The Godmother’s Secret

“You are the one left behind, Elysabeth. Remember the inn, when you told us what women want?”

“Sovereynté,” I say.

In the 15th century, men indeed left behind women while they twisted “facts and fate to achieve their unholy ambitions”. Most women in this period were powerless to prevent war, but they dealt with the tragic aftermath. The Wars of Roses was one such time—as Lady Elysabeth Scrope knows too well, leading her to say, “These wars. These wars that men fight, and women endure, waiting for news, for their men to return home—or not.”

The Godmother’s Secret is a remarkable, painstakingly researched, and fresh retelling of the mystery of what happened to The Princes in the Tower — one of them the uncrowned Edward V, and the other Richard, Duke of York, his younger brother. Their story has been told in fiction countless times, yet – in prose often penned in near to poetry, painting the past so vividly – St John makes it anew by skilfully crafting a wonderful and believable tale of suspense and intrigue told through the point of view of Lady Elysabeth Scrope, one of St John’s long-ago kinswomen. Commanded by Henry VI to be godmother to Elizabeth Woodville’s unborn child and be there at the child’s birth, she finds herself, from the boy’s very first breath, first committed by her vow to Edward, the presumed heir to England’s throne, and then by a love willing to sacrifice all.

In the near future, her devotion to Edward will tear her life and marriage apart by her conflicting loyalties.

This is a novel to be savoured slowly for the delight of its gorgeous poetic writing:

Across the valley, a church spire pierces the morning mist like a needle poking through fabric, and copses of moss-green trees cling to the sides of the wolds, dark and mysterious.

It also unfurls a complex and carefully paced tale, one told in first person narration by Elysabeth. Observant, sensitive, courageous, she was so well drawn, I found myself well and truly journeying with her every step of the way to this story’s satisfying conclusion. But she is only one of many three-dimensional characters in this novel. From minor to major, St John crafts all her characters with immense skill. I especially loved the young princes in this novel — who St John penned as unforgettable flesh and blood boys — so much so I trembled in fear about their ultimate destinies. Margaret Beaufort, too, is amazingly well crafted by St John. She is a complex woman, one damaged by a past that has made her determined to control the spinning of fortune’s wheel.

Ultimately, the power of this novel is its timely reminder of the tragedy of war – its human cost, especially the cost to women’s lives, and the heartbreak it will always leave in its wake. The Godmother’s Secret is historical fiction at its best.