The Nine Day Queen by Ella March Chase
|The Nine Day Queen by Ella March Chase|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: This poignant study of privileged womanhood centred around the Greys shows there's more than one type of poverty: being financially rich doesn't always confer independence and freedom. That makes us feel better doesn't it?|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 316||Date: February 2013|
|Publisher: Ebury Press|
|External links: Author's website|
The young monarch, Edward Tudor, is dying and the Protestants of England fear a return to Catholicism through his sister, Mary Tudor. However, the Dukes of Northumberland, Pembroke and Suffolk seize the opportunity to promote self-interest in the form of Suffolk's 16 year old daughter, Jane. His eldest and 4th in line to the throne is also young enough to do as she's told. In this way the door closes harshly on Jane's childhood, for history knows her as Lady Jane Grey; a name that will be written in blood.
This is American author, anglophile and historian Ella March Chase's second foray into England's past… or rather her first. I should explain. The Nine Day Queen was actually published in America a year before what was her first novel over here, The Virgin's Daughter. The Virgin Queen's Daughter muses over the possibility that Queen Elizabeth I had a child secreted at court. Now she takes a step backwards chronologically to view the tragically short reign of the Virgin Queen's cousin, the effects that rippled out and female powerlessness of the time.
The Nine Day Queen in its American incarnation was called Three Maids for a Crown: A Novel of the Grey Sisters which seems a better title as it's narrated by the three Grey sisters and half of it is set after Jane's execution. (It starts with her beheading so it's ok – it's not a spoiler.)
Each Grey has a distinct voice. Mary, the brave deformed youngest, prefers truth to diplomacy despite easily provoked superstition. The middle lass, Kat, just dreams of marriage, happiness and pretty things. While Jane's only thought is duty to her parents and, ultimately, her country, the realisation that the two aren't compatible coming too late. Indeed the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk are the pantomime villains of the piece: cruel, selfish and cowardly, without an ounce of parental affection. Unfortunately, as mentioned by the author in her notes, the facts don't disagree.
The downside of seeing through the Greys' young eyes is that we're restricted by their knowledge. As Jane is an innocent and doesn't discover her parents' plot till the last moment, we aren't party to the conspiracy until then either. We're therefore missing out on the political manoeuvring it took to get there and, as this is important to Jane's story, we seem to lose a dimension as a result.
However, The Nine Day Queen has a secondary, successful role as an examination of high born Tudor women in society. The fact that women were chattels of either husband or parents is well known but Ella March Chase entices us a step further, showing in fascinating detail how they were also bound by duty.
Jane fears for her and the nation's future but can't break away from the path assigned to her by her parents. When her time comes, Mary Tudor is a more assured queen than Jane, although her bounden duty to others is to produce an heir. Even Kat and Mary Grey are used for political purposes, snatching short lived happiness while it lasts. The woman who breaks the mould is Elizabeth I. Interestingly the only way for her to do this is to enact the royal equivalent of the teachers' 'Don't smile till Christmas', showing her nasty streak in order to rule the way that she sees fit.
We're also given a fresh gratitude, e.g. pregnancy testing. The disadvantages of counting one's 'courses' are all too obvious in Kat's case and in Queen Mary's repeated embarrassment.
It may be historical fiction missing some of the political power and punch at the beginning but it shows us why even the most powerful women had to sacrifice ethics, loyalty or power itself in order to follow their perceived destiny. Contradict me if I'm wrong, we seem to have moved on a bit since then.
If this appeals to you then you'll also like Ella March Chase's The Virgin Queen's Daughter. If you've read that and still can't get enough of the Tudors, try The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Nine Day Queen by Ella March Chase at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Nine Day Queen by Ella March Chase at Amazon.com.
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