Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric Ives

Lady Jane Grey
The Streatham portrait, discovered at the beginning of the 21st century and believed to be a copy of a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey.

While I liked the book, it was not an easy read. I think it could have benefited *greatly* from an editor. Keep in mind, too, that I am an American reading a book on English history. A Brit might not have so much trouble with it?

This is the first Ives book I’ve read — I have a few more in the TBR pile, though — and I probably should have picked a different one for the first time out. I’ll find out soon enough when I start the next one.

If you aren’t seriously up-to-speed on 16th century English history, geography and naming conventions, you’re going to struggle here. You need to already know what he’s talking about to know what he’s talking about. The first few chapters, especially, are very confusing and seem to assume that “everyone already knows this stuff.” At this point, I considered not finishing the book. I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because it was easier to follow after the first section or two, but it never gets easy.

It was tough enough keeping up with the various Dudleys, Greys, Howards, etc. — not just parents and siblings, but also in-laws, nieces, nephews and distant cousins. But then he refers to them sometimes by their titles, sometimes by their given names, and does this while writing about several people from several families all in the same paragraph — sometimes in the same sentence.

Speaking of paragraphs, the editing could have been better. The text is jam packed with information and it’s not unusual for one paragraph to span more than an entire page, making it a bit hard to follow at times. Unfortunately, many of these could have, and should have, been broken down. It’s almost as if there was no thought to outlining the work and a carriage return was just thrown in here or there.

Ives’s writing style is very hard to read. I had to keep re-reading sentences, and sometimes groups of sentences, to figure out exactly the point he was trying to make. He would make a statement, followed by a “but . . .” Okay, but then another “but . . .” and an “although . . .” It required a lot of going back and forth to find out what his argument actually was, and the lack of proper pagination didn’t help with this. So, in actuality, though it took me a month to read this book, I almost feel that I’ve actually read it several times.

The sentence structure itself leaves a lot to be desired. There’s quite a bit of quoting from the actual source texts, and after awhile you began to notice that he almost writes as they did in the 1500s. Probably not surprising, considering he spends so much time studying these documents, but, the archaic sentences interrupt the flow of the story that the author is trying to tell. Many times a well-placed comma would have made this book *so* much easier to read.

All of this said, I eventually became thoroughly engrossed in the story and I’m glad I read it, though it did require a bit of dedication to finish it. I will probably read it through again before I send it on its way, no doubt gleaning even more from a second, or even third, read.

Ives challenges generally accepted assumptions about what happened and why, and thoroughly documents his research with exhaustive endnotes. He devotes as much text to the study of Dudley as he does to Lady Jane, and his argument that Dudley was not really the power-hungry and manipulative traitor we have been lead to believe seems well-reasoned.

If there’s one simple thing to be learned from this book, it’s that even though history is written by the winners, eventually someone might come along and at least attempt to set it straight.