Published by Touchstone
Publication date: August 8th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Just when I think I know all I need to know about the Tudors, Philippa Gregory writes another riveting piece of historical fiction about the family. And when her latest, The Last Tudor, ends I’m still thinking there should be one more book to come. I began The Last Tudor thinking it would be about either Henry’s only son, Edward or his cousins Mary and Elizabeth. I didn’t think beyond this because I’m conditioned to think about male descendants, but thankfully, Gregory is not. The Last Tudor follows the granddaughters of Henry’s sister, Mary —Lady Jane Grey, Katherine Grey and Mary Grey, one of whom took the crown and two who were later in line to inherit the throne behind Elizabeth. All of which led to lives that were difficult and brief, but make for fascinating reading.
Even if you’re not as obsessed with English history as I am you’ve probably heard of Lady Jane Grey. Her father’s lust for power meant he put her on the throne immediately after King Edward VI died. She was staunchly Protestant (perceived as the true faith of England) and it was hoped that she would be seen as preferable to Mary. Sadly, she was not and poor Jane was queen for only ten days before being beheaded, while Mary’s brutal Catholicism meant that by the end of her reign she was known as Bloody Mary. After that it is her sister, Katherine who preoccupies the mind of their cousin Elizabeth. She is beautiful and as long as Elizabeth has no husband or heirs she is next in line for the throne. Even after Katherine is dispatched, Elizabeth’s malice does not recede, but lands on Mary, the final daughter, who has been serving in the various queens’ courts since she was a little girl. She, too, will be cast out, despite being a little person and thought to be unmarriageable and incapable of producing heirs.
Gregory covers all the history and then some, but it is in fictionalizing the stories of Jane, Katherine, and Mary, using research and historical records, that she brings them fully to life. Instead of simplistic labels she takes them from cardboard characters who merit only a line or two in history books to young women of depth, with previously unknown strengths and flaws. That they were all only teenagers when thrown alone into the world of political intrigue makes their stories even more compelling. If you’re looking for escapist reading this summer, The Last Tudor, and all of Gregory’s novels are the perfect choice.