Book review: The Fallen Queen by Emily Purdy

When the royal usurper Lady Jane Grey was executed in 1554 for ‘stealing’ the Tudor crown, she left behind two younger sisters.

Tuesday, 12th November 2013, 9:00 am
The Fallen Queen by Emily Purdy
The Fallen Queen by Emily Purdy

Their future blighted by Jane’s disastrous nine days on the English throne, Ladies Katherine and Mary Grey faced imprisonment, loss and heartbreak as they embarked on a futile search for happiness.

Tyrannised by Queen Mary Tudor and her half-sister Queen Elizabeth I, Katherine and Mary spent the rest of their lives paying a terrible price for the dangerous scheming of their ambitious parents.

In a story which rethinks and reimagines the lives of the three siblings – pawns in the hands of their ruthless father Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, and his hard-hearted wife Lady Frances – Emily Purdy brings us a gripping and bittersweet tale of tragedy, courage and conviction.

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The girls were cousins once removed of the young King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII, and from their strict early childhood through their tumultuous teenage years, their proximity to the throne made them vulnerable to political plots.

In The Fallen Queen, Purdy endows each sister with her own personality and creates a stage on which they can act out the catastrophic events that preceded and followed Jane’s brief reign as Queen of England.

The narrator is youngest daughter Lady Mary, the ‘dwarf’ girl whose hunchback earned her the cruel nicknames ‘Crook-Spine Mary’ and ‘Milady Gargoyle,’ who looks back down the years at the secrets, loves and terrible losses that they all endured.

As the eldest, Jane is a proud, pious, stubborn and fiercely Protestant girl. Taught by the esteemed scholar Roger Ascham, she ‘wields her formidable intellect like a sword’ and flaunts a frankness that borders on insolence.

Katherine, or Kate as she is known to her family, is the ‘sunshine girl,’ the vivacious, saucy and sweet daughter who skips and dances her way through life, seemingly oblivious to the slings and arrows that beset her sisters.

Aged just 16, Jane is hastily married to Guildford Dudley, son of King Edward’s chief minister, the Duke of Northumberland, and shortly afterwards is named by the dying Edward as his successor, effectively subverting the claims of his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth.

But Jane’s reign lasts only a matter of days before she is executed for treason. By the time Elizabeth I is on the throne, the sisters are still bound together by misfortune so with nothing to lose, they risk everything and disobey royal orders by secretly marrying the men they love.

If their treachery is discovered, both will face imprisonment in the Tower of London, just as their sister did before them…

The Fallen Queen is a rollercoaster tale which gives a new and fascinating perspective on three young women who became hostages to fortune in a perilous and turbulent age.

(Avon, paperback, £7.99)