I have a number of friends and acquaintances in the Order of Julian of Norwich who are named Mary Jane, a name I took to be English in origin, and have wondered whether there could be any connection between this popular name and the first two Queens of England, Lady Jane Grey (reigned 9 days) and Mary Tudor. It would be a strange connection of course, for these two amazing women found themselves on opposite sides of a deadly struggle for English Succession, and the struggle in the Tudor family between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Alas, this romanticised theory about the name appears to be just that, and not grounded in reality. Indeed, the combination of the two names appears to be American in origin.
But it does raise my interest in these two women, who fought each other for the English throne between the death of Edward VI and Elizabeth I. At the time, Mary was 37 years old and a Catholic, the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Jane was Protestant and only 15, though already considered the most educated woman in the realm. Jane’s claim to the throne as a grand-niece of Henry VIII was somewhat less defendable than Mary’s. But the rule of young Edward VI saw the Protestant Regents, the Dukes of Suffolk and Northumberland, were interested in keeping things that way. They managed to convince Edward to drop both the Catholic and the questionable Elizabeth from the line of succession, and place Lady Jane on the throne – asuming she would be obedient and malleable. She reigned for 9 days before being overthrown by Mary, and eventually executed.
It is a complicated and fascinating tale, much too involved to recount here. But you will want to look up both these Queens on your own.
My point in all this is that the turbulant era between the death of Henry VIII and the acession of Elizabeth I, England went through the agony of political intrigue, social unrest, and religious conflict. On this grand stage were two women who genuinely cared about their faith, surrounded and manipulated by various men whose chief interest was to secure the throne of England for themselves or their parties. The English nobility had benefited greatly (financially) by Henry’s shift toward Protestantism, and his dissolution of the Catholic monasteries. It was in their interest that England remained Protestant. The Spanish royal family (from whom had come Catherine of Aragon) coveted the English throne for themselves, for which it was necessary that England be returned to Catholicism.
As has so often been the case in history, men of political conviction and bent upon acquiring power played the “religion” card, claiming the favor of God for their side. They either got that power or disappeared from history, but it was “religion” that got the bad name.
The question for you today, then, is to ask how much of your religious conviction is motivated by true faith, and how much by the self-serving interest of power, rank, prestige, or reputation? Most likely in your own case this is not an issue – but it has ever been the cause of dissention, strife, enmity, war and death in the history of the human race. So it is always worth asking whenever we do honest self-examination.
Three of the actors on this stage were executed for their efforts. Mary alone survived to have a brief and troubled reign, before dying on the throne five years later.
~ Will, ObJN