Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Ghost of Lady Jane Grey

Ambition, greed and treachery feature in the story of the first of the hauntings to be encountered at Astley. The tale involves two ghosts that flit about the castle ruins. In reality the building was always more of a fortified manor house than a true castle, its comfortable rooms providing luxurious living to generations of the Grey family.

It was in 1553 that fate caught up with the Greys. They had been living prosperous, but relatively quiet, lives for generations. Then Henry Grey married Frances, daughter of the Duke of Suffolk and granddaughter of Mary, sister of King Henry VIII. The marriage brought some wealth, though not much, and family links to court and crown. It seemed a good idea at the time. Then came a succession of early deaths, executions and banishments among the royal family and higher nobility. By the fateful year, Henry’s daughter Jane Grey was fourth in line to the throne.

It was becoming quickly clear that the teenage King Edward VI was dying of consumption. Officially his heir was his sister, the Catholic Mary, but the Protestants believed she was illegitimate. After Mary came another sister, the Protestant Elizabeth, but the Catholics declared that she was illegitimate. The only heir both Catholics and Protestants could accept as legitimate was young Jane Grey, then just 15 years old.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, was by this time the head of government. He was ambitious for his family and arranged a marriage between his son, Guildford Dudley, and Jane Grey. He thus brought his family directly into royal circles, and promised Henry Grey a great deal of patronage as a reward for bullying his daughter into the marriage. But he had higher ambitions. He wanted to keep the crown in Protestant hands, preferably his own. He planned to get rid of both Mary and Elizabeth and instead put Jane on the throne. He hoped to rule through his daughter in law.

Then King Edward died. Northumberland moved fast. He announced that the dying king had left the crown to Jane Grey, as the only undisputedly legitimate heir, and produced a piece of paper signed by the king to that effect. The law officers of the court declared it was illegal as it had not been witnessed by the correct persons, but Northumberland’s sword persuaded them to endorse it. Northumberland then sent for Mary, Elizabeth and Jane. Mary refused, Elizabeth sent a note saying she was ill and only Jane turned up. When told that she was now queen, Jane fainted. When she came to, she said that Mary was the true queen, but later she was forced to agree to become queen herself.

Princess Mary, meanwhile, had been gathering supporters and an army. When she set out for London the citizens turned against the corrupt Northumberland and poor Jane Grey, whom they saw as his stooge. Just nine days after being declared queen, Jane Grey surrendered to Mary and begged for mercy. Poor Lady Jane was promptly tried for treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. But Mary gave her the promised mercy and sent her to prison instead of the scaffold.

And then Jane’s father, Henry Grey, came back into the story. Among Mary’s first acts as queen were bringing in Catholic priests, celebrating Catholic mass and arranging to marry the King of Spain. Protestant opinion was outraged and a rebellion gathered in the midlands. Henry Grey joined the rebels and marched towards London. Mary’s professional soldiers put the uprising down amid much bloodshed.

Henry Grey fled, but his actions had been enough to convince Mary that Jane had to die. On 12 February 1554 the young girl was taken from her rooms at the Tower and beheaded. Her father, meanwhile, had fled to Astley where he hid in a tree. Food and drink was brought to the fugitive by a servant named Underwood. One day, however, Underwood brought the queen’s soldiers rather than food. Grey was arrested, taken to London and executed. The oak in which he had hidden stood just outside the churchyard until 1891, when it came down in a storm.

It is the ghosts of this unhappy father and daughter who are seen in and around the castle. As befits her studious, religious character, Jane is seen sitting reading quietly. Before the castle was gutted by fire, visitors used to mistake the ghost for some local girl in odd costume. Now she seems quite out of place among the gaunt stones and, when she appears, is seen for what she is.

There is no mistaking her father’s phantom for anything other than a ghost. In time honoured fashion he is said to appear headless as he walks around the castle ruins. Unlike the ghost of Jane Grey, however, there are no recent sightings of the ghostly Henry. Perhaps he has ceased his spectral wanderings.

1 comment:

  1. as an ancestor of Lady Jane Gray I would love to be able to visit the tower in hopes of paying gratitude and tribute to my family homage.