Life with the Nine Days’ Queen

The Lady of Misrule: A Novel, by Suzannah Dunn, (Pegasus), 320 pages, release date 11 January, 2016

Lady Jane Grey briefly ruled England after the death of Edward VI. Popular resistance to her rule—she was of royal blood, but not the most directly in line for the throne—saw her quickly changed from Queen to captive. She spent the last months of her life in the Tower of London, while Mary I ascended to the throne. Jane Grey is one of those romantic, era-defying, minimally documented women that make for thin biographies, but wide imaginings. Highly literate, deeply religious, uninterested in taking the throne (one story has it that her parents starved and beat her until she agreed to marry and become queen) she bears traditional powers, but also rebels against the traditions of her time.

In Lady of Misrule, Suzannah Dunn imagines the last months of Jane Grey’s life through the eyes of Elizabeth Tilney, who is assigned the role of Jane’s companion during her imprisonment. Elizabeth sees this posting as a bit of an adventure (and a solution to problems of her own). She will escape from the day-to-day duties and predictability of her own life. Besides, the posting is temporary: everyone knows that Mary I will pardon Jane after a suitable period. Mary just needs to assert her authority as monarch before she can allow Jane this reprieve.

That, as readers familiar with British history will know, never happens. Jane’s life ends in the Tower with her execution for treason.

In her own ways, Elizabeth is just as iconoclastic as Jane. She’s a youngest daughter who has seen enough of marriages (her mother’s and her sisters’) that she’s in no hurry to marry. She’s curious and passionate enough to take sexual risks unusual for a young woman of her time. But while Elizabeth and Jane are both rebels, they are also greatly unalike. Jane is studious and serious, spending most of every day with her books as she writes a defense of Protestantism; Elizabeth has no use for reading and prefers observing life in the Tower from a window seat.

Lady of Misrule is a quick read that offers satisfying character development, along with interesting historical detail. Adult readers of historical fiction will find it enjoyable—and younger readers with any interest in history will appreciate it as well.

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