The Unhappiest Lady in Christendom (Six Tudor Queens #3.6), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Having long been a fan of Alison Weir’s novels, particularly those related to the Tudors, I was so pleased to hear of the Six Queens series. While Weir is a master at taking fact and fictionalising it on occasion to create novels, I was even more excited to hear that she would add some short stories to bridge the major novels in the collection. I came across this piece and devoured it in a single setting, having recently read the third book in the series, centring around Queen Jane. In this short story, Jane has just died and Princess Mary takes the narrative role. Mary explores her own sentiments about the death of her step-mother who worked so hard to calm sentiments between King Henry VIII and his eldest daughter. With the death of the queen, Mary must wonder if her return to Court will be short lived or if it might be a new and prosperous future for her. With Mary and Elizabeth comes a new child, Edward, who is heir to the throne. However, as a newborn, there is little he can do for the time being. The King has waited just long enough to mourn the death of his wife of seventeen months before realising that he needs another heir and must marry again. Questions arise as to where he might find a new wife, turning to political ties to strengthen the Protestant cause. While Mary worries about how this might dilute her Catholic background, she worries more about how her own life may be seriously harmed. Those around her remain sycophantic to the king, who seeks a wife rather than basking in the love that Jane brought him. When a potential wife is found in Germany, Mary can only hope that this Princess Anna of Cleves will prove a decent step-mother, even if she is only a year older and likely nowhere near as wise as Mary has been while remaining in England. Recommended for those who enjoy Weir’s work and have a soft spot for all things Tudor.

Weir never disappoints, even when she has a limited time to present her work. I found myself able to devour this piece quickly, yet noticed all the information jammed into the story. Offering things up from the perspective of Mary, recently welcomed back to Court, was a genius way of bridging the Jane and Anne marriages to Henry VIII. I had not given as much thought to the change in role that Mary had under Jane’s short reign, though hindsight has provided me many new ideas on the subject. Weir shows that Mary worries about her own future marriage to a worthwhile prince, surely sullied by her father’s ongoing shelving her and giving her a ‘bastard’ moniker. The Court is also going through many transitions, such that the key players close to Henry VIII are forced to shift their mindset to yet another round of irrational thoughts. The story may have been brief, but Weir packs a punch and keeps readers hooked throughout, pining for the release of the next novel, still many months away. I must admit that I am still a little upset that those outside of the United Kingdom cannot readily access these pieces and hope there will soon be progress to offer them to all fans of Alison Weir the world over.

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful piece of writing. The Tudors come to life under your pen!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: