Saving Jane’s Soul … 8 Women of Faith
It is February 10 in the year 1554. We are in a room in the Tower of London, where the Lady Jane Gray (1537-1554), who had been Queen of England for little over a week the previous year – from July 10-19, 1553 – is imprisoned. She has been condemned to death by her cousin Mary I (1516-1558), also known to history as “Bloody Mary.” Though Mary, a die-hard Roman Catholic, is determined to end Jane’s earthly life, Mary also wants to save Jane’s soul. So she has sent one of her most able champions, a Benedictine monk by the name of John Feckenham (c. 1515-1584), to speak to Jane and convince her of her theological errors. Feckenham was no stranger to theological debate, since he has debated a number of leading Protestant theologians in the early 1550s, men such as John Hooper (1500-1555) and John Jewel (1522-1571). He may well have thought that a young woman such as Jane would be hard-pressed to withstand the power of his reasoning.
Jane recorded the conversation after Feckenham left her. According to Jane’s account – and we do not have a similar account from Feckenham, though there seems no reason to doubt the veracity of Jane’s recollection – after Jane had confessed her faith in the triunity of God, she affirmed that people are saved by faith alone. Feckenham responded to this by citing 1 Corinthians 13:2, “If I have all faith…but have not love, I am nothing.” In other words, Feckenham was maintaining that salvation was the result of both faith and love shown by good works. Jane stood her ground:
Jane: True it is, for how can I love him in whom I trust not? Or how can I trust in him whom I love not? Faith and love agreeth both together, and yet love is comprehended in faith.
Feckenham: How shall we love our neighbor?
Jane: To love our neighbor is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give drink to the thirsty, and to do to him as we would do to ourselves.
Feckenham: Why then it is necessary to salvation to do good works and it is not sufficient to believe.
Jane: I deny that and I affirm that faith only saves. But it is meet for Christians, in token that they follow their master Christ, to do good works, yet may we not say that they profit to salvation. For, although we have all done all that we can, yet we be unprofitable servants, and the faith only in Christ’s blood saveth.
Who was this remarkable young woman and how did she come to be in this precarious position in the infamous Tower of London? In some way, Jane’s story is a difficult one to tell since it cannot be understood without due consideration of the politics swirling her life. So as we remember her story, while our focus is going to be on her Christian faith, the political scene cannot be ignored. Jane was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s (1491-1547) youngest and favorite sister, Mary Tudor (1496-1533), and was thus that wily monarch’s great-niece. During Jane’s life she stood fourth in line to the English throne after Henry’s three children – Edward VI (1537-1553), Mary, and Elizabeth (1533-1603) – and was elevated to the crown after the death of her cousin Edward VI in 1553. Thus any consideration of Jane’s life inevitable involves looking at the politics of the day.
Excerpt from Michael A.G. Haykin, “The Witness of Jane Grey, an Evangelical Queen,” in 8 Women of Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 21-23. Click here for more of this intriguing new book on women in Christian history.