Once again, Simonetta Carr brings history to life with a powerful presentation of England’s Nine Day Queen in her latest work, Lady Jane Grey. It is the fifth addition to her Christian Biographies for Young Readers series in which Carr introduces children to some of the most of the most prominent figures of the Christian tradition.
With painstaking historical accuracy, Carr paints a picture of one of the most gripping figures of the English Reformation. Born sometime in 1537, Lady Jane grew up in a privileged family as a relative of King Henry VIII. While Henry did much to promote the Protestant cause, he is also responsible for the persecution and even death of many Reformers. Early on, Carr shows us that history is composed of mortal men with mixed intentions and ambitions, but through whom a Sovereign God accomplishes His purpose.
When Lady Jane was about 10 years old, King Henry died and his young son, Edward, with whom Lady Jane had grown up with became King. Providentially the two had also been exposed to Reformation theology at the Royal Palace. Because he was only 9 years old, a council of men was appointed to help him rule. In turn, the council appointed an uncle, Edward Seymour, to rule until he came of age. What is most significant about this complicated succession plan is that Edward Seymour embraced Reformation theology and there was overall agreement that the time was ripe to introduce the teachings of the Reformers to England.
Shortly after this national turn of events that set England abuzz, Jane was invited to live at the house of Edward Seymour’s brother Thomas. Thomas was married to Katherine Parr, a Reformer herself who mothered Jane and shared her love of books, music, art and dancing. Jane’s time with the Seymour’s was marked by sweetness but sadly cut short when Katherine died 6 days after giving birth. It is at this point that we see certain circumstances being set into motion for which Jane would not only be powerless to change or resist but that would ultimately bring God the greatest glory.
In February 1553, the young King Edward became gravely ill and died — but not before he changed his will and named Lady Jane successor to the throne. This threw his step-sister, Princess Mary (more commonly known as “Bloody Mary”) into a fit of rage. According to the existing plan, Mary was next in line to inherit the throne. But King Edward knew that Mary, a committed Roman Catholic, would put the country back on the road to Rome. He was determined not to let that happen. As events quickly unfolded, a reluctant yet submitted Jane was proclaimed Queen of England. Carr captures the conflicted teenagers troubled soul when she writes that Jane humbly asked God to help her rule “to His glory and service and for the good of the Kingdom – if that was His will” (32) yet upon arrival, she simply could not bring herself to wear the crown that had been brought our for her.
Jane’s reign lasted nine days. In a dramatic turn of events, she was overthrown by Mary, put under house arrest, and ultimately sentenced to death after being tried and found guilty of being a traitor. In what I consider the most haunting part of the book, we walk with Jane to the executioner’s block and enter in the final moments of this precious saints life:
Then she knelt by the block and tied a band around her head, blindfolding her eyes and keeping her hair off her neck at the same time. In the darkness she felt lost. “What shall I do? Where is it?” she said, until someone came to guide her. Her last words were the same that Jesus cried from the cross, “Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit. (54)
In the words of Isaiah 53:7, sweet Jane was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent he opened not his mouth.”
In a letter that throws a floodlight on the heart of this gentle soul, Jane writes to her sister towards the end of her short seventeen years of life:
Desire, sister, to understand the law of the Lord your God. Live to die, that by death you may enter into eternal life, and then enjoy the life that Christ has gained for you by His death. Don’t think that just because you are now young your life will be long, because young and old die as God wills. Strive, then, always to learn how to die. Defy the world, deny the devil, despise the flesh, and delight yourself in the Lord. Repent of your sins, and yet don’t despair. Be strong in the faith, with humility. With St. Paul, desire to die and to be with Christ, with whom, even in death, there is life.
Jane’s legacy is not so much found in the life she lived but the rather the death she died. Perhaps this is what is so compelling about her. It’s tempting to read her story and lament the brevity of the life of this little tender shoot so filled with promise. But in reality, Lady Jane accomplished the best that any of us could ever hope for, and that is to die for Christ.
It is with great pleasure that I recommend Lady Jane Grey. Simonetta Carr continues to do the body of Christ a service by equipping parents and educators with the tools necessary to pass on our Reformation heritage. In Lady Jane Grey we see Carr’s knack for making history understandable and exciting to young minds. Equally captivating is the artwork of the talented Matt Abraxis whose illustrations practically leap off the pages.
If you are interested in pre-ordering Lady Jane Grey click here.
Simonetta’s publisher, Reformation Heritage Books, has graciously contributed 2 books for a special giveaway contest. Please leave a comment if you would like your name to be entered in the drawing. Also, to increase your chances, share this review on your blog, or Facebook and let me know you have done so. I will enter your name for each “share.” The contest will close at 8pm EST on Tuesday, July 17th. Providential winners will be announced Wednesday, July 18th.