Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Innocent Traitor.
In her novel Innocent Traitor, Alison Weir
illuminates the life of Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554), the great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England who reigned as uncrowned queen of of England for nine days in July 1553. Though Jane's accession to the throne was codified by King Edward VI, many felt that her reign in fact breached the English laws of succession.
The Protestant powers of the land did indeed prove willing to accept Lady Jane Grey as
queen, even if only as part of a power-struggle to stop Henry's elder daughter,
the Roman Catholic Princess Mary, from ascending to the throne. Jane's brief rule ended, however, when the authorities revoked her proclamation as queen, and Mary had her executed for treason.
Told from multiple view points, Innocent Traitor recounts Jane's sheltered childhood, troubled home life and penchant for learning
and on to her ascendancy as the reluctant queen when this girl of "of privileged royal blood" became an innocent pawn for the great aristocratic families of the time.
In an age where a male heir is considered paramount, Jane's parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Dorset, see an opportunity for Jane to marry a wealthy aristocrat, perhaps even to Henry's son Edward, the future King, who will one day need a wife. For them, God has sent their daughter for a reason: to bring a different kind of glory upon the house of Dorset.
Marriage is seen as a political bargain and an opportunity to enrich associations with the royal court. Jane finds a kindly adviser in Katherine Parr, who after her husband's death retires to a life of relative comfort and security. Together with her new husband, Thomas Seymour, Katherine tries to give Jane a measure of reassurance previously denied to her by her ambitious and authoritarian parents.
Encouraged by Katherine, who secretly adheres to the Protestant faith, Jane discovers a new way of looking at religion, with Katherine's radical ideas and openly heretical views
in counterpoint to the rigid Catholicism that still permeates much of the kingdom.
It is in this environment that Jane must learn to live in a world where the "walls have ears and the penalty for heresy is burnings."
Meanwhile, the battle heats up between the Pope, "this monstrous idol of Rome," and the Protestants who seek to rid the Church of England of every last vestige of popery. Jane is constantly astonished at her parent's willingness to use her as barter in order to
achieve their own increased influence and greatness, along with their secret desire to keep Mary from ascending the throne.
When the king's new Lord Protector, the Earl of Northumberland, places Jane as a possible candidate for
queen, she finds herself impossibly caught up in the maneuverings of the court as the order of succession is manipulated to give Jane the best possible chance of becoming
queen in her own right.
Forever the reluctant princess, this poor young girl finds herself thrust into a situation not of her own making,
one which forces her into a life-threatening showdown with Mary, a fanatical Catholic whom many consider to be the rightful successor to the throne of England.
Alison Weir sheds some much-needed light on this enigmatic and misunderstood girl who is determined to resist, under any circumstances, becoming a party to treason. Jane readily admits that she
is not the stuff of which martyrs are made, but she has been born into the family of the royal house, where power, rank, wealth, and even duties and obligations are of the utmost importance.
Although Innocent Traitor sometimes reads more like an historical treatise than a fully-fledged novel,
for a first foray into fiction, it is generally well done. Weir presents some wonderfully wrought characters as she recounts the plots, counter-plots and interminable political trickery that lead to Jane's final days before she went
to the chopping block, her death ultimately a terrible and indisputable tragedy.