Another thing that to me spoke in her favour was the fact that she was residing in London from at least 1552. (Her husband from 1551, they must have been married by 1552 for her brother to be her husband's brother-in-law that year. According to a primary source cited in The Reluctant Ambassador: The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Chaloner, Tudor Diplomat by Dan O'Sullivan the couple married at Shrovetide 1551/2.)
This part is admittedly subjective and rather fanciful. But the lady in the Rotherwas Portrait has always looked defiant to me, angry.
J. Stephan Edwards notices that she faces the viewer squarely, uncommon in portraits of women of the sixteenth century. And that even more unusually, she gazes directly at the viewer.
What I noticed was the lady's pose.
As the Lady Jane Grey Dudley walked solemnly across the frozen ground of the Tower of London and toward the scaffold on which she was to be executed, she read silently from a tiny hand-written book of reformist prayers that she carried with her. (The Lady Jane Grey's Prayer Book: British Library Harley Manuscript 2342, Fully Illustrated and Transcribed – Introduction by J. Stephan Edwards)
«To console herself in her final moments, Jane carried in her hands a miniature prayer book no bigger than the palm of her own hand. She recited the prayers from its pages as she walked.»
Of her execution, The Chronicle of Queen Jane tells us that Lady Jane Grey ‘came fourthe, the levetenaunt leding hir, in the same gown wherin she was arrayned, hir countenance nothing abashed, neither her eyes enything moysted with teares, although her ij. gentylwomen, mistress Elizabeth Tylney and mistress Eleyn, wonderfully wept, with a boke in hir hande, wheron she praied all the way till she cam to the saide scaffold, wheron when she was mounted &….’
The earliest source, The ende of the Ladye Iane vpon the scaffolde, speaks of how she addressed the people assembled there, saying 'I doo wash my handes thereof in innocencie, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day,' and how she then 'wrong her handes, in which she had hir booke.'
A few months earlier, on the 13th of November 1553, Lady Jane Grey, her husband Guildford Dudley, his brothers Ambrose and Henry, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer were tried for treason at a public trial at London’s Guildhall. They were led from the Tower of London, through the streets on foot. The Chronicle of Queen Jane describes the procession, although some of the wording is missing: «Next followed the lorde Gilforde Dudley, between (blank) Next followed the lady Jane, between (blank), and hir ij. gentyll- women following hir. Next followed the lorde Ambrose Dudley and the lorde Harry Dudley. The lady Jane was in a blacke gowne of cloth, tourned downe ; the cappe lyned with fese velvett, and edget about with the same, in a French hoode, all black, with a black byllyment, a black velvet boke hanging before hir, and another boke in hir hande open, holding hir (the entry breaks off).»
My (again rather fanciful) thought was that the lady in the Rotherwas Portrait had witnessed either the execution or Lady Jane Grey on her way to her trial, and emulated her pose in sympathy.
Perhaps presumptively the procession to the trial, as Lady Jane Grey's execution was private, but then again, Lady Jane Grey's gentlewoman 'Mistress Ellen' has never been identified ...
The idea that she was Lady Jane Grey's old nurse, is sadly a modern invention. The names Helen and Ellen were interchangeable in this time period. At least one book standardises the spelling of 'mistress Eleyn' to 'Mistress Helen'.
For the sitter to have such sympathy for Lady Jane Grey, she must probably have been a Protestant. There is nothing decidedly in the Rotherwas Portrait to declare the sitter for either the New or the Old religion.
The inscription on the 'saile' or banderole on her brooch is in English, but this can be found in pre-reformatory jewellery as well. Girdle prayer books were an originally Catholich invention, though of couse we know that they were also favoured by reformers like Katherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey herself. The writing in the book has been rendered illegible by too-aggressive cleaning, but it does appear to be in English, which could be an indication that the sitter was a Protestant, but not all Catholic devotional texts were in Latin, either, though most were.
But what was Helen Chaloner Farnham?
Nothing could readily be found on that lady's thoughts on religion. But of her husband, History of Parliament writes that 'He opposed the initial measures to restore Catholicism'. That sounds promising concerning Helen's persuasions, though it is of course by no means certain that she and her husband shared this conviction. Since her husband's History of Parliament page had a handy link to her brother's, I followed the link there and found that History of Parliament described him 'As a convinced Protestant' and that 'the potential danger from his Protestant sympathies was probably averted by his removal from the London scene to the north, where he was employed for most of the [Mary's] reign.' There is a second entry for Helen's husband at History of Parliament, where we find the following information: 'His will is long, revealing his interests and friends in Leicestershire and London, and confirming the presumption, based on his appearance in the list of those who stood for the ‘true religion’ in the Parliament of October 1553, that he held radical religious views, for the beneficiaries included many of the leading puritans of the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. Probably 16 men who sat in the House of Commons during the reign are mentioned, most being puritans; nine were Farnham’s fellow-Members in 1559, when he was returned for Thomas Copley’s borough of Gatton.'
With both a husband and a brother as convinced Protestants, chances are that Helen was the same.
I should have thought that would be a prerequisite for being a lady to Lady Jane Grey as well.
Having reached this far, I thought, I shall reach no further. Then I promptly discovered that Helen's brother, Sir Thomas Chaloner had written an elegy on the death of Lady Jane Grey.
Full translation by J. Stephan Edwards of Sir Thomas Chaloner’s Elegy on the Death of Lady Jane Grey.
J. Stephan Edwards writes of the author in the introduction: «Sir Thomas Chaloner (or ‘Challoner’, sometimes called ‘The Elder’ to distinguish him from his stepson of the same name) was a courtier active primarily as an ambassador during the reign of Elizabeth I. He is best known as the first to translate Erasmus's Praise of Folly (Moriæ Encomium) into English, as well as for his own original compositions of epic poetry in Latin. Chaloner was a friend of many who had known Jane Grey personally, including Walter Haddon, John Cheke, and William Cecil. It is not known whether or how well Chaloner himself actually knew Jane, though he probably met her on more than one occasion. Chaloner was involved in the investigations into Thomas Seymour’s conduct in 1549 and may have met her briefly in the course of those duties. He was not a party to the events of 1553, as he was away on ambassadorial duties in France during the summer of that year. Chaloner died in 1565 at age 44.»
The elegy is interesting, and in parts, moving reading.
In spite of its panegyric nature, it is oddly personal in places:
I pass over in silence, what she knew about music, dancing and songs: in what way she excelled with the needle, or at drawing with a pen.
Who can suppose? Having expert grasp of the language of the Hebrews, she joined the Arabian language to the words of the Chaldeans.
On the other hand it would be a trifle to recall her speaking like the Greeks or the Italians: other women are heard speaking them in civilized places.
French also and Tuscan discourse added their number to English: if her languages were counted, twice four times together she acquired.
Aged Holy Stridon in acquiring five languages may envy you: our girl has excelled by three.
Hm ... 'our girl'.
There is also something that almost reads an eyewitness description of the execution:
the whitened noble neck (Oh grief!) to the cutting sword, the heroine calmly extending it to the death blow.
Such as Achilles slaughtered Polyxena at the tomb, to the perpetual enormous dishonor of Neoptolemi.
The watching crowd gave flowing tears: she [was] mindful of grace, she bore dying with a clear eye.
And after speaking powerful words the one considered most pleasant [Jane] gave appropriate quiet prayers in order to expel cruelties.
Of course, the author would probably have had access to Here in this booke ye haue a godly epistle made by a faithful Christian A comunication betwene Feckna and the Lady Iane Dudley. A letter that she wrote to her syster Lady Katherin. The ende of the Ladye Iane vpon the scaffolde. Ye shal haue also herein a godly prayer made by maister Iohn Knokes, published c.1554(?), plus it could have been the author's own imagination and poetic embellishments.
That «[t]he watching crowd gave flowing tears is not mentioned in The Chronicle of Queen Jane. It could be author's own addition, or he heard it from an eyewitness, his own sister. If Helen was one of Lady Jane Grey's gentlewomen, her 'Mistress Ellen', she would have been one of the few people who were actually present.
It might also explain this puzzling line:
[Mary] did not forgive this [one], she was not stirred by [Jane’s] youth nor fortitude, nor by nearness of blood, nor (so holy) by pregnancy.
Chaloner is the only source to suggest that Jane may have been pregnant at the time of her execution, something that was highly unlikely.
Just because his sister was an eyewitness, it does not mean that she was a particularly reliable one ;)