THE EXAMPLE OF LADY JANE GRAY
In 1553, England had a queen who reigned only nine days. Her rule was overthrown by "Bloody" Mary, Queen of Scots who was her half sister, and became the next queen of England. Lady Jane Gray was only 17 years old at the time of her nine-day reign. Six months later, "Bloody" Mary had her executed—her head was chopped off.
Lady Jane Gray was a most devout follower of Jesus Christ, and she humbly submitted to her martyrdom. Her behavior and speech at the execution site are an example of a level of faith and devotion that is extremely rare in this world. Jane Gray did not go to the place of execution screaming and fighting. She walked there with dignity, serenity and victory—considering martyrdom a privilege for which few people in this world had been chosen. Following are some excerpts from her letters and speeches during the last six months of her life which she spent in prison (the tower of London).
During her six months imprisonment, Jane Gray wrote a letter to a man who was also condemned to die, but who was wavering in his faith. Jane Gray wrote: (paraphrased into modern English)
Dear Mr. Harding,
I often think about what God meant when he said that, He who puts his hand on the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of heaven, and his instruction to: ...forsake our own way to follow God’s way. You, Mr. Harding, were once such a devout follower of Jesus Christ, and now you seem more of an imp or a devil. I can’t help crying out to you. Why have you preached God’s law and will to others, and you yourself shamefully shrink when your time comes? Your body and soul are choosing to live miserably in this world, rather than to die and gloriously honor and reign with Christ—in whom even death is life. [This letter had many more words of encouragement.]
The night before her execution, Jane Gray wrote to her sister:
As touching my death, rejoice as I do, dear sister, that I will be set free from this corruptible body and take on an incorruptible body. I am assured that I will, in losing a mortal life, gain an immortal life...
On the scaffold, she was permitted to speak to the people before her head was chopped off. In her speech, she said:
"I pray you all to bear me witness that I die a true Christian lady, and that I do not look to be saved by any means other than by the mercy of God through the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ.
"I confess that when I knew God’s word, I neglected it, but loved myself and the world, Therefore this plague and punishment have come on me appropriately and deservingly because of my sins. And yet I thank God that in his goodness he has given me a time of respite to repent. And now, good people, while I am still alive, I pray you, assist me with your prayers.
After this, she knelt and asked permission to sing a psalm. Permission was granted. On her knees, with her eyes up to heaven, and with tears streaming down her cheeks, she sang a psalm of love to God.
Then she stood up, gave her gloves and handkerchief to her maid, her book to a bystander. She untied her royal gown and removed it and her frowes, paaft, and neckerchief. She gave an exquisite handkerchief to her attendant to tie around her eyes.
The executioner knelt down and asked her forgiveness. She gladly gave it. She said to him, "Please dispatch me quickly."
With her eyes blindfolded, she reached out with her hands, felt for the chopping block, and laid her neck on it saying, "Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit!" This was February 12, 1554.
About five years later, "Bloody" Mary, her half sister and Queen of England, was also dead. The judge who sentenced Lady Jane Gray went mad and thought that she was following him for the rest of his life!
The executioner’s request for forgiveness before chopping off her head was not unusual in England in those days. Many devout believers in Jesus Christ were burned to death or had their heads chopped off by the religious and political powers of the day.
Another account of a man who forgave his executioner comes from the same book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: About ten years before Lady Jane Gray’s head was chopped off, a man named George Wishart had a similar experience. This well-educated servant of God was accused by the political and religious powers of the day of heresy, and sentenced to be hung and burned. At the execution site, the hangman walked up to him, kneeled before him, and said, "Please forgive me, sir. I am not guilty of your death."
Wishart said, "Come here." When the hangman approached, Wishart kissed him on the cheek and said, "That’s a token of my forgiveness. Do your job."
Wishart was hung and his body burned. The crowd of people who watched this execution were mourning and they complained that an innocent lamb had been slaughtered.
The above was copied from: Foxe's Book of Martyrs, editor: Marie G. King, Spire Books, Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1968, pages 182-183.