Oddly, this is the first book of Weir’s I’ve ever read, although I’ve heard about her for ages.
It is of course, the story of Henry VIII’s third queen, and the only one to bear him a son. Weir takes a few U-turns around the more traditional stories of Jane.
First off, rather than being a reformer, Jane is a secret Catholic who wanted to be a nun. A spell in the convent cures her of this wish, and she limps home hoping to find a good marriage. But that doesn’t work out either. Her fortune is made when she goes to court to serve Katherine of Aragon, a woman to whom she is devoted. But, as we all know, things start to change at court not long after Jane arrives. Katherine loses favor and is gradually replaced by Anne Boleyn, someone Jane detests because of her love for Katherine and her distaste for reform.
In her author’s note, Weir confesses that this book is actually the combination of two books — including an unpublished one she wrote a while ago about Jane’s early life. So the entire first part of the book is interesting, and includes the story of how her father seduced her sister-in-law, a story that I’d never heard but is apparently well-known. This of course wreaks havoc on her family, and convinces Jane that it’s better to head to court than to stay with her two parents, who do manage to stay together despite the scandal.
So on to the second book. Jane eventually has to leave Katherine and go to serve Anne in order to further her family’s interests. She does this haltingly but is apparently pretty good at covering up her true feelings. Weir does a good job illustrating how Jane captures Henry attention. Jane of course is shocked at all the allegations against Anne but convinces herself Anne has been unfaithful to the king, despite the evidence and her lingering doubts. After Anne is beheaded, Jane feels a continuous sense of guilt, as though she is responsible for Anne’s death. This is the only part of the book I didn’t buy. In the scheming Tudor court, it would seem that Henry’s third wife would have been able to quell any doubts in favor of settling in as queen.
Another thing: in the story, Jane is pregnant when she marries Henry. This flies in the face of everything we’ve heard about good, modest, demure Catholic Jane Seymour. But again in the author’s note, Weir explains she made this decision because of the unseemly haste between Anne’s death and Jane’s marriage to the king –about ten days. Apparently, some historians believe that the only way this could happen is if Jane were pregnant.
And Jane gets pregnant not once, not twice, but three times! Again, we haven’t heard that very often, but there is some evidence for the other pregnancies before she bears Prince Edward.
Also, we’ve always heard than Jane dies of “childbed” fever. But Weir concocts a more gruesome death for her that is actually frightening. She did this, apparently, by showing the evidence of Jane’s death to a number of medical professionals and having them decide the actual cause of death. It’s quite a lengthy author’s note to contain all that.
Overall, the book is entertaining and draws the reader in. Despite the fact that a number of reviewers think the facts are inaccurate, it was a good story. And that’s what it’s all about. I’ll be reading more of Alison Weir.