Historical expertise marries page-turning fiction in Alison Weir's enthralling debut novel, breathing new life into one of the most significant and tumultuous periods of the English monarchy. It is the story of Lady Jane Grey-"the Nine Days' Queen"-a fifteen-year-old girl who unwittingly finds herself at the center of the religious and civil unrest that nearly toppled the fabled House of Tudor during the sixteenth century.
The child of a scheming father and a ruthless mother, for whom she is merely a pawn in a dynastic game with the highest stakes, Jane Grey was born during the harrowingly turbulent period between Anne Boleyn's beheading and the demise of Jane's infamous great-uncle, King Henry VIII. With the premature passing of Jane's adolescent cousin, and Henry's successor, King Edward VI, comes a struggle for supremacy fueled by political machinations and lethal religious fervor.
Unabashedly honest and exceptionally intelligent, Jane possesses a sound strength of character beyond her years that equips her to weather the vicious storm. And though she has no ambitions to rule, preferring to immerse herself in books and religious studies, she is forced to accept the crown, and by so doing sets off a firestorm of intrigue, betrayal, and tragedy.
Alison Weir uses her unmatched skills as a historian to enliven the many dynamic characters of this majestic drama. Along with Lady Jane Grey, Weir vividly renders her devious parents; her much-loved nanny; the benevolent Queen Katherine Parr; Jane's ambitious cousins; the Catholic "Bloody" Mary, who will stop at nothing to seize the throne; and the protestant and future queen Elizabeth. Readers venture inside royal drawing rooms and bedchambers to witness the power-grabbing that swirls around Lady Jane Grey from the day of her birth to her unbearably poignant death. Innocent Traitor paints a complete and compelling portrait of this captivating young woman, a faithful servant of God whose short reign and brief life would make her a legend.
Popular biographer Weir (Eleanor of Aquitaine, etc.) makes her historical fiction debut with this coming-of-age novel set in the time of Henry VIII. Weir's heroine is Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554), whose ascension to the English throne was briefly and unluckily promoted by opponents of Henry's Catholic heir, Mary. As Weir tells it, Jane's parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Dorset, groom her from infancy to be the perfect consort for Henry's son, Prince Edward, entrusting their daughter to a nurse's care while they attend to affairs at court. Jane relishes lessons in music, theology, philosophy and literature, but struggles to master courtly manners as her mother demands. Not even the beheadings of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard deter parental ambition. When Edward dies, Lord and Lady Dorset maneuver the throne for their 16-year-old daughter, risking her life as well as increased violence between Protestants and Catholics. Using multiple narrators, Weir tries to weave a conspiratorial web with Jane caught at the center, but the ever-changing perspectives prove unwieldy: Jane speaking as a four-year-old with a modern historian's vocabulary, for example, just doesn't ring true. But Weir proves herself deft as ever describing Tudor food, manners, clothing, pastimes (including hunting and jousting) and marital politics. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 26, 2007
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Excerpt from Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
Frances Brandon, Marchioness of Dorset
Bradgate Hall, Leicestershire, October 1537
My travail begins as I am enjoying a walk in the garden. There is a sudden flood of liquid from my womb, and then, as my maid runs for cloths and assistance, a dull pain that shifts from the small of my back to the pit of my stomach. Soon, they are all clustering around me, the midwives and the women, helping me through the great doorway of the manor house and up the oaken stairs, stripping me of my fine clothing and replacing it with a voluminous birthing smock of bleached linen, finely embroidered at the neck and wrists. Now I am made to lie upon my bed, and they are pressing a goblet of sweet wine to my lips. I don't really want it, but I take a few sips to please them. My two chief ladies sit beside me, my gossips, whose job it is to while away the tedious hours of labor with distracting chatter. Their task is to keep me cheerful and to offer encouragement when the pains grow stronger.
And they do grow stronger. Less than an hour passes before the dull ache that accompanies each pang becomes a knifelike thrust, vicious and relentless. Yet I can bear it. I have the blood of kings in my veins, and that emboldens me to lie mute, resisting the mounting screams. Soon, God willing, I will hold my son in my arms. My son, who must not die early like the others, those tiny infants who lie beneath the flagstones of the parish church. Neither lived long enough even to sit or crawl. I do not account myself a sentimental person; indeed, I know that many think me too strong and hard-willed for a woman--a virago, my husband once said, during one of our many quarrels. But hidden within my heart there is a raw place reserved for those two lost babies.
Yet it is natural that this third pregnancy has often led me to revisit this secret place, to disturb and probe it gently, testing to see if past trage- dies still have the power to hurt. I know I should forbid myself such weakness. I am King Henry's niece. My mother was a princess of England and Queen of France. I must face the pain of my loss as I do my labor--with royal dignity, refusing to indulge any further in morbid fancies, which, I am assured by the midwives, could well be harmful to the child I carry. One must try to be positive, and I am nothing if not an optimist. This time, I feel it in my bones, God will give us the son and heir we so desperately desire.
Another hour passes. There is little respite between each contraction, but the pain is still bearable.
"Cry out if you need to, my lady," says the midwife comfortingly, as the women fuss round me with candles and basins of water. I wish they would all go away and leave me in peace. I wish they would let some fresh air into this fetid, stuffy chamber. Even though it is day, the room is dark, for the windows have been covered with tapestries and painted cloths.
"We must not risk the babe catching any chills from drafts, my lady," the midwife warned me when she ordered this to be done. Then she personally inspected the tapestries to ensure that there was nothing depicted in them that could frighten the child.
"Make up the fire!" she instructs her acolytes, as I lie here grappling with my pains. I groan; it's hot enough in here already, and I am sweating like a pig. But, of course, she is aware of that. At her nod, a damp cloth is laid on my brow. It does little to relieve my discomfort, though, for the sheets are wet with perspiration.