Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England for just nine days in 1553, has been replaced on the throne by Mary Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII. As Mary establishes herself as Queen and returns the country to Catholic rule, Jane is taken to the Tower of London to await the trial which will determine her fate. Joining her in her imprisonment is Elizabeth Tilney, a ‘good Catholic girl’ who has volunteered to be Jane’s companion, and it is through Elizabeth’s eyes that the story is told.
Elizabeth and Jane are the same age, but that’s all they have in common. Jane is a quiet, serious girl, devoted to her books and her Protestant faith, while Elizabeth has a livelier, more rebellious personality and has had experiences of life that are very different from Jane’s. Being such incompatible people, living together in the confines of the Tower is not always easy, but gradually a bond starts to form between the two girls. History tells us what will eventually happen to Jane but The Lady of Misrule is a fictional account of the time she and Elizabeth spend in captivity wondering what the future holds.
I came away from The Lady of Misrule with a mixture of feelings, some negative and some positive. The negative feelings are mainly due to my own personal taste in historical fiction. Suzannah Dunn writes in a very contemporary style, using modern slang and exploring emotions, motives and relationships in a way that she thinks modern readers will identify with. I thought this style worked quite well in The May Bride, a domestic family story about the early life of Jane Seymour, but it irritated me this time. I do understand that the author writes in this way intentionally (she explains why in the Q&A on her website) and it’s not a result of carelessness or poor research, but I do prefer historical novels to feel more ‘historical’. As I’ve said, this is definitely just something that will depend on each individual reader’s own taste.
There were plenty of positive things I can say about this book, though. I have read other novels about Lady Jane Grey, but I liked the fact that Dunn’s approach is quite different, writing about just a short period of her life and from the perspective of someone who is meeting her for the first time. Although the girls spend most of the novel in captivity, they do still have some contact with the outside world and Elizabeth is able to relate to us some of the events that are unfolding beyond the walls of the Tower, but the focus is always on Elizabeth’s and Jane’s personal lives. Jane keeps herself at a distance which means that Elizabeth, who can be quite naive when it comes to politics and religion, often finds her difficult to understand and maybe because of this Jane is not an easy character to like. But this is as much Elizabeth’s story as it is Jane’s and as the novel progresses we learn more about Elizabeth’s past, her relationship with a much older man and the secrets she is trying to hide.
I also liked the portrayal of Jane’s husband, the seventeen-year-old Guildford Dudley, who is also imprisoned elsewhere in the Tower awaiting his own fate. It seems that the one bright spot in Guildford’s life is having the chance to speak to his wife when they take their daily walks in the Tower gardens, but Jane has little time for her husband and instead he and Elizabeth become friends. Guildford has been shown in a very negative light in other books I’ve read and it’s easy to forget that he was just a young man who, like Jane, had been used and manipulated by people more powerful than himself. It was good to see such a different side of him in this novel!
While I can’t say that I loved The Lady of Misrule, it was still an interesting read at times and I would recommend it to fans of Tudor fiction who are happy with a more contemporary approach.
I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.