This is novel #3 in Historian Alison Weir’s planned series about the six wives of England’s King Henry VIII (SIX TUDOR QUEENS). And like the previous two I’ve read, this one’s great strength AND weakness is Weir’s background as an historian. Because her inclusion of so much historically accurate detail is, at times, welcome, and at other times, dull. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
There is not much primary historical material about Jane Seymour. And so, Weir has taken some liberties in telling this story. (These she explains in the very helpful Author’s Note.) For example, she imagines Jane’s childhood and an early desire to become a nun. She imagines Jane’s devotion to Queen Katherine of Aragon as lady-in-waiting. And she imagines an active role for Jane in the downfall of Queen Anne Boleyn.
Weir also uses what is TRULY known about the real Jane. Like her faithfulness to the Catholic religion and dutiful obedience to her husband. She is, after all, the wife Henry chose to be buried with — even though he still has three more to go after Jane’s death. But that could also be because Jane succeeded in providing Henry’s much longed for male heir.
Often, with historical novels, authors too often fall into the trap of writing as though the characters know the ultimate outcome of events, in the way that readers do. Weir is good at keeping the story real. Instead she writes with the emotions and fears that contemporary characters, who don’t know what will happen, might truly have be thinking. For example, assuming Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn would be annulled and being surprised when she was arrested instead. Or Jane worrying that she might either lose her child or have a girl. This is one of Weir’s strengths and helps make reading this novel more of a discovery, rather than a recitation of the facts that many of us already know.
What was most interesting to me was the work Weir did around explaining Jane’s death — 12 days after her son’s birth. Weir reviewed the primary source material and then showed it to a number of contemporary medical experts. Based on their input, Weir debunks the more common theories that Jane died of either puerperal fever or a rudimentary caesarean delivery. Instead, Weir proposes that Jane suffered two distinct illnesses — first food poisoning (which left her severely dehydrated), followed by an embolism. Seemed convincing to me.
So, for all you Tudor fans, here’s another one to add to your list. And I will soon pick up Weir’s newly published novel #4 about Anne of Cleves.
More about the author.
You may be interested in my reviews of other Alison Weir novels: