Tudor Reading – Alison Weir and Alison Plowden on Mary Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey

I went to the library intending to get a copy of the Mary Boleyn biography by Alison Weir. After enduring a long wait and an irritating conversation with the librarian who kept telling me that I should read Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl as was completely historically accurate, I left the library completely exasperated and with a copy of Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir, as they had lost the Mary Boleyn book. With about six of her non-fiction books at home I wasn’t sure why I decided to pick up one of her historical fiction titles to start off with, but little Lady Jane Grey has always fascinated me.

I usually can’t mention Lady Jane’s name without adding “poor little thing”, she is one of the most tragic figures in bloody Tudor history, executed for treason at just 17 years old. This is written in first person from the points of view of several characters, the main three being Jane, Francis Brandon – her mother and Mrs Ellen – her nurse.  There is a fleeting page or so from Jane Seymour, which I was pleased and surprised to see, and later on chapters from Katherine Parr, John Dudley and Mary Tudor.

While so many characters may sound slightly muddling I thought it was executed very well. Realistically a very young child is not going to fully grasp the intricacies of court politics, marriages and the jostling for titles, lands and social positions that goes on amongst the nobility and in court and the picture is painted far better through the eyes of other characters.

While Jane spends her childhood mostly absorbed in her love of learning and books, we see her parents plotting to marry her to Edward IV and make her Queen of England.  The Vives school of thought in the raising of children at the time is demonstrated well here, with Francis Brandon painted as a chilling villain whose only thoughts and feelings for her children centre on how she can use them to advance herself, and some emotional chapters from Mrs Ellen’s point of view on her feelings of seeing her young charge treated with such callousness and sometimes brutality.

The later chapters on Mary Tudor after she had captured Jane and Guilford are interesting, at times very emotional and I really enjoyed how Weir tried to get inside her head and explain how she finally had to come to the decision to execute young Jane. Rather than finishing with a fade-to-black scene at the scaffold (as so many of these books do) we see her life end through the eyes of the Executioner.

 

I picked up my copy of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Plowden after I finished Innocent Traitor. This is an easy read, a couple of hundred pages or so. There is really not a lot of surviving information on Jane but this is a good overview of the Brandon family and Lady Jane, and not overly-sympathetic either. I’d recommend both books if you want to read up more on Lady Jane, she’s also featured in Children of England by Alison Weir which I am reading at the moment.

 

And then the Mary Boleyn biography finally appeared at the library. I was amused to see Weir absolutely hammering some certain historical fiction authors who I shall-not-name in the preface. Mary Boleyn has  a very unfair reputation, very little of which is based on fact and a whole lot based on absolute myths which are continually perpetrated by some historical fiction authors.

With so little known on Mary, this is based on the little facts we have and a lot of supposition. There is no ground-breaking new evidence, it’s a little repetitive and even random in some areas. With that said, I thought Weir went out of her way to dispel a lot of the myths about Mary and paints a very different picture of Mary than what you have probably seen before. With so few non-fiction titles on Mary available it is well worth a read.

I’m planning on hunting down the Josephine Wilkinson biography on Mary which preceded this one. I am going to studiously ignore the comment Weir made in the preface that Wilkinson “has most generously agreed that I can claim that this is the first full biography of Mary” as I have a lot of Alison Weir books to get through, but it’s a pretty insulting comment to make. Wilkinson is generous indeed. More than gracious, in my opinion.