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Judicial Murder



Admittedly, it was all legal.  But it was murder.

A teenage girl – a particularly intelligent one at that, accomplished in Latin and Greek, with a decidedly independent mind – the victim of others’ ambitions and circumstance, executed.

Circumstance – in this case, the accident of a relative’s early death, not to mention her own family and their inheritance.

If the boy king hadn’t died, if her grandfather hadn’t divorced his first wife, if her distant cousin wasn’t a Roman Catholic and if her own learning hadn’t reinforced her own Protestantism – the list goes on and on… then she wouldn’t have been led out that February morning onto Tower Green to be beheaded.



Lady Jane Grey, February 12th 1554


As I cross these old cold stones

and climb the final steps

bible in my hand, for now

accompanied, silently

I wonder at the accident

which has brought me here.


Like you, I had no choice

in who my parents were.

I have been obedient

and follow in the steps

of those who’ve gone before.

I am not the first

nor will I be the last

to pass this darkened way.


No one speaks –

what is there to be said?

I’ve bade farewell – farewell!

to those I love.  Last night

I never slept – no matter,

much darkness lies ahead.

Ahead, ahead – the thought returns

with wishes – how I wish

the boy had lived, then I could too.


So accidents have played their part.

But here the scene is set with care –

they are assembled. No accident is this.

Dry straw awaits its scarlet rain.

So brief it was, his life, poor child.

The rain is sudden, short – it stops

abruptly when there’s nothing left.


Now I am here I go no further.

My nine days were complete.

I am not the first

nor will I be the last

to cross myself a final time

and step up on the stone

holding still this little book

to travel on alone.



Perhaps we all have much less choice than we think we have: all sorts of pre-determinants make for inevitability, along with the unpredictable but critical strikes of chance and accident.  All of which add up to our lives being lived dependent on or driven by factors that are external to our own delusions of free will.

Life might have been very different for this interesting eldest of three sisters, about whom we really know so little. But then she was only about seventeen, with all her life ahead of her.

Or not.

On this her anniversary, I (a father, who once lived with teenage girls) have tried to imagine some of her thoughts at this critical time. Even though it happened nearly five hundred years ago, I can begin to feel a little bit closer to her through the medium of poetry.

Which also reignites anger at the clumsiness, not to say brutality, of judicial decisions taken then.

As well as more recently.




  1. Mark Haworth-Booth20 February 2024 at 07:09

    Thank you, Richard - simple but powerful and moving words.


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