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.

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