Posted By Claire on February 20, 2012
I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Susan Higginbotham’s upcoming novel “Her Highness, the Traitor”, and I’m so glad I did. My husband will testify to my enjoyment of it because I kept reading bits out to him and telling him how refreshing it was to read a novel where John Dudley wasn’t painted as a baddie and Frances Grey (née Brandon) wasn’t an overbearing, harsh mother. I also appreciated the fact that Higginbotham had meticulously researched her novel, drawing on primary sources and the recent work of reputable historians such as Eric Ives and Leanda de Lisle.
Lady Jane Grey’s story will always be a tragic one, no matter how you look at it, but what I loved about “Her Highness, the Traitor” was that the story was told through the eyes of the two mothers involved in the events of 1553: Frances Grey, mother of Lady Jane Grey, and Jane Dudley, mother of Guildford Dudley and wife of John Dudley. Higginbotham explores the impact of the events of 1547-1554 on both the Greys and Dudleys: Edward VI’s reign, the rise and fall of Protector Somerset, the rise of John Dudley and the short reign of Lady Jane Grey. Both Frances and Jane lost children and husbands in 1554, and fought to survive and put their families back together.
Higginbotham’s Lady Jane Grey is very different to the usual tragic victim we’re used to. Jane is a highly intelligent and pious girl who can be proud, haughty and abrasive. She is close to her father, Henry Grey, but her mother struggles to understand her. Although Frances and Jane are not close, Frances is far from the strict, hunting-loving monster depicted by some authors; she loves her daughter and wants the best for her. Jane and Guildford’s relationship is certainly not a love match but Guildford is a warm, fun-loving young man who cares for his wife and her family, and who goes to his death with courage and dignity. He wants the crown as Jane’s consort, but he certainly is not power hungry. As for John Dudley, well, I must admit to falling in love with him in the book! He is a wonderfully warm character who loves his family and who wants to do his duty to his monarch. He is a man of principle and conscience. I also loved the opportunity of getting to know minor characters such as Mary Dudley and Henry Sidney.
Higginbotham’s idea of telling the story through the eyes of these women is a wonderful way of bringing these events and characters to life. You feel you’re there with them and you cannot help but be moved by the events as they unfold. We all know how it ends, but we often forget the impact and legacy of those bloody days and that’s what is explored here. Next time I visit the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, I won’t just think of the fallen queens who lie at rest there, I will also pay my respects to the fallen dukes and Guildford Dudley.
I won’t say any more about the book as I don’t want to spoil it, but I highly recommend it to historical fiction lovers who like historical accuracy. There is an “Author’s Note” at the end, in which Higginbotham explains what happened to the families after her story ended and also why she chose to portray the characters as she did. This section is followed by a “Further Reading” section which will delight those who want to find out more about the Greys and Dudleys.
“Her Highness, the Traitor” is not due to be released until 1st June 2012 but it can be pre-ordered from Amazon or your favourite bookstore. Its ISBN is 978-1402265587. Click here to pre-order from Amazon.com. By the way, the front cover features a woman with a head!
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (June 1, 2012)