Everyone knows the story of Lady Jane Grey, the 'Nine Days Queen', the innocent who was maneuvered into claiming the throne by her husband and family and executed by a vengeful Mary Tudor. In this book de Lisle argues that Jane was no innocent and no victim, that she was raised from birth fully conscious of her royal blood, her position as heir to the throne under Henry VIII's will and her role at the forefront of the struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism. Jane was an exceptionally educated, strong-willed and determined woman, who went to her death willing to serve as a martyr to her cause if she could not be queen.
One of the things this book highlights is how much of a curse royal blood was for women in the Tudor days. After the death of Edward VI, with nothing but female claimants, it was a dangerous time for women like the Grey sisters. Jane was executed for claiming the throne, arguably rightfully under the terms of Parliament and Henry VIII's will, which had excluded both Mary and Elizabeth on grounds of illegitimacy. Her sisters were both imprisoned for much of their lives for daring to marry for love without the Queen's knowledge and against her wishes, for the danger of them producing a son and heir for the throne was too much for Elizabeth.
This is a really good book, as engrossing and fast-paced as a novel. It may take a certain amount of literary license with some scenes or facts, but it does bring to life two marginalised historical figures in Mary and Katherine, whom I knew nothing about, and explodes a few myths about the Nine Days Queen, who was in fact queen for over two weeks. But nine days sounds better, right?
The Royal succession in Tiudor England was a very dangerous and unstable. Henry VIII's Third Succession Act 1543 granted Henry the right to bequeath the Crown in his Will. It returned both of Henry's daughters Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession, behind Edward, any potential children of his, and any potential children of Henry by his current wife Catherine Parr. His Will specified that, in default of heirs to his children, the throne was to pass to the heirs of his younger sister Mary Tudor, The French Queen and Duchess of Suffolk, bypassing the line of his elder sister Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots. Edward VI confirmed this by letters patent.
This put suddenly Frances Brandon, the eldest daugther of Princess Mary and the Duke of Suffolk, and her three daughters by the Marquess of Dorset, the Ladies Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey into the spotlight. They were suddenly pretenders to the throne. They were Tudor princesses without having the title of princess.
Leanda de Lisle re-creates the lives of these women in a most extraordinary period of English history, a time of great uncertainty and danger, of great changes, of religious divisions and of great political intrigue. The Tudor dynasty had more female heirs than every other, great women but a female ruler was regarded a liability.
Mrs de Lisle tackles the difficult subject with great knowledge, passion and understanding. She forms her own opinions and does not just go with "historical reputation". Her views of Frances Brandon or on Lady Jane Grey are refreshing, more objective and I feel more accurate and in the end more convincing than previous books had presented these figures. Very interesting are the pages on the Lady Katherine and Lady Mary, especially the later is a rather forgotten person.
The only objections I have is that Mrs de Lisle fills gaps with phrases like "have felt"... well that is merely guesswork. But all in all that does not make this book less interesting or less valuable. It is indeed a great inside into the politics surrounding the English's throne in the 16th century. I enjoyed every page and learned a lot. This is a great book and a great addition to every Tudor library.
on 3 April 2011
I am a great reader of Tudor history, although very much an amateur historian. Some books draw you in and this was one. It is beautifully written and could almost be a novel and yet it imparts so much knowledge.
Perhaps not as sympathetic to Jane's plight as some may wish for, I nonetheless found this wonderfully detailed yet never tedious and I would highly recommend this books for anyone interested in the Grey family generally or Lady Jane Grey in particular.
on 2 May 2012
Many reviewers give this book 5 stars and say it reads like a novel, but until the other day, there was a 1-star review saying it was unreadable, because of all the complex family details, etc. I'm sorry in a way that that review has gone, because it should act as a warning - especially to those 'of a certain age' like myself, who aren't as good at remembering names as they used to be...
Firstly, the characters all have family names, which they may share with various others. Then they get given titles by the monarch, by which they then become known. Then they get a different title. The wives have these titles too. Then people remarry and have new names. Family lines involve varying degrees of royal blood, some more than others. You have to remember which line is Catholic and which Protestant, and when they change. Then someone's beheaded, and at a later date, someone else gets their title. More than one important person of royal blood is known as Mary Tudor. There are no fewer than four family trees at the start of the book, but they contain so many names and lines, you don't know which to memorise and which to forget...
Suffice to say, I found the first 50 pages of this book more than a little trying. But then - yes indeed!, it began to read like a novel, and I was captivated! These complicated, changing family relationships would continue to rear their ugly heads from time to time, but eventually I just floated past them, resigning myself to losing some of the threads of the story.
Some of these threads are essential to follow, though. It is the background mix of religious fervour, fraught issues of royal descent, and naked political ambition that creates the tension against which these love stories play out. This is what makes them so involving - and once she gets going, de Lisle certainly does a good job at involving us. Eventually, I couldn't put the book down.
This book covers an extremely complex bit of history, so I will try to keep this as short and sweet as possible. We all know about Henry VIII and out of six wives he had one son, Edward, and two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Henry's favorite sister Mary had a daughter Frances who in turn had three daughters - Jane, Katherine and Mary. Upon the death of Edward, well that is when things get complicated as those three sisters (or more specifically any sons they might bear) were potential heirs to the throne of England.
Most Tudorphiles are familiar with the eldest daughter Jane, who becomes the Nine Day Queen and her tragic end. What's refreshing in this book is that de Lisle also shows us *the rest of the story* of the younger sisters Katherine and Mary, who as potential heirs to the throne are unable to marry without the Queen's permission - and Elizabeth was not about to give it and let them have sons who could threaten her crown. Katherine comes to court to serve Elizabeth and falls in love with Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, but without Elizabeth's permission to marry so they do so in secret, although the lovers face the Queen's wrath when the marriage is discovered. Years later a grown Mary arrives at court and she incurs the Queen's anger when she also marries in secret.
And that's about as far as I'll go, if you know the basic history you know where the rest of the story goes and if you don't, well then read it for yourself. The author does a great job of breaking down some old myths (no, Frances wasn't quite the power hungry harridan she's always been portrayed as) as well as breaking new ground with solid facts and research and puts it all together in a very readable book. It was a tad bit dry at first (I don't normally read non-fiction) but once we got into Katherine and Mary's stories I was hooked and had a hard time putting it down.
on 29 October 2012
Leanda de Lisle's biography of Lady Jane Grey, "the nine day queen," and her two younger sisters, Katherine and Mary, is clever, pacy and unsentimental. If you're unfamiliar with the period, it explains the complex political situation of the mid-sixteenth century in an accessible but intelligent way. If you are already a Tudor fan, then de Lisle's book will still prove interesting because of the confident way in which she narrates the story of the Grey sisters' lives and discusses the importance of feminine monarchy in the years after Henry VIII's death. She strips away many of the romantic legends surrounding the girls, especially Jane, and re-appraises some of the period's other important women, such as the Greys' mother, the Duchess of Suffolk, and their cousin, the future Queen Elizabeth I. De Lisle's writing style is witty and clever - she deals equally well with the tragedy and the absurdity of the sisters' lives. (The lives of Katherine Grey and Mary Grey after their sister's death help make this book feel particularly "fresh," which isn't always easy to do in the Tudor market.) "The Sisters Who Would Be Queen" is a good biography in its own right or a "must-read" for anyone fascinated by the Tudor monarchy and the legend of Jane Grey and "the nine days" of 1553.
on 17 March 2013
This must be one of the best biographies ever written about Lady Jane Grey and her equally tragic sisters, Katherine and Mary, and whilst the content is extremely scholarly, the writing style is supremely accessible, ensuring that it can appeal to both avid historians and novice readers alike.
The author convincingly debunks many commonly held myths about Lady Jane Grey by exploring fabricated and false accounts of her life disseminated first by Marian propagandists and later by the Victorians who helped convey Jane as the innocent, helpless female, callously exploited by her parents, the Duke of Northumberland and ruthlessly murdered by Mary.
Leanda De Lisle presents contemporary evidence to suggest that contrary to traditional depictions, Jane was not only close to her mother, but both parents were exceptionally proud of her scholarly achievements, even sensing a little that Frances Brandon was also protective of her daughter; particularly when her wardship was being sought by the ambitious and deluded, Thomas Seymour.
De Lisle introduces further evidence, suppressed by Jane's Marian and Victorian sympathisers to show that although Jane had no hand in her nomination as Queen, she took her new role very seriously, going so far as; demanding allegiance, reinforcing the tower and city's defences, raising an army against Mary, and threatening the Buckinghamshire rebels (who threw their support behind Mary) with execution.
Supremely intelligent and religious, there are not altogether flattering accounts of Jane disparaging Mary's faith, refusing her gifts and writing what can be described as a vile letter to one of her family's former tutors, Thomas Harding, after he had converted to Catholicsm. Another extremely interesting account comes in the form of the Marquess of Winchester, who caused a row between the Greys and the Dudleys when he brought Jane the crown and suggested that one be made for her husband. Nowhere more evident than here is Jane's strong will exemplified, with Jane insisting that she would not crown her husband King; very interestingly, De Lisle argues that as a supporter of Mary, this was not a hapless incident but a deliberate effort on Winchester's part to exploit the distrust between the Grey and Dudley families to Mary's advantage.
With thoroughly refreshing and new insights, also comes the tragic accounts of Jane's imprisonment and eventual execution - and it comes as no surprise that she remained steadfastly committed to her faith until the end.
De Lisle then moves on to the lives of Katherine and Mary Grey - arguably regarded as the "forgotten" Grey sisters.
Altogether different in character to Jane, Katherine did not appear to share her sister's taste for religion or scholarly pursuits and was perhaps led by the heart rather than the head.
Katherine became attracted to the son of the fallen Duke of Somerset following the dissolution of her first marriage to Lord Herbert, the son of the Earl of Pembroke and with the active encouragement of her mother and stepfather, Adrian Stokes, Katherine eventually married Lord Hertford - but without Royal consent, triggering an almost inevitable showdown with the paranoid monarch.
Disaster would later overtake them as Hertford would be sent abroad and Katherine would discover her pregnancy, upsetting Herbert, the former husband who had tried to rekindle their relationship and angering the Queen, resulting in her being sent to the Tower with Hertford - while their marriage would be disputed by Queen Elizabeth.
Lonely and isolated, Katherine's jailors would take pity and allow her access to her husband, resulting in her going on to bear a second son in the Tower - whose less contentious legitimacy would pose problems for Elizabeth, incensing the Queen for a second time and Katherine now found herself under house arrest.
All the while, Katherine would receive unwavering support from William Cecil who remained determined to exploit the provisions of Henry VIII's Will and the 1536 Act of Succession in order to ensure Katherine's candidature as Elizabeth's heir. She would also receive much public support, from many who were of the view that Elizabeth's machinations to prevent two who had done nothing more than declare themselves as legitimately married, from living together, was cruel.
The final segment of De Lisle's book leads to Mary Grey - the last of the Grey sisters, who following in her sister Katherine's tragic footsteps, would also marry - without royal consent - a former soldier and man about court, Thomas Keys, and once again, history would repeat itself, resulting in Mary being placed under house arrest with her husband imprisoned in the notorious Fleet prison - enduring terrible conditions.
Fortune would prove to be somewhat kinder to Mary. The scandals which besieged Mary Queen of Scots, following her disastrous marriage to Lord Darnley would mean Elizabeth's hands were now full trying to contain the new threat which she posed.
Thomas Keys would be released from prison but would not be reunited with Mary, despite his pleas. She would later be released from house arrest only to live a moderate existence in comparison to the magnificient life she had once led at Bradgate Manor. She would however, regain some of Elizabeth's trust in time and return to court life.
Mary demonstrated an affable nature to her brother-in-law, her nephews and her former husband's children from his first marriage - even requesting Royal permission to be allowed to rear them. She shared an inclination for the same religious and intellectual pursuits which had interested her eldest sister, Jane, even possessing some works dedicated to her martyrdom. With her tragic death aged 33, the suspicion and ever watchful eye of Queen Elizabeth would turn to her cousin, Margaret Clifford.
This thoroughly impressive biography of the Grey sisters is concluded with a brief chronology of the lives of Katherine's two sons. Hertford's heir, Lord Beauchamp, would share many traits with his mother Katherine - he would fall passionately for a young woman named Honora Rogers, believed to be far below his station and a perceived threat to his royal claims by Cecil and Hertford.
Hertford would later try to marry his grandson, Edward Seymour to a descendant of Margaret Tudor, Arbella Stuart, however she would instead go on to marry his younger son, William, and would die tragically in a manner reminiscent to that of her husband's grandmother, Katherine Grey.
The line of Katherine Grey would continue with her descendants eventually inheriting the Hertford title - although James I and Charles I were careful not to recognise their legitimacy. They would also fight the royalist cause which would bring down Charles I - a bizarre and indirect consequence of Henry VIII's will to have absolute power vested in the monarch. In a curious twist of fate, the descendants of the alternate Grey lines would find themselves on the opposing Roundheads side.
The only constructive critique I can level at this book is the portrayal of the Duke of Northumberland. In almost all biographies, he is universally portrayed as the "Black Legend" and a thoroughly unscrupulous character. Perhaps De Lisle could have explored a potential alternate view to the traditional image of Dudley - which was recently explored in Eric Ives' equally excellent book entitled, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. I also believe a more detailed discussion of Jane's portraiture would have further strengthened this biography.
However these critiques aside, this is an excellent, and impartial (though overall, sympathetic in tone to all three sisters) take on the Grey sisters. The author does well to not only convey their characters and the political contexts to which they were attached, but also conveys an almost atmospheric portrait of their upbringing, education, and customs in a vivid manner - in her quest to bring the Grey sisters to life, De Lisle leaves no corner of their lives unturned. The writing style reads as a novel, engrossing the reader, and very powerfully debunks many of the commonly held myths of the three girls; particularly Jane Grey. As the title of the review suggests, I would conclude that this is a must read for any Lady Jane, Katherine, or Mary Grey enthusiast.
on 11 August 2009
A wonderful account of the Grey sisters and their exciting and often dangerous lives. De Lisle focuses on each sister in turn, with attention to detail and in depth understanding.
De Lisle spends some time discussing Lady Jane Grey but her main focus is Lady Mary and Katherine. This is where she shines. The least famous sisters are given the limelight they rightly deserve! De Lisle gives detailed accounts and her own views when history records cannot, in a sympathetic and rational manner.
The book is very readable and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Tudor period.
on 2 May 2011
I bought this book after reading about Katherine and Mary Grey in Tracy Boorman's 'Elizabeth's Women'. I wanted to know more about the sisters, particularly Katherine, whose plight had touched my heart. I was not disappointed in this sensitive and highly informative account.
Firstly, Mrs De Lisle dispels the myth that Jane Grey was a helpless victim, but her youth was still a consideration. Her fiercely evangelical beliefs were shaped by her parents, but Frances Brandon side-stepped the throne, placing her daughter in a very dangerous position. Later the widowed Frances would marry the commoner Adrian Stokes, removing herself as a threat to Queen Elizabeth, but putting her daughter Katherine in danger.
Even through the author's sympathetic eyes Frances comes across as a self serving woman.
Also, the sister's father Henry Grey played a leading role in a rebellion against Queen Mary whilst Jane was in the Tower awaiting execution. His actions probably sealed her fate.
This book is one of the few accounts of the Grey sisters' lives after Jane's death. They are brought back to us as endearing young women who could so easily have been happy, were it not for the curse of their Royal blood.
Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen, is a well-known figure. Her two younger sisters are not so well-known. This excellent biography follows the three sisters as they are each caught up in the murky world of Tudor politics. Protestant Jane was declared heir to the throne by the dying Edward VI in preference to his Catholic half-sister Mary. Jane was less of a victim of powerful men than has been supposed, & De Lisle shows that she was determined to rule in her own right. However, Mary's supporters deposed Jane & she was executed when she became a focus for rebellion. When Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1559, Katherine Grey was seen as her heir by the English nobility. She foolishly fell in love & secretly married without Elizabeth's permission. When she then gave birth to two sons (the second child conceived while both parents were imprisoned in the Tower), the Queen's anger was terrible, the couple were separated & Katherine died young. The youngest sister, Mary, also married without the Queen's permission. Her choice was one of her jailers, Thomas Keyes, who was imprisoned in terrible conditions for falling in love with an heir to the throne. This is a fascinating look at the Tudor court & the perils of being too close to the throne.