Sunday, October 21, 2012

Her Highness the Traitor

Book overview:  This book is written in two different point of views.  That of Frances Grey and her husband Harry, and Jane Dudley and her husband John.  Frances Grey was the niece of Henry VIII's and so had some royal blood.  Her mother Mary was the King's sister and had been married to Charles Brandon, a close friend of the late King's.  Frances had three daughters that survived, one of which was Jane Grey, a key figure in the book.  When Frances's two brothers passed away, the title Duke of Suffolk was given to her husband as a gift.  Frances was also good friends with the Lady Mary, Henry VIII's oldest child.  The second point of view is from Jane Dudley, also known as the Lady of Warwick and later the Duchess of Northumberland.  She was married to a ward of her parents, a John Dudley.  It was a love match and they married when she was 16 and had 13 children.

 This book is set during the time of King Edward VI, after King Henry VIII has passed away.  Edward rules while his uncle Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, is Protector until he comes of age.  As is usual after the death of a monarch, chaos soon ensues as those with power fight to keep or gain it.  Somerset was regarded well, but his brother Thomas Seymour didn't seem particularly happy with the arrangement.  Seymour married the dowager queen Catherine Parr who was married to Henry VIII, and in their keeping were the ladies Elizabeth and Jane Grey.  Seymour was found embracing the princess Elizabeth, Edward's half sister and found to be embezzling as well.  He wanted the young king to throw off his Protector and schemed.  His wife Catherine Parr the Queen, passed away shortly after giving birth to a daughter.  With all the schemes afoot, Seymour was eventually beheaded.  During this time Somerset and his wife Anne the Duchess of Somerset lived as if they were indeed king and queen.  The Duchess wore the royal jewels and was not very popular.  Soon the downfall of Somerset came because of social unrest in England and the blame was laid before him.  Many said he also made himself Protector when that was not actually in Henry VIII's will.  He was imprisoned for some time, as was his Duchess, and later beheaded.  

During Edward's reign, John Dudley became a successful politician.  He served closely with him from 1550 to 1553 and some later said he helped to poison the King to death.  He was there when the young King was dying, and was informed of his will.  He was going to put aside his sisters as they had both been declared bastards at some point and so their legitimacy was questionable, and also because he feared Mary's devotion to Mass and the Catholic religion.  They had argued over religion at several times.  It is said that Northumberland not only tried to poison the young King but also helped with his will.  King Henry VIII had stated that his daughter Mary were to rule if Edward died without issue, but Edward takes her out and places the succession with the Protestant Jane Grey.  I failed to mention during this time, that Jane Grey was married to Guildford Dudley, the son of Jane and John Dudley.  This meant that Northumberland's daughter in law would be queen.  As he was loyal to the King and wished to carry out his will, the two sets of parents set their children on the throne of England.

Frances Grey and her husband Harry seemed reluctant at putting their daughter on the throne as she had had no training or upbringing for such a role, although she was incredibly smart and learned.  Probably realizing this action would upset her close friend and cousin, the lady Mary, Frances did it anyway.   Likely at the coercion of the Northumberlands.  Three days after the young king passed away at age 15 from consumption, Jane was pronounced to be Queen.  They were lodged in the Tower until their coronation.  Jane did not name Guildford as King and co-regent but made him Duke of Clarence instead.  To rally troops to their cause, Northumberland set out with his troops.  The lady Mary had fled when she heard she was put aside in the succession, and was rallying her own troops.  During Northumberland's absence, Jane and her husband Guildford along with his mother Jane and her mother Frances stayed in the Tower.  During this time, The Privy Council switched their allegiance from Jane to Mary and proclaimed her Queen, where she finally entered London on August 3. Jane, Queen of just 9 days, was imprisoned separate from her husband.

On August 22nd Northumberland was executed, recanting his faith, and in September Jane was declared a usurper of the crown.  Upon the death of Northumberland, his widow Jane Dudley mourns the loss of her beloved husband and is extremely agitated as her sons are all still imprisoned.  Guildford and Jane were both executed on February 12th and were buried at St Peter ad Vincula where many others had also been buried.  Jane had denied Guildford a last meeting before their deaths.  Queen Mary was unsuccessful in getting the two to convert to Catholicism before meeting their end.  Jane Dudley, the Duchess of Northumberland, worked tirelessly to have the rest of her boys released.  Her son Robert Dudley, who would be imprisoned for quite some time, would later be a close friend and favorite to Elizabeth when she becomes Queen.  The Duchess uses her friendship with one of the Spanish ladies that have come over, because Queen Mary has married King Phillip of Spain, to help release her boys from the Tower.  Her friend is successful and the four boys are all released just in time for her to pass away.  She was a devoted mother and loved her husband very much. 

Frances Grey used her friendship with the Queen Mary as far as she could, and her daughter Jane was protected as well as her husband Harry.  Then the uprising of Wyatt began, many said to place Elizabeth on the throne instead of her half sister because of the hated Spanish marriage and her rigid religion.  Harry joined the uprising and was soon caught, and because of his actions he was executed.  That is probably also why Jane was no longer protected by the Queen and kept alive, because of her father's foolish actions.  Poor Frances Grey had to lose her daughter, who had just been a pawn all along in the actions of her elders, and her foolish husband who just couldn't lie low.  Frances later remarried her Master of Horse Adrian Stokes and they had three children together.  It seemed hers was not a love match with Harry and certainly the death of their daughter and his actions in the uprisings left a mark upon her.  Queen Mary kept her at her side at court with favor, but kept a close watch on her all the same.  Frances seems to have wed low so as not to even be considered competition to the throne.  She knew what being too close to the throne could mean, and the price was not worth it.

My Thoughts:  This book had obviously a lot of information as well as titles that can make it confusing.  It took me some time to get to know who Jane Dudley was and Frances Grey.  Once I had a firm grasp on their characters the book unfolded easily for me.  As I have quite an extensive background in the Tudor period I was familiar with many of the back stories.  I knew a little of Edward's reign and that he didn't want his sister Mary to rule, I knew of Jane then taking the throne, unwillingly it seemed, for 9 ill fated days.  I knew also of Tom Seymour's marriage to Catherine Parr and his disreputable actions towards the lady Elizabeth.  There are so many characters in this book to be utterly fascinating- I could just talk about each of them for days.  The main point of this book though was what happened after King Edward IV passed away.  Many characters have been construed in different ways over time.  The author Susan Higginbotham seems to portary Northumberland as a loyal servant to his king and nothing more.  It is thrown about that he may have poisoned the king and worked the will to his advantage, but no one really knows.  Guildford was also known to have been cruel to Jane, but the author doesn't portray him that way.  In fact, Jane seems almost more heartless for not meeting with her husband before their execution and for not making him co-regent.  She seems to have been quite strong headed. 

Jane's parents were also said to be cruel and unusually demanding, but it seems in those times parents usually were.  The author portrayed them as loving; Harry her father being most in tune with Jane in spiritual matters and intellect.  Frances seems not to have been too close to Jane, mostly because of their religious views and their different intellect.  There are just so many dimensions to look and wonder at.  I do admit I seem to have liked the Duchess of Northumberland more, Jane Dudley, and the love she and her husband had towards each other.  It is unfortunate that by following the King's will that he would be executed along with his son Guildford, but such were the times.  I was happy to read her boys were released after she tried for so long and so hard to have them so.  It seems the Queen Mary finally took sympathy on her as a mother.  I was happy to read that after Harry's death, that Frances Grey was able to remarry for love it seems, and have more children.  She has been said to be cruel and lascivious, but again it is probably not true.  Time seems to temper most opinions.  Just a little note on Queen Mary- she does marry King Phillip of Spain and the Inquisition leads to many being burned because of their faith.  She supposes herself to be pregnant twice and isn't either time.  She becomes known as Bloody Mary.  Later, Queen Elizabeth's age will be golden, and Northumberland's son Robert Dudley will be a key figure.  I recommend this book, excellent and exciting.  Rich in details and information.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Virgin Widow

Anne O'Brien wrote The Virgin Widow, set in 1462 in England.  The War of the Roses divided York and Lancaster against each other.  King Edward and his wife Elizabeth Woodville rule, with the help of the Earl of Warwick.  He is called the Kingmaker and helped Edward to the throne.  This book follows Anne Neville, Warwick's second daughter, as her father's amibitions change her life.  When King Edward married the Woodville woman, many were not pleased.  Particularly Warwick.  The Woodville family was numerous and began getting positions at Court that made him unhappy.  Warwick felt he was owed more loyalty since he had helped put Edward on the throne.  Warwick's descent had some royalty in it as well- from John of Gaunt, King Edward III's third son.  When the Woodvilles replaced the Nevilles, Warwick became displeased.  With much wealth he was able to do much.  His wife, the Countess, was immensely patient with him, as he was often away.  Anne was raised at Middleham with her sister Isabella, and one of the wards that was brought there to stay was Richard of Gloucester.  He was brother to the King.  They were arranged to be married at one point but that was put aside when a rift developed between Warwick and the King.  When Richard was a bit older he was sent back to Court.  Anne knew then their friendship would be unlikely as they were on different sides.

Warwick decides to pin his hopes on the King's brother Clarence, and has him marry Isabella his eldest daughter.  His plan is to depose the King and put Clarence and his daughter on the throne.  The family is forced to leave England when Warwick has so displeased the King and even rejected his offer of a truce, and they set out to sea with Isabella ready to go into labor.  They are at the mercy of the King of France, Louis.  Exiles, waiting for their fates to be decided.  Her father, the Earl, decides with King Louis to wed Anne to Margaret of Anjou's son Edward.  King Louis works to persuade Margaret to help them in their cause.  They had decided against putting Clarence on the throne, as he isn't as popular as they would need to win against the King, and so they strive now to put Edward on the throne with Anne at his side.  Drama ensues in the family as Isabella is jealous of her sister for now possibly being Queen instead of her, as the Earl's ambitions consume the family with Anne as the central pawn figure.  Anne is forced to marry Edward, knowing that his mother despises her and her family.  Her father, the Earl, had once humiliated her and she would never forget it.  An unlikely alliance, they are all thrown into it together.  Clarence ends up turning his coat in the battle and rejoins his brother, the King, because Warwick was not putting him on the throne.  This leaves him on the side with the King and Isabella against the rest of the family.  The Earl of Warwick is cut down in battle and slewn.  The Countess enters a convent to protect herself.  Isabella and Clarence are in the King's good graces because he had turned his coat.  Anne is left alone, with a mean husband and a wretched mother in law.

The unhappy couple is not able to consummate their marriage, so Margaret could annul it if needed because of lack of consummation.  But Edward, the Prince of Wales, is also killed in battle.  By none other than Anne's once betrothed, Richard.  After the unhappy marriage and almost imprisonment, after the loss of her father and her mother shut away, Anne is put into the keeping of Clarence and her sister Isabella.  Seeing Richard again at Court, Anne begins to love him again.  He seems much changed and she isn't sure where his mind lies.  Because her mother is shut away and their father dead, the Neville inheritance would be divided between the two daughters.  Clarence and Isabella try to persuade Anne to enter a convent, and when she refuses, they hide her in their kitchens as a slave where she can never be found.  She can never remarry and so gain her half of the inheritance.  Richard, the King's brother, has always loved her and eventually he finds her.  With the King's help and his own contrivings, and after much trial they are wed.  Even when wed, Clarence still tries to work against her and his own brother.  The King is caught in the middle of the fued between both brothers.  He tries to divide up the inheritance evenly to make both parties happy.  Richard helps to free Anne's mother, where she rejoins her.  Isabella had changed sides before the big battle, even knowing it would mean her own father's demise.  She had used her sister horribly and never tried to help her own mother. 

My Thoughts:  I tried to be brief in my review which is always hard with so much information.  I liked the love story that kind of tied it all together.  I was rooting the whole way through that Anne would end up with Richard.  I was appalled at her sister Isabella's treatment of her and the greed of Clarence.  I despised Edward of Wales and his mother Margaret of Anjou (who were said to be incestuous).  I couldn't believe the patience of Anne and her mother the Countess.  It is too bad that the Earl's ambitions led to such sadness and tore the family apart.  The War of The Roses pit family against family.  I find it interesting that Anne called her parents the Countess and the Earl, not by their first names.  A certain disconnect but also respect there I imagine.  I liked the book becaues I didn't know much of Anne Neville.  I knew she was married to Richard III, who becomes King after his brother passes away.  I knew of his rivarly with his brother Clarence.  I also knew of Warwick as the Kingmaker, so it was great to learn more of his daughter.  I love the way Anne O'Brien writes, it just flows so smoothly and is easy and addicting to read.  She is very tasteful with her love scenes by not elaborating.  I recommend the book to the history lovers.  A background in the War of the Roses would help before reading this.