Review: The Sisters Who Would Be Queen by Leanda de Lisle

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey
by Leanda de Lisle

Publication Date:  October 13, 2009
Ballantine Books


SYNOPSIS: Mary, Katherine, and Jane Grey–sisters whose mere existence nearly toppled a kingdom and altered a nation’s destiny–are the captivating subjects of Leanda de Lisle’s new book. The Sisters Who Would Be Queen breathes fresh life into these three young women, who were victimized in the notoriously vicious Tudor power struggle and whose heirs would otherwise probably be ruling England today.

Born into aristocracy, the Grey sisters were the great-granddaughters of Henry VII, grandnieces to Henry VIII, legitimate successors to the English throne, and rivals to Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Lady Jane, the eldest, was thrust center stage by greedy men and uncompromising religious politics when she briefly succeeded Henry’s son, the young Edward I. Dubbed “the Nine Days Queen” after her short, tragic reign from the Tower of London, Jane has over the centuries earned a special place in the affections of the English people as a “queen with a public heart.” But as de Lisle reveals, Jane was actually more rebel than victim, more leader than pawn, and Mary and Katherine Grey found that they would have to tread carefully in order to avoid sharing their elder sister’s violent fate.

Navigating the politics of the Tudor court after Jane’s death was a precarious challenge. Katherine Grey, who sought to live a stable life, earned the trust of Mary I, only to risk her future with a love marriage that threatened Queen Elizabeth’s throne. Mary Grey, considered too petite and plain to be significant, looked for her own escape from the burden of her royal blood–an impossible task after she followed her heart and also incurred the queen’s envy, fear, and wrath.

Exploding the many myths of Lady Jane Grey’s life, unearthing the details of Katherine’s and Mary’s dramatic stories, and casting new light on Elizabeth’s reign, Leanda de Lisle gives voice and resonance to the lives of the Greys and offers perspective on their place in history and on a time when a royal marriage could gain a woman a kingdom or cost her everything. 

Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey
MY THOUGHTS: Author Leanda de Lisle has written an utterly captivating account of the lives of, Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey in The Sisters Who Would Be Queen. Seriously, this is how non-fiction is done!

The fate of the Grey sisters exemplifies the danger of being born perilously close to the throne of England. All three would eventually fall victim to the English crown, though in different ways.

Lady Jane, the most notable of the Grey sisters, was born the eldest and as such was the one the family vested much time and money in. In a sense, she was the son they never had and she was ever mindful of the responsibility placed upon her. She was deeply religious and had a passion for learning.

One thing that de Lisle opened my mind to was that perhaps Jane wasn’t the total helpless pawn when she was offered the throne. Although Jane was very hesitant to take the crown and bypass Mary and Elizabeth and even her own mother, she nonetheless saw this as the only way to keep the Catholic Mary from ruling England and destroying everything that her brother, the Protestant Edward had done. Jane was just as strong in her religious convictions as Mary was, which was proved when after the plot to place Jane on the throne failed and Jane was give a chance to spare her life by converting to Christianity, she drew strength from her own faith and was executed on February 12, 1554.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche (1833)

De Lisle then goes on to tell the stories of Katherine and Mary, whose own lives would prove just as tragic as their sisters’. The remaining Grey sisters would dare to defy queens of England for love and would spend the rest of their lives suffering the consequences. One thing is for sure, Tudor queens are not to be messed with!

I highly recommend The Sisters Who Would Be Queen to anyone who enjoys an exquisitely researched and well-written historical account, and of course, lovers of the Tudors!! I really enjoyed de Lisle’s writing style and was entranced in the story of the remarkable, yet heartrending, Grey sisters.

Other books by Leanda de Lisle:  After Elizabeth: The Rise of James of Scotland for the Throne of England | Sun Rising: Blood, Greed and Intrigue - How the Kings of Scots Won the Throne

FTC DISCLOSURE:  This lovely book was purchased by moi.



  1. This sounds like a wonderful read. I am very interested in learning about the younger sisters having already learned about Lady Jane Gray. But, I am also interested in any further insight to her as well.

  2. Wow...this sounds like an excellent novel. I will definitely have to remember this one.

  3. I loved this book. Take a look at the painting you show on Jane's execution and compare it Hawley Jarman's cover of The King's Grey Mare. Took one corner of it and flipped the image.

  4. I reviewed this book back in April or May. I LOVE IT! You are quite right - it is an exemplary work of non-fiction. Completely engaging!

  5. Thanks so much for another great review.

  6. Sounds so good! heading to Goodreads now to add it to my wishlist :)!

  7. Love the review, really makes me want to add it to my TBA list!

  8. The Tudor Queens were ruthless in their quest for power. Nothing was going to stand in their way!

  9. I never even knew about the other sisters...some history major I am, huh?! I'm going to go put this one on my wishlist on Goodreads. I really must read it! It is interesting about Jane Grey not being a helpless pawn, as she is usually portrayed. I'm currently reading Virgin and the Crab by Robert Parry and Jane is very much manipulated in that book, although she does remain personally opposed to the idea of being Queen and marrying Guildford Dudley.

    Great review Amy!

  10. Sounds like a most interesting book. I did not realize Jane Grey had sisters. I have always seen her presented a the poor sweet teen who is used and betrayed by her family and the Queen.

  11. I picked this book up a couple months back, but unfortunately have yet to get to it. I love when non-fiction reads well. Can't wait! Thanks Amy!

  12. Okay, I'm sold. I love nonfiction and I've always been curious about Poor Lady Jane.


Related Posts with Thumbnails

Passages to the Past
All rights reserved © 2013

Custom Blog Design by Blogger Boutique

Blogger Boutique