The Lady of Misrule by Suzannah Dunn
|The Lady of Misrule by Suzannah Dunn|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: What would it be like to live with the teenage Lady Jane Grey while she awaited her fate? Suzannah Dunn conveys the detail and emotion from the attendant's view in a rewarding and deceptively light read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: May 2015|
|Publisher: Little Brown|
|External links: Author's website|
Elizabeth Tilney volunteers to accompany Lady Jane Grey to the Tower of London. Elizabeth would be attendant to the young deposed Protestant queen while Jane's husband Guildford Dudley is kept in an adjacent tower. Her feelings for him are less than devotional whereas he still feels a responsibility towards her, mixed with his fear and anger at what has gone before and what may lie ahead. However Jane is treated well by the new Queen Mary despite the difference in the new and old queens' faiths. Does Jane have anything to fear? Spending her time with Jane and as a messenger to Guildford, Elizabeth hopes not but she hears rumours...
English author Suzannah Dunn has of late specialised in tales of the Tudor court. Her last novel was in fact narrated by Jane Seymour, the then future mother of Edward VI. This time out we've moved on, jumping the life and death of Edward, on to the heir he apparently appointed himself, the 9-day-queen, Lady Jane Grey. Yes, the fact that history doesn't accord her with the title of queen or that we don't even know her as Lady Jane Dudley (her married title) speaks volumes.
We meet Jane at the end of her rule and the bewildering (for her) beginning of incarceration at the Tower. Elizabeth is quick to put her hand up to go too for reasons that become clear as we go on, but she doesn't really appreciate what she's letting herself in for. This is effectively also her own imprisonment (albeit temporary and without such long lasting effects as Jane's). The fact that she doesn't warm to Jane initially doesn't help matters either. In the eyes of the freshly re-Catholic-ed England, this is a protestant pretender so her airs and graces grate. The surprise for Elizabeth is that Jane's promotion doesn't seem to have been of her choosing.
The Jane that Suzannah portrays is the one that history confirms; Jane the victim, having to be practically imprisoned to become betrothed and the subject of others' vicarious ambitions. Still only 16 she was hastily married off to the son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland – the same man who manipulated Jane onto the throne. (Not a coincidence!) In this way the story begins as an examination of relationships, moving on once events beyond the walls take a different turn.
Suzannah has also sorted out the problem of an incarcerated narrator not being present at important events. In this version of Jane's downfall we're kept abreast of general feeling by the wonderfully gossipy maid Goose and our avuncular Tower of London gaolers, the Partridges.
Talking of the narrator, Elizabeth is a good one, revealing much about herself as she regales us with the lives and pasts of others. History acts as a spoiler for Jane's story but Elizabeth's has some surprises. In fact this is as much about what's to become of the attendant as it is about what's to become of the deposed monarch.
Especially to begin with the novel may feel like a light read but don't be deceived. It's packed with subtle insights regarding history, psychology and, as our own Sue pointed out in a previous Suzannah Dunn review, the view of a writer with a penchant for ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
A small measure of Suzannah's intelligent writing is the title itself, creating a historical pun. Jane's time on the throne could be seen as a misrule, but the historic meaning of the phrase is deeper. The Lord of Misrule was someone who would rule over a group of fools as part of the proceedings at old English Christmas banquets; a great analogy, a clever title and a really satisfying read.
(Thank you to the folk at Little Brown for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If this appeals then we also heartily recommend Suzannah's The Confession of Katherine about Katherine Howard and/or the aforementioned The May Bride. If you'd like to continue reading about the Grey family, The Nine Day Queen by Ella March Chase brings a slightly different view.
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