Book review: The Nine Day Queen by Ella March Chase

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Three royal sisters, daughters of one of English history’s most ambitious families... all faced the wrath of queens and all were destined for tragedy.

Ella March Chase’s fascinating historical novel brings us an exciting new slant on the lives of Lady Jane Grey and her two younger sisters, innocent pawns in the race to fill the throne after the death of Edward VI, only son of Henry VIII.

The Nine Day Queen is not just the story of Lady Jane’s short and ill-fated tenure as Tudor monarch but a revealing insight into the events that led to her demise and the devastating ripple effect on the lives of her siblings.

Their proximity to the royal succession was a disaster for Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey; all three were sacrificed by their ruthless parents who had set their sights on using their daughters to keep England Protestant and to pursue their own self-seeking goals.

In an age of dangerous manoeuvring and politicking, there could only ever be a tragic outcome...

Lady Jane Grey is the eldest daughter of the scheming Duke and Duchess of Suffolk who firmly believe that the imminent death of the ailing boy King Edward will put their star into the ascendancy.

Fifteen-year-old Jane is fourth in line to the throne but, shy, scholarly and devoutly Protestant, she is happier in the company of her sisters than with the intrigues of court. Brought up in a prison of her parents’ anger and cruelty, solitude has provided the sanctuary she loves best.

Forced into marriage to Guilford Dudley, the handsome but spoilt son of the Duke of Northumberland, the young king’s chancellor and the man who holds the reins of government, Jane knows only too well that her parents have sold her to the ‘devil.’

And on the same day that Jane weds Dudley, her younger sister Katherine – beautiful, gregarious and eager for love and happiness – is married off to Lord Henry Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke, another powerful player in English politics.

And youngest sister Mary, crook-backed, stunted and an embarrassment to her parents, is like a wild and wary animal. Starved of affection and a stranger to diplomacy, she speaks her mind and asks too many dangerous questions.

Each daughter has the power to hold back the Catholic tide threatened by Mary Tudor, the country’s natural heir, but the plan being hatched by their parents puts all their lives at risk...

March Chase, an Anglophile author who excels in making historical figures credibly and often painfully human, has done a sterling job in recreating the three Grey sisters, enabling us to view their fates from a very intimate and personal perspective.

The first person narrative weaves between each girl and as the story unfolds, we witness the shared hardships, the calls to duty, the growing despair and the strong ties of familial love that ultimately bind together three very different sisters.

The Nine Days Queen is a riveting, well-researched and cleverly imagined story about the corrupting power of vaulting ambition and the helplessness of those innocents – particularly women – who become trapped in the power play.

A revealing and thought-provoking addition to the eternally entertaining Tudor saga...

(Ebury, paperback, £6.99)