by Philippa Gregory
'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?'
*** HISTORICAL SPOILERS?!***
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