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Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey    by Alison Weir order for
Innocent Traitor
by Alison Weir
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Innocent Traitor tells the story of Lady Jane Grey, who was beheaded at the age of fifteen in November 1553 on the orders of her cousin, Queen Mary of England. A reluctant Lady Jane, whose great-uncle was King Henry VIII - was placed by a group of conspirators (including her parents) on the throne of England for nine days. Events are shown through the eyes of a variety of actors on this historical stage, from Jane herself and her mother to Katherine Parr and the Duke of Northumberland (I often found the switches of viewpoint confusing).

We see Jane's mother Frances (Marchioness of Dorset and niece to Henry VIII), disappointed not to have born a son, raising her eldest daughter harshly. She seems 'determined to constrain her to a state of perfection such as few human beings have ever attained', and often whips her daughter for perceived faults. Fortunately, Jane also has a loving nurse, Mrs. Ellen, to alleviate her misery. Queen Katherine Parr also takes an interest in her, acting as a mother surrogate and overseeing Jane's education. In turn, the child is able to help the queen when she overhears plans to arrest her, with Henry's consent. Like her cousin Elizabeth, Jane is well educated, fluent in multiple languages, and communicating with foreign scholars.

After King Henry dies, a Regency Council is formed (of secret Protestants) to rule on behalf of nine-year old Edward VI. Queen Katherine marries Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour (who tried his luck with both princesses first, to no avail). Jane is bereft - and loses a protector - when Katherine dies in childbirth. Plans are made to marry her to King Edward, but he has other ideas, and then sickens and dies, leaving the kingdom in chaos, with those currently in power unhappy over the succession of Catholic Mary, a fanatic expected (with good cause) to burn many at the stake. Jane's parents marry her to the spoiled Lord Guildford Dudley and plot to place her on the throne as a puppet ruled by her husband's powerful family. Though refusing at first, she gives in to the pressure and their pleas for her to defend 'the true faith'.

Events play out as we all know from the history books. Though Jane's promised a pardon by her cousin, Mary bows to pressure to remove a threat to her reign and orders the beheading. As a bestselling historian, Alison Weir knows this era in a depth that shows in convincing period details, from the burning of heretics at the stake to the idiosyncracies of fashion. Her young heroine wins our sympathy, though the continual switching of points of view amongst characters detracts somewhat from it. In her Author's Note at the end, Weir calls Jane a 'modern heroine', whose story is 'compelling and shocking'. It certainly catches the imagination, as it's poignantly conveyed in Innocent Traitor.

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