Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir

Last year I went on a bit of a Marie Antoinette kick after seeing the movie, and read Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette: The Journey. I enjoyed it so much that I also tried The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson, which was a huge mistake. Fraser’s book was excellent, humanizing a woman who has been unfairly vilified over the years. Erickson’s book was nothing more than a silly romance novel. I was very disappointed. Marie Antoinette’s life was interesting enough without having to cheapen it. However, the idea of using a novel to flesh out a historical character remained very interesting to me, though I wouldn’t read another of Erickson’s.

I suppose that’s why I decided to pick up Innocent Traitor, a novel based on the life of Lady Jane Grey. I think I read an interview with Alison Weir that talked about this recent trend (biographers who write novels) and compared her book favorably to Erickson’s effort. Innocent Traitor also got good reviews across the board. So I decided to give it a try, though I had not the slightest idea who Lady Jane Grey was. Wikipedia filled in the details: After Henry VIII died, his son Edward became king. When Edward became ill and died, some people did not want his half-sister Mary, a Catholic (whose legitimacy was questionable after Henry VIII had his marriage to her mother annulled), to take the throne. Edward’s cousin, Lady Jane Grey, who was a Protestant, was their alternative. She served as queen for nine days before Mary claimed power and ultimately had her beheaded. Lady Jane Grey was only 16 when she died in the Tower of London, paying the price for people who used her to gain political power.

Alison Weir, who has written about the royal family in such books as The Six Wives of Henry VIII and The Life of Elizabeth I, was much more accurate than Erickson seemed to be in her novel, at least from the bit of researching I have done. The inaccuracies and sensationalizing were my main objections to Erickson’s book, so I was much happier with Innocent Traitor on a very basic level. In telling the story, Weir gave us both Jane’s point of view and the perspective of people around her. One review I read mentioned that many of the characters seemed a little bit too aware of exactly what they felt and exactly why they felt that way at all times, and I can’t disagree with that point, but I think it worked as a tool to help the reader understand what was going on.

In the end, I thought that this was an entertaining and informative read – I didn’t know much of anything about this time period or the politics that surrounded the throne, and I couldn’t put the book down. In a purely coincidental move, I have in my queue The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory , which is set just before this book took place. I had been kind of hesitant about starting it (it’s HUGE), but now, knowing more about Henry VIII, I am really looking forward to it.

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