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

3980321When we think of the Grey family, we often come up with certain stereotypes. Lady Jane Grey was a passive, obedient girl who did whatever her family and her husband’s family wanted her to do. Frances Grey was a cruel mother. Katherine and Mary lived very uneventful lives. These could not be further from the truth. Leanda de Lisle in her book, “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen” attempts to paint a more realistic of the Grey sisters; Jane, Katherine and Mary.

Leanda de Lisle explains the importance of the Grey sisters:

Dynastic politics, religious propaganda, and sexual prejudice have since buried the stories of the three Grey sisters in legend and obscurity. The eldest, Lady Jane Grey, is mythologized, even fetishized, as an icon of helpless innocence, destroyed by the ambitions of others. The people and events in her life are all distorted to fit this image, but Jane was much more than the victim she is portrayed as being, and the efforts of courtiers and religious factions to seize control of the succession did not end with her death. Jane’s sisters would have to tread carefully to survive: Lady Katherine Grey as the forgotten rival Queen Elizabeth feared most, and Lady Mary Grey as the last of the sisters who were heirs to the throne. (de Lisle, xxx).

These three sisters were the daughters of Henry and Frances Grey. Frances is often viewed as a power hungry mother who didn’t care about Jane, but de Lisle explains why this is merely a stereotype. The Grey’s gave their daughters the best education imaginable for those who were in line for the throne. Jane, Katherine and Mary were raised to be educated and opinionated young ladies, which really defined who Jane was, even when she became queen for a fortnight, not the nine days of the myth. Jane was in fact one of the leaders of the new Protestant movement and she stuck to her beliefs, even when she was facing execution.

It was the memory of Jane that was always in the back of Katherine and Mary’s minds. After Jane’s death, neither girl truly pursued the crown of England. Instead, they wanted to be happy and marry who they wanted for love, no matter what. It started with Katherine, who was going to be next in line to the throne after Elizabeth became queen since Elizabeth never married. Katherine wanted a simple life so she married Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford without Elizabeth’s knowledge. Elizabeth sent both Katherine and Edward to the Tower where they had two children, Thomas and Edward Lord Beauchamp. Katherine would die sick, impoverished and under house arrest, separated from her husband and her children.

Mary did not fare much better. Mary married Thomas Keyes, a sergeant porter to Elizabeth I, in secret. Unlike Katherine, Mary and Thomas’s marriage ended badly after Thomas was sent to a cramp and dark prison cell. Mary never married again, but she was able to return to court.

This is the story of the Grey family without all the frills. The stories of Jane, Katherine and Mary are stories of heartache and pain. They were too close to the throne to have a normal life that they wanted. When I started reading this book, I will admit that it shocked me. I thought I knew the story of the Grey family, but I was wrong. Leanda de Lisle has opened my eyes to the truth about the Greys with her book “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen”. This book is very well written and so easy to understand. If you are interested in the Grey family and the story of Jane, Katherine and Mary, this is the book for you.

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