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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche

Ejecución de Lady Jane Grey by PAUL DELAROCHE

“The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche

“The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche portrays the moments preceding the death of Lady Jane Grey. She was proclaimed Queen of England in 1553, only to be deposed nine days later and to be executed. Jane is sometimes called the “Nine Days’ Queen” due to the brevity of her reign.

Delaroche painted the subject of Lady Jane’s execution in 1833, nearly 300 years after the event and successful inserted many small details in telling the story to increase the dramatic and emotive elements of the scene. All the figures play their parts through their expressions and gestures of grief and despair. Note the tenderness with which the Lieutenant of the Tower assists blindfolded Jane in finding her execution block. The displeasure in the face of the executioner at the task that confronts him. The grief of Lady Jane’s two female companions. The rings on the block with the ropes to secure it to the floor. The well-honed edge to the axe. The clean straw, placed near the site of the execution to soak up the blood. Most importantly, the white dress, suggesting innocence.

Lady Jane is depicted with her pale complexion, her white bodice and satin petticoat which standout in surrounding darkness. The eye of the viewer is drawn to the white blindfold and her skirt. Lady Jane Grey was aged 17 at her execution.

Paul Delarochein created this oil painting in 1833, and later in 1902, it was bequeathed to the National Gallery, London. It was enormously popular in the decades after it was first exhibited. Later, when historical paintings fell from favor, it was kept in storage for many decades. Displayed again since 1975, it once again has become a highly popular work.

Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII and the cousin of King Edward VI. When Edward VI wrote his will, he nominated Jane and her male heirs as successors to the Crown. He made this choice because his half-sister Mary was Roman Catholic, while Jane was a committed Protestant. Edward VI’s will named his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate and removed them from the succession.

After Edward’s death, at the age of 15, Jane was proclaimed queen in 1553 and awaited coronation in the Tower of London. Meanwhile, support for Mary, the dead King’s half-sister, snowballed, and most of Jane’s supporters abandoned Jane. The Privy Council of England suddenly changed sides and proclaimed Mary as queen, deposing Jane. Her primary advocate, her father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland, was accused of treason and executed less than a month later.

Jane was held prisoner at the Tower and was convicted of high treason, which carried a sentence of death. Although Mary initially spared her life, Jane soon became viewed as a threat to the Crown. This threat was created when her father, Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, became involved in a rebellion against Queen Mary’s intention to marry Philip II of Spain. Both Jane and her husband were executed in 1554, about seven months after being proclaimed queen.

Lady Jane Grey and the slippery Crown

In February 1553, at age 15, Edward fell ill. When his sickness was discovered to be terminal, he and his Council drew up a “Devise for the Succession,” to prevent the country’s return to Catholicism. Edward named his first cousin once removed, Lady Jane Grey, as his heir, excluding his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth.

King Edward VI, died on 6 July 1553, but his death was not announced until four days later. On 9 July Jane was informed that she was now queen, and according to her claims, accepted the crown only with reluctance. On 10 July, she was officially proclaimed Queen of England, France, and Ireland after she had taken up secure residence in the Tower of London.

Edward’s chief minister John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and Lady Jane Grey’s father-in-law faced several challenges in consolidating his power and support for Lady Jane, after Edward’s death. Most importantly, he had to isolate and capture Mary Tudor to prevent her from gathering support. Northumberland set out from London with troops on 14 July to capture Mary. In his absence, the Privy Council switched their allegiance and proclaimed Mary as Queen in London, on 19 July. It seems that Northumberland’s enemies engineered a takeover in the Privy Council in his absence.

On 19 July 1553, Jane was imprisoned in the Tower, as was her husband. Her father in law, the Duke of Northumberland, was executed on 22 August 1553. In September, Parliament declared Mary the rightful successor and denounced and revoked Jane’s proclamation as that of a usurper.

Paul Delaroche

Paul Delaroche (1797 – 1856) was a French painter who achieved successes with painting historical scenes. He became famous for his spectacular depictions that portrayed subjects from English and French history. Delaroche aimed to depict his subjects and history with pragmatic realism and later mentored several notable artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme and Francisque Millet.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey was the most acclaimed of Delaroche’s paintings in its day. Delaroche’s love for Louise, his wife, was the absorbing passion of his life. Unfortunately, after her death in 1845 at the age of 31. Delaroche never recovered from the loss, and he turned to creating a sequence of small, elaborate pictures of incidents in Jesus’s Passion. He focused his attention on depicting the human drama of the Passion.

Reflections

  • Queen for 9 Days. Executed at the age of 17. Does this painting tell the story?
  • Beware of jealous enemies.

Explore the National Gallery, London

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

  • Title:            The Execution of Lady Jane Grey
  • Alternative:  The execution of Lady Jane Grey in the Tower of London in the year 1554
  • Artist:           Paul Delaroche
  • Date:            1833
  • Medium:      Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 246 cm × 297 cm (97 in × 117 in)
  • Museum:      The National Gallery, London

Paul Delaroche

  • Name:        Paul Delaroche
  • Born:          1797 – Paris, France
  • Died:          1856 (aged 59)
  • Nationality: French
  • Notable works:

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“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
– William Shakespeare

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Photo Credit: 1) [Public domain, GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

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