Since her first book came out in 1989 titled Britian’s Royal Families, Allison Weir has been known for her fantastic works of non-fiction. As an older teenager and young adult in my 20’s I remember reading several of her non-fiction works about Tudor England and being fascinated by the personalities and drama during that time in history. Then college, kids, a house to maintain and other interests left me with little time for history. When I did make time to read it was lighter chic lit or romance before bed to help my scattered mind fall asleep and not the deeper historical books of years gone by. It wasn’t until I was unpacking several boxes of books after a recent move that I rediscovered a passion for reading history, specifically historical fiction.
This novel in particular I was almost positive was in the wrong section of my town’s library book sale. I was there on a whim, having seen the sign for the event on the white board outside. Waist high in spectacularly priced books of all genres all set up on tables and in boxes, I was working my way through the fiction tables. Forty-five minutes and three canvas bags of books later (it’s not as bad as it seems, I only spent $16.50 for everything, most of them were children’s books for a friend), this one was the first book I picked up and definitely on my top of the must read pile.
Excited to discover Weir now also writes works of fiction, I tucked myself into bed, book in one hand and a cup of tea by my side. Two evenings later, I closed the back cover.
It was easy to relate to Jane in her formative teenage years in one of Weir’s latest works of fiction. I think everyone has wanted to be something when we “grow up” which turns out to be not how we thought it would be. Just because one loves animals, it doesnt make them a good veterinarian just as someone of strong faith isn’t necessarily cut out to be a nun. I couldn’t fault Jane for chosing to let her life flow where it may once she realized what she wanted wasn’t for her.
Weir also manages to walk the fine line between portraying Jane Seymour as both pawn and player in the game of royal matrimony. She is clever enough to know when to make her move, smart enough to know to take advice when it’s good. Principled enough to know when to stand her ground yet willing to yield when the world swirls around her.
I found that she did an excellent job of describing each situation, giving the reader enough background to understand why each character was chosing to go in the direction they did. Each time Jane reached a fork in the road and had to make a decision of how her life was going to go, it was easy to understand why Jane chose the path she did.
Given Weir’s extensive knowledge of the time period, the end of Jane’s life was as expected, very well done. As a reader of history, I knew she was going to die. Still, I kept wanting her to make it. Her personality and conviction of character fit so well with Henry. I just wanted to see her survive and become the Queen full of compassion Henry and England needed during that time.
I do wonder how history would have changed if Jane had survived. Would Henry VIII have eventually fallen out of love with the woman who bore him a son? Would Jane have been able to influence Henry’s decisions during the Pilgrimage of Grace? Would she have been able to mediate the tremulous relationship between her two brothers? Would she have born more children, sons who could have grown into rivals for the throne? While the world will never know the answer to any of these questions, we can find in Weir’s story Jane Seymour the Haunted Queen a realistic portrayal of the woman Henry VIII considered to he the love of his life.