If you’re like me, you’ve been fascinated since childhood by the Tudors: Queen Elizabeth I, Bloody Mary, and of course, King Henry VIII and his six wives. The whole history seems so complicated, so full of intrigue, so royal (at least to us Americans). If you’re into the Tudor family too, then you might just enjoy Alison Weir’s latest installment in her “Six Tudor Queens” series: Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen, out May 15.
The book starts when Jane is a young girl, ten years old. She’s happy with her parents and siblings, living in countryside luxury on the Seymour estate. Even at a young age, Jane is a moral-minded person. She dreams of joining a convent and devoting her life to being a nun. She gets up before her family to pray in the chapel, and she embroiders tapestries to cover the altar. But her mother warns her to wait and see if being a nun is really her calling. She might change her mind when she gets older.
Years later, Jane is now of age, ready to commit herself to the convent. She hasn’t given up the dream, and while she is a little sad to say goodbye to her family, she is steadfast in joining the church. But once she’s in the convent, she realizes the sacrificial life isn’t what she was expecting. What bothers her the most is the underlying system of the convent, specifically the Prioress who seems more than a little hypocritical in her “life of poverty.” So Jane returns home where the seed of a new dream is planted: serving as a ladies’ maid at the royal court of King Henry.
These scenes are character-builders for Jane.Always the conscientious one, she begins to see the world around her as less shiny and more tainted with wrongdoing. Her brother and his wife are obviously unhappy in their marriage, and a scandalous affair erupts in the family, causing great emotional distress and forcing the sister-in-law to leave in disgrace. Jane quickly discerns the blame, understanding that the women in these situations (especially in the 1500s) are the ones who take on the shame and the punishment while the men have little damage to their reputations.
Weir does an excellent job of building up Jane as virtuous, a lover of truth, a hater of adultery, a woman of faith. With Jane’s true feelings being hard to figure out with historical accuracy, the novel helps fit the pieces together. It shows us a little of what Jane was probably like, getting to the motivations behind her behavior. This book explores the woman behind the scenes. How can a woman as devout and conscientious as Jane become the overthrower to Queen Anne Boleyn? What part does she play in stealing the heart of King Henry VIII? All questions we must consider when digging into the Why of these historical events.
Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen reads like a novel, and I especially liked its character development as it’s interesting to me the psychology behind people’s behavior, especially within history. If you like historical fiction and historical retelling, this might just be the British summer read you’ve been looking for.
Thanks to Penguin Random House for providing a copy of Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen for review.