Jane Grey, great-niece to King Henry VIII, knows growing up that she is in line for the throne of England, but never imagined she would one day rule. At the death of Henry’s young son, Edward VI, Jane is named heir to the throne to prevent the country from returning to Catholicism. After sitting on the throne for only nine days, Jane, aged 17, is executed on February 12, 1554. A political pawn in a dangerous game of religious war, she had no other option but to rule and then to die.
A few days after her death, her younger sister, Catherine, is escorted to the Tower to receive the few belongings that were allowed Jane during her months in prison. One of the treasured items was a key. Devastated at the loss of her older sister, Catherine begins to write a journal in the form of letters to Jane, to alleviate the grieving process.
Several weeks later, Catherine obtains a large, locked trunk, and realizes this is the home for the key. She opens the trunk to find Jane’s numerous journals, letters and books. As she reads the journals, she writes in her own journal her reaction to Jane’s entries. She also writes of what has befallen her since the execution. She, and what’s left of her family, still live in danger of inheriting the throne or losing their lives. Through Jane’s journal entries, Catherine relives their childhood and their family’s rise to power in a way she had never seen it before, while at the same time detailing her own uncertain future.
From these two voices, we learn of the political and religious strife suffered by these two young women and their family in the English court of the 16th century, but more intimately the pain, fear, joy and triumphs of these sisters whose lives were truly not their own.