This is a continuation of my obsession. I don’t joke when I say I literally have a shelf of Tudor literature. This is only a portion of it.
History seems to always remember everybody and yet they always miss pivotal people. When reciting the English Monarchy most people recite it as such “King Henry VIII, Edward, Mary Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I, James.” But they’re missing someone. I know. There was no one else listed in your high school history book. Your history professor in college totally breezed over the Tudors. No where, at no time, was another monarch EVER mentioned. Oh, but there was. Her name? Lady Jane Grey.
Lady Jane Grey is the granddaughter of Mary Tudor, King Henry VIII’s sister. After the death of King Henry VIII, the throne went to his sickly son, Edward. He was the only son of KHVIII and Jane Seymour, the only woman he claims to have ever loved. Edward was a staunch Anglican and fully believed in the church his father had created away from the Pope and Catholicism of the rest of Christendom. As Edward’s health continued to decline, there was a rush and panic as to the order of succession. Edward was not married and had produced no heirs. As it stood, Mary Tudor, his older half-sister, daughter of Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, was in line next. Mary, as her mother, was a zealot Catholic and had plans to purge the country of its wrong doers. A plan emerged.
In a panic, Lady Jane was married to the son of Edwards Chief Minister, Guilford Dudley. You should recognize the name Dudley, as Robert Dudley is known as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s best friends through childhood as well as adulthood. It has been speculated that they were even lovers. ANYWHO.
As Edward lay dying, he was convinced to name his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor for fear of what his sister would do to the Anglican Church after he passed. Lady Jane Grey was queen on England from July 10 1553- July 19 1553. At that time, Mary Tudor, Edward’s sister, was able to rally her supporters and took over the government. Lady Jane Grey was imprisoned.
Alison Weir is one of my favorite Tudor historians, as I own a number of her books. The Innocent Traitor follows the story of the young and pretty Lady Jane Grey. Jane was the victim of circumstance. Though to an extent she did not quarrel what was expected of her, she was young and pushed into this role by her father, father-in-law and the world she lived in. This book follows the plans, the wedding, the imprisonment and ultimate beheading of Lady Jane Grey.
Jane was a beautiful, intelligent, and quiet young lady. She loved her cousin Edward dearly. She loved learning and the growth of her mind. She had reservations and fears of being thrust upon the throne of England. Weir does a spectacular job documenting the journey this brave young woman took in the format of a diary from the point of view of those involved. Jane Grey, Frances Brandon, Queen Katherine Parr (Henry’s last wife), Mary Tudor, and of course the Dudley men all have their moments throughout the book.
It is so easy to get swept into this world. It is so easy to be shocked that history has somehow forgotten to mention this story in its text books. You can not help but feel helpless and cheer for the young woman as she is thrust into the world of men, royalty and schemes. There is an empathy built around the characters that leaves you in tears as you finish the last pages. I think what takes my breath away and makes this story so much harder to read is knowing that….it happened. This innocent young woman was beheaded because of the pride of men. Though this is a work of historical fiction, there is a great deal of truth to much of what has been written. As she stay in the tower during her imprisonment in February 1554, Lady Jane Grey writes, “If my faults deserve punishment, my youth at least and my imprudence, were worthy of excuse. God and posterity will show me more favor.” It is a shame that much of history has forgotten to show her the favor she so awkwardly earned as she flailed for the block in her final moments.
After being found guilty of high treason, among other charges, she was led to the block as so many others had in the previous years before during her Uncle’s reign. Along with her, Guiliford her husband, as well as his father John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, two of the other Dudley sons, and her father were all beheaded.
This is an enveloping, easy read. The only thing that I wish had been included is a family line of the Dudley’s, just to make it easier to keep track of all of them. They had quite the brood! The family line of the Tudor’s is extraordinarily helpful when trudging through not only this book, but many other Tudor books I’ve read throughout the years. ALWAYS have one handy if the book doesn’t provide one. There are way too many people, Catherines, Katherines, Anne’s, Mary’s….you get the picture. I would definitely recommend this to one of my high school students. Since it is more of an easy read I would suggest this to a 9th or 19th grader unless they were at a lower reading level or I knew they enjoyed historical fiction. Weir’s bright, descriptive and fast paced writing makes this book delectable and devour-able!