on 11 August 2012
I am a huge admirer of Alison Weir and have read most of her books. She is an eminent historian so I was a bit surprised that she had ventured into the realm of the historical novel, although it may be more lucrative than writing pure history. This book was, to my mind, her best in the novel genre. It was absolutely fascinating, as much as anything, because I knew nothing at all about Lady Katharine Grey and Katharine Plantaganet. Alison Weir has written many books about the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors, so her grasp of the period is very detailed. Katharine Grey was the younger sister of the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey who was beheaded after a Protestant conspiracy proclaimed her queen after the death of Edward VI. Katharine became one of Mary Tudor's ladies and renounced her Protestant faith. However, she fell foul of Elizabeth, apparently even before the latter became queen, and although she was next in order of succession in the event of Elizabeth's death, this was never recognised, especially as she married for love without the queen's permission. Katharine Plantaganet was the illegitimate daughter of Richard III and her story is about the change in Richard's personality and ambitions after the death of Edward IV. Alison Weir is attempting to deal here with a great puzzle for many historians. Richard was a well liked and able administrator in the North of England - based at Middleham castle (now a ruin) until the death of Edward IV left England with a King who was still a minor and the possibility of a continuation of the kind of instability which prevailed in the reign of Henry VI. There can be no doubt at all that it was in the interests of Henry VII and the Tudors to blacken Richard's name, because their claim to the throne was not particularly strong, and many records of the time were destroyed. Reading this novel will excite your curiosity and make you want to read more into a fascinating period of history.
In this novel two teenage girls living 80 years apart, both of whom have suffered for having royal blood, try to solve the mystery of the "Princes in the Tower" ...
As a work of fiction in which the characters try to resolve one of the great unsolved mysteries of real history, "A Dangerous Inheritance" bears serious comparison with Josephine Tey's classic "The Daughter Of Time." Both are excellent novels in which the main characters are trying to discover what happened to the former Edward V and his brother, Richard Duke of York, who are last known to have been alive when they were imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1483.
In Josephine Tey's story the fictional detective was trying to solve the mystery in her own mid 20th-century era, and challenging the prevailing view among historians. By comparison in this novel one of the amateur detectives is a contemporary of the Princes and can seek out first hand accounts from witnesses, and the other, living at the point when their death is just about to pass from living memory to history, can seek out second hand information from people who knew witnesses. And both have a problem Tey's character Inspector Grant did not, that the mystery they are trying to solve is recent enough, and still politically significant enough, for their investigations to draw attention from those currently in power.
One clever irony in this book is that the two heroines are descended respectively from Richard III and Henry VII, the two main suspects who have been put forward as the culprit for the murders of the boys.
The first heroine of this book is Katherine Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard III, who starts to investigate what really happened to the boys partly because she hopes to prove that the father she loved had been innocent of the crime, partly because she desperately wants to know the truth.
The second heroine is Lady Katherine Grey, sister of the tragic Lady Jane Grey and grand-daughter of Henry VIII's sister. In real history, Lady Katherine Grey was briefly married to a relative of the earl to whom Richard III married his daughter Katherine. In this novel, during that marriage Lady Katherine Grey finds a set of notes left by Katherine Plantaganet a lifetime before, detailing her attempt to solve the riddle of the princes. A few years later Katherine Grey was imprisoned in the Tower of London herself after disobeying Queen Elizabeth by marrying again in secret, and in this novel while in the tower she becomes fascinated with the story of the Princes and starts her own search to find the truth.
Both the heroines of this book are real historical figures whose lives were full of tragedy and found their royal blood to be a terrible curse, making them close enough to the throne to be a threat. Both lost people they loved in battle, on the executioner's block, or both. In the story, and certainly in the real life of at least one of the characters, these women were forcibly and cruelly separated from men they loved because their marriages could have affected the balance of power.
The author had written a serious history book about "The Princes In The Tower" in 1992, but this novel gives the impression of re-examining the evidence with an open mind. For the majority of "A Dangerous Inheritance" I was in some doubt whether the outcome of this work of fiction would line up with the conclusions Alison Weir had reached twenty years before in her non-fiction work. (I'm not going to spoil the ending by saying whether it does.)
This is quite a substantial book - 509 pages including the afterword in which the author explains the comparatively few liberties she has taken with history and which parts of the book are speculation or fiction. In particular we know quite a lot about the life of Lady Katherine Grey, and her life in this novel is to a considerable extent based on real history, but there is very little surviving information about Katherine Plantagenet, so her life in this novel is largely fiction and supposition.
The story covers a wide range of material, both about the events the heroines lived through and in that during the course of the story the heroines meet or gain access to many of the witnesses or chronicles and much of the real source material which is available to hint at what might have actually happened to the Princes in the Tower.
There is one minor but irritating error of anachronistic language in this book which happens to be a particular bete noir of mine, a trap usually fallen into by writers of Regency Romances who don't have a tenth the knowledge of history that Alison Weir does. One particular invading army during the Wars of the Roses is described as having come ashore on the coast of "Cumbria."
Alison, really! The present day county of Cumbria was created by Peter Walker in the 1970s. Before that, and certainly at the time of this book, most of the coastline of what is now Cumbria was part of the historic county of Cumberland, though the coast from Barrow-in-Furness and Grange-over-Sands to Morecombe Bay was then part of Lancashire.
Overall I can strongly recommend this both as a work of fiction, and as a very informative book about what this important and often cruel period of English history was like.
Although not vastly far apart in chronological terms, our two heroines are divided not just by a few decades of history, but by some of the great upheavals that shook England after the death of Edward the Fourth. His two sons, the Princes in the Tower, were his legitimate heirs, but power was usurped by his brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester who was finally defeated at Bosworth by the putative Henry the Seventh. The shifting tides of loyalty and religious struggles meant that almost overnight, a person could find themselves designated "traitor" simply by being on the wrong side of some divide or other. Many unfortunates paid the ultimate price for these ruthless schisms.
Katherine Grey is a descendant of Henry the Eighth through one of his sisters, and in the aftermath of the early death of the young King Edward (Henry the Eighth's sole male heir), she along with her older sister Jane find themselves in line of succession, if Mary Tudor does not succeed in claiming her birthright as queen to succeed her half brother. Mary Tudor does succeed and Jane Grey, having been forced by her family to accept the Crown, is then deposed after a reign of only 9 days - and despite her youth, executed - a horrible tragedy for a helpless, unhappy young woman. Katherine as her sister is denied the fulfilment of her marriage; her family now being on the wrong side of both religion and politics, and she no longer a matrimonial prize.
Lonely and sad, Katherine finds a portrait, and deciphers the person portrayed as Kate Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of the ursurper Richard the Third. Her tale is also one of tragedy, as her young cousins disappear into the Tower and her father claims the crown. Is he a murderer? Can Kate uncover the mystery of the Princes and even find some happiness in her own life. Katherine and Kate seem destined to somehow share each others' experiences in ghostly fashion. Meanwhile, Katherine Grey does. briefly, find personal happiness and fulfilment of a kind in a new marriage, but one which is not sanctioned by her royal relative and new Queen, Elizabeth the First, who will not tolerate a close relative marrying and bearing sons who might threaten her reign.
It's a neat construct and is very well written with loads of accurate historical background, and non experts will welcome the family trees, which are included, The lives and destinies of the Grey sisters are well documented and so are historically accurate, with lives of Richard the Third and his family, slightly less so and the fate of the two Princes in the Tower as obscure now as it was then, although Tudor spin has always placed their Uncle Richard firmly in the frame for their destruction. This book offers a possible scenario in the form of a gripping narrative which keeps up a steady, highly readable pace.
on 4 February 2014
Alison Weir is an excellent historian and I have read and enjoyed many of her books. As a writer of historical fiction however, she still has some way to go. As historical mysteries go, the disappearance of the princes in the tower is right up there. Given renewed focus by the recent discovery of king Richard III's bones, interest in the period has never been higher. There are lots of (history) books available that give expert opinions on our most maligned monarch, some pro, some anti. They all work because of the limited evidence to provide the definitive answer to the mystery.
The author does say that she wanted to write the novel to allow her more latitude than is possible as a serious historian
and this she does. It's just that others do it better. The basis of the mystery is surely so well known as to remove surprise. The time shifting element is used to much better effect by other authors such as Tracy Chevalier. As someone with a good knowledge of the period I ended up finding the book a little bit boring. However it is well-written and provides a balanced view of the debate about the fate if the princes, before suggesting a conclusion that probably fits best given the absence of hard evidence (and I write that as a lifelong Ricardian).
The book demonstrates that as is often the case, real life is more exciting than fiction. The period is so exciting and there are so nany great histories of the period that do much better than this novel. I do recomnend the author's history books, especially her biography of Katherine Swynford, mistress and subsequent wife, of John of Gaunt.
on 14 December 2013
'A Dangerous Inheritance' is a story with definite potential. Unfortunately, Weir uses it as a platform to once again state her case for Richard III as the murderer of the Princes in the Tower. Yes, the case is well made, but she already wrote that book, right? I would have enjoyed this novel much more if she had focused on the main characters of the book, Kate Plantagenet and Katherine Grey.
Weir's characterization of Kate Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard III, is almost complete supposition as little is known of her life. Her great faith in her father and wanting to believe the best of him is certainly believable. Her relationship with her cousin John de la Pole was also touching and not too far-fetched. The fact that most of her conversations centered on her attempting to discover the truth about the Princes in the Tower just got a little bit boring. I can accept that she would like to clear her father's name or know the truth for her own sake, but too much of this dialogue does nothing but inform the reader without coming across as realistic. The girl was a little obsessed, and I would have rather just learned about her.
The same holds true for Katherine Grey, sister to the doomed Jane Grey. For some reason this young woman with her own claim to the throne also becomes consumed with learning the truth about the Princes. Katherine's life story is one that is well documented, tragic, and gripping, so why detract from it with more unlikely dialogue just to keep the focus on the Princes? Katherine is a person that draws sympathy from the reader despite her foolishness and selfishness. She truly was dealt with harshly from a very young age and never given a reprieve.
Weir attempts to make a connection between these two young Katherines, who lived approximately 70 years apart, based on their commitment to discovering the truth about the Princes. Other interesting connections are made. Grey is arrested and held in the tower due to her royal blood, much as the Princes were. Both young women are torn from their true love (though historically we do not actually know that of KP). Weir tries to take the connection a step further by inserting paranormal connections between them. KG sees ghosts of KP and feels coldness and despair when trying on her pendant or entering a place where KP experienced trauma. Maybe others weren't bothered by these sections, but I like my historical fiction to be a little more, well...historical.
The first 100 pages or so of this novel feels too much like a rehash of things that Weir has already written between her 'Innocent Traitor,' 'Princes in the Tower,' and 'Lady Elizabeth,' and I almost gave up altogether when paranormal activity was added to my frustration over this. In the end, I am glad I persevered. The Katherines' stories are intriguing in their own right and could have been told without having to be overshadowed by the ghosts of little Edward and Richard.
on 31 December 2012
if you like historical novels or have been following this author and read An Innocent Traitor this is a great one to read
on 4 June 2013
Looking up Alison Weir's biography I see that we're about the same age, and as lovers of history and historical novels I bet we've read the same sort of books in similar quantities over the years. So all credit to her for ploughing through to the end of this one without giving up out of sheer boredom - I know I nearly did.
Her fans have given this latest effort four or five stars, and if I'd never read a history book or novel set in this period before I might just have given it three myself. But I have, of course, and I'm sure she has too, many, many times - because it's Richard III and the princes in the Tower, and Tudor plots and Lady Jane Grey, all over again.
Ms Weir is a successful historian of the popular variety (and nothing wrong with that), but this is supposed to be a novel: so why on earth didn't she try something different, some fictional twist to give us new insight into these all-too-familiar characters and these well-worn tales? Otherwise, what's the point, when it's all been done before, and often better? (Just to name two off the top of my head: The Sunne in Splendour and The Daughter Of Time).
Yes, she grinds out the plot efficiently, but in the end all she's given us are cardboard cut-out portrayals of all the usual suspects, some mawkish love affairs, and the less than startling (and some might say dubious) conclusion that Sir Thomas More was right after all.
I suppose she'd say that she's not just regurgitating the story, that the book's unique selling point is the double narrative, alternating between Kate Plantagenet in the 1480s and Lady Katherine Grey in the 1550s/60s. But it's hardly an original device, and she chops and changes between the two so abruptly it makes your head spin - sometimes the only way I could distinguish between them was the fact that Katherine's story is written in the first person. What conclusion we're supposed to reach, and what exactly the link between these two women is supposed to be, apart from the blindingly obvious, is hard to discern - although (the icing on a very corny cake for me) they do keep having funny feelings and seeing each other's ghost across a crowded room.
It's all a matter of taste, of course, and lots of people claim to have enjoyed this book. But I'd like to think that if I had Ms Weir's talent and success I'd have the guts and energy to take a risk and come up with something a bit more original than this. And wouldn't it be less boring for her to write - as well as for us to read?
on 11 May 2014
A Dangerous Inheritance
To combine the mystery surrounding the death of King Edward V and his younger brother, and heir presumptive, the Duke of York (aka the `Princes in the Tower') with the nearly equally fascinating, `Queen that never was' Katherine Grey is just too tantalising for words. And to throw in a princess we didn't know about, Kate, the illegitimate daughter of the notorious Richard III - and to link all three together - is just clever and fascinating beyond words. Could the book live up to it? It certainly did.
Alison Weir has written separately about Lady Jane Grey and about the Princes in the Tower so her research is extensive and painstaking and she admits to any fictional interpretations she uses although they do not in any way distract from the sadness of these very unfortunate women's lives. These women were quite literally imprisoned for being too close to the throne in exactly the same way Edward V and his younger brother had been.
Weir presents all the evidence of what is known about the disappearance of the boys and neatly gives two theories - one the far more accepted and acceptable theory that their uncle killed them in order to be able to usurp the throne and keep himself safe from what would happen when the boys inevitably grew and wanted their birth-right. And she includes another tenuous theory presumably to please the conspiracy theorists who are unable to accept that Richard III was a child-killer and usurper.
However, I digress - the evidence is compelling and although nothing `new' is presented - even the greatly hyped up `evidence` of Elizabeth Savage but it is fascinating that even in the reign of Elizabeth I, talking about the Princes still brings fear to those involved and it is particularly fascinating that talking about them even close to the time of their deaths was considered treasonous.
I felt deeply sorry for Katherine Grey and Kate Plantagenet - as their lives were so painfully similar and so well told by Alison Weir - and found myself liking Henry VII and Elizabeth I a lot less than I had before. (Elizabeth is a very lucky woman to have been judged so well by history as she comes across frequently as foolish and cruel). Henry VII of course comes out of this as very clever but also cruel and I loved Weir's description of him as being like an 'accountant' - surely no greater put down for a man who hoped to shape destiny.
on 27 July 2013
This was not quite up to the standard of Weir's previous novels, which in turn are never quite as enjoyable as her non-fiction works, oddly (and in my opinion). Maybe I am just a bit Richard the third-ed out, currently watching The White Queen on BBC and have just finished reading a biography, so by the time I read this I was going over familiar territory, covering the wars of the roses and the mystery of the princes in the tower for the third time. So maybe my fault for buying so soon afterwards!
Alongside this though I felt the book was flawed. The idea of following two connected characters was nice, but the only way their real life stories were livened up were with drippy romances. I enjoyed the 16th century story more, no doubt because I knew nothing about Katherine Grey and was truly gripped. However the 15th century tale of Katherine Plantagenet was oddly lacking tension and seemed to plod along, but again this might be because I'd recently heard it all before. It was interesting to see the tale unfolding from her perspective as again I had no knowledge of her, but as this section was not written in the first person (which the later setting is) it lost its potency. In Weir's previous novels the main characters have always come alive through the narrative, so personally I think she should stick to this technique.
Sadly Katherine Grey came across as a bit unlikeable and, I hate to say it, selfish and a bit stupid! The other Katherine was portrayed as a drip. So neither of the heroines lived up to the hype of the story. And as for the story - the plot was enjoyable but ventured into very silly territory (you're imprisoned in the Tower of London where your sister was killed, you're in fear for your life so you decide to research a murder that had previously taken place there because you believe a locket you'd found is cursed. Not the best distraction I'd have thought). I'd expect this sort of thing from a first time keen amateur rather than a well established, highly thought of historian. The writing style is good however, with some very emotive passages. 2.5/5
In A Dangerous Inheritance, Alison Weir brings to life both the Tudor era, and the last of the Plantagenets, and explores the myth surrounding Richard III's involvement in the disappearance of the young Plantagenet princes. Her use of two female protagonists, eighty years apart, allows the story to evolve, not just as a royal commentary, but also as an insight into scandalous political intrigue. Cleverly blending fact with fiction, Weir intertwines the story of Lady Katherine Grey, sister to the infamous Lady Jane Grey, with the story of Lady Katherine Plantagenet, the illegitimate daughter of Richard III. The story of the `princes in the tower' has long been the subject of divided historical debate; it's interesting therefore to have a fictional slant on the story told from two different female perspectives. For the purposes of A Dangerous Inheritance, Katherine Plantagenet has the benefit of having lived through the last of the turbulent Plantagenet dynasty, and by involving her with the tragic story of Lady Katherine Grey; it allows the introduction of a supernatural element linking the two women, and the clever blending of two historical time frames.
As always Weir's research is impeccable, her ability to weave historical magic is evident in the way she controls the narrative, and she cleverly blends fiction with factual historical accuracy. Although the story is enjoyable to read a standalone novel, there is some continuation of the story started in Weir's previous book, Innocent Traitor.