Weir effectively intertwines the stories of two young women in different eras of England in this vast historical novel. The first is Katherine Grey, the sister of doomed 9-day queen Jane Grey. The other was the illegitimate daughter of the last Yorkist King, Richard III, also Katherine. The narrative switches between K. Gray’s first person account ranging from the reign of Edward VI through Elizabeth I and K. Plantagenet’s third person perspective at the end of Edward IV’s kinghood through the ascent of the first Tudor, Henry VII. Spanning these decades and the multi-generational family trees in a cohesive way is no easy feat, but I think Weir accomplished this nicely.
Katherine Grey witnesses the disastrous interference of her parents’ attempt to get their eldest daughter on the throne in order to avoid a Catholic queen, Mary. The disgrace of her family results in her own marriage being annulled and her sister’s and father’s head being separated from their shoulders. But Katherine is an unreliable narrator, as she is only twelve years old during this period, and her main priority seems to be consummating her first marriage, which is mildly disconcerting. When Mary successfully gains her throne, Katherine is lucky enough to become a favorite, but when it is Elizabeth’s turn to reign, Katherine is only a threat as the next in the line of succession. With Katherine being a Tudor by blood, she incurs Elizabeth’s wrath by marrying without the queen’s consent and dooms herself to obscurity. I must admit I had never before considered Katherine Gray’s role as possible heir to the throne because so much more history has been devoted to the rivalry of Mary of Scots.
What ties K. Grey to Katherine Plantagenet isn’t supernatural necessarily, but a spiritual connection, as if K. Plantagenet is calling out to K. Grey 80 years later to find out what really happened to the Princes in the Tower. Kate P. is utterly devoted to her father, who unscrupulously takes the throne after his brother’s death, sending the rightful heir and his young brother to the Tower of London, where they mysteriously disappear. Kate P. cannot bring herself to believe that her father, Richard III could order the murder of innocents, but she is never able to learn the truth during her lifetime. Instead she must suppress her allegiance to her usurper father when he is killed in battle and Henry Tudor claims the throne.
Whew, with so many historical characters in two periods separated by decades, this book took me a while to get through. I was constantly referencing the lengthy and tangled genealogy charts in the front of the book, trying to keep straight all of the blood and marriage relations and how close they were to the very coveted throne. As a character, I liked Kate Plantagenet more for her maturity and strong disposition. I found Katherine Grey too ruled by her heart, which left her to make some really stupid decisions that got her in a lot of trouble. I hadn’t read any account, fictional or non, about the Princes in the Tower before, and this novel has sparked a new interest in me for that period before the Tudors. Weir is an authority on English history, and this is a solid effort with a few flaws, this will appeal to all fans of historical English fiction.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.
Further reading on the ascent of Henry VII, I suggest The Winter King by Thomas Penn