In July 1553, at the age of 16 or 17, Lady Jane Grey, Henry VIII’s great-niece, became Queen of England, albeit briefly. Jane was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset and Lady Frances Brandon, from whom Jane inherited her royal blood. Frances, Jane’s mother, was the eldest daughter of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s younger sister and one-time Queen of France, and her second husband, Charles Brandon. While Henry VIII overlooked his niece in his will, and excluded the line of his elder sister Queen Margaret from the line of succession, he had decreed that if his children—Edward, Mary and Elizabeth— were to die childless, then Lady Jane Grey should inherit the throne. It just so happened that Edward did die childless in early July 1553, and on his deathbed chose to disregard his father’s wishes and disinherit both of his half-sisters, in favour of ‘the Lady Jane and her heirs male’. This decision proved in the end disastrous for Jane, and for those who’d fervently promoted her claim.
I have long been fascinated by the story of Lady Jane Grey and so was excited to receive a copy of Nicola Tallis’ new biography of Jane, Crown of Blood, from her publisher. I dived in with high expectations, thanks to the glowing reviews of Tallis’ work I’d already read, and was not in the least disappointed.
Tallis’ telling of the story of Lady Jane is authoritative, beautifully written and utterly compelling. It is also impeccably researched. The Lady Jane that emerges vividly from the pages is not an abused, voiceless girl, as she has so often been portrayed, but rather a fiercely intelligent, determined, extraordinary young woman, with unwavering faith and courage beyond her years. Tallis provides just the right amount of detail to contextualise Jane’s life, without ever losing sight of her protagonist. She tackles all the enduring misconceptions and myths about Jane, including the one pertaining to the length of her short reign. Despite her persistent and popular moniker—the nine days queen—Jane Grey in fact reigned for thirteen days, from Edward’s death on 6 July, until her deposition and Mary I’s proclamation on 19 July. Her elevated status, however, was not made public until 10 July, hence the nine days nickname.
The text is accompanied by three genealogical tables, a colour picture section, a timeline of important events and several interesting appendices, making this a must-read for those interested in the life of this spirited young woman.
Nicola Tallis has succeeded in bringing Lady Jane Grey out of the shadows, and is thoroughly deserving of all the praise she has thus far received. Crown of Blood is an enlightening and outstanding debut.