Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Innocent Traitor.
One of the great pawn’s of Tudor history, Lady Jane Grey is a fascinating character, cast upon the stage of English succession after the death of Henry VII and the short life of his only male heir, son of Katherine Seymour, Edward VI. Even as a child, Lady Jane, Henry’s grand-niece and daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Dorset, is possessed of a fine intellect and enquiring mind.
Although she is disappointed in failing to provide a male heir, the marchioness appreciates her tiny daughter’s potential, embarking on a lifelong mission to educate the girl. She presents Jane to the court at every opportunity, ever on guard for an advantageous union.
There is little comfort from a demanding and emotionally barren mother, although young Jane remains in thrall to the machinations of those who would use her to further their position. Eventually giving vent to a long-simmering rebelliousness, Jane is inevitably trapped by her situation, with little choice other than to acquiesce.
Jane is much-favored by Katherine Parr, Henry’s widow, who is troubled by the Marchioness’s marked indifference to her daughter. Katherine takes Jane into her home after Henry’s demise. There she remains with Katherine and her new husband, Thomas Seymour, after the frail Edward VI is crowned king, albeit with a Lord Protector. After Katherine’s untimely death, however, Lady Jane is thrust once more into an unknown future, the girl espousing ever more rigid religious beliefs.
The Dorsets are nothing if not efficient; although Jane receives some small comfort in her studies, she is constantly paraded before the court in search of favor. Jane’s parents scheme with Edward’s new Lord Protector, the Earl of Northumberland, to marry Jane to the King. When this marriage becomes impossible, a secondary plan is posited, one that allows the ailing Edward to rescind an order of succession that grants Henry’s Catholic daughter Mary the throne, substituting instead Lady Jane Grey: “A bride who has Tudor blood in her veins and is the Prince’s own cousin.”
In her short life, Jane witnesses Henry’s long history of volatile marriages, the accusation of heresy against Katherine Parr, Katherine’s agonizing death in childbirth, Mary Tudor’s fanatic Catholicism, and the untimely death of Edward VI. Still, nothing has prepared the girl for the price exacted by the hubris of others.
With unerring precision, Weir unravels the complicated threads of a brilliant plot to gain the throne, as the child who would be queen for nine days, married to Northumberland’s son, Guilford Dudley, moves inexorably toward her denouement. At sixteen, Lady Jane is thrust finally into the avaricious jaws of history. Finally finding her voice, Jane is ultimately silenced by temptation: an opportunity to foster her Protestant bias and save her subjects from Mary’s fanatical Catholicism. She takes the bait, thereby caught in an impossible conundrum, her religious beliefs robbing her of the only means to escape a traitor’s death. Defeated by an excess of piety, Lady Jane’s courage is useless, her short existence sacrificed on the altar of ambition.