Time Period: Early 17th Century-The end of James VI & I reign/Beginning of Charles I reign
Reading historical fiction has many perks. First, it’s the ability to escape to a time when women wore beautiful, fancy dresses and men dressed as impeccably as the women (I can’t resist a man in a lace-ruffled tunic and knee-length damask coat, can you?). I also love the chivalrous knights and damsel in distress stories. But it also opens many doors for learning about people in history that I either know little about or have never heard of before. The Lady of the Tower hit all of these points for me, and in my opinion, that’s what makes this such a great read.
Author Elizabeth St. John does a marvelous job at portraying the intrigue that surrounded the court of King James VI & I as he took the throne of England after Elizabeth I’s death. This first book in the Lydiard Chronicles, follows the life of Lucy St. John as she tries to avoid the politics of court in an effort to live a quiet, unassuming life. Caught up in her family’s desire for riches, prestige, and titles, we watch as Lucy struggles to distance herself from court and make her way in the world without the royal trappings that the rest of her family longs for.
The Lady of the Tower, is rich in historic narrative, immersing the reader into a time of great political transition in England. From the English countryside to the royal palace and the Tower of London, I loved the glimpses into everyday English life, and really felt as if I were a part of the story. I particularly enjoyed reading about Lucy’s time spent as jailor in the Tower of London. For, although many stories have been written about the people who have spent time within these walls, we rarely get a feel for what life might have actually been like for those unfortunate enough to spend any amount of time there.
Tumultuous times lie ahead for the country of England, as the Lydiard Chronicles continue with the next generation of St. Johns in the second book in the series, By Love Divided. I’m confident that readers will not be disappointed.
Book Title: A Murder by Any Name: An Elizabethan Spy Mystery
Author: Suzanne M. Wolfe
Time Period: Late 16th Century
Setting: London, during the reign of Elizabeth I
I loved everything about this book. Starting with the cover…which I admit is THE thing that caught my attention in the first place, to the colorful 16th century language of not only the court royals but the common folk as well. The main character, Nick Holt, is extremely likable. What makes his likability so unusual is that, although he is of noble blood and is a spy for Queen Elizabeth, he also has a compassionate nature and can make even the lowest servant feel at ease. And although he himself has shady dealings as a tavern owner who frequently visits women of less-than-stellar reputations, he’s not a complete rake.
Of course, I can’t speak of characters without mentioning Nick’s sidekick and true star of the show, Hector, Nick’s Irish Wolfhound. I always love when authors not only include animals in their stories (after all, they are so much a part of our world) but give them real personality and a human connection that pet owners can truly relate to.
The murder of a young noblewoman is at the heart of this story, and I’ll admit I was stumped the whole way through the story, trying to figure out who the culprit was. Ms. Wolfe does an amazing job at weaving an intriguing story that keeps you guessing and mixing it with historical tidbits and facts that don’t feel like a historical information dump.
Well researched and artistically written, A Murder by Any Name is a great start to this Elizabethan Spy Mystery Series. It will be interesting to see where Nick and Hector go from here.
Purchase your copy of A Murder by Any Name: An Elizabethan Spy Mystery by Suzanne M. Wolfe here.
In the very early hours of February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots penned the last letter that she would ever write. She addressed her brother in law, Henry III, King of France, in hopes that he might be able to settle some of her financial affairs after she was gone.
In her letter, she speaks of her “papers” being confiscated and that she was unable to get them returned to her in order that she might take care of some of her personal matters. She requests that Henry pay her servants the money that is due them out of the good Christian charity in his own heart.
Mary also complained that her chaplain (almoner) had been taken away from her and he was unable to hear her confession or give her the Last Sacrament. She does not waiver in her confession of the Catholic faith and maintains her innocence in the two points on which she is charged: her Catholic faith, and her God-given right to the English throne. She points out that, even if she were a subject of English law, she would not be guilty of any crime.
Mary had requested that her body be conveyed to France, where she wished to be buried. She laments to Henry that her request was denied (by Elizabeth). She was initially buried five months after her execution in Peterborough Cathedral but was moved to Westminster Abbey in 1612, nine years after her son took the English throne.
Below is the English translation of Mary’s last letter, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.
Queen of Scotland 8 Feb. 1587
Sire, my brother-in-law, having by God’s will, for my sins I think, thrown myself into the power of the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years, I have finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates. I have asked for my papers, which they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been unable to recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to make my will freely or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your kingdom where I had the honour to be queen, your sister and old ally.
Tonight, after dinner, I have been advised of my sentence: I am to be executed like a criminal at eight in the morning. I have not had time to give you a full account of everything that has happened, but if you will listen to my doctor and my other unfortunate servants, you will learn the truth, and how, thanks be to God, I scorn death and vow that I meet it innocent of any crime, even if I were their subject. The Catholic faith and the assertion of my God-given right to the English crown are the two issues on which I am condemned, and yet I am not allowed to say that it is for the Catholic religion that I die, but for fear of interference with theirs. The proof of this is that they have taken away my chaplain, and although he is in the building, I have not been able to get permission for him to come and hear my confession and give me the Last Sacrament, while they have been most insistent that I receive the consolation and instruction of their minister, brought here for that purpose. The bearer of this letter and his companions, most of them your subjects, will testify to my conduct at my last hour. It remains for me to beg Your Most Christian Majesty, my brother-in-law and old ally, who have always protested your love for me, to give proof now of your goodness on all these points: firstly by charity, in paying my unfortunate servants the wages due them – this is a burden on my conscience that only you can relieve: further, by having prayers offered to God for a queen who has borne the title Most Christian, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions. As for my son, I commend him to you in so far as he deserves, for I cannot answer for him. I have taken the liberty of sending you two precious stones, talismans against illness, trusting that you will enjoy good health and a long and happy life. Accept them from your loving sister-in-law, who, as she dies, bears witness of her warm feeling for you. Again I commend my servants to you. Give instructions, if it please you, that for my soul’s sake part of what you owe me should be paid, and that for the sake of Jesus Christ, to whom I shall pray for you tomorrow as I die, I be left enough to found a memorial mass and give the customary alms.
This Wednesday, two hours after midnight. Your very loving and most true sister, Mary R
Setting: Scotland, during the reign of King James VI
Before I go any further, I just have to say, this is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Yes, it is written in one of my favorite time periods, and yes it takes place in one of my favorite places in all the world, but when you combine that with the almost poetic style of Sinclair’s writing—sigh!
Ok, I know it sounds like I’m gushing, and maybe I am, but deservedly so. Sinclair’s development of characters is charming, making you love the characters she loves and hate the characters that she hates. Or, if she doesn’t hate them, she sure does a good job at making me do it for her.
Isobell is an English girl trying to escape the prospects of an abusive marriage to a wicked man. She comes up with a plan to escape to Scotland, leaving her privileged life behind to serve as a kitchen maid on the estate of the young Laird, Thomas Manteith. Isobell finds solace in the beautiful and spiritual countryside of Scotland and I loved viewing her world and experiencing it all over again through her eyes. From the flowering trees, the birds and other wildlife to the ancient stone circles and rocky cliffs of this magical land, Sinclair’s writing is a treat for the senses.
The storyline is beautiful too. The love Isobell shared with her “light of the world and salt of the earth” as she called him, was well written, leaving no room for doubt of the love they shared for each other, yet without some of the awkward details that other stories offer. And while I enjoyed experiencing all the wonderful sights (and feels!) with Isobell, I was always waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop”, and Sinclair did not disappoint!
I have read several books having to do with witch trials, from the North Berwick witch trials in Scotland, to the Salem witch trials in America. All have been well written, but Sinclair’s description of not only the treatment of the accused witches and the bodily harm that they endured, but the spiritual, mental and emotional trauma that these accused women (and men, at times) must have endured, is brilliant.
I also enjoyed Isobell’s exploration of Celtic spiritualism, Catholic rites and Reformed practices as she sought for her own truth. It is an excellent example of Scotland’s own spiritual journey throughout history.
I will read this book again. Now that I know there is a beautiful end for Isobell (admittedly not the end I was expecting!), I will read it for the pure enjoyment of meandering the deeply moving countryside of Scotland once more.
If you would like to see more of Ailish Sinclair’s writings or see her beautiful pictures of Scotland, visit her on her blog at https://ailishsinclair.com/
To purchase a copy of The Mermaid and the Bear click here.
Alyce Bradley is practically past her prime in terms of making a good match. When she is faced with marriage to a man that repulses her, the offer of marriage from another man, though rumored to be a womanizer and a pirate, almost appeals to her.
Alyce makes her choice, and has to live with it. And slowly she is making it work. But when jealousy and bad blood cause Alyce to be accused of damnable deeds, she will face the most difficult trial of her life.
She is not the perfect, beautiful protagonist that you see quite often in fictional stories, which is one thing that makes this story unique. Alyce has a sharp tongue, is quite practical and solemn, and has a hard time showing her affection. But she has likable qualities, and the one I found to be most admirable was her ability to bite her tongue when those around her were being rude to her. I found myself quite often thinking of all the things I would have said in response to the characters that verbally mistreated her, had I been in her shoes! (Yeah, I probably would have been accused of witchcraft for being insolent, incorrigible, or whatever other bad qualities that get attached to women who aren’t demure and meek. LOL)
Meyrick gives you a wonderful insight into the everyday life of a late 16th century English household and the workings of a manor house. Her attention to detail concerning the court systems, jails and commerce of the time period are wonderfully described making you feel as if you are experiencing it for yourself. She demonstrates perfectly how tittle-tattle, jealousy, and revenge played a large part in the witchcraft accusations in the 16th century, and it is easy to see how one might find themselves on the wrong side of the law, just because a neighbor (or worse-a friend or relative) had it out for them.
Alyce had so much stress in her life. From a husband whom she was trying to get to know and understand in the small snatches of time they were allotted together, to a jealous sister, and a delusional former suitor. I fretted throughout the story as to how she was going to get out of her predicament. Meyrick really knows how to build the tension and keep you guessing as to what is going to happen next. I worried myself to find out how all the loose ends were going to come together to resolve the conflict in poor Alyce’s life. I am a sucker for a knight in shining armor and I tend to lean toward the whole rescued damsel in distress trope. Alyce’s husband tries to be that for her but can’t. And I’m ok with that. I was still pleased to see the author give Alyce the happy ending that she deserved!
This was my first exposure to reading books from this author. I do plan on reading more of her wonderfully detailed works.
Nine month old Mary Stuart was crowned queen of Scotland on September 9, 1543. She had actually become queen on December 14, 1542, when she was only six days old. This was the day that her father had died, making her the youngest female to become queen.
A Strong Advocate
Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise, had schemed and plotted for months, in an effort to avoid Henry VIII’s offers of marriage to her daughter. He wanted the little queen for his son, the future Edward VI. However, Mary of Guise, being a French Catholic, wanted nothing to do with the Protestant Englishmen. Although James Hamilton, the Earl of Arran, had been appointed as regent to the young queen, her mother was very much in control of the young child’s comings and goings. Her wit and political savviness enabled her to remove the young Mary from Linlithgow Palace, where she was born, and where Arran felt he had more control over her. By July, the baby had been moved to Stirling Castle, Mary Guise’s castle of choice. This removed the infant queen out from under Arran’s control and allowed her mother more time and freedom to plot how to free Mary from the reach of the English.
On the ninth of September, Mary was carried to the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle and crowned Queen of Scotland. It was a very solemn affair, having conferred not only civil legitimacy on the young queen, but it also validated her religious rights as queen as well.
According to biographer, John Guy, three items of significance were used during the ceremony. The Earl of Arran carried the crown, the Earl of Lennox held the scepter, and the Earl of Argyll carried the sword of state. The scepter was given to James IV in the 1490s by Pope Alexander VI, and the sword was obtained from Pope Julius II in 1507. The crown had been worn by Mary’s father, James V, at her mother’s coronation in 1540. These three items are known collectively as the honors of Scotland and are still on display at Edinburgh Castle today. However, they were not used together until the coronation of Mary.
The crown was, of course, too big for a baby to wear. Instead, Cardinal David Beaton held the crown over Mary’s head. He also anointed her with holy oil and said a blessing over her during the ceremony.
Traditionally, heralds would read aloud the royal genealogy, a list of titles and honors that could take up to a half an hour to recite. However, the infant queen had a different plan. She squawked and wailed throughout the ceremony, causing the typical proceedings to be cut short.
The coronation may have been a solemn affair, but it was followed by banqueting, masques, and dancing afterward.
John Guy, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart
Hi everyone! I just wanted to do a quick post, inspired by Louise’s challenge on Instagram at Ahellaloadofhistory. I’ve been participating in her 30 day history challenge and Day 10 asks for you to share an obscure history fact.
I don’t know how “obscure” this fact is that I wanted to share, but I thought it was kind of neat so, here it is.
For the Love of Dogs
Mary Stuart was taken to France when she was five years old with the intention that she would one day marry the French Dauphin, Francis. It has been said that when she first arrived at the French court, she stuck closely to her maids that had accompanied her, and was content with a group of about 20 dogs that lived at court.
Mary always kept dogs, and it appears that the Maltese was one of her favorite breeds. She also favored terriers, and it was a terrier that made it into the (obscure) history books on the day of her execution.
A Faithful Friend
Mary was taken prisoner in England in 1568, and was held for 19 years. She was allowed to keep dogs throughout her captivity.
One eyewitness account tells of her tiny dog that had hidden within the folds of her skirt on the day of her execution. Of the event, Robert Wingfield wrote:
Then one of the executioners, pulling off part of her dress, espied her little dog, which was under her clothes, which could not be gotten forth but by force, and afterwards would not depart from her dead corpse, but came and laid between her head and shoulders (a thing diligently noted: ) the dog being imbrued with her blood, was carried away and washed, as all things else were that had any blood, except those things that were burned.
Wingfield’s account does not clarify the color or type of dog that wouldn’t leave Mary’s side. And many tales have grown up around this little detail of Mary’s death. Some had said it was a white dog, others say it was black. Some say it was a Skye Terrier. Although some professional dog breeders claim that the Skye Terrier didn’t come into existence until the 19th century, leaving people to believe that perhaps it was a Scottish Terrier that was so devoted to her.
Mary’s Dog in Literature and Pop Culture
I came across a really cute book that I want to get for my 4th grade classroom library. The Dog Who Loved a Queen, by Jackie French tells the story of Folly, Mary’s canine companion that accompanied her to the executioner’s block. This is a fictional book, told from Folly’s point of view. I am always on the lookout for ways to incorporate the time periods that I love to study and read about into my classroom. I enjoy sharing other historical time periods with my students that do not fall within the confines of our standard curriculum.
Click on the book cover if you’d like to check out this book.
You will also find a fuzzy little canine appearance in The Queen’s Almoner. You can read about Tom Tom the pup here.
I am not a big fan of Reign, but I found this lovely picture on Pinterest of Adelaide Cane, dressed as Mary Stuart alongside her deerhound, Stirling.
Until next time, Long May She Ever Live in Our Memories.
Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne.
When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.
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Greyfriars Kirkyard was founded in Edinburgh, a year after Mary Queen of Scots returned to Scotland. Opening in 1562, it was to replace the overcrowded graveyard of St Giles. The location for Greyfriars was chosen because it was not right in the center of town, eliminating concerns of smell in the warmer months.
The Kirkyard was used as a prison for Covenanters in the 1600s, and was a part of their history from the very start, as Greyfriars Kirk was the place where they first signed the National Covenant in 1638.
The Kirkyard was also the sight of many body snatchings during the 18th & 19th centuries, when there was a need for corpses for important medical research and instruction.
There are many notable statesmen, doctors, poets, and theologians buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, but the two I found of most interest have been buried there since the 16th century. Historian and reformer, George Buchanan is buried in Greyfriars. I found this interesting because I can trace my ancestry to some Buchanans from Stirlingshire, and have often wondered if I am related to the historian. James Douglas, the 4th Earl of Morton, who makes an appearance in my book, The Queen’s Almoner, is also buried there.
Another interesting burial is that of Greyfriars Bobby. Local legend says that Bobby was a Skye Terrier who guarded the grave of his master, John Gray, after the night watchman died in the mid-1800’s. The dog never left his master’s grave until he himself died 14 years later, exemplifying the ultimate act of loyalty.
Other local legends include the haunting of Greyfriars Kirkyard, and you can even take a guided ghost walk there when you visit Edinburgh. Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of Greyfriars Kirkyard ghosts to share.
*Please note: this post is part of a series. To read the parent post clickhere*
A Rough Start
James V of Scotland was just a toddler when his father, James IV died during the Battle of Flodden Field, making him the next King James of Scotland. He was the fourth child and only surviving legitimate son of James and his wife Margaret Tudor (sister of Henry VIII).
Born in April 1512, he was crowned in September of the following year, becoming the seventh monarch of the Stuart Dynasty. Too young to rule, his mother ruled as regent for a spell. When she married Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus the following year, she unknowingly forfeited her rights to rule as James’ regent. In her place, the king’s uncle, John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany became regent.
Albany was pro-French, renewing the Auld Alliance that would promise James a royal French bride. With French sentiments in Scotland strengthened, the king’s mother fled to England and stayed there for some time. When Albany left Scotland on business, Margaret returned to Scotland and worked to eventually declare James free to rule without a regent. This agreement was made with the understanding that James would govern under the supervision of several Scottish lords, each taking a turn in overseeing the king’s power.
When it came time for James’ step-father, the Earl of Angus to take his turn, he took James prisoner and ruled in his place. Several attempts were made to free the young king and he finally escaped to resume his power when he was 15 years old. One of his first acts as king was to exile the Douglas family. He even went so far as killing Angus’ sister, Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, by burning her at the stake for witchcraft.
Due to the Auld Alliance, James procured the hand of Madeleine of Valois, the daughter of French King Francis I. She was frail and sickly from the time she was a child and her father refused at first to allow James to marry her. Finally convincing Francis to allow the marriage, they married in January 1537. However, Madeleine died of consumption seven months later without giving James an heir.
Less than a year later, James married the 21 year old widow, Mary of Guise.
A Wanted Woman
Mary of Guise was born in Lorraine, France in 1515. She was the eldest of twelve children born to Claude of Lorraine, Duke of Guise and Antoinette of Bourbon. When she was 18, a marriage was arranged for her to Louis II d’Orléans, Duke of Longueville. She bore Louis a son, whom they named François, and was pregnant with their second child when her husband died of what is believed to be smallpox. Her second son was named after his father, but only lived a few months after his birth.
Mary was young, attractive, intelligent, and valuable to the French court. Soon the king of France was looking to put her many assets to good use. It didn’t take long for her to be courted by two kings: James V, the king of Scotland, and Henry VIII, the king of England.
Mary and James had met the previous year when he came to France to meet Madeleine. He thought her attractive and now turned his attentions toward her in an effort to maintain French-Scottish relations. Henry VIII had lost his third wife, Jane Seymour the year before as well. When he got wind of James’ intentions, he too sought to obtain Mary’s hand in marriage to prevent the union. It is said that Mary was concerned for her safety at the hands of the English king, making a comment on her small neck as an excuse not to marry the man, a reference to his beheaded queen, Anne Boleyn.
Eventually, Francis I of France decided that James would be the better match. They were married by proxy in France in May 1538. Due to the death of her first husband, the Duke of Longueville, Mary’s young son would have to be left behind in France as he was now the new Duke of Longueville. She arrived in Scotland a month later and was married to James in St Andrews Cathedral.
The Good Wife
It didn’t take long for Mary to give James a desired heir. Their first son, James, was born in May 1540 and a second, Robert, joined in April 1541. However, both boys died just days after Robert was baptized. Unfortunately, as with any good queen, the show must go on, and less than a year later Mary was pregnant again.
The Beginning of the End
With the death of James’ mother and the bonds of relationship between nephew and uncle being strained over the burgeoning Protestant reformation, James soon found himself at war with his uncle Henry. Having ignored his uncle’s urging to break away from the Catholic church, he added insult to injury when he refused to meet with Henry. The English king, being the tyrant that he was initiated an attack on Scotland.
Scottish forces suffered a great loss at the Battle of Solway Moss. The king, who did not fight in the battle because he was sick with a fever, sunk further into despair. When the news reached the king that his wife had given birth to a daughter on 8 December, and not the desperately hoped for son, the king is believed to have made the prophetic, yet disheartening statement, “It began with a lass and it shall end with a lass”, making a reference to the beginning and ending of the House of Stuart.
James died six days later, with only one legitimate child left alive to take the throne: Mary.
The Show Still Must Go On
After James’ death, Mary of Guise continued to carry the Catholic torch in Scotland. She spent quite a bit of her time battling the Scottish lords for the regency and trying to avoid Henry’s matrimonial advances toward herself and her young daughter. By this time Henry had worked his way through two more wives and was still interested in adding Mary of Guise to that list. If that didn’t work, he wanted the young queen for his heir, Edward. When it became apparent that he would get neither, he initiated a war with Scotland known as the Rough Wooing. Determined to protect her daughter from an English marriage, she snuck the child away to France when Mary was five years old. Arrangements were made for her to be brought up in the courts of the French king, and eventually marry his son, the Dauphin, Francis.
In 1550, Mary of Guise returned to France and reunited with her only daughter whom she hadn’t seen in two years. She travelled extensively throughout France but eventually made her way back to Scotland where she eventually took over regency in 1554. She worked closely with her brothers, the Cardinal of Lorraine and the Duke of Guise and these dealings kept Scotland and France in close diplomatic relationship for as long as she held the regency.
As Protestantism grew in Scotland, Mary’s influence declined. However, she managed to maintain control of the regency until her death due to dropsy in 1560. Her body was eventually snuck to France, and Queen Mary was able to attend her mother’s funeral.
Below are pictures from my time spent at Stirling Castle, one of the principal places of residence for King James V and Mary of Guise. It is located in Stirling, Scotland. These pictures were taken in June 2017.