At the age of sixteen, Lady Jane Grey of Suffolk was Queen of England for only nine days before she was beheaded by her cousin, the soon-to-be “Bloody” Mary Tudor. This alone makes Lady Jane Grey perhaps the saddest and most unjust story in all of Tudor history, a dynasty that was fraught with trouble, betrayal and death.
In Innocent Traitor, Alison Weir begins at the beginning, before Jane is born, with her mother and father, Frances and Henry Brandon. Frances Brandon, even as a Duchess, carries herself to the full extent of her royal blood (Henry VIII is her uncle) and has whispered aspirations for the throne through her son someday. However, what she receives is a girl: Jane. The eldest of three girls, Jane then bears the brunt of her parents’ ambition and perfectionism. Weir paints a vivid picture of her abusive parents and their aspirations with Jane as their puppet, as well as their eventual downfall with the execution of their daughter. She also presents the bright spots in Jane’s existence, her faith, her studies, and her loving nurse Mrs. Ellen.
Written in diary style, Weir gives a glimpse, not only into Jane’s private thoughts but also into those of her mother, father, her nurse, the last wife of Henry VII, Catherine Parr, and men of the King’s council. The final entry of the book is the most surprising, as well as the most moving.
Alison Weir has made her career writing books (not all of them novels) based on the history and intrigues of royalty. Two of those works are Queen Isabella and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her research and handling of the historical figures are impeccable and lively. The characters are painted in such vibrancy and color as to make them meaningful to you, it doesn’t matter whether you love or hate them. If you didn’t like to read history in school, here is a fun and interesting way to do it.
This the first of Weir’s books that I have read, and, personally, I loved it. I don’t think there’s enough fiction written about the Jane’s in the Tudor Era: Jane Grey and Jane Seymour. Jane Grey was just as educated as Mary and Elizabeth who would outlive and rule after her, and was a woman of firm belief and adamant faith.
The diary style of the novel also served to draw you into the characters. Frances Brandon’s pride and insistence on her whim and way, especially at the expense of her daughters, made absolute hatred well up inside me. That deep-seated loathing that makes you have to put the book down for a little bit and collect yourself, or, in my case, rant to my husband about what a horrible person Frances is.
I finished this book in mid-air on the way home to the Cayman Islands to visit my family and I found myself crying at its inevitable conclusion and then proclaiming to myself, “I really liked that book.”
And that, my friends, is a really good sign, and a very good start.
5/12/2012 – Oh, yeah! Totally reading this one again! ^_^