by Susan Higginbotham
Release Date: June 1, 2012
Reviewed by: Colleen Turner
For lovers of Tudor fiction, Her Highness, the Traitor presents two unique voices that describe the struggle for power that occurred after the death of Henry VIII: Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland and Francis Grey, Duchess of Suffolk. As different as these women are they are forced together in the battle for the throne of England and both will learn that much must be sacrificed for the chance at greatness, whether you want it or not. This is their story.
Jane Dudley, the daughter of a knight, was not raised in grandeur but on the periphery of the sparkling court of King Henry VIII. Having been raised with her future husband, John Dudley, since he became the ward of her family when his father was executed as a traitor to the King, their marriage was a love match that never fizzled and which produced 13 children that lived beyond childhood. There house is a happy home, full of love, laughter and loyalty to their King. When the King dies, leaving his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, as heir, her husband John is placed on the council lead by the Lord Protector, the young king’s uncle Edward Seymour, that is set up to help oversee the kingdom until he reaches his majority. As John’s influence and favor with Edward VI continues to rise so do the titles, riches and favors for his family. But the higher he rises the more enemies the Dudleys collect, placing them all in a tenuous balance between greatness and destruction.
Francis Grey, the daughter of a queen and the niece of Henry VIII, has always done what she must as a credit to her royal blood. Her arranged marriage to Henry Grey was never about love but advancement and while he is not cruel to her he rarely consults her on matters outside the running of their household. While they have three daughters, their oldest daughter Jane is the light of Henry’s life and the one woman in the house he does discuss important matters with, including their mutual Protestant faith. Jane – extremely intelligent but cold and reserved – looks down on most people, including her mother and sisters, and prefers to occupy her time with her books and studies. Having royal blood, however, can be a weighty asset and Henry wastes no time looking for an advantageous match for Jane, even looking as high as King Edward himself.
After Edward Seymour is executed and John Dudley becomes Edward VI’s chief advisor, his list of enemies continues to grow. Soon Edward VI becomes sick and decides to change his will to bypass his sisters, the Catholic Mary and possibly illegitimate Elizabeth, in the succession to the throne and declare his cousin Jane Grey, who shares his Protestant faith, as his heir apparent. Furthermore Edward asks John to marry Jane to his own son, Guildford Dudley, as a show of his love for John who has become like a father to the inexperienced Edward. The Dudleys cannot possibly see how they can refuse the King this final wish and the Greys see this as the ultimate advancement and a birthright from Francis’s family. But when Edward dies and the council reluctantly agrees to follow the King’s changes to the succession all is not well. Mary is not about to stand aside and let her throne go to her cousin Jane. When she fights against these changes and all those that agreed to support their new Queen Jane turn on the families, both Jane Dudley and Francis Grey find themselves in the horrid position of having their loved ones imprisoned in the Tower at the mercy of Queen Mary. As two women on the edge of the chaos they must decide how hard to fight to saved their loved ones and what power they might have even if they try.
Her Highness, the Traitor does a wonderful job of giving a new perspective to an old story. Seeing the story of England from Henry VIII’s death through the beginning of Mary’s rule from the point of view of two women close to the action yet enough removed that they were not among the unfortunate ones who lost their heads really takes the reader as close to the intrigue and consequences as one can get. What I found the most surprising was how much these women humanized the story. No one is the villain or the martyr you would expect and everyone has a little good and bad in them, most swaying more to one side or the other. The biggest surprises for me was the representation of John Dudley as a loyal, loving man who, while having ambition like any other man at court, would do anything for his sovereign and his family and a Jane Grey that was so cold and rude to just about everyone she came into contact with. I really enjoyed having my view of events twisted around to give me a more personal, well rounded vision of the events.