Lady Jane Grey is possibly the most tragic teenager of the Tudor era (though her cousin King Edward VI might contest that title, as might Katherine Howard). I first was introduced to her story (on an emotional level — I’m sure I’d heard the facts before) through the movie Lady Jane. Now noted popular historian Alison Weir has come out with her first work of historical fiction, an absolutely captivating tale of Jane Grey which had me so absorbed, I kept hoping the story would end differently this time and Jane would be pardoned.
Alison Weir clearly “gets” the difference between history and historical fiction. Her previous works are great reads, but keep clearly within the bounds of what a biography can do. In Innocent Traitor, she’s free to do what a biographer can’t — imagine the thoughts, feelings and motives of Jane and the other characters, and really show us the world through their eyes.
One aspect of the story that really interested me was Jane’s relationship with the young man she was forced to marry: Guilford Dudley, by all accounts a very poor match for the most erudite, devout and well-educated young woman in England. The movie Lady Jane turns their relationship into a romance, which, while historically unlikely, was appealing to watch (especially when I was 20, which was when it came out) because it starred Cary Elwes. In Innocent Traitor, this ill-starred marriage is depicted as much more complex, unhappy, and historically accurate relationship. But the frequent descriptions of startlingly handsome young Guilford with his blond hair flopping over his blue eyes, made me wonder if Weir, too, was writing with a picture of the delicious young Cary Elwes (pre-Princess Bride) in her head. Believe me, there are worse things to have in your head while writing!
Very enjoyable book; among my top historical fiction reads this year.