Friday, May 11, 2018

Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen (Six Tudor Queens #3) by Alison Weir

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Acclaimed author and historian Alison Weir continues her epic Six Tudor Queens series with this third captivating novel, which brings to life Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII’s most cherished bride and mother of his only male heir.

Ever since she was a child, Jane has longed for a cloistered life as a nun. But her large noble family has other plans, and, as an adult, Jane is invited to the King’s court to serve as lady-in-waiting for Queen Katherine of Aragon. The devout Katherine shows kindness to all her ladies, almost like a second mother, which makes rumors of Henry’s lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn—who is also lady-in-waiting to the queen—all the more shocking. For Jane, the betrayal triggers memories of a painful incident that shaped her beliefs about marriage.

But once Henry disavows Katherine and secures his new queen—altering the religious landscape of England—he turns his eye to another: Jane herself. Urged to return the King’s affection and earn favor for her family, Jane is drawn into a dangerous political game that pits her conscience against her desires. Can Jane be the one to give the King his long-sought-after son or will she meet a fate similar to the women who came before her?

Bringing new insight to this compelling story, Weir marries meticulous research with gripping historical fiction to re-create the dramas and intrigues of the most renown court in English history. At its center is a loving and compassionate woman who captures the heart of a king, and whose life will hang in the balance for it.

Source: advance copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

One of my best friends and I have talked about how we don't understand why tv shows or movies would purposefully revamp actual historic events when they were dramatic enough in real life to begin with. I get it, not everything translates to the screen so artistic license is taken. So what does this conversation have to do with Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen? Everything because reading this shows that there was no bigger soap opera in Europe than the court of Henry VIII. 

We are dropped into one of the most tumultuous times during Henry's reign. Still freshly divorced from Katherine of Aragon, his first wife and now turning sour on his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Henry's need to produce a legitimate male heir to ensure a peaceful succession to the throne is in overdrive. The political machine is hard at work trying to figure out how to make this happen. But first they need to do damage control caused by the divorce from the much beloved first or "true" queen, then they have to get Henry away from Anne which then paves the way for him to take a new wife, and that would be Jane Seymour.

As a knight's daughter, Jane's family isn't as rich or influential as the Boleyns but they have a presence. Being the lady-in-waiting to Katherine and then later to Anne puts her in Henry's orbit. Jane isn't as ambitious the way Anne was believed to be. In her book, Weir offers us an alternative: that as a child she had wanted to live a quiet life as a nun but later realized that that wasn't a life suited for her. Jane presents a more demure nature that befits a queen and more importantly, is acceptable to the royal court and to a country after Henry's divorce. After the scandal that has followed Anne, Henry is convinced that Jane is the answer. She starts believing it, too.

Here's the deal: reading about The Tudors - specifically Henry and his wives - stirs up all kinds of emotions. I go from sympathy to annoyance to outrage and then back to sympathy. and I preat that cycle. Keeping in mind the time period (that Henry needed to establish his legitimacy domestically and internationally) and what a woman's role was then, I have to remember that the women were essentially pawns in a greater game played by the ego-driven and politically ambitious men and families surrounding them. These women were encouraged to use their feminine ways to woo the king by any means necessary, but the dangerous flipside to that was that their femininity was also used against them when they proved to be a political liability and no longer useful (see: Anne Boleyn). Reading Jane Seymour made that more apparent because she isn't necessarily in the thick of things but merely an observer for most of the time she's at court. She witnesses Katherine's humiliation, Henry's estrangement from his two daughters, Anne's (and her family's) rise through the ranks and then seemingly overnight, the machine behind Anne's downfall. It was illuminating for me to see these events through her eyes and I have to say that I learned something and gained a better perspective on this factious time. As always after I've read one of Alison Weir's books, I come away with a better perspective for these events and some of the players involved. As I said before, this is pure soap opera that you can't even make up! I have a special affection for Jane now. I'd like to think that at her heart she was a genuine person who yearned to bring about peace and stability to the monarchy and to Henry's personal life. In some ways she did but at the end of the day, she was another in a line of women served up to the king.

~ Bel

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