The brief reign of a reluctant queen.
In the third volume of her six-novel series on the unfortunate wives of Henry VIII, Weir (Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession, 2017, etc.) offers a dramatic and empathic portrait of Jane Seymour, horrified witness to the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn and to the “seismic changes...taking place in the English Church.” As a teenager, Jane pleads for permission to become a nun, much to her parents’ dismay: They want her to make an astute marriage that will propel the family up the social ladder. Although they eventually give in, Jane finally wavers in her commitment to the religious life; and at the age of 19, through the ministrations of a family friend, she leaves Wulfhall, the Seymour homestead, to become one of 30 maids of honor to Katherine of Aragon. Quiet, diffident, “whitely pale” (Weir speculates that she may have been anemic), Jane has little confidence that she will ever attract a suitor. She grows devoted to the maternal Katherine, despondent at Henry’s cruel treatment of the woman she insists is the only true queen. As Henry exiles Katherine to one residence and another, Jane stays with her until the maids of honor are drastically reduced and Jane is forced to attend Lady Anne at court. “I hate her and all she stands for!” Jane weeps. Much of the novel reprises events from the first two volumes: Katherine’s exile and death; Henry’s passionate determination to marry Anne; the birth of their only living child, Elizabeth; the stillbirths of 2 sons and miscarriage of another; and accusations of infidelity and treason that led to Anne’s beheading—a violent end that haunts Jane. Weir portrays Jane as determinedly virtuous, giving in to Henry’s passion only after she has fallen in love with him and is assured that he means to marry her. Historical sources persuade Weir that Jane was a “humane and sympathetic personality.” Henry ardently professes his adoration, overcome with joy when she produces the son he desperately desires. Weeks later, powerless to save her, he watches her die.
Deft, authoritative biographical fiction.