I know it seems a little late to look at a book that was published last year, but I finished reading Alison Weir’s novel, Innocent Traitor a few weeks ago and loved it! I definitely think that it’s one of those books you just can’t put down and even though I knew that the novel would end with the execution of Lady Jane Grey, Weir still makes it incredibly poignant. I did read it from the perspective of someone who didn’t really know the details of this period – I knew the story of her nine-day reign after the death of Edward VI and her subsequent execution, but that’s about it. Perhaps it’s a bad idea to read a novel to fill in these details as it can be hard to distinguish between the fact and the fiction, but I really think it is a great read from both a historical and a non-historical perspective and it definitely encouraged me to look up the lives of the figures involved.
As I was reading it, I did feel that John Dudley Duke of Northumberland did come across as the basic villain of the story, the cause of Jane’s death, as the chapters accounting the story from his perspective seem quite narrative-based and don’t seem to give much insight into his thoughts and feelings about his actions. To some extent, of course, this is justified, as the story is clearly sympathetic to Lady Jane Grey due to her innocence and so to her, Northumberland may have appeared the villain. Again this villain-like ruthlessness is apparent in Jane’s mother, , who is cruel to Jane throughout. However, Weir allows us to see some humanity in Frances Brandon when she reveals some real sadness at the prospect of her daughter’s execution and I think this touch seems to complete her character.
I lie here punishing myself with remorse. I have been a harsh mother, when I could have been kinder and more understanding. I can see it now, with the benefit of hindsight and the clarity that follows misfortune and grief. What crucifies me especially is the knowledge that there is no way in way in which I can make reparation to my daughter, no way that she will ever be able to extend to me the forgiveness that I crave. I can only pray for god’s mercy.
Another figure I thought was wonderfully portrayed was Catherine Parr, with her strength of character and intelligence, feeling real fondness for and supporting King Henry viii in his final days, narrowly escaping his anger at her religious views, her love and support for Lady Jane Grey and her actions on discovering her husband’s secret seduction of Princess Elizabeth. I found her character fascinating and I’m planning to read more about her, so far beginning with Antonia Fraser’s The Six wives of Henry VIII.
The final aspect of this book that interested me was the suggestion that Lady Jane’s solid Protestant faith caused her to accept her fate of execution even though Queen Mary gave her chances to convert to Catholicism and so be pardoned. This portrays her less so as a poor innocent naïve young girl who was forced to become queen and then ruthlessly executed, but more as a martyr for her faith who understood the dangers that Mary’s becoming queen would create for Protestants throughout the country. I did like this interpretation as I’ve always worried that our sympathy for her fate at such a young age blinds us to her true intentions and beliefs.
I really enjoyed the novel and I highly recommend it and now I’m just waiting to read her next novel, The Lady Elizabeth.