You would think after the amount of books I have read and reviewed about the Tudor period that I would find it difficult to find something new and interesting. This is true for the most part as since the advent and success of Phillipa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl the historical novel about this period in particular has been somewhat overworked. It was therefore refreshing to come across Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Freemantle which covers the story of Katherine and Mary Grey, younger sisters of Lady Jane Grey – the nine days queen. I have to admit that although I knew the basic facts about them their lives are generally lost to history. This book brings them to life for the first time and shows their lives both through their eyes and through the eyes of others. During the reign of Elizabeth I there was much speculation about the succession and about her relationship with Lord Robert Dudley.
According to the will of Henry VIII the Grey sisters were next in line after his children but the law of primogeniture promoted the claim of Mary Queen of Scots. It was a very dangerous thing to be so close the the throne and the novel creates the tense atmosphere at the courts of Mary I and Elizabeth I brilliantly.
I have generally thought of Katherine Grey as an insipid, frivolous person who followed her heart and her emotions regardless of the political and social dangers. The novel confirms those stereotypes and it is clear that Katherine would have made a useless queen. Her end is unbelievably sad and it does conform to the accepted notions that after so many years in captivity she lost her whits and starved herself to death.
Mary, on the other hand, is someone who I knew very little about historically. She is a strong willed almost Machiavellian character who sees her situation for exactly what it is. Her physical deformities meant that she always had to stand up for herself and her position as the cousin of the Tudors meant she was always on edge calculating how each action of her own and her sister’s would affect their standing at court. Personally Mary’s character is the most well rounded in the novel and she is the real hero. Whilst you have sympathy with Katherine you are more intrigued by Mary.
It is generally accepted today that James VI was always take the throne after Elizabeth but at the time her refusal to name an heir there was a real chance that one of the Grey sisters or their decedents would be the next ruler of England. Elizabeth Freemantle succeeds in bringing these shadowy figures to life through this novel and I would recommend it to enthusiasts of the Tudor court genre as a different perspective on the period.