A new biography of the Nine Day Queen, “a young lady sacrificed through the actions of powerful and ambitious manipulators in the complex world of sixteenth-century politics.”
After the death of Protestant Edward VI in 1553, his Catholic sister, Mary, was heir to the English throne. Preferring a Protestant, the dying Edward proclaimed his 17-year-old cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor. Most lords were too law-abiding to tolerate this action, so she was quickly deposed and executed. Many scholars of the period mention this in passing, but in her first book, Tallis, resident historian for Alison Weir Tours, makes an energetic case that Grey deserves more attention. Almost all existing documents cover only her final months, but Tallis does an admirable job turning up sources on her subject’s early life which concentrate on her high-ranking parents and Jane’s intense religious education; she was very pious. As is usual for biographies where evidence is lacking, the author concentrates on the great events of those years that are turbulent enough to satisfy readers. Henry VIIII, despite breaking with the pope, had little interest in radical religious reform. This was not the case after his son, Edward VI, succeeded in 1547. With approval of the new king, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, pushed through changes that created a visibly Protestant Church of England. Most Englishmen remained Catholic, and even sympathetic nobles felt that Mary’s legal claim to the throne overrode religious considerations, so Edward’s deathbed decree was brushed aside. Jane was never crowned, but neither were Edward V or Edward VIII, so the author maintains that she was queen of England, if only for slightly less than a fortnight.
Readers will share Tallis’ sympathy with the devout, passive Jane but also approve of her emphasis on the more powerful, ambitious, and unpleasant men and women that surrounded her.