Sisters of Treason

Written by Elizabeth Fremantle
Review by Michael I. Shoop

The tragedy of the Grey sisters is brought to vibrant life with rich historical detail and a strong narrative in this weighty novel by Fremantle. It is set during the tumultuous reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I, and told from the viewpoints of three characters: Katherine Grey, her younger sister, Mary, and artist and Grey family friend Levina Teerlinc. The reader is immediately drawn into the story of these hapless members of the Tudor dynasty. Shortly after the execution of their sister Jane, the “Nine Days’ Queen,” the surviving sisters are alarmed to be summoned to court by their cousin, Queen Mary, who wishes to keep them close. With treachery and intrigue ever-present at court, Levina, at their mother’s request, secures work as a court portraitist to help protect the sisters. The lovely and flighty Katherine, irritating and untrustworthy to both queens, soon becomes a pawn of the Spanish and later a victim of her own desires, while the dwarfish but clever Mary, suffering the disturbing indignity of having to sit in Mary’s lap and later feeling the bite of Elizabeth’s cool dismissiveness, bides her time and finds love in a quite unexpected place. As their fates play out, Levina attempts to settle some problems in her own life.

Fremantle provides an accurate rendering of the unfortunate lives of these Tudor heirs and their times. Her use of the relatively unknown Bruges-born artist Teerlinc as a major character and including her relationship with fellow artist Nicholas Hilliard adds a different perspective on events, as well as an interesting storyline. There’s no denying this family continues to fascinate. A helpful list of characters and a bibliography for further reading are included.