Her Highness, the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham – Book Review

Her Highness, the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks

Although he marries six times, Henry VIII has only three children who were at least arguably born in wedlock, one each by each of his first three wives. The eldest two, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, are both considered illegitimate at different times according to Henry’s whims and the laws of the land. Only his son Edward, by his third wife Jane Seymour, truly has a clear path to the throne. Unfortunately, Henry dies while Edward was still in his minority, leaving the young king to be ruled by prominent men of the kingdom, including his uncles on his mother’s side. The result is a period of upheaval, as various men succumb to the seduction of power and vastly overstep their boundaries. In the midst of this, Edward is growing increasingly radical in his Protestantism, and when he begins to get sick, he is determined that his eldest sister, the staunchly Catholic Mary, will not succeed him. As both of his sisters have been considered illegitimate at one point or another, disinheriting both of them seems the easiest and wisest course. Henry’s will ensured that if his children died without issue, the crown would go to children of his youngest sister, Mary. Luckily, Edward has an equally Protestant cousin in that branch of the family: the lady Jane Grey.

Jane Grey and Edward VI are perhaps the least written about Tudor rulers, so I am always drawn to books about them, as authors are less likely to be simply rehashing the same old thing. In this case, the only other book I’ve read about Jane Grey is Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor, which I read shortly before I started blogging and so haven’t reviewed. The Jane of Weir’s story is meek and mild, but also very against taking precedence over her cousin Mary, who she believes is the rightful queen after Edward’s death, despite her Catholicism. Higginbotham’s Jane, on the other hand, thinks very highly of herself, her own intelligence, and her religion. Frankly, she’s a bit of a brat and you sense she would be an unmitigated disaster as queen.

Thankfully, with a Jane like this, Higginbotham does not tell her story from Jane’s own point of view, which might well be insufferable. Instead, we see the events from Edward’s ascension to Mary’s through the eyes of her mother Frances Grey and her future mother-in-law Jane Dudley. In addition to saving us from some of Jane’s high opinion of herself, these women are better placed to let the reader experience more of the drama of Edward’s reign and death first hand, which makes for a more interesting and informative book than we might have had from Jane’s eyes alone.

Her Highness, the Traitor is perhaps the strongest of Higginbotham’s books thus far. It is well-edited and the story flows smoothly and quickly. It also may have the broadest appeal because, although Jane Grey and Edward VI are scarce topics as far as the Tudors go, they are still Tudors and thus more familiar to many readers than some of Higginbotham’s other subjects. Recommended.

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