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27 DEC, 2009

New Jane Grey Books...

Posted By Hope Walker

In the last few months there have been at least two new (popular) books on the Grey Family published; in both cases, the main focus of the books is Queen Jane Grey. I have not yet had the chance to read either book, so before I comment on the spring travel arrangements, the following take on these two books is based upon reviews and/or materials published online by the authors and/or their publishers. I should also add that at first blush it may appear as though I am violating my own policy in publicly commenting on the attribution of a Eworth picture prior to the completion of my dissertation. However, as you will see, I have already published my opinion on this specific picture and therefore feel free to repeat my views here.

In October 2009 Wiley-Blackwell published Eric Ives’ Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. The link will take you to Amazon.com, where you will find commentary from Ives. Here he has continued an old debate about the attribution of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Eworth portrait–a portrait that in times past has been linked to both Mary I (when Princess) and Jane Grey. Underneath the portrait, Ives–who has titled the picture Mary I–has written the following caption:

“Jane's cousin and the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, Mary was more than 20 years older than Jane. In 1553, at the age of 37, Mary was short, skinny, and myopic. She was also armored with an absolute conviction about her duty to God, and was prepared to do whatever it took to ascend the throne and return the country to Catholicism. With the help of key supporters and an unexpected turn of events, Mary deposed Jane in a political coup that led Jane to the scaffold..”

Between the title change (from Unknown Lady to Mary I) and the text below it, Ives’ implication is clear: Hans Eworth’s picture at the Fitzwilliam Museum is a portrait of Queen Mary I. In order to understand why Ives attribution is an issue for me, a short bit of history on this picture is in order.

In 2005 Historian J. Stephan Edwards argued that this same work is a portrait of Lady Jane Grey. At the same time Edwards was studying the portraiture of Jane Grey–including this picture–I was busy studying this specific portrait as part of my undergraduate studies at University College London and Seattle University; he and I had no inkling that we were working on the same picture, although we would subsequently discover this soon after his research was published. Fast forward to March 2007, when I was invited to comment on the attribution of the picture at the behest of Philip Mould Ltd, who was then about to hold an exhibition of Tudor portraits in London. As my catalogue entry for this exhibition indicates, there is no evidence that this work is a portrait of Queen/Lady Jane Grey, either before or after she took the throne. And, subsequent to having read my entry in the Mould catalogue, Edwards has been reasonably persuaded by my argument and has since reversed his opinion that this work is a portrait of Lady Jane Grey. As our recent correspondence has indicated, he is now quite open to other possible identifications, including my own (see below).

Returning now to Ives’ attribution, although there is a standing tradition that this picture is a portrait of Mary I when Princess, there is no solid evidence of that sitter attribution, either.

[Given the clothing this sitter is wearing, it is extremely unlikely that it is a portrait of Mary I when Princess as some of the fashions being worn did not become fashionable until the end of Mary's reign. There are also five portraits of Mary I by Eworth and this sitter looks like none of them, although the faces of the others all likely come from one, perhaps two, face pattern(s). And there is no evidence that Lady or Queen Mary ever owned a prayer book such as the one shown or a jewel with Queen Esther on its face, as this sitter is wearing. I should add that Roy Strong, who published the first catalogue on Eworth in 1964, also stated that this work was not a portrait of Queen Mary.]

In the Philip Mould catalogue I argue that–given what can be known of the picture–the most likely sitter is Lady Jane Dormer, Queen Mary I favorite lady-in-waiting and a woman who would later marry Philip II best friend Don Gomez Suarez de Figueroa (later the Duke de Feria). I should like to add, however, that I have not yet read Ives book. I understand that he devotes a 9-page chapter to the portraiture of Jane Grey and until I have read it I won’t be able to comment on his specific argument. Still, knowing what I do about this picture’s history–and in fact having advanced its provenance in the not-too-distant past–I feel certain that there is very little chance that Ives could convince me that this picture is a portrait of Queen or Princess Mary.

Moving on to the second book: Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating review of another Jane Grey book: Leanda de Lisle’s The Sisters Who Would be Queen. The book is the story of the Grey sisters (Jane, Mary, and Catherine); we may remember that Jane was, for nine days, the Queen of England. According to Historian William Anthony Hay, de Lisle’s book:

“argues that Jane Grey’s fate has much to tell us about the power of kingship in England and religious upheaval of the 16th century. The tale also highlights the fragile underpinning of a social and political order that may seem, from our point of view, absolutist and grimly inevitable. And Ms. de Lisle’s revisionist account shatters the image of female helplessness imposed on Jane by later writers; in this telling, she is more leader than pawn.”

Although, again, I have not read this book, this kind of thinking–of Jane as more than a simplistic puppet–certainly must owe some of its heft to the work of the same J. Stephan Edwards mentioned above. His website Some Grey Matter.com discusses his 2007 dissertation, the subject of which is Queen Jane Grey. His general view is exactly that–that far from being the puppet of others, Jane Grey was very much her own woman. And although he and I have had our debates about the portraiture linked with Jane Grey, Edwards is a fine scholar and one hopes that his book on Lady Jane Grey will find a publisher sooner rather than later. The arena of Jane books is in need of a modern academic take on her life and Edwards important work deserves wider distribution.

In other news, as promised I am beginning the process of planning my US Eworth research trips. Eworth pictures are located in Denver, Chicago, and New York and I am weighing the various potential methods of travel. I hope to be able to make one giant sweep across the US, spending a day at each collection and then moving on to the next. Given the economy, a series of plane tickets is probably the most economical of travel options and it will allow me to gather a large collection of research materials fairly swiftly, which is never bad as far as I am concerned. Still, given the nature of my work and my track-record with such jaunts, I trust that the portrait gods will wait until I am safely back in Seattle and then three more Eworth’s will pop up in Florida or Maine or some other distant state. But that wouldn’t be so bad after all, come to think of it. I’m still searching for his Mars and Venus and a trip to Florida in the middle of a Seattle spring to see another Eworth isn’t such a tragedy.

Happy Holidays Everyone and a very Happy New Year.

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