When Anne Boleyn falls to the executioner’s ax on a cold spring morning in 1536, Anne Seymour knows her family faces peril. As alliances shift and conspiracies multiply, the Seymours plot to establish their place in the treacherous court of King Henry VIII, where a courtier’s fate is decided by the whims of a hot-tempered and fickle monarch.
Lady Anne’s own sister-in-law, Jane Seymour, soon takes Anne Boleyn’s place as queen. But if Jane cannot give King Henry a son, history portends that she, too, will be executed or set aside—and her family with her. In desperation, Lady Anne throws herself into the intoxicating intrigue of the Tudor court, determined to ensure the success of the new queen’s marriage and the elevation of the Seymour family to a more powerful position. Soon her machinations earn her a reputation as a viper in a den of rabbits. In a game of betrayal and favor, will her family’s rise be worth the loss of her soul?
The death of Anne Boleyn turned the court of King Henry VIII on its head and sent shockwaves out through every level of the country. Those most closely related to the throne and the King knew, with absolute certainty Henry was desperate for a male heir and willing to topple families in pursuit of his goal.
Lady Anne Seymour is constantly attended by several companions, most notably guilt, fear, and extreme aspirations for herself and her family. On the morning of Anne Boleyn’s execution, Lady Anne stood among those gathered and watched, watched what could so easily be her fate if she isn’t always several steps ahead of everyone else. As a Seymour by marriage, Lady Anne is now the sister-in-law to England’s next queen which makes her place in the world both lofty and precarious. In order to ensure her safety and that of her family, Lady Anne must play a very dangerous game at court.
From the moment the Seymour’s realize Henry has his eye on their Jane, the intrigues, plots, and planning begin. Lady Anne is an ever-present member of court life and serves as one of Jane’s most trusted ladies. From this position, Lady Anne is able to keep an eye on other courtiers and gather information which will most certainly be used at an appropriate time and place. Anne doesn’t just gather information, she wields it like a weapon and often shares what she has learned with her husband, Edward Seymour, one of King Henry’s most trusted advisors. Between the two of them, there is little to nothing that happens at court that they don’t know about and use to their advantage.
As if the information gathering isn’t enough, Lady Anne also has to be attentive to the young Queen and her situation. It is clear Henry adores Jane Seymour, but as everyone knows, he also adored Anne Boleyn. From the beginning, Anne helps Jane navigate life as both a married woman and a Queen. Anne is a master manipulator and helps Jane understand what it is she needs to do to keep her husband in her bed, conceive an heir, and advance the Seymour family. Though her plans don’t always go precisely as planned, Anne is generally successful and within months she and her family are reaping the benefits of being the Queen’s closest relations. Titles, land, homes, and preferred rooms at court are claimed by the Seymour’s but those rewards come with a price.
At every turn, Lady Anne has to be cautious of her actions and her words. From the moment she wakes to the moment she falls into bed each day, Anne has to be on guard for trusting the wrong person, acting in the wrong way, or simply saying the wrong thing could cost her, her head. Though she is married to a strong, capable, and trusted man, that man is nearly always gone doing the King’s bidding which leaves Anne to fend for herself. To do so, Anne has cultivated a circle of allies and always stands her ground when confronted. As a result, her reputation is that of a formidable woman who should not be crossed. As with everything else in her life, this reputation comes with a price.
The Bottom Line: Knight doesn’t have to do any real world building in this read as history has done that for her. She does, however have to bring that world alive and she does so through the life of Lady Anne Seymour. When you think of the court of King Henry VIII, Lady Anne Seymour isn’t the first name that comes to mind and that is one of the things I very much enjoyed about this read. Knight has taken the liberty of choosing a lesser known historical figure and telling a well-known story through her eyes and from her perspective which affords the reader a new view of old characters. It is, quite frankly, refreshing to have such a different view of the famous Tudor court. From the moment the read begins to the moment it ends, Lady Anne is at work for herself and her family and it is fascinating to see how diligent she must be in her pursuits. Lady Anne’s machinations are dangerous which creates a pervasive tension throughout the read as plots and plans are constantly being hatched and executed. As a reader, you always feel that tension which is certainly laced with a healthy dose of fear and that will keep you moving through the pages. My only complaints about this read are related to the extreme amount of detail and the ending. I’m not a huge fan of copious amounts of detail and at 450+ pages, My Lady Viper is full of detail, most of which I skipped as the story moved forward. As to the ending, My Lady Viper just sort of stops and I didn’t feel like there was any real explanation regarding the fate of Lady Anne and her family. Aside from those two things, My Lady Viper is an interesting read that takes a familiar time and place and works it from a different angle.
P.S. I did find out what happened to Lady Anne and some of her family at the beginning of the second Tales from the Tudor Court book, Prisoner of the Queen.
Kindhearted Katherine Grey knows well the peril of being born with royal blood. As Henry VIII’s grandniece and one of the heirs to the English throne, her noble birth has doomed her to live among the schemers and seducers of the king’s court—barring her from the peaceful life that she truly desires.
After her sister fails to keep the throne, and a new queen rises to power, Katherine finds herself surrounded by adversaries. Since Queen Elizabeth sees her as a threat, and court conspirators see her as an ally, Katherine is forced to play a game she knows she cannot win. And when she reunites with the man she truly loves, Katherine has even more at stake. With treachery at every turn and the life she dreams of within reach, Katherine must make an impossible choice: Will she submit to the queen’s authority, or will she pursue love no matter the cost?
As Prisoner of the Queen opens, England is in turmoil as Henry VIII’s only surviving yet sickly son is on the throne and his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth struggle with their place in the world and their claim to the throne of England. As the young King’s days come to a close, the Grey family makes their play and places their eldest daughter, Jane on the throne. Known as the nine-day Queen, Jane Grey is wholly incapable of holding her position and along with her father and several others, loses her head for treason. Sitting in the wings and knowing she is pawn in a much larger game is Jane’s sister Katherine Grey.
Born of noble blood, Katherine has always known she is nothing more than a pawn in other’s games. Katherine is kind, caring, generous, and totally uninterested in suffering the fate of her sister, Jane. In fact, from the very beginning she is clear to any and all who will listen, she has no interest in being a queen no matter her bloodline nor does she have any desire to stand in the way of Mary and Elizabeth and their respective claims to the throne. Katherine wants what a normal and quiet life that includes a man who loves her, a home far from court, her beloved pets, and a ridiculous number of children. At a very early age, Katherine meets the man she is to love for the rest of her life, Ned, a beautiful and titled young man who knows instantly that Katherine is meant to be his.
The bulk of Prisoner of the Queen is devoted to Katherine and Ned and the tragic love they share. Like Katherine, Ned is from a politically ambitious family and a union between his house and hers would certainly be seen as a threat to the throne. While most would simply get married and call it a day, Ned and Katherine have to receive approval from the crown which is granted shortly before Queen Mary dies. As we all know, Queen Elizabeth was a cat of a different color and was in no way inclined to continue the policies of her now-deceased half-sister. As Elizabeth begins her reign, it is imperative to her safety and security that she identify her enemies and keep them in check. High on her list of potential threats is Katherine Grey.
The moment Elizabeth takes the throne, she makes it clear to Katherine that she will not ever approve her marriage to Ned and her every action will be watched. Katherine isn’t just watched, her letters are read, her words are marked, and her every step is shadowed by someone looking to bring a claim of treason against her. Elizabeth warns Katherine constantly that she is a threat that will be neutralized should she (Katherine) put even a toe out of line. In order to ensure they cannot be together, Elizabeth often engages Ned’s services which keeps him far, far from court. But, love is a powerful emotion to overcome and Katherine and Ned are committed to one another. Knowing they could lose their heads for treason, they wed in secret with the hope that one day, the Queen will approve of their union.
The Bottom Line: Once again, Knight has taken a well-known story and reported on it from a totally different character’s perspective. I LOVED IT!! From the very beginning, Katherine is an individual you want to root for all the while knowing she will never truly have what her heart desires. Despite her actions nearly always supporting her words, Katherine is dealt blow after blow by a suspicious and vindictive queen. This is one of the first books I have read (and I’ve read A LOT of Tudor-related titles) that depicts Queen Elizabeth I as something other than a reasonably decent human who only wants what is best for her subjects and her country. Knight portrays Elizabeth as paranoid, suspicious, untrusting, and cruel. I LOVED IT!! There are some truly beautiful moments in this read for Katherine and Ned but overall, their road is long, hard, and paved with a great deal of misery. Though there is still an incredible amount of detail in this read (BLECH!!) it does end better than the first book and I found myself quite satisfied with the end result.