Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey

Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey

by Alison Weir

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I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir. Jane was the 16-year old girl who was used as a political pawn by just about everyone she ever met and wound up queen of England for 9 days, until she lost her head.

We’re undergoing a little bit of a Tudor revival here lately, what with the soap opera version of the life of Henry the Hot — I mean the VIII — on Showtime, also they’re making a sequel to the movie Elizabeth, the one about the young Elizabeth I, which snagged Cate Blanchette an Oscar. The sequel will be called The Golden Age, and it’s about the middle-aged queen. (By the way, I’ll be talking with Tasha Alexander, who is writing the companion novel to The Golden Age, in early June.) Elizabeth’s reign was a golden age for England for a ton of reasons, not the least of which was her refusal to get dragged down into religious factionalism. It was also a golden age by contrast to that which came before. Henry the 8th strikes me as a real life twin to that horrible little kid in the Twilight Zone episode: disagree with him and you’re off to the cornfield, never to be seen again. Henry had just that kind of power. This was not a man you said ‘no’ to.

Henry took the throne and married his dead brother’s wife, Katherine of Aragon, who swore up and down that her marriage to the dead brother was never consummated.  Nice. Henry spent his life writing his many children in and out of the order of succession based on which wife was in favor, and was so eager to annul his marriage to Katherine that he took the next logical step and started his own church, with himself as the supreme ruler.  The next best thing to being God. Yes, I know I simplify.

So that’s the landscape 16-year old Jane Grey finds herself in after Henry’s death. She’s a very bright girl, unfortunately showing some signs of the same religious intolerance her cousin, Bloody Mary, would be remembered for. As clever as she is, she’s no match for the pack of advisors, hangers-on and fame seekers that try and either get her on the throne, or want to send her to the Tower. Henry was a tyrant and a bit of a lech, but no one had any doubt who ran the country. In his absence, long simmering internal politics and religious fanaticism came to a boil. No place for a teenaged girl.

But as Alison Weir reminds us over and over in Innocent Traitor, many of the decision makers were barely more than teenagers themselves.  If you’ve ever had a conversation with a 13-year old vegetarian, or a teen anti-smoking crusader — for instance — you know how inflexible they can be. Now give that teenager unlimited power, an army and a fistful of religious doctrine. Welcome to the 1500s.

A couple of things stand out about this book. First, the women we meet are all so young! They’re dressing for a formal dinner and meeting their future spouse at 5 or 6. They’re having their third child at the age of 20. They’re often dead at 30. And as is always the case, they’re expected to dress up, shut up, sit down, and have lots of children. Male children.

Also, it was true 500 years ago, and it’s just as true today: religious fanaticism has got to be the quickest way to slide your country right into the dumpster.

Alison Weir is a famed writer of popular histories of the kings and queens of England, and Innocent Traitor is her first novel of historical fiction. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir.

Ms. Weir is a well-known biographer of the English kings and queens and this is her first try at historical fiction. Lady Jane was the teenager who was put on the throne of England after the death of Henry VIII, and had a good 9 day run before she was beheaded. Since you know how it all comes out in the end, it makes the story of this bright, very poorly used girl even sadder. She never had a chance, being the pawn of her grasping mother, ambitious father, and a whole pack of lords and ladies who only saw her as a tool to their own ends. Innocent Traitor paints a fascinating picture of Tudor court life, where children were miniature adults, and the women — as usual — had better keep their mouths shut and get to work on having male children. Alison Weir is my guest this weekend (May 12, 2007) and she’ll talk about her favorite of Henry’s six wives, and why the story of Jane compelled her to write fiction. Fiction Nation on Saturday at 6pm east and again on Sunday at 10am east, on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by historian Alison Weir.

The story of the young girl who was made queen of England for 9 days may have a sad ending but it’s a fascinating look at court life in the 1500s. The death of Henry VII created a power vacuum, and poor Jane got sucked in. Even though she is a very bright girl and does grab your sympathy, Weir makes it clear that the religious fanaticism which was the order of the day had not passed her by. Jane would probably have made a pretty bad ruler had she lived. Alison Weir will be my guest this weekend (May 12, 2007) to talk about Innocent Traitor, and why the story of Lady Jane was the one that made her want to write fiction. She’s got some really interesting things to say about the place of women at court, how childhood is a recent invention, and we’ll talk about what would get your head lopped off if you weren’t careful. Join us this weekend at 6pm east on Saturday and again at 10am east on Sunday. Fiction Nation is on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by historian Alison Weir.

Ms. Weir is a well-known biographer of the kings and queens of England, and her passion for research pays off in this sad story of the teenager who became a political pawn and was made queen for 9 days. She uses an interesting narrative structure — multiple narrators, each with their own viewpoints — from Lady Jane herself, to her abusive but fascinating mother Francis, to queens and noblemen. Each speaks in their own distinctive voice and each make a case for their often shady behavior. Innocent Traitor shows us a strangely brilliant and precocious Jane, and I wondered at her grown up language, but Ms. Weir swears that she used a lot of Jane’s own papers to write the dialogue.  The clothing and jewels may have been fabulous, but it only took a hint of scandal to send you to the Tower or worse.  As smart as Jane was, she still lost her head. Innocent Traitor is by Alison Weir. This is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


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