The Grey sisters receive a compelling treatment from De Lisle (After Elizabeth: The Rise of James of Scotland and the Struggle for the Throne of England, 2006).
In this sympathetic biography of the three grand-nieces of Henry VIII who had a real shot at reigning in England, the author stresses the theme that women were deeply scorned and feared as rulers. However, during the generation after Henry died, de Lisle notes, “the entire political system, the stability of England” would be borne out by the actions of females, “beings to be used and manipulated.” In 1544, Henry had established his line of succession, which moved from his young son Edward down to his two “illegitimate” daughters Mary and Elizabeth, to the descendants of his youngest sister, Frances Brandon (the Grey branch). Lady Jane Grey, the eldest sister and most promising in terms of intellectual accomplishment and resolve, was apparently an even better pupil than her cousin Elizabeth. But she was prey to all manner of schemes by relatives and guardians to marry her off, and de Lisle suggests that her true hope was to marry King Edward. However, because Edward had named the Grey branch as his rightful successors, Jane was finagled into marrying Lord Guildford Dudley to produce a quick son and heir. With Edward’s death, Lady Jane ruled for a fortnight, before the people of England rose up to demand that Mary Tudor be rightfully installed. Jane’s two sisters, warily watched and imprisoned under Elizabeth, would escape the chopping block but endure bleak fates of their own. De Lisle is to be commended for skillfully drawing out the stories of these undervalued personages, especially the one who stood in line to inherit the throne before the Grey sisters—their poor overlooked mother, Frances.
A slow-smoldering, steadily argued work of historical significance.