Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Lady Jane (Grey) and Young Victoria

There was a succession of factually historical dramas on Sky channels on the last Sunday in November 2010 and I watched two. One was a revelation, Lady Jane (Grey) while the other, I had previously seen in theatre, Young Victoria.

I begin with the basics which I commenced to check during the film watch and discovered that there was only the briefest of mentions in Antonia Frazer’s Kings and Queens of England, with a little more in the Pelican History of England in the Seventeenth Century Maurice Ashley. My main information source was Wikipedia for a more rounded and comprehensive portrait.

Although she was never officially crowned, Lady Jane Grey became the Queen of the UK for nine days from the 10th to 19th July 1553, in between the sickly Protestant child of Henry 8th, Edward VI, and the Catholic Mary (Queen of the Scots) with intentions to marry the King of Spain.

Lady Jane was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey 1st Duke of Suffolk, a man said to have enjoyed the wealth and estates transferred from the Catholic church, and Lady Frances Brandon an ambitious woman who it is alleged plotted with John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, regarded as the most powerful man in the UK to force the marriage with his youngest son, Lord Guilford who was about 18 years of age with Lady Jane 15 to 16 years of age.

Jane is known to have been a very bright young woman for the era, preferring books to the hunting parties which her parent’s favoured with the visiting scholar Robert Ascham writing that he found her reading Plato in the Greek and she also knew Latin and Hebrew as well as contemporary languages. She is also known to have become a passionate and dedicated Protestant and it is this commitment which is alleged to have seen her a willing acceptor of the throne which was willed to her by Edward, over Mary and Elizabeth. Her mother was noted as being a disciplinarian to the point of viciousness, in the film beating her daughter who refused to agree to the marriage because she was too young and unready. In the film her husband Lord Dudley is first portrayed as spending his time gambling, drinking and wenching in the taverns, although he subsequently claims to have been a virgin until his marriage and a free social thinker.

The film suggests that the young couple became passionate lovers, in part because they both shared a rebellion against the authority of their respective parents while Jane was able to convert Dudley to her Protestant viewpoint and he converted Jane to his egalitarian humanism. It is said he like Jane had a humanist education and that he refused a Catholic priest at his execution but the ideas they expressed in the film were only developed by others centuries later.

The major difference between film and reality is that the couple were never lovers as portrayed and with Jane remaining hostile to the marriage, refusing to agree that her husband should become King, the plan of his father who had become Lord President of the Privy Council and had acted as a important adviser to Henry VIII. However she is said to speak lovingly of her husband when writing to Queen Mary to plead for their lives.

So what was a young recently married against her will woman to do when suddenly told she is the Queen, that it was Edward’s official Will because of his wish to ensure the Protestant succession? She is described as being reluctant to accept the position but did so, and as a consequence agreed to the sending of an army to apprehend Mary and Elizabeth who having learnt of the plot had taken flight. In the film Mary orders Northumberland to lead the army instead of her father as planned by the parents.

Someone who witnesses Jane’s procession along the Thames to the Tower, the traditional London home of the Monarchs wrote that she was very short, and thin but pretty shaped and graceful, with small features and well made nose with a flexible mouth and red lips. Her hair nearly red and reddish brown eyes in colour which suggests close proximity or a vivid imagination! She wore a green velvet gown stamped with gold. While Northumberland set forth to capture Mary who had gone to East Anglia where she had many supporters, the Privy Council switched sides thus if it was the couple who changed the original plan for Jane Father to lead the army, the young couple were instrumental in their own demise.

After their capture and imprisonment the film reports that Mary is said to have declared that there would be a trial for treason and condemnation but their lives would be spared. The problem was that a rebellion to remove Mary and reinstate Jane took place so the new Queen was placed under great pressure, including from the church to remove the threat by executing the couple. It is also stated in the film that the insecurity put in jeopardy her marriage. Mary’s father was also executed while his wife married again within weeks and received a full pardon from Mary and lived at court with her two other daughters, having married the Queen’s Master of Horse and Chamberlain.

Jane became something of a cult figures in popular culture, especially among Protestants who regarded her as a Martyr. A young Helena Bonham Carter plays Mary with Jane Lapotaire as Queen Mary and Patrick Stewart as Mary‘s father, Michael Horden as Queen Mary’s Catholic confessor who is sent to persuade Jane to recant and save her life, and Jill Bennett as Jane’s loyal Lady in Waiting. The film is beautifully photographed and commences with a snow clad countryside hunting expedition.

It struck me before seeing this film that a battle over the succession appears to be unfolding in the present day. In the event of the sudden death of Queen Elizabeth her eldest son Prince Charles with succeed and not her eldest child Princess Anne. Charles is not popular with parts of the Establishment, including the right, because of his alleged left of centre views on a number of issues including the contradictions of a monarchy within a democracy and the disestablishment of the Church of England where the Monarch remain its head.

The problem in relation to being head of the Church of England is his admitted marital infidelity and subsequent marriage to a divorcee. He is also unpopular with those who remain supporters of his former wife, Princess Diana. The Prince is also said to have responded in answer to a media question while in the USA or in an interview shown in the USA that he could see a situation where his wife became the Queen rather than retain her present title of Duchess.

Interviewed on camera on the day when his eldest son and second in line of succession, announced his engagement to a commoner, Sarah Middleton, Prince Charles said he was pleased as they had enough practice... meaning that they had been living together as man and wife.

There has already been much talk including articles in some surprising quarters suggesting that there could be a jump in the succession with Prince William becoming the next Monarch and commoner Kate the Queen. It also reported that the marriage is taking place in Westminster Abbey where the controversial burial service for his mother took place and that his mother‘s brother will participate with everyone remembering the applause which broke out when he spoke at his sister‘s funeral proclaiming that he would see that the boys were brought up as she would have wished. Kate is now wearing the same engagement ring given by Charles to Diana and the wedding is to be a national holiday with the Prince stating that members of the public will be invited to attend in addition to the usual great and the good. Of course this could be all coincidence and supposition. I think not

The other film about royalty could be said to have started the present situation, Queen Victoria and her nine children which led to controlling the majority of continuing royal households of Europe. The Young Victoria was seen in theatre and I did write and study the accuracy of the film at that time as I own Elizabeth Longford’s 750 page study of the Queen and David Cecil‘s 500 page biography of Melbourne as well as Dorothy Marshall’s Life and times of the Queen. The film accurately shows how Victoria was prepared for her future role without understanding what it was to be during her early childhood and that there were major problems between her mother and the King (Jim Broadbent) which did come to a head at the birthday day when his outburst in fact reduced the Princess to tears but her mother remained seated although proposed to leave afterwards but was persuaded to remain until the following day.

There are two major inaccuracies in the film. The first is that Melbourne is portrayed as a young man able to influence the Princess and young Queen by his good looks and charm as well as wisdom and was therefore a threat to the proposed marriage to Prince Albert, whereas he was forty years her senior. The other is that the Prince was never shot protecting the Queen from an assassination. However the rest of the film is historically correct.

Sir James Conroy(Mark Strong), an army officer did become the comptroller of the Household of Victoria’s father and mother (Miranda Richardson) and after her father’s death effectively controlled her life and her mother where it has remained rumoured and conjecture he became her lover. What is established is that her mother and Conroy controlled every aspect of Victoria’s life with the aim of becoming regent if she inherited the title before coming of age. She hated him, refused to grant him the Regency and expelled him from the court when she became Queen.

It is also correct that while she loved and adored her husband she initially kept him at arms length in terms of exercising any influence over her role as Queen. In part this was because she was well aware that the marriage had been plotted by the King of Belgium Leopold I with the help of Baron Stockmar in order to bring the UK under European influence. Howver she did change her position and arranged for the two to share duties giving Albert effective control of the Royal Household and placing him in charge of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Their marriage lasted for 20 years until his untimely death in his early forties.

It was also correct that Melbourne exercised party politically biased influence over the Young Queen which made her very unpopular with the public when Sir Robert Peel gained democratic control of Parliament. It was under the influence of Prince she took a direct interest in the welfare of the people Albert and requested official investigation and reports. She only became unpopular again because of long retirement from public life and the alleged excessive influence of her game keeper John Brown but recovered towards the end of her reign. Emily Blunt plays the young Queen and Rupert Friend Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. It was with the first World War with Germany that the Royal Household jettisoned its German origins and became the Windsor’s. Sky and the other TV stations plan their schedules months in advance but the timing of these films so close to the announced engagement is interesting

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