Book Review: “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: A Tudor Tragedy” by Leanda de Lisle

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen book cover

Several years ago I read a fascinating biography of Lady Jane Grey, known as the Nine Days Queen. It was written by Eric Ives and the subtitle of the book was “A Tudor Mystery”. So little is known about Jane who was a key personality in the Tudor era. I knew even less about Jane’s sisters Katherine and Mary. So when I found this book I was intrigued.

Since Ives has written a complete work on Jane, this book doesn’t really give much additional information about her. However, the information on Katherine and Mary here gives a complete picture of their lives. All these women were technically in line to inherit the throne of England based on the will of King Henry VIII and then the revisions made by King Edward VI. Edward really put these women in the spotlight, essentially putting their lives in danger, especially Jane.

Jane was used as pawn by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Just before King Edward died, Northumberland married Jane to his own son Guildford. When Edward finally died, Northumberland had Jane and his son proclaimed Queen and King. This state of affairs only lasted about ten days, until Edward’s sister Princess Mary proclaimed herself Queen and forced Jane and Guildford to become prisoners in the Tower. Jane was beheaded a few months later.

Katherine’s story is for me the most fascinating. She managed to marry a Seymour in secret without the Queen’s permission. Even more interesting, she managed to have a son. After this, Queen Elizabeth I had Katherine held prisoner in the Tower along with her husband. They were allowed to see each other while incarcerated and Katherine managed to have another son! This led to the couple being separated and Katherine died an unfortunate death a few years later. De Lisle discloses in this book that there is a first-hand account of Katherine’s death and as it’s written here, it’s very emotional reading.

The last sister Mary managed to live the most conventional life of the three women but that’s putting it mildly. She was born deformed and was a very small person. But this probably saved her life because she wasn’t seen as a serious threat to the throne because of it. She married without the Queen’s permission like her sister and was also separated from her husband. He eventually died and Mary was able to carve out a living for herself as a comfortable widow.

All this makes for a fascinating story and de Lisle does a good job here recounting the lives of the three women. I have to admit her grammar and syntax drove me a little batty and sometimes she had me wondering if I was reading historical fiction or not. But it’s a pleasant book and I would recommend it if you are interested in the subject.

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