The Godmother’s Secret: Coffee Pot Club Blog Tour.
What if you knew what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Would you tell? Or would you forever keep the secret?
November, 1470: Westminster Abbey. Lady Elysabeth Scrope faces a perilous royal duty when ordered into sanctuary with Elizabeth Woodville–witness the birth of Edward IV’s Yorkist son. Margaret Beaufort, Elysabeth’s sister, is desperately seeking a pardon for her exiled son Henry Tudor. Strategically, she coerces Lancastrian Elysabeth to be appointed godmother to Prince Edward, embedding her in the heart of the Plantagenets and uniting them in a destiny of impossible choices and heartbreaking conflict.
Bound by blood and torn by honour, when the king dies and Elysabeth delivers her young godson into the Tower of London to prepare for his coronation, she is engulfed in political turmoil. Within months, the prince and his brother have disappeared, Richard III is declared king, and Margaret conspires with Henry Tudor to invade England and claim the throne. Desperate to protect her godson, Elysabeth battles the intrigue, betrayal and power of the last medieval court, defying her husband and her sister under her godmother’s sacred oath to keep Prince Edward safe.
Were the princes murdered by their uncle, Richard III? Was the rebel Duke of Buckingham to blame? Or did Margaret Beaufort mastermind their disappearance to usher in the Tudor dynasty? Of anyone at the royal court, Elysabeth has the most to lose–and the most to gain–by keeping secret the fate of the Princes in the Tower.
Inspired by England’s most enduring historical mystery, Elizabeth St.John, best-selling author of The Lydiard Chronicles, blends her own family history with known facts and centuries of speculation to create an intriguing alternative story illuminating the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.
The Godmother’s Secret:
Lancastrian Lady Elysabeth Scrope has been ordered into Sanctuary with Yorkist Queen Elizabeth to observe her safe delivery; and has been appointed godmother to the child.
Autumn 1470 | Westminster Sanctuary
The following morning is the Day of the Dead, and the queen attends Mass. I kneel at her side before the simple altar in the icy Cheyneygates chapel, the spirits congregating around us. The wax-white face of my own infant hovers like a vision under my eyelids, suppressing every prayer, bringing forth hot tears of guilt on my frozen cheeks.
Meg takes my hand, her familiar touch comforting. “I am praying to the Virgin for your lost child,” she whispers. My stepdaughter understands the nightmare I inhabit, my son’s empty cradle, Jack’s empty eyes.
“God grant him protection on his first All Souls Day,” I reply. “Blessed Virgin Mary, care for my beautiful boy.”
“Aargh!” The queen crosses herself and attempts to rise; she sways, clutches the base of her spine. She grips her gown between her legs. A dampness spreads from her pelvis, darkening the green velvet to black, puddling on the floor before her.
I meet her eyes. “Your baby comes. We must go to your birthing room.”
The queen stands proud. “I will go to the chamber. My child will be born in Jerusalem.”
I stand taller. “If you go into labour in that miserable hall, your child will be born dead.” And I wait.
The queen rocks on her feet and then gasps as a birth pain clenches her in its fist. She lifts her crucifix to her lips, murmurs an “Ave Maria.”
I lock eyes with her. Get on, woman. My life depends on your child’s survival. “Come, Your Grace, it is best for you. Your husband would want you to care for his heir.”
“It is not your place to tell me when to leave.”
The queen has already delivered three children. In my experience, this birth could go quickly.
“It is not safe for you to stay.” I turn to Meg. “Please send for the midwife; tell her to come quickly.”
The queen gasps as another birth pain doubles her over. “I must remain to hear mass.”
“Enough, Your Grace. We must go now.”
Three more birth pains of increasing frequency and the queen shuffles forward. As if she has a choice and all the time in the world, she lets herself be walked haltingly from the chapel to the womb-like room and lays down.
“It is a bad omen, deserting God,” the queen moans. “Where is Goodwife Cobbe? She is the midwife, not you.”
I ignore her words, build up the fire, and heat a tisane of chamomile.
As a toll marks the end of mass, Meg returns, and the midwife arrives in a swirl of fog and wood smoke with her bag of scissors and linens and vials of mugwort and pennyroyal electuaries, a rabbit’s foot, and St. Margaret’s birthing girdle to ensure an easy labour. The crone smells strongly of her workroom spirits, but her hands appear steady.
The relentless abbey bells mark the longest hours. The room is so dark night loiters within. The scent of purifying lavender oil mingles with stinking melting tallow and smoke from the damp logs. The hours pass with no sign of the child, and then creeps over us a sharp odour of fear-sour sweat, drenching the queen’s moans.
“This is not like the others,” she pants, her stomach mounded over her long slender legs. “There is something wrong.”
The midwife leans over her, casting a humpbacked shadow on the wall. “Hush, my lady,” she says. “Your child is just slow to arrive. Bite down on this kerchief, and do not push further, for just a moment.”
The queen cries, her body rigid. Meg bathes her forehead with a damp cloth. I beckon the midwife to the fireside. The crone’s lined face gleams with perspiration, and the smell of fear is strongest from her.
“What is happening?” I demand. “The queen employed you because she trusts you. This birth is going on for too long.”
The midwife wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. “The queen is narrow,” she says. “And the baby is large. That is all.” She turns away from me, hunches over her bag, and rummages for another curative. This time she places a dried toad upon the queen’s stomach, arranging it this way and that with deliberate care, chanting an unintelligible rhyme as she does so.
I turn my back on the woman, shaking my head. I do not put much store in these witching tokens, but if the queen does, then it is her decision.
“Belle-Maman!” Meg hisses. “Look!”
The midwife is tipping a stone bottle into her mouth and drinking the contents. She sees me looking at her and quickly drops it back into the bag.
“What are you doing?” I cry. “Are you drunk, woman?”
The midwife laughs and pulls the bottle forth. “Want some? Prepare yourself, Lady Scrope.”
“Get away from me.” I smack her hand.
The crone sneers. “And you think you can do more? From what I’ve felt, the cord is wrapped around the child. If it is not freed, the queen will kill it. And likely herself too.”
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Universal Link: https://geni.us/GodmothersSecret
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0B9YM4JF5
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Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An acclaimed author, historian, and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Lydiard Park and Nottingham Castle to Richmond Palace and the Tower of London to inspire her novels. Although the family sold a few country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them— in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story.
Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth-century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St.John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth-century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort.
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