When King Edward VI dies unmarried and childless in 1553, there are several claimants to the throne. One of these is Lady Jane Grey, who has Tudor blood through her mother, Frances Brandon, a niece of Henry VIII’s. Finding herself at the centre of a plot by her parents and the Duke of Northumberland (the father of her husband, Guildford Dudley), Jane becomes Queen of England…but only for nine days. Deposed by Edward’s Catholic half-sister, Queen Mary, Jane is imprisoned in the Tower of London and eventually beheaded. The story of Jane’s short reign and tragic fate forms part of this historical fiction novel by Ella March Chase, but this is not just Jane’s story – it’s also the story of her two younger sisters, Katherine and Mary.
On the same day that Jane married Guildford Dudley, Katherine was married to Henry Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke, but after Jane’s downfall the Herberts want to break their ties with the Grey family, so Katherine and Henry’s marriage is annulled. Later, Katherine falls in love with Edward Seymour but their secret romance incurs the wrath of the new queen, Elizabeth I, and Katherine finds that her own life could be in danger. Although the youngest Grey sister, Mary, is not such a central part of her parents’ plotting (possibly because she suffers from what sounds like a severe form of spinal curvature), she is still affected by Jane’s death and Katherine’s misfortunes. This fictional account of the Grey sisters is a great introduction to Mary and Katherine for those of us who know very little about them!
I had a good idea of what I could expect from The Nine Day Queen, having read another book last year by this author, The Virgin Queen’s Daughter, which I enjoyed. I knew it wouldn’t be a particularly ‘literary’ historical novel (you can probably guess that from the cover, though it’s not always fair to make assumptions) but not as light and fluffy as some. I can’t really say much about the accuracy of the book as I’ve only read one other novel about Lady Jane Grey (Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir) and no non-fiction beyond the few brief paragraphs she is usually given in books about the Tudors. As far as I could tell the story does stick to the basic facts, with some obvious inventions, as you would expect in a book that is fiction rather than non-fiction – and the author does use her Author’s Note at the end to explain where she has deviated away from the known facts.
The sisters are given such different personalities – Jane is sensible, studious and a devout Protestant, Katherine warm, compassionate and pretty, and Mary outspoken and impulsive – and with each girl narrating her own chapters of the book, the opportunity was there for the author to develop a different narrative voice and style for each of them. I was disappointed that she didn’t make the most of this opportunity and the voices of the three girls were very similar, so much so that there were times when I found it hard to tell who was narrating the chapter I was reading and had to look back at the chapter heading to remind myself.
I did like the fact that the story was told from the perspective of all three Grey sisters, though, and I was surprised to find that Jane’s death comes not near the end of the book as you might expect, but in the middle. The focus is then on Katherine and Mary for the remainder of the novel and I thought this was good because while Jane’s story is well known, the other two sisters have been largely forgotten by history and it was nice to have an opportunity to learn more about them both. Another thing that was surprising was the portrayal of the two queens, Mary I and Elizabeth I. In a reversal of what you would usually expect, Mary is portrayed as kind and considerate whereas Elizabeth comes across as spiteful and vindictive. They both felt more like caricatures than realistic characters to me, but it was interesting to see such a different perspective!
Are there any other books anyone can recommend on Lady Jane Grey and her sisters, either fiction or non-fiction? I’ve just received a copy of the new Elizabeth Fremantle novel, Sisters of Treason, from Netgalley so will be interested to see how that one compares.
Note: This book has also been published under the title Three Maids for a Crown.
9 thoughts on “The Nine Day Queen by Ella March Chase”
I just caught the tag end of a discussion about Jane on the radio the other day where the speaker summed up by saying ‘and so she allowed herself to be set up for execution.’ I hadn’t thought about it in that way before, but unless she was very naive she must have known that that was going to be the most likely outcome. A chilling thought. But then one of the things I find most interesting about Hilary Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell in ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ is his acceptance that at some point in the future he is likely to meet with the headman’s axe. Why would you want to have anything to do with the Tudor monarchy? I think I would have run a mile at the mere mention of any of them.
The Tudor court isn’t somewhere I would have wanted to be either. I don’t know how anybody ever managed to survive!
Lady Jane Grey’s story is interesting but so sad, how much she was manipulated by those around her. This sounds like an interesting read, I’ll keep a look out for it.
Yes, Jane’s story is very sad and so are Katherine’s and Mary’s. I hope you get a chance to read this book.
I’m familiar with the story of Lady Jane Grey, but I didn’t know she had two sisters. A story from their point of view is such a great idea. If only my To Read list wasn’t already too long. 🙂
I didn’t know anything about Jane’s two sisters either, so it was fascinating to learn more about them.
I only ever learnt about Lady Jane Grey from one history lesson in Year 3, but have always remembered her. This sounds fascinating, and ever since watching The White Queen, I’ve been inspired to delve back into those periods of history and learn more for myself. Will definitely be having a look at this!
Nell at And Nell Writes
I’m glad The White Queen has encouraged you to find out more! The Wars of the Roses and Tudor periods are both fascinating periods of history.
Since I read Fifty Shades of Lady Catherine Grey and Fifty Shades of Lady Mary Grey by T S Wisemen I’ve been interested in reading more about all three Grey sisters. I too have just got a copy of Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle. I am really looking forward to reading it.