Jane Grey was queen for nine short days, during a period of great turmoil. The documentary evidence from this time is rather spare; even the coins minted during this brief reign are so rare as to be valued collectors' items. Author Alison Plowden uses documentary evidence and secondary sources to reconstruct the world around this brief reign. Indeed, Jane Grey remains a shadowy figure, even with this and other biographies available, given that, as a child, she was not party to much life at court, and did not have ongoing correspondence with many people likely to preserve such writing (only a handful of personal letters remain from her).
Plowden introduces the world of the Tudors and their friends, hangers-on and rivals from the time of Lancaster/York conflict, and Henry VII, the first Tudor king, forward. This reads like a soap opera, and indeed it was a time of intrigue, deception, jockeying for position and occasional outright evil behaviour. The executioner's task at the Tower was never wanting for more; the Tudors, Seymours, Brandons, Dudleys and other such families were intertwined in the political, religious and dynastic machinations of the time, and sometimes this late medieval machinery caught up the people as it would grind along.
Lady Jane Grey was not born to be queen. This does not make her unique among monarchs in British history; when the current queen Elizabeth was born, it seemed very remote that she should ever advance to be monarch. Indeed, even the great Henry VIII wasn't the heir apparent when born; his brother Arthur was Prince of Wales -- Henry married his brother's widow Catherine of Aragon, and the successive sequence of wives and offspring commenced from there. Lady Jane Grey was born of none of these wives, nor even from Henry directly, but rather through one of his younger siblings, Mary, one-time queen of France.
Plowden's tracing of the history is very much personality driven. Events and issues take a secondary role to the history she recounts here -- it is very much the people involved, who are somewhat hard to keep straight at times (when one would acquire a new title, the name changes; since these names often had predecessors also active in royal and governmental affairs, one sometimes needs charts and graphs to keep the players distinct).
Lady Jane Grey was a mere teenager when she came to power, such as it was. A precocious and intellectual child, she still lacked the political savvy of the Privy Council and other chief executors and leaders from Henry and Edward's reigns; she was the not-always-willing but not-unwilling pawn of her family's ambitions -- at one time thought to be a possible wife for the king Edward, her family jumped at the chance of settling the crown directly on her head, under the ostensible purpose of preserving a Protestant succession.
Ultimately, the venture was doomed to failure, for as much as the royal and parliamentary authorities like to believe they rule England, ultimately it has been the people en masse, and those whom they do not support do not last long. The common folk, still largely Catholic in leaning, also understood royal succession in simple terms -- Mary Tudor was the next in line for the throne, so they supported her (largely they would support Elizabeth, a moderate Protestant, for the same reason five years later). Lady Jane fell victim again to the problems of politics; Mary Tudor, once queen, was inclined to be lenient until it was felt that Jane's presence continued to be a rallying point for Protestant dissidents.
Plowden's book is not a simple biography of Jane Grey, but rather a survey of the historical period, from the generation prior to the aftermath. If Jane Grey seems to be a bit lost in the sea of people in this text, that is understandable, for even though she was queen for a short time, it was hardly her own reign or her own doing, and she didn't last long enough for contemporary histories in personal detail to be written (nor was it really in the interests of others to do so during the reign of either Mary or Elizabeth). Taken as a snapshot of a short time in the Tudor dynasty, and a very unique period in British history, this is a good survey.
This is not an historical romance, nor a narrative history done in novel style. It is a little light on notes, placed at the end rather than as footnotes, for a 'grand' history, but is still built on strong authority. The select bibliography is worthwhile, as is the index. While Plowden's language could take a little polish to good effect, the text remains interesting and factually well-executed, keeping speculation and romantic embellishment to a minimum, and clearly delineating between documentary fact, gossip and hearsay, and later interpretations and reconstructed memories.