I find the Tudor period truly fascinating. I believe the first time I read about it was in Jean Plaidy’s novel “Murder most royal“, that told the story of some of the wives of Henry VIII, from Anne Boleyn to Katherine Howard, both of them accused of adultery and consequently beheaded by order of the king their husband. If in Anne Boleyn it all seems to have been a fabrication, it was most probably true in Katherine Howard’s case. As a macabre coincidence, both women were cousins, belonging to the powerful Howard family.
I read that book many times and have read countless others on Henry himself, his wives, his daughters Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I, and with every new book there are new stories, new angles to discover as this is a very rich period of England’s life. Not to mention the brilliant “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel that depicts the intrigue of court life as no other book I’ve ever read.
I’ve also enjoyed all of Philippa Gregory’s books about this period and as I noticed a new one had come out I was intrigued by its title “The last Tudor” (Touchstone). As far as I knew the last Tudor was Elizabeth I, who died unmarried and without heirs, but then I discovered the book was about another Tudor line, that of the Grey sisters, not so well known by the public as the reigning line.
I had of course heard about Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for only nine days, such a brief period that she is not even included in the long line of Britain’s sovereigns. She was the granddaughter of one of Henry VIII sisters, and so might have some claim to the throne, especially due to her Protestant religion.
Henry VIII was obsessed all his life for the need to have a son, a male heir. He had two daughters and only one son, by his third wife Jane Seymour, who succeeded his father as Edward VI. But he was a sickly young man who only lived until he was sixteen, thus dying without any offspring.
At the time England was rife with religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants, and the king’s immediate heir was his older sister (male descendants taking precedence over female ones) Mary Tudor, who was a staunch Catholic, while the young king and his closest advisors were all Protestants, and the latter would naturally lose influence with a Catholic queen. The prevent this, the mos influential noblemen at court conspired together to crown as queen Jane Grey, who was a very pious young girl devoted to the Protestant faith. Although she had no ambition to take the throne she was told it was her duty as a Protestant, that she would save England from the “papists” (as Catholics were called then) and she had no choice but to comply. However there were many who supported Mary Tudor as Henry VIII’s daughter, even Protestants, so as soon as Jane was put (literally) on the throne Mary gathered an army that marched into London, and the city opens its gates to the person they recognized as their true queen.
In the Tower of London, where she had lived as a queen for only a few days, a bewildered Jane saw how her dream of a Protestant kingdom came to an abrupt end, and hoped her cousin the new queen would understand she had been nothing but a puppet in the hands of ambitious men. She could not understand her acts had been labelled as treason, nor would she renounce her Protestant faith to find favour with the Catholic queen. She was so innocent she could not believe her ears when she was told there would be no mercy, as in her heart she knew she had never wanted to be a queen or usurp anyone’s throne; she would have been happy with a quiet life surrounded by her books and prayers, but in the end it was not possible and her fate was a tragic one. She will always be remembered as the “nine days queen”.
The book does not end with Jane’s story, in fact it’s only the beginning. It goes on to tell the story of her younger sister Katherine Grey who, already during the reign of Elizabeth I (who succeeded her Catholic sister Mary, and favoured a return to Protestantism), is not allowed by the queen to live her love story as she is dangerously near to the throne and a possible heiress to the childless unmarried queen; and ultimately the story if their youngest sister Mary, very small in stature, almost a “doll”, but a fearless lady who would fight for her happiness and in the end achieve an independent status that none of her older sisters had managed to get.
I very much enjoyed this book, based mostly on true facts. Ambition, revenge, ruthlessness, court intrigue and forbidden love all come together to ensure you will spend a few enjoyable hours of reading while learning more about yet another fascinating chapter of England’s history.