Alison Weir Continues the Saga
The story of King Henry VIII is, at this point it seems, better told through the people who surrounded him rather than the man himself. More precisely, insight into the man can be largely obtained through the many wives he had over the years, becoming infatuated with one after the other, always seeking the one who would finally bear him a son. The stories of the women who surrounded him are no less extraordinary than the man’s himself, and Alison Weir has chronicled a few of them in the previous books of the Six Tudor Queens series. In the third book of the series, titled Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen, Alison Weir explores the life of the titular woman, the one who finally gave Henry VIII the son he wanted so dearly, Edward VI of England.
The book takes us back in time a little bit to focus on the formative years of the young Jane, showing us the path she walked to eventually become the woman who would be Queen of England. Though she always sought the embrace of religion, the ambitions of her family send her down a different path to be a lady-in-waiting to the then-queen, Katherine of Aragon. Once in the court, she becomes drawn into a dangerous game when she captures the King’s affection, a man who discarded all of his previous wives one after the other. As her family sits scheming on how to better use her in order to gain power, Jane finds herself diving into increasingly deep waters, swayed further and further from the pure and religious path she once sought to follow.
Though this book may be part of a series, each and every chapter of it stands comfortably on its own, not even requiring any previous knowledge on the subject. In other words, if you’d like to begin your foray into this series right here, you can certainly do so.
Facts and Liberties
To begin with, I would like to address what I would call the “historical competence” of this novel, meaning how much fact and fiction there might be to it. As far as the descriptions of the environments, the people, the social systems and the dynamics in play at the time, it certainly shows Alison Weir did all the research she could possibly muster, bringing to life before our eyes the cutthroat majesty of 16th century England. As far as the major events go and the overall development of the plot, everything also seems to be in good order as far as I can tell, with history being followed relatively closely where it matters. I particularly enjoyed learning about the family dynamics governing Jane’s life in her family home, the Wulfhall, where everyone seems to have some sort of scheme going at any given time of day or night. It was definitely one of the more entertaining and educative aspects of the book for me.
On the other hand, there are a fair few historical inaccuracies to deal with in regards to Jane herself. However, the author herself warns the reader about the various liberties she took with the character and the reasons she did it for. Ultimately, it would seem her depiction of Jane wasn’t quite in line with how she was from what little is known about her three-year tenure as queen. However, I would argue this was never meant to be a factional historical book, but a fictional novel set in a historical backdrop. Personally, I trust Weir took this route mostly for entertainment purposes, adding intrigue and drama into her alternative version of history. While I do believe this might bother some people who are knowledgeable on the subject, in the end we would all do well to remember we are reading a novel meant to captivate.
Scandals and Deceptions Aplenty
With all the historical facts and inaccuracies out of the way, I feel ultimately this novel deserves to be treated like virtually any other one, focusing on how enthralling and absorbing it is above anything else. The story is structured in a very orderly fashion, following the important events which marked Jane’s life from her childhood to the end of her reign. We never linger too much on anything which doesn’t merit it, but at the same time the plot manages never to move on too quickly. As such, we are given plenty of time to absorb the many events happening at any given moment and their potential implications, often of a scandalous nature. The pacing never feels rushed, on the contrary being very deliberate on where it takes the reader, which in turn helps Weir manipulate and defy our expectations more aptly.
In my opinion, whether it’s accurate or not, Weir’s depiction of the cruel political games happening in the 16th century English court is one of the more intriguing ones I have seen to date. There is seldom a dull moment as the vast diversity of characters are all trying to get ahead of each other by coming up with complex plans most others wouldn’t even dream of. The battles in this book are fought with cunning and wit being the weapons of choice. While there were a few times when I felt some people’s motivations weren’t explained all too clearly or what precisely their expectations were based on, I can certainly overlook those moments for the overall quality of these political games.
The Final Verdict
To bring the show to an end, Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir is a fantastic addition to the Six Tudor Queens series, making the most of the unique historical setting and bringing to life a woman about whom surprisingly little is known despite her important role in history. I highly recommend this to anyone seeking an entertaining novel about King Henry VIII, his wives, and the English Court.
Alison Weir is a British author of history books and historical novels, more often than not centering on biographies of British royalty. She wrote biographies of numerous figures including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Katherine Swynford, and even the Princes in the Tower, amongst many others. As far as novels go she has penned some renowned works such as Innocent Traitor, The Captive Queen and The Marriage Game.