiations between the Hungarians and the court.  At one point, she demanded that Gyula Andrassy, a liberal Hungarian statesman (and rumored to be her lover) be named Premier of Hungary or she would leave the Emperor.  He complied and Elisabeth stayed in the increasingly unhappy marriage.

In 1867, The Austro-Hungarian Compromise resulted in Andrassy becoming Prime Minister of Hungary and in turn, Franz Joseph and Elisabeth were named King and Queen of Hungary.  The couple was gifted with a palace in Godollo, and set up a country residence there, where she built her riding school.  Elisabeth much preferred her Hungarian home to her Austrian one and rarely went back to Vienna.  In 1868, she gave birth to another daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie.  She was determined to raise this child herself and openly rebelled against her mother-in-law.  Soon after, the elder Archduchess Sophie died forever losing the power to control her son, his wife and their children.

With the oppression of her mother-in-law lifted, it would be assumed that Elisabeth would take control of her children and family, but instead, she drifted further away from them and began a life filled with travel.  She claimed that if she arrived at a place and knew she couldn’t leave, it would become a living hell.

In 1889, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph’s only son, and heir to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire died.  He was found with his 17 year old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera.  It was determined a murder/suicide committed by the 30 year old Rudolf.  The death would cause a lasting rift between Elisabeth and Franz, and Hungary and Austria.  The line of succession would now be passed to Franz Joseph’s brother and his son, leaving Hungary out of the picture.

In perpetual mourning and never to wear anything but black again, the Empress Elisabeth continued her travels.  When her health prevented her from riding, she took to making her servants endure miles long hikes and walks in the wilderness.  At fifty, she took up fencing with the same intensity as she had other sports.  She also threw herself into writing, became an inspired poet and wrote nearly five hundred pages of verse.  She despised court life and would often travel in disguise, without her entourage, to avoid being recognized.  Unfortunately, this decision ultimately led to her death.

               In 1898, Elisabeth and her lady-in-waiting left a hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva on foot to catch a steamship for Montreux.  Wanting to avoid a “procession” or to be recognized as a person of significance, she ordered her servants to travel ahead by train.  Since she was without protection, this gave Luigi Lucheni, an Italian anarchist, a perfect opportunity.  In town to kill the Duc D’Orleans, and failing to find him, the assassin learned from a Geneva newspaper that a woman traveling under the name of “Countess of Hohenembs” was the Empress Elisabeth.  Soon after she and her lady exited the hotel, Lucheni stabbed her under the breast with a hand-made needle file.

Lucheni stated after the murder, “I am an anarchist by conviction…I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign…it did not matter to me who the sovereign was…It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.”  Had he done his homework, he would have realized that Elisabeth was famous for preferring the common man to courtiers, was known for her charitable works and was a rebel within her own home and community and stood up for the underdog.

The entire Austro-Hungarian Empire was in deep mourning.  On September 17, 1898, eighty-two sovereigns and high-ranking nobles followed her funeral procession to the tomb in the Church of the Capuchins.  Her husband was devastated and quoted as saying, “That a man could be found to attack such a woman, whose whole life was spent in doing good and who never injured any person is to me incomprehensible.”

Although exceedingly eccentric, Empress Elisabeth of Austria became a historical icon.  Her limited though significant influence on Austro Hungarian politics temporarily soothed a troubled empire.  She will always be known as a liberal non-conformist who valued freedom and the rights of the individual above anything else.  Ironically, she herself could not escape the gilded cage.