Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Queen Is Dead.

In the summer of 1553 fifteen year old Edward V1 from his deathbed named his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor. The day after the young King passed Jane was officially proclaimed The Queen Of England. A short reign followed as she entered the history books as The Nine Day Queen and become a protestant martyr of The Reformation. This new book by Suzannah Dunn examines the period that follows beginning with The Lady Jane's incarceration in the dreaded Tower Of London leading up to a dreadful day on the scaffold of execution. You cannot go into this book without knowing the true end of the lady's life. That knowledge, as well as being historically recorded fact, lends the young witness to these events Elizabeth Tilney's a certain breathlessness. The contrariness of a teenagers thinking, the refusal to accept unfolding events for what they are, an emotional weight that would be lessened slightly if all worked out as she chose to percieve it. It is one of the strengths of Suzannah Dunn's writing that this is felt right up to the turning of the last page. Centuries may have passed since that day in 1554 but teenagers are as complex and perplexing as ever. Yes, the tapestries of history are woven with the illogical longing of the young and the cruel and ambitious plans of the old and power hungry. The young live in the moments their elders try to control.
               Jane Grey is escorted by one Elizabeth Tilney "a good catholic girl" to imprisonment in The Tower Of London. Tilney is not appointed to this position, she volunteers for the duty, requiring for her own reasons a bit of distance from the tangle of her own life. A distance not normally attainable for a girl of her background or station in life. The two young women, barely more than girls, must find a common ground in order to share the space they find themselves thrust into. Catholic Elizabeth and Protestant Jane; not the cliched two sides of the same coin, more different currencies altogether.
                To begin with all expect the young pretender to be released, that all accept in truth she is just a pawn in a struggle for power. This was a time when the game of thrones was played for real the price of failure was to lose ones head. A game where few hands were clean and innocence is a weakness.Suzannah Dunn really gets under the skin and into the contrary heart of Elizabeth Tilney, it is a very real voice that records the events as seen through those young eyes. It feels like an emotional unreliable narration at points built on the instinctive misdirection of a teenagers inflamed passions. In a world where children went from being children to adults in less time than it takes to read a red top newspaper. The author populates the rooms of The Tower Of London with what feels like realistic fictional ghosts, as all recreations of actual people are apt to feel in literature. For those who have been banging on the door of Wolf Hall this is a residence well worth a visit.
                 It is believed that Lady Jane Grey is the only English monarch in the last five hundred years of whom no portrait of proven authenticity exists. Physical descriptions alone remain. That young face existed only in the minds of those who saw her and in the memories of all who knew her.
                  For nine days only she was the Queen of England.
                  For over five hundred years she has looked back at us as if to say
                  I TOO WAS A QUEEN.
                  Yet we will never know her face.