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Review of Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen

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.

Book cover image to Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen

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.

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Book Review of Queens of the Conquest

Queens of the Conquest

Medieval times–we might think of the “Dark Ages,” primitive torture devices, a lack of medicine, a time of legends. The more I read and learn about this time period, the more amazed I am at the complexity of people’s lives, the drama and tragedy that wove together to become a colorful tapestry of a history that I never learned much about in school. In Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens, published in September, Alison Weir looks deeply into these times, bringing the lives of these English queens to light: Matilda of Flanders, Matilda of Scotland, Adeliza of Louvain, Matilda of Boulogne, and Empress Maud.

As an avid reader, I love delving in a satisfying classic novel or historical fiction. When I was a child, I had books upon books about Queen Elizabeth I, finding some kind of affinity with this woman who reigned over four centuries ago. Now that I’m older, I find it hard to find time to get non-academic reading done, and when I do, I tend to turn to a good novel (usually under 300 pages). So a bulky 500-page history book is not my go-to read.

But when I picked up Queens of the Conquest, I was surprised how un-stuffy a read it is. I ended up loving the narrative voice, as it gives enough context and characterization to provide readers with an idea of the historical significance and a picture of the specific events. Besides using narrative and characterization, Weir takes a step back to provide a bigger picture:

“Queens were the gentler face of monarchy, exercising a civilizing influence on their husbands,

Matilda of Flanders

protecting their joint interests, taking compassion on the poor, the sick, widows, orphans, and those in prison. They were applauded when they used their feminine instincts to intercede with the King in favor of those facing a harsh fate, thus enabling him to rescind a decision without losing face. Many instances of queens using their influence probably went largely unrecorded . . . If she interceded with her husband it was usually in private . . . The medieval ideal of queenship constrained her to a role that was essentially decorous, symbolic and dynastic. She was to be beautiful–officially, even if not in actuality–devout, fertile and kind: the traditional good queen.” (76-77).

These women did not outwardly take a central role in the happenings of political life, and yet they were at the center of the action. It is fascinating to read about who they were and about their influence on historical events.

Queens of the Conquest is the first book in a new series by Alison Weir about the Middle Ages. There are to be three more books in this series, all presenting the history of Medieval British queens. As you might know, I’m a fan of literature that brings back the stories of women whom history has all but forgotten. So it’s very exciting that this series will be calling attention to women we might not know much about, even though their male counterparts are quite famous in the annals of history (think William the Conqueror).

Adeliza of Louvain

If you enjoy reading historical fiction about past royalty with all its drama and intrigue, then reading this non-fiction history is sure to bring you even closer to the truth of how dramatic and complex the lives of these women were. Think arranged marriages, wars, and rivalries. Everything one needs for a good story, right?

While this book can be termed “popular history” in that it present true events with narrative and storytelling, it maintains a historical credibility throughout with extensive appendix notes, maps, genealogy charts, and a glossary of British terms. I have not had the chance to read this all the way through (due to my heavy class load), but I do like having this on my shelf to reference and dig into when I get the chance.  

You can purchase Queens of the Conquest here.

Check out Alison Weir’s website here for news and updates.

Thank you to Ballantine Books for providing this book for review!

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