The historian breathes new life into this little known or understood Queen that in turn offers a different portrayal of the temperamental Henry VIII.
Out of all of his wives, Henry VIII treasured and loved Jane Seymour the most for having providing him with what his previous wives could not: a son and heir. Yet in other novels set around the Tudor period, very little attention is paid to this gentle Queen, so it is refreshing to read Alison Weir’s thoughtful novel that explore her life before becoming married to the King as well as her relationship with him.
While it seems that Jane Seymour (being apparently as modest in many depictions) perhaps lived a quiet live, Weir highlights to great effect the number of changes – particularly with regards to religion and changes in power at Henry VIII’s court – that she was witness to. In this portrayal of her life, it seems that she had a sharp perceptiveness about things that were happening around her – yet was never completely sure to how to react on them.
What Weir does well is bring to life many of the political elements that surround Jane’s story and makes the events of the time seem accessible through the way in which she writes about them – particularly with regards to Cromwell and the dissolution of the monasteries. But it is the downfall of Anne Boleyn and balancing out the arguments that many men and women would have had at the time about the controversial issue as well as Jane’s consistent guilt and uncertainty about it all that Weir really excels at writing about. In every reference to Anne Boleyn, the reader gets a true sense of Jane’s conflicting emotions that are engaging to read about, while also offering a fascinating insight into the way in which Henry’s mind was working at this turbulent time.
The author also offers perhaps a side to Henry VIII that is lost given his actions towards Anne Boleyn and those who betrayed him, leading to him becoming the tyrant that history remembers him as. This book offers a softer and tender side to the king – particularly touching during the final moments in the book after Jane has given birth to Edward. It may seem like a stretch but somehow fitting. Of course this doesn’t mean that Weir forgets about his sudden change in temper, leaving Jane on a delicate balance of fear for what he is capable of but also the love that she feels when she is with him.
Perhaps the only element that just doesn’t feel right is the ghostly presence that Jane sees on occasion – with suggestions that it is Anne Boleyn that is haunting her. This addition feels unnecessary when the horror of what happened to Anne Boleyn is consistently on her mind. There are also moments in which Jane feels like a slightly underdeveloped character – more of an observer than participant which can feel slightly frustrating, but given that she is seen to be a modest character anyway this is perhaps not too much of a surprise but can be frustrating to root for her.
Overall, Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen offers a fascinating insight into the turbulent years up to and beyond Anne Boleyn’s death. Alison Weir has successfully shone a new light on this overlooked queen.
By Emma Clarendon
Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen is available to buy now.