A Private Execution

“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?    

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7 Comments

Filed under art, fear, life

7 responses to “A Private Execution

  1. Unfortunately, we are not always in control of ourselves at the moment of death. When young I often rehearsed wise and brave things to say as my life ebbed away with calm dignity but age has taught me that too often the brain precedes the body into dissolution and death is a messy undignified affair.

    The painter’s desire to turn Jane into a Romantic heroine naturally ennobles his view of her death.

    Email SilverTiger

  2. shewalksinbeauty

    The scene is very gentle and calming which is almost unnerving considering the size of the axe the exocutioner is holding. There is a certain sweetness to it as well. It certainly depicts human kindness in the face of death in trying to help someone come to a dignified end…even if that end is by their own hand. A bit “Kevorkian” if you will.

    I am only put off by the scene in the background. The woman facing away from us troubles me.

  3. The two women in the background appear to be mourners. I’m sure this is a much romanticised version of the actual execution, don’t you? I can’t imagine having life snuffed out at such an early age and just willingly walking into it. As for aging and views on death, yes, I’m sure I’ll be “ready,” someday, but not until I reach my 80’s at least!!

  4. Silvertiger – it is true that death is rarely romantic or even noble. But people do surprise at such times, don’t you think? How we will act may be as much of a surprise to ourselves as anyone else. With dignity, I hope, and maybe even at peace.
    SWIB – Perhaps there is a certain peace that descends on any situation that has become inevitible. Although, I cannot say that this is true of a visit to the dentist…
    H&H – This is a highly romanticised vision of an execution – and yet do some people go to such a fate calmly and even heroically? History shows us that this is possible. Oh, and I wish you a long life to 80 and beyond!

  5. beetales

    Thanks for your note of welcome. How did you find my blog? I’ve only just started playing around with it. I saw this painting at the National Gallery in London some years ago and was very struck by it… (tho’ perhaps partly influenced by having seen a movie on Lady Jane many years before).

  6. Hi Beetales – I think I came across your post on that part of the dashboard called “Tag Surfer.” I hope you enjoy playing around – come visit again someday.

  7. Maggie

    I find the color of her dress most telling; it is white whilst those around her are dressed in dark colors. The executioners leggings being a rich red, the color of blood perhaps?

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