Wednesday, January 23, 2013

3 Maids for a Crown

Ella March Chase wrote another wonderful book that I enjoyed reading very much.  Three Maids for a Crown:  A Novel of The Grey Sisters caught my eye because I wondered what she would do different than the other books I've already read about Jane Grey.  Jane was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk and Lady Frances Brandon.  Through their mother's blood they were grand-nieces to King Henry VIII.  Jane Grey was known as the ill fated nine days as queen.  What interested me was not really her story, which I've heard and read before, but her sisters.

Jane had two sisters, Katherine the middle daughter, beautiful; and Mary, the youngest, a dwarf with a twisted spine.  Their parents were cruel to the girls, strict and harsh.  Although it did say the dad was quite besotted with his pretty daughter Katherine.  Some books write the parents as quite cruel, and others not as much.  Roger Ascham, a scholar of that time, wrote them to be cruel, especially to Jane so I will go with that story as did the author.  Jane and Katherine were wed on the same day and now they were tied to the Northumberland family-John Dudley was now Jane's father in law- he was in charge of King Edward's government.  It seems about this time the two sets of parents plotted together and made way for horrific changes and deaths.

Upon King Edward's death (he was King Henry VIII's only son with Jane Seymour) died, some said at the hand of Northumberland, the parents pushed Jane Grey on the throne in place of the Lady Mary.  Mary was a staunch Catholic which her brother Edward had never approved of and had been declared a bastard before, so they decided at great risk to change the succession.  Jane accepted, likely from beatings, with her husband Guildford Dudley at her side, but not as King.  What followed was nine days of being Queen, a battle and the Lady Mary escaping and riding into London and placing herself as rightful Queen.  Northumberland and Guildford were executed for treason.  After the Wyatt rebellion, Jane's father and Jane was also executed.  Mary had pleaded for her sister's life, but now she could not live.  Their mother remarried shortly after, a man below her station, and never seemed to plead for her daughter or care about their welfare.

Katherine and Mary were placed at Court after this and served Queen Mary, even after their sister died.  It seems she had a kinship towards Mary especially, and was kind to them.  Katherine was beautiful and passionate, and heartbroken after her marriage was annulled to Henry Herbert.  After the Wyatt rebellion and the execution of Jane and her father, the earl of Pembroke had wanted to distance himself from the family and so had the marriage annulled.  Katherine had a very hard time with it as they had been in love.  Poor Mary tugs at your heartstrings, because she is usually forgotten or snubbed because of her condition and physical features, which also give her the advantage of spying on people and hearing things.  She was always reaching out for her sisters but was turned away a lot of the time.  She still had in her possession a poppet that Jane had made for her. 

Queen Mary is briefly mentioned with her health problems, marriage to the Spanish King and England's unhappiness at a foreign marriage and the Spanish Inquisition.  After two supposed pregnancies and no babies, she passes away from a tumor.  In the book it says Queen Mary wished to name Katherine as her successor instead of her Protestant half sister Elizabeth, but Mary pleads with the Queen to leave her sister out of it.  She greatly fears the throne for any of her family after what happened to Jane.  It seems the Queen had also received information from the Lady Mary that helped her to escape imprisonment by Northumberland, and eventually led to her being Queen.  Interesting how the two Marys were so intertwined in events that shaped destiny.  So Elizabeth was named successor and that did not bode well for the Greys.  She disliked them immensely and made it obvious.

Katherine meets Ned Seymour while at court, the earl of Hertford, and eventually they marry in secret with only a priest and Ned's sister as witnesses.  About a year later Katherine is forced to confide in someone, she chooses Robert Dudley because he is the Queen's favorite, because she is now visibly pregnant.  Instead of showing them mercy, Queen Elizabeth throws them into the Tower because their marriage was not legal or true.  The priest was not to be found and Ned's sister had died.  Katherine later has yet another child, because a kindly guard had let them visit each other at night.  The Queen is wrathful to those that seek love, especially because Katherine had a good claim to the throne.  Elizabeth has the eldest son taken away with his father, and Katherine imprisoned in various homes with her second son.  She eventually dies at only 27 from a broken heart.  Her husband lives to be 82 and tries that whole time to validate their marriage, and he does finally find the priest that married them.

Lady Mary is the only sister that survives death, but not a broken heart.  She finds love in an unlikely source, Thomas Keyes.  He is very tall where she is tiny and crooked and they fall in love at court.  They wait patiently for years to see if the Queen will find happiness in her own marriage so they can as well, but she never does.  They tire of waiting and wed but when found out, both are imprisoned.  Mary is taken to the Tower and various homes, and Thomas at Fleet Prison.  He leaves behind children  on a farm.  Eventually he is freed but dies not long after from the wear on his body from imprisonment.  Mary is also freed after his death, at Suffolk House, and the book shows her going to Thomas's farm to raise his children.  That never really happened, but it's a nice thought to end with. 

My Thoughts:  I know I rambled some of my thoughts in with the review instead of waiting until the end.  I liked this book, although very heartbreaking at times and so frustrating.  I enjoyed reading about Jane's sisters and how their lives ended up.  I was appalled at their parents for their ambitions and ruthlessness and self preservation.  The mom even pushed Katherine to the throne, even after what happened to Jane.  I was saddened for Queen Mary and the life she lived, never having children and a husband that didn't much love her.  I was sad for Katherine being imprisoned for 7 years without her one boy, and then dying so young without her husband or eldest son.  I was sad for Mary, at such a cruel life and then finally finding love, to have it snatched away.  I was sad also for Jane, for being so smart and so bullied to be Queen, and then killed when it wasn't her fault or doing.  I was intrigued at the relationship the author spun between the two Mary's, and how that made events unfold.

I found myself angry at Queen Elizabeth and her maliciousness.  I know it was part of the times, to eradicate all claimants to the throne to keep safety.  I just can't believe the cruelty of those times.  The women are, as always, amazingly passionate, strong and memorable.  That is why I read these books, to read of their strength and experiences.  I love historical fiction because it gives us glimpses into other worlds, fascinating ones.  Wonderful book.

P.S.  I don't always go over the details of pedigree and chronology and wills, because I assume those interested in this blog will by now have some background into the characters.  Ex:  King Henry VIII had three children:  Mary, Elizabeth and Edward, all from different wives.  Edward was his successor since he was a boy, then it was to be Mary and then Elizabeth.  Northumberland overthrew that succession and possibly forced King Edward to name Jane Grey instead of Mary.  Namely because of the religion factor and ambition for his daughter in law and son.

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