Monday, January 8, 2018

Book Review - The Last Tudor

The Last Tudor
by Philippa Gregory
513 pages

'The latest novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory features one of the most famous girls in history, Lady Jane Grey, and her two sisters, each of whom dared to defy her queen.

Jane Grey was queen of England for nine days. Her father and his allies crowned her instead of the dead king’s half sister Mary Tudor, who quickly mustered an army, claimed her throne, and locked Jane in the Tower of London. When Jane refused to betray her Protestant faith, Mary sent her to the executioner’s block, where Jane transformed her father’s greedy power grab into tragic martyrdom.

“Learn you to die,” was the advice Jane wrote to her younger sister Katherine, who has no intention of dying. She intends to enjoy her beauty and her youth and fall in love. But she is heir to the insecure and infertile Queen Mary and then to her half sister, Queen Elizabeth, who will never allow Katherine to marry and produce a Tudor son. When Katherine’s pregnancy betrays her secret marriage, she faces imprisonment in the Tower, only yards from her sister’s scaffold.

“Farewell, my sister,” writes Katherine to the youngest Grey sister, Mary. A beautiful dwarf, disregarded by the court, Mary keeps family secrets, especially her own, while avoiding Elizabeth’s suspicious glare. After seeing her sisters defy their queens, Mary is acutely aware of her own danger but determined to command her own life. What will happen when the last Tudor defies her ruthless and unforgiving Queen Elizabeth?


Okay, I'm starting to think author Philippa Gregory hates Queen Elizabeth I.   Her other book, The Virgin's Lover (reviewed HERE) portrayed her as a whining, helpless ninny who couldn't rule a room much less a country.  This book also presents her as someone not fit to rule, as someone so vain and petty and consumed by jealousy . . . just a monstrously horrible woman.  I do realize that this book is a version of Elizabeth as seen through the eyes of three women who were greatly wronged by the Tudors, but still, it does nothing to help Elizabeth's overall character as portrayed by this author.

And yes, I'm well aware that Philippa Gregory is constantly slammed for historical inaccuracies and weak writing style.

This book is sort of three stories.  It follows the three Grey sisters: Jane, Katherine, and Mary.  Most people know of Jane but I'm pretty sure not many people know about her two sisters.  I certainly didn't.  The first 107 pages follow Jane's story.  She was the 16 year old who became the Nine Days Queen when her overly ambitious family forced her into marriage with another overly ambitious family and then forced her onto the throne as Queen of England after Henry VIII's ruling son Edward died.  While she did technically have a claim to the throne, Henry's daughter Mary I was none too pleased when she came to town and took that throne for herself, and had Jane executed.  This story fills me with heartbreak and rage.  It's just like with the story of the Boleyn girls, how their overly ambitious family pushed and plotted and sacrificed their daughters in greedy hopes of power and glory.  The movie I've seen about this (Lady Jane, starring Helena Bonham Carter) has Jane as more of a clueless teen, acting as teens do.  This book shows Jane as a religious fanatic.  This book's version of Jane is almost scary.  You want to just shake her and scream some sense into her, but she's so convinced this is all for a far greater calling and accepts what comes to her.  She gets very preachy at the end, which leaves her sister Katherine furious.

And then, upon Jane's execution, the story switches to younger sister Katherine's story for the next 243 pages.  I knew absolutely nothing about Katherine before reading this book so it was interesting in that aspect.  After Mary died and Elizabeth took the throne, Katherine technically did have a claim to it as well.  This book keeps harping on the fact that Elizabeth would not name an heir to the throne and that Katherine was the obvious choice.  Okay, we get that.  It got sooooo SO annoying to be reminded of this fact practically every other sentence of Katherine's part of the story!  This is where the author's weak writing style comes in.  We don't need to have every person's full name and title presented to us every time they are mentioned, and we don't need the same facts explained to us over and over and over again.  As for Katherine's actual story, she was a beautiful young lady in Elizabeth's court who fell for a handsome young man from a noble family.  They wanted to marry for love but feared Elizabeth would never allow it because she'd see it as a threat to her place on the throne.  Katherine and Ned marry secretly and she ends up pregnant.  They try to keep it all a secret but, well, when you're eventually showing hugely pregnant someone is bound to figure it out.  Queen Elizabeth is furious and has them arrested, making it like they were plotting to overthrow her.  They were imprisoned apart from each other in the Tower, and Katherine gave birth to a son there.  This angered and threatened Elizabeth even more because now Katherine, who already had a claim to the throne, has presented a male heir and has a noble husband.  To make matters worse, sympathetic guards let Ned visit Katherine often and, oops, she ends up pregnant again.  And oops, has *another* boy.  Elizabeth splits the family up, sends Katherine and one son to live under house arrest in one place, sends Ned and the other son to live under house arrest somewhere else.

Then the story moves to Mary's life for the remaining 156 pages of the book.  Mary is the youngest of the sisters, of little threat to anyone.  Some historical accounts call Mary a dwarf, while others say she was just a very petite little lady.  This book takes the petite route.  She also served in Elizabeth's court but was usually overlooked because she was so small.  It was assumed she'd never amount to anything, never marry or have children, and that her small claim to throne was nothing to even worry about.  She saw her sister Jane thrust into the situations that eventually got her killed.  She watched her sister Katherine think she could stay out of the spotlight and simply marry for love, only to be thrown in prison and ripped away from her family.  Mary has learned from watching these events, but apparently hasn't learned enough, or had a little too much faith in the fact that she appeared to be harmless.  She too quietly marries for love, and marries far beneath her rank.  She figures this is fine, but no, Elizabeth is once again angered and once again has a happy couple arrested and torn apart.  Mary's part of the book becomes more of an overview of what was happening in England during these years, because there just isn't much about Mary's story to write about.  Still, hers is probably the most heartbreaking in this book.

Some survive their imprisonment.  Others don't.  Are any of them reunited?  Are there any happily ever afters in these three life-stories?  It really makes me wonder why Elizabeth did these things.  While a lot of this book might be weakly written drama the fact is Queen Elizabeth I *did* do these things, imprisoned these people, tore these families apart.  Was she truly that fearful and paranoid about being overthrown?

I ended up Googling things quite often while reading this book, just to see what was real, what was known historically.  It seems that maybe Katherine really was a 'dumb blonde' type who liked sex and pretty things a bit too much, and never really understood there were consequences to actions.  There isn't much at all about Mary, just some facts that yes she was small, yes she married a quiet man, yes she was imprisoned for it.  Katherine was in prison for seven years!  Mary, for eight!  These are actual facts.  I feel I really need to delve into some actual history or Elizabeth now because it's baffling to me that a woman so seemingly great and powerful did such odd and awful things.

Or maybe I just need to stop reading Philippa Gregory books.  LOL


  1. I looked up the movie because I remember watching it back in the 80s and Cary Elwes and Patrick Stewart were in it, too! That must be the first time I ever saw them or HBC in anything, since ST: Next Gen and The Princess Bride hadn't happened yet. I need to rewatch this immediately.

    The thing that's always so sad and frustrating when reading about this stuff is how often children were used and disposed of (literally and figuratively) for their families' political ends.

    You have also reminded me that I still need to read the second Hilary Mantel novel about Thomas Cromwell, Bringing Up the Bodies.

    1. Yeah, that Lady Jane movie is shockingly old. I've only seen it once, years ago, but have it ordered from Amazon and am getting impatient waiting for it to get here so I can watch it again.

      Times were different back then, for sure, but it still baffles and angers me what lengths greedy families would go to for favor that was so fleeting. Geez, you could be rich and living the high life one day and in prison for looking at someone wrong the next! I guess it was worth it to some.

      Cromwell! Ah, so many characters from that time that I'd love to read about...

      I just watched Elizabeth - The Golden Age again today. That movie takes place well after the events with the Grey sisters but she did it again, imprisoned her lady-in-waiting Bess and her secret husband Walter Raleigh. This movie shows her as both strong and vulnerable though, and this is the picture of Elizabeth I'd like to believe is true.


    2. Hoping on to say I loved reading Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies so much!!! Another great foray into the Tudor world!!

  2. Elizabeth did have huge emotional issues. From what I have read she did often hate when others had successful marriages or ones that appeared to be done out of love and especially if done behind her back. She did fear for the security of her throne and often was quick to judge harshly if the person had any claim to it. I think her awful upbringing with Mary (who both were often treated hot and cold by their father depending on if they were "bastards" or not based on who he was currently married to for the majority of their childhood). She also did struggle with whether she herself should marry or not. She wanted the comforts of companionship but did not want to cede the rule or share it with any man. I think that caused her envy of those who did not have to make that sacrifice. I don't view her as overly evil but definitely flawed by her own struggles of the heart and upbringing. She still ruled during a period when it was unheard of in England for a woman to do so, so strongly. She still was brave and helped to defeat the Spanish armada and lead the way in exploration.

    I didn't care for the way her older sister Mary ruled very much though. Old Bloody Mary. She had huge issues too. But I am guessing most royal children do? After all, like you mentioned and Kate mentioned, they are raised as chattel and means to an end rather than little humans. So maybe being screwed up is what just happens (Ludwig <3).

    1. Whoa, wait...there was something wrong with my boy Ludwig?! :P


    2. I loved Mary's story, sad as it was, in the Tudors TV series. That was all before she got all crazy and evil though. I still have to finish reading that biography of her that I have.

      Elizabeth's story of loving Robert Dudley all her life but never being able to have him is sad too. I can understand her being hateful and jealous of others having happy lives. I wish Philippa Gregory wouldn't portray her as such a crazy ninny though.

      I'm going to check Amazon for some books on Elizabeth, see if I can find that one you have for cheap.