“Jane was then taken out to Tower Green, inside the Tower of London, for a private execution. With few exceptions, private executions applied to royalty alone; Jane’s private execution occurred at the request of Queen Mary, as a gesture of respect for her cousin. John de Feckenham, who had failed to convert Jane, stayed with her during the execution. Jane had determined to go to her death with dignity, but once blindfolded, could not find the executioner’s block. She had begun to panic when an unknown hand, possibly de Feckenham, helped her find her way and retain her dignity in the end.” (Wikipedia)
Lady Jane Grey was only 16 years old and more the victim of royal intrigue than its perpetrator. The picture and story have always interested me on a number of levels. But what strikes me most is her calmness in the face of certain death, the strange conjunction of barbarity and dignity, of cruelty and kindness. De Feckenham’s strange human gesture in the face of inhumanity.
The painting can be viewed as a metaphor for life with many of its themes condensed into one savage moment. We are all condemned to death and we all make choices about how we will face that death and the moments leading to it. Those moments are, of course, now. Will I face the end with dignity and, if not, whose unseen hand will still my final despair?