Friday, October 28, 2011

Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey, by Allison Weir (author), Stina Nielsen (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781428120303, February 2007

Spoilers ahead, because this is an historical novel about a major figure, and I assume most people know how it ends already.

This is the story of Lady Jane Grey, the great-niece of Henry VIII, and cousin to King Edward VI, and his sisters Mary and Elizabeth. Raised a devout Protestant when England and Europe as a whole were caught up in the religious and political struggle of the Reformation, she became a pawn for those, including her own parents, who wanted to advance both their own power and England's commitment to Protestantism. Years of scheming to marry her to her cousin Edward come to nothing, and when Edward, at fifteen, is dying, he is induced to sign a new will, making Lady Jane his heir in place of his sister, the Catholic Mary.

Allison Weir has written many historical biographies, and she knows the Tudor era and their lives intimately. She has told this story in multiple voices, Jane's of course, but also her mother, her nurse Mrs. Ellen, Queen Catherine Parr, John Dudley the Duke of Northumberland, and others, including even the Executioner at the end of her life. In an excellent production decision, although Stina Nielsen is listed as narrator, each character is read by a different actor (with admittedly some doubling up on minor characters.) This keeps each first-person narrative distinct, and makes listening to this complex story easier to follow.

The story begins with Jane's birth, and her parents' bitter disappointment that she is not a boy. This disappointment is compounded over the years, when Jane is followed by two more girls, Catherine and Mary. We follow, in several voices, Jane's upbringing, with her loving nurse, Mrs. Ellen, doing all that she can to soften the harshness of her mother, while Jane receives an education fit for a princess--literally. Her education is modeled on that of the King's daughters, and she studies Latin, Greek, philosophy, and theology, along with more typically feminine accomplishments of the age such as dancing, music, and needlework. When she is just seven, she is introduced to Court, and becomes a favorite of King Henry and Queen Catherine Parr, as well as becoming acquainted with his daughters, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth.

When King Henry dies and Edward becomes King, her parents begin plotting in earnest to marry her to her young cousin. She is fostered with Queen Catherine, who soon marries the man who had been courting her when Henry displaced him, Thomas Seymour, the Lord High Admiral. This is the happiest year of Jane's life, loved, indulged, and praised, rather than constantly corrected and punished for real or imaginary faults.

Then Thomas Seymour's plotting goes awry, John Dudley's plotting to replace Thomas's elder brother Somerset as Lord Protector succeeds, and Catherine dies giving birth to a daughter. Jane's life falls apart again. This is wear the spiral that ends in her nine-day reign as Queen truly begins.

Jane's story is, unavoidably, a tragedy, but Weir tells in masterfully, making Jane a real person worth caring about, even with all her faults. (During her early teen years, she really is a bit of a self-righteous prig.) We see her intelligence, her courage, her commitment to do the right thing as best she sees it, and her loyalty to those who have given her any reason at all to think well of them.

This is a very good book, and a very good performance of it.


I borrowed this book from a friend.

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