Innocent Traitor


Alison Weir


Historical Fiction


Date Reviewed:

July 27, 2021

get confused with a lot of English history - so many historical figures have the same name. I was not sure if Lady Jane Grey was famous for being one of the wives of King Henry VIII who had her head chopped off. Nope, it was Jane Seymour who was married to King Henry VIII, and she died due to complications after giving birth to the boy who would become King Edward VI. I had not even realize that there was a male heir to King Henry VIII - I thought he was immediately followed by Bloody Queen Mary. Another point that I was confused about - was Bloody Queen Mary the same person as Mary, Queen of Scots? No, they are two different people. Three of Henry's wives were named Catherine. This novel, Innocent Traitor, set me straight on some of the Tudor history.

Innocent Traitor is a fictional, sympathetic portrait of the short life of Lady Jane Grey. Alison Weir wrote a lot of non-fiction about English royalty, this was her first novel. So while the conversations and the details of some events are invented by Weir, the overall plot points are all based upon actual history.

Lady Jane is the first born child of Lady Frances Brandon and Henry Grey, who is the Duke of Suffolk. Lady Frances has royal Tudor blood, so she is crushed that she hasn't borne a boy. What use is a girl? Jane is raised in an environment that alternates between abuse and neglect from her parents. Only her nurse, Mrs. Ellen, can spare any sympathy for the young girl. Worse, Lady Frances has two more children, and both of them are girls as well. How can the ambitions of Henry Grey be met if he has only daughters? There is a lot of misery in Jane's early life, as her frustrated parents vent their displeasure upon the innocent child.

Hoping to marry Jane off in a beneficial arrangement some day (it occurs to the ever-ambitious Lady Frances that young King Edward VI, heir to the throne, could be wed to Jane), and so tutors are brought in to educate the bright young girl. The tutors teach Jane about important subjects like Greek and Philosophy, but the tutors also educate Jane on the ideas of the Protestants, ideas that are still forbidden in England. (I wasn't clear on this point - didn't King Henry VIII break with the Catholic church so that he could divorce Anne Boylen? I would have thought that Catholic teachings would have been forbidden after Anglicanism was declared to be the church of England). A sharp mind like Jane's studies the Bible intensely, and she likes what she learns about the Protestants.

When young Jane accompanies her family to the royal court, she meets the Queen Catherine Parr, who is King Henry VIII's sixth wife. Queen Catherine treats Jane kindly, and Jane blossoms when someone acts nice to her. Catherine is secretly a Protestant herself, and this influences Jane.

Jane also meets her cousin, Mary, an elderly spinster (she is in her 30's, and still unwed) who is a devout Catholic. Because of their religious differences, there is tension between them, but because of ties of blood, there is also feelings of love and compassion. After young King Edward VI, Mary would be the next in line to the throne (unless Edward VI produced an heir)

After King Henry VIII dies, Edward VI officially becomes king. In actuality, it is the ambitious Duke of Northumberland who acts as regent and controls the kingdom. But Edward VI sickens, if he dies, Mary will become Queen and Northumberland will lose his position. To prevent his loss of power, Northumberland and Henry Grey concoct a scheme to have Mary and Elizabeth declared bastards and thus the crown will pass to Lady Frances, Jane' mother. But Frances doesn't want the crown, and so it will pass on to Lady Jane Grey. A pliant young girl like her would be easily controlled by Northumberland. Indeed, Jane is forced into marriage with Northumberland's awful son, Guilford.

Northumberland's scheme does not go well, and Jane and her family pay the price.

Whenever I read stories about the English kings and queens, I am always surprised with just how obsessed everyone is with becoming the king. Why isn't anyone content to be the Duke of XYZ? Isn't that wealth enough? Don't these ambitious, scheming nobles notice what a burden the crown can be - the King must lead the army, defend the country, worry about issues of religion and rebellion and plagues and crop failures and on and on. As soon as someone secures the threat, they are secretly threatened by the nobles who yearn to replace them. Yet every nobleman hopes to wear the crown some day. Maybe there were Dukes and Earls who were content with their lot in life, and we don't remember their names because they didn't make history. Only the schemers and usurpers get mentioned in the history books.

There appears to be a near infinite number of novels written about English royalty. In addition to Alison Weir, there are also works by Philippa Gregory, Sharon Kay Penman, Jean Plaidy, Margaret George and a whole bunch more. I really did like The Sunne in Splendor and The Other Boylen Girl; and Innocent Traitor was pretty good too - perhaps I should add a few more historical novels to my near-infinite list of books to be read some day.