Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Innocent Traitor

Lady Jane Grey, the grand niece of Henry VIII, and queen of England for just over a week in 1553 is the subject of Innocent Traitor, Alison Weir’s first work of historical fiction. With over ten works of history to her credit, Weir is one of my favorite British Renaissance and Reformation historians mostly because she presents the Catholic and Protestant theological differences of the era in an impartial manner without resorting to inflammatory or stereotypical rhetoric.

Innocent Traitor is a very ‘good read’. It presents the story of the young Jane’s life from the perspectives of those closest to her, through the major, known events of her all too short life. The few historical ‘facts’ I’ve checked out all did—as if I had any doubt. I really knew they would, mostly I was just curious on one or two points. If Innocent Traitor has any weakness, it would be in the beginning where it seemed/sounded like all the characters spoke with the same voice. I didn’t notice this as much later on in the story, so I don’t know if I got to know the different characters, if I just became so engrossed in the story I stopped paying attention or if in fact the characterizations did get better. In the beginning, it especially bothered me that Jane sounded like an adult at three and five.

That criticism aside it’s a very absorbing read. Why anyone would have wanted to be a monarch back in those days is beyond me. And yet so many did—and paid the ultimate price for their ambition. Poor Jane only wanted a quiet life with her books and look what she got?! After the Reformation equivalent to a Dickensian childhood, she became the pawn of her parents and the Duke of Northumberland, was given in marriage to an abusive husband, maneuvered into a crown she didn’t want, lost it, abandoned by everyone, thrown into prison and finally—thanks to her father’s second treachery against the Crown—Jane received the verdict of treason and was executed.

There were some speculative additions to fill in parts of history which remain unknown, and yet Weir's choices are still probable. Recommended.

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