Queen of Blood: The Coffee Pot Book Club Tour.
Queen of Blood, Book Four of the Cross and the Crown series, continues the story of Catherine Havens, a former nun in Tudor England. It is now 1553, and Mary Tudor has just been crowned queen of England. Still a Roman Catholic, Mary seeks to return England to its former religion, and Catherine hopes that the country will be at peace under the daughter of Henry VIII. But rebellion is brewing around Thomas Wyatt, the son of a Tudor courtier, and when Catherine’s estranged son suddenly returns from Wittenberg amid circulating rumours about overthrowing the new monarch, Catherine finds herself having to choose between the queen she has always loved and the son who seems determined to join the Protestants who seek to usurp her throne.
Excerpt from Queen of Blood by Sarah Kennedy
On the same day that Mary Tudor was to be crowned Queen of England, a letter arrived at the Davies House in London. Catherine Havens Davies had travelled back from Yorkshire earlier than she had meant to, in order to see the unlikely event—a Catholic placed back on the throne, a woman ruling England—and, still dazed from days on muddy, leaf-smeared roads, she thought the message must be from the court. An invitation to attend a special Mass, maybe, in celebration. The Roman Catholic Church would be the Church of England again, after all. The priests were already poised for reinstatement at their altars. Silver chalices and dusty statues of the Virgin were being dragged out of vaults and false-bottomed chests, and the butchers at various shambles were, no doubt, sifting through their piles of discarded bones, looking for possible relics. The Bishop of Winchester was now the Lord Chancellor, because he had got it from the mouth of God Himself that Mary was the legitimate heir of Henry VIII and must rule their island. They would have a woman at their head; a city of ladies, at last. It was all that Catherine had ever hoped for.
Catherine laid her hand on her lap. Her flat belly felt hollow, but she could still recall, after all these years, the delight, and fear, of knowing a new child swelled there. The last had been a baby conceived out of wedlock and the cause of much shaming, mostly, she had to admit, among other women. But after all these years, Mary had surely forgiven her for marrying the baby’s father and keeping the child. All would be well now. Her past sins and errors were behind her, and Catherine would live in peace with her daughters and her queen and her God, for the rest of her days.
She considered the fine, thick paper and let her fingers slide over its surface. She might have remained chaste and alone, like other former nuns. Chaste and bitter, and old, now. How many convents would be opened again, to welcome them back in? She knew that her first marriage had been approved because money had changed hands, but the slick passage of gold from one hand to another had smoothed the passage of others to the places they wanted to go. Why should she be different? She hadn’t chosen the convent, after all. That had been another’s doing, as was the case for so many women.
Catherine turned over the letter, and in the buttery candlelight of her private chamber, the Wittenberg seal blazed. It was not from the queen. This could only have come from one person. She almost tore the missive itself in breaking the wax. Rubbing the grit from her eyes, she squinted at the familiar, tight script, and she must have called out, because her husband Benjamin, still in his night shirt, appeared in the doorway. “What is it?” he said.
“My son,” said Catherine, still reading. “Robbie says that he will return to England.” She handed it over.
“As soon as this? And at this time? He surely knows that we’ll be Catholic again?” Her husband scanned to the signature and set the letter aside. “Maybe the air of religious reform smells less sweet when it blows through a university instead of a king’s chamber. I hope he’s been studying his Latin.” Benjamin, from behind, wrapped his arms around Catherine’s shoulders and laid his cold palms against her bare chest. She gasped and pushed backward, into his belly. “Let’s back to bed,” he said. “It’s too wintery today for crowning queens.”
“He is coming through Kent. My son, I mean.” Catherine leaned away from her husband and dragged a brush through her hair, letting the long strands settle onto Benjamin’s arm, and when she set it down she saw a white one wound into the bristles. “Look here.” She held it to the window light. “I am almost thirty-nine years old. I grow ancient.” She wrapped the silver thread around her finger and cast it toward the fire, listening for the whisper of a hiss. “Do you think Robbie has really had enough of the Lutherans?”
Benjamin urged her backward. “To bed.”
She shivered and let him pull her up, into his arms. Benjamin had thickened in the ten years of their marriage, but so had Catherine, a little. He swung her around and laid her on the sheets, then lumbered over her and grinned down. “You will never be too old for me.”
She knew his body, and his ways, and they were playful in bed, unhurried and relaxed, Catherine growing giddy in the stomach. They spent themselves without fear or shame, and when Benjamin lay afterward on his back, one arm behind his head, he said, “I will ride to Dover and meet him, if you wish it. He will stay here, with us.”
Catherine turned onto her side and propped her head on her hand. “Will he, do you think?”
“Where else? I promised you I would try to be a father to the boy, and I will.”
“I will send him a welcome from us both. Perhaps they have heard over in Wittenberg how kindly the queen has spoken of her Protestant subjects.”
“Let us hope she maintains that generosity of spirit,” said Benjamin.
“She will. I’m certain of it.” A wet leaf smacked against the pane by Catherine’s side, and stuck to the glass like a dead hand. She yawned and a giggle caught in her throat. “I should dress. Let the girls stay at home this day. The sky threatens rain.”
Benjamin rose and poked at the fire. Then he lifted the letter and looked at it. Set it down. “Let that be the only threat we feel.”
When she was alone again, Catherine put on her clothes herself. The maids were probably all downstairs gossiping about the coronation parties, and she didn’t want to hear it. Few people mentioned the convent to her anymore. She had almost forgotten what it felt like, to be the subject of sideways smirks, the half-finished speculations about fortunate times for a former nun and having two husbands and Jesus as well. She’d only been a novice, after all. And now she would be a good Catholic woman, as she had tried to be in the convent, and if she was married now, who could dare to be her judge?
Her queen. And suddenly, her son. Catherine covered her head and peered into the mirror, stretching back the skin of her cheeks. She had not had so much as a word from Robbie since the summer, when he had sailed off without a backward glance. His Protestant king Edward was dead, and when Guildford Dudley had been hauled to the Tower with Jane Grey, he had fled, claiming that he would never put his neck under the foot of a queen allied to Rome. Or any queen, for that matter.
And yet, he was coming back. And the queen was speaking of mercy and peace. All would be well, and with her son at home, the world would be an Eden again. Catherine took up the letter again. The boy knew no one in Kent. Did he? The leaf at the window lost its grip and fell. Its damp shadow faded, and Catherine rose, rubbing her arms. Her son was coming home. She shuddered in the cold and tried to feel again that fluttering in her stomach. She was happy. She told herself that she was sure of it. Today could hold nothing but good news.
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Sarah Kennedy is the author of the Tudor historical series, The Cross and the Crown, including The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, The King’s Sisters, and Queen of Blood. She has also published a stand-alone contemporary novel, Self-Portrait, with Ghost, as well as seven books of poems. A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing. She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Sarah-Kennedy/e/B0054NFF6W