Saturday, 14 June 2008

BOOK REVIEW Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey

The Lady Jane Grey was Queen of England for nine days, 10th-19th July 1553. Her mother, Lady Frances Brandon, Marquess of Dorset, was the daughter of Mary Tudor (King Henry VIII's sister); therefore, Jane was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII. Still, despite her royal lineage, Jane would never have expected to ascend to the throne. Henry VIII had two daughters (Mary and Elizabeth, who would become Mary I and Elizabeth I) and a son (Edward, who would become Edward VI).

Jane's birth closely followed the birth of Henry the VIII's son, Edward, and Jane's mother, disappointed that Jane had not been a son, immediately begins planning to groom Jane to become the wife of Edward and thus become Queen of England. After the death of Henry VIII, at around the age of 10, Jane enters the household of Henry VIII's last queen, Katherine Parr, where she is exposed to a strongly Protestant, academic environment. Jane develops into an intelligent and pious woman. Edward VI ascends the throne, and the fiercely Protestant Duke of Northumberland, Earl of Warwick, John Dudley, acts as regent to the young King Edward VI. As it becomes clear that Edward VI is very ill and will not live, Jane's mother switches her plans for Jane to marry him. She, her husband and Northumberland plot to convince the dying boy king to forbid his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth succession on the grounds that they are of illegitimate birth, and transfer succession to the next in line, the granddaughter of Henry VII, Jane's mother. Jane's mother will then renounce her claim to the throne and pass it on to Jane. Jane's parents agree to marry Jane off to Northumberland's son, Guildford Dudley. Guildford and Jane loathe each other, but must do as their parents demand, so they marry. It is the closest John Dudley can get to being King himself, feeling sure that he can control Guildford, and of course as husband, Guildford will control Jane. Jane does not want to marry Guildford or be Queen, but she is entirely powerless against the adults who control her life. Four days after the death of Edward VI, Jane is crowned Queen.

Mary Tudor has widespread popular support and within days, even Suffolk has abandoned his daughter, Jane, and is attempting to save himself by proclaiming Mary queen. Northumberland's supporters melt away and Suffolk easily persuades his daughter to relinquish the crown, which she never wanted to begin with.

Mary imprisons Jane, her husband and her father in the Tower of London. While Suffolk is pardoned, Jane and her husband are tried for high treason in November 1553. Jane pleads guilty and is sentenced to death. The carrying out of the sentence is suspended. Mary does not want to kill Jane because she realises that Jane has been a pawn in the game of others. She tries to get Jane to convert to Catholicism so she can free her from the Tower, but Jane refuses. Amazingly, Jane's father then supports Sir Thomas Wyatt's rebellion in February 1554 to try to put Jane back on the throne. This seals Jane's fate. On 12 February, she and her husband are beheaded; her father follows them two days later.

These are the facts of what happened to Lady Jane Grey. The novel 'Innocent Traitor', written by prominent historian Alison Weir, makes for a riveting and quick read. The story is told in first person alternately from the points of view of Jane's mother, Jane, Jane's nurse, and other characters. This takes a few chapters to get used to, but is an interesting approach to telling the story. The final chapter is from the point of view of the executioner.

If you enjoy historically accurate historical fiction (not those bodice-ripper types with grey-eyed earls called Raven de Winter Montfitzhue and violet-eyed heroines called Lady Abrielle...gag!), then you will certainly love this book.

This was Alison Weir's first novel, and I intend to read her second novel, 'The Lady Elizabeth', as soon as I finish reading 'Into the Wild'.

May all beings be at ease.

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