Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen by Leanda de Lisle

I picked this up at the library because I have been interested in Tudor history but did not know much about the Grey sisters beyond Jane's usurpation of the throne (I believe that Edward was too young to change his father's will and Mary was the rightful successor).

Summary: These women were to be the heirs to the English throne but the vicious power struggles of Tudor politics led to untimely deaths and largely unhappy existences. De Lisle uncovers new information regarding Jane's life and illuminates her largely forgotten younger sisters.

I did know Jane due to the fact that she is known as the 9-Day Queen who was then executed by Mary. I knew she was Protestant, otherwise she would have accepted Mary's claim. I did not even know that she had sisters!

My favorite part of this book is how it refuses the traditional passivity assigned to the Greys and gives them back their agency. Jane in particular has apparently been highlighted as a helpless, innocent, victimized female. Yes they were used by their families but they were able to make their own decisions and Jane especially was brilliant. The other interesting point I noticed was how English Protestantism pushed women into a lower position, unable to rule and yet the entire monarchy succession was dependent on Mary, Elizabeth, Katherine, and Mary's ability to marry and bear sons.

It was heartbreaking to read about Katherine and Mary falling in love but being unable to maintain that happiness as Elizabeth refused to allow them peace. Their children, especially sons, threatened her throne. While this is a good principle to have if you want to rule, a modern reader, such as me, feels for the Grey sisters who were separated from their husbands and placed under house arrest until death as Elizabeth outlived them.

As in Wolf Hall, I was slightly confused by the titles of everyone. Additionally there are family trees to show the relations of the main players-I found them somewhat confusing but I'm sure some people would find them more helpful.

Overall: 3.5/5 I enjoyed learning about the sisters but there was a lot that didn't really include them. I also plan to check out this author's other book After Elizabeth detailing the succession that according to Henry VIII's will ought to have gone to this family's descendants but instead returned to the Stuart line leading to the present day British monarchy family.

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