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A Novel of Lady Jane Grey

Written by Alison WeirAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Alison Weir

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On Sale: February 27, 2007
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-49806-9
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Alison Weir's Mary Boleyn.

I am now a condemned traitor . . . I am to die when I have hardly begun to live.

Historical expertise marries page-turning fiction in Alison Weir’s enthralling debut novel, breathing new life into one of the most significant and tumultuous periods of the English monarchy. It is the story of Lady Jane Grey–“the Nine Days’ Queen” –a fifteen-year-old girl who unwittingly finds herself at the center of the religious and civil unrest that nearly toppled the fabled House of Tudor during the sixteenth century.

The child of a scheming father and a ruthless mother, for whom she is merely a pawn in a dynastic game with the highest stakes, Jane Grey was born during the harrowingly turbulent period between Anne Boleyn’s beheading and the demise of Jane’s infamous great-uncle, King Henry VIII. With the premature passing of Jane’ s adolescent cousin, and Henry’s successor, King Edward VI, comes a struggle for supremacy fueled by political machinations and lethal religious fervor.

Unabashedly honest and exceptionally intelligent, Jane possesses a sound strength of character beyond her years that equips her to weather the vicious storm. And though she has no ambitions to rule, preferring to immerse herself in books and religious studies, she is forced to accept the crown, and by so doing sets off a firestorm of intrigue, betrayal, and tragedy.

Alison Weir uses her unmatched skills as a historian to enliven the many dynamic characters of this majestic drama. Along with Lady Jane Grey, Weir vividly renders her devious parents; her much-loved nanny; the benevolent Queen Katherine Parr; Jane’s ambitious cousins; the Catholic “Bloody” Mary, who will stop at nothing to seize the throne; and the protestant and future queen Elizabeth. Readers venture inside royal drawing rooms and bedchambers to witness the power-grabbing that swirls around Lady Jane Grey from the day of her birth to her unbearably poignant death. Innocent Traitor paints a complete and compelling portrait of this captivating young woman, a faithful servant of God whose short reign and brief life would make her a legend.

“An impressive debut. Weir shows skill at plotting and maintaining tension, and she is clearly going to be a major player in the . . . historical fiction game.”
–The Independent

“Alison Weir is one of our greatest popular historians. In her first work of fiction . . . Weir manages her heroine’s voice brilliantly, respecting the past’s distance while conjuring a dignified and fiercely modern spirit.”
–London Daily Mail

Excerpt

Frances Brandon, Marchioness of Dorset

Bradgate Hall, Leicestershire, October 1537

My travail begins as I am enjoying a walk in the garden. There is a sudden flood of liquid from my womb, and then, as my maid runs for cloths and assistance, a dull pain that shifts from the small of my back to the pit of my stomach. Soon, they are all clustering around me, the midwives and the women, helping me through the great doorway of the manor house and up the oaken stairs, stripping me of my fine clothing and replacing it with a voluminous birthing smock of bleached linen, finely embroidered at the neck and wrists. Now I am made to lie upon my bed, and they are pressing a goblet of sweet wine to my lips. I don’t really want it, but I take a few sips to please them. My two chief ladies sit beside me, my gossips, whose job it is to while away the tedious hours of labor with distracting chatter. Their task is to keep me cheerful and to offer encouragement when the pains grow stronger.

And they do grow stronger. Less than an hour passes before the dull ache that accompanies each pang becomes a knifelike thrust, vicious and relentless. Yet I can bear it. I have the blood of kings in my veins, and that emboldens me to lie mute, resisting the mounting screams. Soon, God willing, I will hold my son in my arms. My son, who must not die early like the others, those tiny infants who lie beneath the flagstones of the parish church. Neither lived long enough even to sit or crawl. I do not account myself a sentimental person; indeed, I know that many think me too strong and hard-willed for a woman—a virago, my husband once said, during one of our many quarrels. But hidden within my heart there is a raw place reserved for those two lost babies.

Yet it is natural that this third pregnancy has often led me to revisit this secret place, to disturb and probe it gently, testing to see if past trage- dies still have the power to hurt. I know I should forbid myself such weakness. I am King Henry’s niece. My mother was a princess of England and Queen of France. I must face the pain of my loss as I do my labor—with royal dignity, refusing to indulge any further in morbid fancies, which, I am assured by the midwives, could well be harmful to the child I carry. One must try to be positive, and I am nothing if not an optimist. This time, I feel it in my bones, God will give us the son and heir we so desperately desire.



Another hour passes. There is little respite between each contraction, but the pain is still bearable.

“Cry out if you need to, my lady,” says the midwife comfortingly, as the women fuss round me with candles and basins of water. I wish they would all go away and leave me in peace. I wish they would let some fresh air into this fetid, stuffy chamber. Even though it is day, the room is dark, for the windows have been covered with tapestries and painted cloths.

“We must not risk the babe catching any chills from drafts, my lady,” the midwife warned me when she ordered this to be done. Then she personally inspected the tapestries to ensure that there was nothing depicted in them that could frighten the child.

“Make up the fire!” she instructs her acolytes, as I lie here grappling with my pains. I groan; it’s hot enough in here already, and I am sweating like a pig. But, of course, she is aware of that. At her nod, a damp cloth is laid on my brow. It does little to relieve my discomfort, though, for the sheets are wet with perspiration.

I stifle another groan.

“You can cry out, madam,” the midwife says again. But I don’t. I would not make such an exhibition of myself. Truly, it’s the indignity of it all that bothers me the most, conscious as I am of my birth and my rank. Lying here like an animal straining to drop its cub, I’m no different from any common jade who gives birth. There’s nothing exalted about it. I know it’s blasphemy to say this, but God was more than unfair when He created woman. Men get all the pleasure, while we poor ladies are left to bear the pain. And if Henry thinks that, after this, I’m going to . . .

Something’s happening. Dear God, what’s going on? Sweet Jesus, when is this going to end?

The midwife draws back the covers, then pulls up my shift to expose my swollen, straining body, as I lie on the bed, knees flexed, thighs parted, and thrusts expert fingers inside me. She nods her head in a satisfied way.

“If I’m not mistaken, this young lad is now in something of a hurry,” she tells my anxiously hovering ladies.

“Ready now!” she crows triumphantly. “Now push, my lady, push!”

I gather all my strength, breathe deeply, and exhale with a great effort, knowing that an end is in sight. I can feel the child coming! I ram my chin into my chest again and push as I am instructed, hard. And the miracle happens. In a rush of blood and mucus, I feel a small, wet form slithering from me. Another push, and it is delivered into the midwife’s waiting hands, to be quickly wrapped in a rich cloth of damask. I glimpse its face, which resembles a wrinkled peach. I hear the mewling cry that tells me it lives.

“A beautiful daughter, my lady,” announces the midwife uncertainly. “Healthy and vigorous.”

I should be joyful, thanking God for the safe arrival of a lusty child. Instead, my spirits plummet. All this—for nothing.



Queen Jane Seymour

Hampton Court Palace, Surrey, October 1537

It has begun, this labor that I, the King my husband, and all England have so eagerly awaited. It began with a show of blood, then the anxious midwives hurried me into bed, fearful in case anything should go wrong. Indeed, every precaution has been taken to guard against mishap. Since early summer, when the babe first fluttered in my womb and I appeared in public with my gown unlaced, prayers have been offered up throughout the land for my safe delivery. My husband engaged the best physicians and midwives and paid handsomely to have the soothsayers predict the infant’s sex: all promised confidently that it would be a boy, an heir to the throne of England. Henry insisted that I be spared all state appearances, and I have spent these past months resting in opulent idleness, my every whim and craving gratified. He even sent to Calais for the quails I so strongly fancied. I ate so many I sickened of them.

Most pregnant women, I am told, sink into a pleasant state of euphoria as their precious burden grows heavier, as if Nature is deliberately affording them a short respite before the ordeal that lies ahead and the responsibilities of motherhood that follow it. But I have enjoyed no such comforting sense of well-being or elation at the glorious prospect fac- ing me, God willing. My constant companion is fear. Fear of the pain of labor. Fear of what will happen to me if I bear a girl or a dead child, as my two unfortunate predecessors did. Fear of my husband, who, for all his devotion and care for me, is still a man before whom even strong men tremble. How he could ever have settled his affections on such a poor, plain thing as I is beyond my limited comprehension. My women, when they dare mention the subject, whisper that he loves me because I am the very antithesis of Anne Boleyn, that black-eyed witch who kept him at bay for seven years with promises of undreamed-of carnal adventures and lusty sons, yet failed him in both respects once he had moved Heaven and earth to put the crown on her head. I cannot think about what he did to Anne Boleyn. For even though she was found guilty of betraying him with five men, one her own brother, it is horrifying to know that a man is capable of cutting off the head of a woman he has held in his arms and once loved to distraction. And it is even more horrifying when that man is my husband.

So I live in fear. Just now I am terrified of the plague, which rages in London so virulently that the King has given orders that no one from the city may approach the court. Confined to my chamber for the past six weeks, as is the custom for English queens, with only women to wait on me and the imminent birthing to brood on, I am prey to all kinds of terrors, so in a way it is a relief now to have something real upon which to focus my anxieties.

Henry is not here. He has gone hunting, as is his wont and passion, although he has given me his word that he will not ride more than sixty miles from here. I would be touched by his concern had I not learned that it was his council that advised him not to stray farther from me at this time. But I am glad, all the same, that he has gone. He would be just one more thing to worry about. His obsessive and pathetic need for this child to be a boy is more than I can cope with.

It is now afternoon, and my pains are recurring with daunting intensity, even though the midwife tells me that it will be some hours yet before the child can be born. I pray God that this ordeal may soon be over, and that He will send me a happy hour, for I do not think I can stand much more of this.


From the Hardcover edition.
Alison Weir|Author Q&A

About Alison Weir

Alison Weir - Innocent Traitor
Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband and two children.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Alison Weir

Reader’s Circle: After ten enormously popular and critically acclaimed nonfiction books, what inspired you to make the jump to fiction with Innocent Traitor?

Alison Weir: I’ve been writing historical novels for fun since the 1960s, and this one was no exception. I first wrote it eight years ago, while I was researching Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was then called Light After the Darkness, and was more “faction” than fiction. Historical novels weren’t selling very well at that time, so I just put the manuscript away when I finished it. I rewrote the whole thing a couple of years ago and was delighted when it was accepted for publication.

RC: Did your experience as a nonfiction writer and historian make it easier to write fiction, or did you have to unlearn or set aside certain habits of mind and composition in order to write the novel?

AW: It was easier to write fiction from the point of view of having seriously researched the subject and knowing the story well. But I was aware of the need to make this book sound very different from my nonfiction works, and to this end I chose to write in the first person and the present tense, because no history book could ever be written in that way. As a historian, it was vital for me to make the novel as factually accurate as possible, and I used everything that could be inferred from historical sources to make my characters come alive. Yet it was some while before I felt comfortable about coming down off the fence and letting my imagination rip!

RC: It must have felt liberating to be able to do away with footnotes for once. But fiction, especially historical fiction, has its own constraints, and I wonder if you found yourself bumping up against them.

AW: The whole experience was liberating, not just being able to do away with footnotes. I loved the freedom of being so creative. Yet it’s true that writing historical fiction does have its constraints. I was very aware that it is important to get the language spoken by the characters right, and spent a lot of time modifying original quotations–which I used wherever possible–so that they did not sound incongruous in a twenty-firstcentury text. I also found that it is generally better to show the reader– through actions and conversations–what is happening, rather than relying on narrative skills to tell the story. One problem I encountered was that, in every respect, the historical Jane comes across at every stage of her life as much older than her years, and I feared that portraying her in this way–which was essential if the book was to make sense–would stretch my readers’ credulity to the limit. So I had others talk about her precocity and her formidable intelligence, and endeavored to show that in Tudor England, children were treated as miniature adults and expected to behave accordingly.

RC: In your author’s note, you write: “Some parts of the book may seem far-fetched: they are the parts most likely to be based on fact.” This bears out the old adage of truth being stranger than fiction. Were there facts that you felt you had to leave out because they would have seemed too farfetched?

AW: I’d never leave out substantiated facts just because they sound farfetched. My editor suggested I omit a certain passage because it sounded “too contrived,” whereupon I pointed out that many historians also used to think it too contrived, but that the story came from a reliable source and is now accepted as fact by most scholars. The passage in question was the one in which the warrant for Katherine Parr’s arrest was fortuitously dropped in a corridor and found by one of her servants, who hastened to warn her.

RC: What makes the Tudor period of English history so perennially fascinating to you and to so many readers?

AW: For me, and I suspect for many other people, the Tudor period is perennially fascinating because of its dramatic events and outstanding personalities, and also because it’s the first period in English history for which we have primary sources that reveal intimate and insightful details of the public and private lives of prominent figures. There is so much human interest to captivate the imagination, a wealth of triumphs and tragedies, myths and mysteries, all played out against the magnificent backdrop of the greatest court ever seen in England, the grimmer setting of the Tower of London, the cozy splendor of country houses, or the teeming bustle of Tudor London. You couldn’t make it up!

RC: Why did you choose the story of Lady Jane Grey as your subject?

AW: Because I knew it well, I was aware that it had all the elements of a compelling and poignant tale, and I needed a story that was not too long. Above all, I’ve always found Jane an intriguing character, for she was not always a sympathetic heroine, but a feisty and dogmatic teenager who could be uncomfortably candid, outspoken, and uncompromising. I wanted the challenge of writing about her in such a way as to excite my readers’ compassion, rather than having them pity her only on account of her youth and her being used as the tool of ambitious men.

RC: In your novel, one of the most shocking things to a modern reader will surely be the extent to which women are little more than another type of property owned by often-brutal men. How, in this environment, could a woman be permitted to ascend to the English throne? Is that a quirk of history, or were there political reasons behind it?

AW: There were political reasons behind the Duke of Northumberland deciding to place a woman on the throne, regardless of the perceived deficiencies of her sex. First and foremost, he wanted to remain in power, and he could do that only if, after the death of Edward VI, England was ruled by someone malleable who would bow to his tutelage. Jane was the only member of the royal House who was suitable for his purpose, so he married her to his son, and thus bound her to obedience to her husband, who would be Northumberland’s tool. But Jane, of course, proved not to be the meek little thing the Duke had envisaged. . . .

RC: Yet despite the patriarchal culture, strong women could and did emerge, women like Jane and her cousin, Elizabeth. What accounts for that, do you think?

AW: I believe that these queens rose above the constraints of a male-dominated age simply because they were exceptional, formidably intelligent, and talented women, and also because their royal birth ensured their entrance to the political stage.

RC: Does the history of Tudor England have any relevance to what is going on politically and culturally in England and America today?

AW: One could always contrast the religious fundamentalism of the Tudor age with that which is becoming alarmingly apparent in our own society in the wake of 9/11. In both cases, we see people who are prepared to die horribly for their beliefs, and who display a lack of tolerance toward the beliefs of others. And because of our own experience of terrorism, we can perhaps understand the Tudor mind better. In other ways, though, the past is indeed another country.

RC: I was intrigued by your characterization of Henry VIII. He comes across as a much more likable figure than I would have imagined.

AW: I was trying to portray Henry VIII as Jane would have seen him on this occasion, and for this I relied on the many descriptions we have of him as a sociable, affable, and witty man who was concerned to put others at their ease. He was not always the monster of popular caricature, nor the buffoon played by Charles Laughton!
RC: Will you be writing more novels?

AW: Yes, I’m pleased to say that I have just completed my second novel, about which I’m extremely excited. It is about the early life of Queen Elizabeth I–a perilous, fascinating period when her path to the throne and her very survival were fraught with danger. Margaret Irwin aside, surprisingly little attention has been paid by writers of fiction to the years before Elizabeth became queen at the age of twenty-five, and I’ve found that it’s an especially rich subject for a novel.

Praise

Praise

Praise for Alison Weir

Queen Isabella

“Compelling, gripping and believable . . . a highly readable tour de force that brings Queen Isabella vividly to life.”
–The Washington Post Book World

“Insightful . . . the acclaimed Weir offers well-researched surprise after surprise about the sensual, rather avaricious but eminently admirable Isabella.”
–USA Today

Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley

“The finest historian of English monarchical succession writing now is Alison Weir. . . . Her assiduousness and informed judgment are precisely what make her a writer to trust.”
–The Boston Globe


Eleanor of Aquitaine

“Extraordinary . . . exhilarating in its color, ambition, and human warmth. The author exhibits a breathtaking grasp of the physical and cultural context of Queen Eleanor’s life.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Evocative . . . a rich tapestry of a bygone age and a judicious assessment of her subject’s place within it.”
–Newsday


From the Hardcover edition.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. In what ways might this fictional treatment of Lady Jane Grey’s life diverge from a historical account? Is it obvious where the author has made up passages? Are these convincing, given what is known about Lady Jane

2. What are the advantages of having several narrators? Are there any disadvantages? Which voices are the most, or least, convincing? Why is Henry VIII portrayed as a far more likable character than one might imagine?

3. The passages narrated by Admiral Thomas Seymour and Lord Guilford Dudley, which provided lighter and more humorous insights, were edited out of the book, making it an altogether darker tale. Do you think that these voices could have added anything to our overall view of Jane, or to the book itself?

4. Getting the contemporary dialogue right is always a challenge for any historical novelist. What are the potential problems and pitfalls? How far do you think the author has succeeded in writing the dialogue in this book?

5. Another challenge for the author was writing a story that has a famous ending. How does she manage to maintain tension and interest in the plot, when many of her readers will know its outcome?

6. 1To lend impact to the rape scene, earlier sex scenes were cut from the novel. Does the author succeed in shocking us with this scene? Does it convince us that suffering an experience like this might have been the reason why the historical Jane refused to sleep with her husband thereafter, or make him King Consort? How does Guilford view what happened on their wedding night?

7. 1In writing the execution scene, the author deliberated for a long time as to when Jane’s narrative should be superseded by that of the headsman. Did she make the right decision? Or would it have been more dramatic to have narrated this scene from Jane’s perspective beyond the grave?

8. Jane’s mother, Frances Brandon, is one of the most unsympathetic characters in the novel. Her treatment of the child Jane is based on Jane’s own outpourings to Roger Ascham in 1550, when she was thirteen. How convincing are these early scenes, which are all the product of the author’s imagination? What do we learn from the novel about the status of women and children in Tudor England?

9. Some readers have found Frances’s change of heart at the end unconvincing, saying it is out of character. The author based it on the fact that Frances is known to have been back at court at this time, and may–given her earlier successful intercession with Mary for her husband–have been hoping to soften the Queen’s heart and save her daughter. Is this likely? Or was Frances perhaps trying to re-establish herself at court and so distance herself from the tragedy that had overtaken her family?

10. What makes the Tudor age so perennially fascinating? Why is this period more popular than ever today?


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