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Super novel about Jane Grey and her two surviving sisters,
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This review is from: Sisters of Treason (Hardcover)
The lack of a surviving mail heir, after six different wives, leaves Henry the Eighth's legitimate bloodline and succession firmly in the hands, or rather the veins, of his female children and relatives. When his teenaged son King Edward dies, male power is not exactly relinquished, rather it passes to the men around the throne, men who will scheme and manipulate their way through a system of female rule that most of them detest, or at best represents their religious preference for the realm of England. Jane Grey was a protestant and therefore very attractive to the religious reformers as a sympathetic monarch, and to be honest through her Tudor descent from Henry's sister, she would have been a legitimate and possibly more stable monarch than Henry's eldest daughter Mary who was as fanatically Catholic as her mother Catherine of Aragon.
The author opens her excellent tale with the unbearably sad execution of seventeen year old Jane Grey after a reign lasting a mere nine days, heartbreakingly blindfolded and trying to locate the block on which she will lose her head. She has been manipulated into marriage with Guildford Dudley by their ambitious fathers, but Mary Tudor secures sufficient support to mount a successful coup d'etat thus condemning both fathers, the son and the daughter-in-law to death for treason. The beheading of Jane Grey is a poignant and defining event. This happens almost immediately in the narrative and is wonderfully well written, showing how the state sponsored brutality of ambitious men was ruthlessly carried out : the shadow cast by this event compromises the lives of her mother Frances, and her two sisters Katherine and Mary. Frances, supported by her friend the court painter Levina Teerlinc, must watch her child die, the beautiful and romantic Katherine is forbidden to marry as she might produce male children who could destabilise the queen, whilst the youngest, little hunchbacked Mary Grey is brought to court to act as kind of human pet for Queen Mary Tudor and treated disgracefully. Queen Mary's swift marriage to King Philip of Spain consolidates religious persecution and Jane Grey's judicial murder has been the bride price demanded by the Spanish negotiators.
Katherine is also bound to the court so that she can be closely watched, and must fake her adherence to the old faith, whilst all around her so called heretics are burned alive for their beliefs. The aging Queen believes herself capable of bearing an heir, but when her symptoms eventually prove to be those of disease rather than pregnancy, a disillusioned Philip departs and leaves her to her fate. On her death, the protestant Princess Elizabeth ascends the throne to (not quite!) universal acclaim, but it is little crippled Mary Grey who senses that while outwardly everything has changed, for them nothing ever will. How right she is: the new Queen shows no inclination for marriage and children, thus leaving the Grey sisters as exposed as ever to those who would manipulate their lineage and Tudor blood. Levina is a constant support to the Greys, despite her own demanding career and a marriage that is becoming ever more troubled amid religious tensions as Veena's husband and son leave for a safer haven, whilst she will not abandon her friend's two vulnerable daughters.
The lives and struggles of the two remaining Grey sisters are vividly imagined by this absolutely excellent author as they try to forge lives for themselves in a climate of suspicion with the unremitting fear that they might share their sister's destiny.
No-one who loves historical fiction will be disappointed in this superbly constructed book. Great stuff.