In the past, it has been a privilege to host historical fiction author Elizabeth St. John on my website, and I’m delighted to welcome her back again. Elizabeth shares a passion for the 17th century and the Stuart Age, and her novels are all gleaned from the vaults of her illustrious family’s history. Her ancestors were at the centre of events during tumultuous times, and she offers a unique perspective in her novel.
Although her latest project, The Godmother’s Secret, is a departure from her beloved 17th century, it still focuses on one of her ancestors, Elisabeth St. John Scrope, who had the distinction of being godmother to Edward V of England, one of the two young Princes in the Tower.
The fate of the Princes has been a 500+ year old mystery. Following the death of their father, Edward IV (the War of the Roses), twelve year old Edward was proclaimed king but before the coronation could take place his uncle, Richard III, seized the crown and was said to have imprisoned his two young nephews in the Tower of London. They were never heard from again, but during the 17th century, the bones of two young boys were found in a box under a staircase and Richard III was pinned as the likely villain.
In The Godmother’s Secret, Elizabeth St. John explores the fate of these young boys. I’m in absolute love with this novel from the fantastic cover to every crafted line. It is gorgeously written, throughly gripping and I found myself deeply invested in the fate of the princes and those who cared so much for them. The Godmother’s Secret has earned a spot on my keeper shelf and is the one of the best books I’ve read in 2022.
Without further ado, I will turn the floor over to Elizabeth St. John as she considers successions in a guest post and shares an excerpt from The Godmother’s Secret.
Succession of Monarchy, by Elizabeth St. John
Cryssa, thanks so much for inviting me to your blog—and for all your encouragement as I wrote this novel. As you and I watched on BBC World the funeral procession of Elizabeth II from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall last month, we were texting each other about the history we were witnessing firsthand. We both know Westminster Hall of old—from our 17th century research and novels, it was the site of the trial of Charles I, where he was found guilty of treason and ordered to death. What a remarkable history that ancient building has witnessed, and I have spent many memorable hours both in solitude and surrounded by tourists as I paced the floor and marvelled at the glorious architecture, thinking how my characters in my trilogy The Lydiard Chronicles felt when they were there on those extraordinary occasions.
In my newest book, The Godmother’s Secret, I returned again to Westminster for three crucial locations: the Abbot’s House (“Cheyneygates”), Westminster Abbey, and Westminster Hall. I was fortunate to meet with the Abbey’s Almoner, who kindly took me “behind the scenes” into the Jerusalem Chamber and other locations where Elizabeth Woodville sought sanctuary and my protagonist and ancestor, Elysabeth St.John Scrope, joined the queen as she gave birth to Edward V. Elysabeth was also appointed godmother to the young prince—which in medieval times was equivalent to a blood relative. It was a writer’s dream come true that I was also able to spend unlimited time alone in the Abbey, which was incredibly moving, and, of course, walked through the Hall and imagined it as it was almost six hundred years ago when Richard III celebrated his coronation.
The succession we recently watched was a peaceful transition of power, planned for decades and meticulously carried out. Certainly far different than the 17th century regicides who ordered the death of their king—effectively transitioning England from a monarchy to a republic—or the controversial 15th century Duke of Gloucester who claimed the throne in place of his nephew, Edward V, on the grounds that the young prince was a bastard and ineligible to rule.
There is a saying that “the king never dies” within English lore, for the second the monarch expires, their heir becomes king or queen. So for about three months, from 9th April to 6th July 1483, the elder of the Princes in the Tower was king, but not officially crowned. Richard III was able to repurpose his nephew’s planned coronation for himself, much to the horror of Edward’s godmother and many other English citizens. Once anointed, it would take a war to remove the king from the throne. Two months later, Edward and his brother Dickon disappeared from the Tower of London. Two years later Elysabeth’s nephew, Henry Tudor, challenged Richard III at Bosworth Field, and won England’s crown. Once again, she was right in the middle of a succession crisis.
I’d like to share with you and your readers the following extract from The Godmother’s Secret where Elysabeth and her husband Jack Scrope, one of Richard III’s most loyal lords, are at Westminster for the occasion of Richard’s III’s coronation.
Excerpt from The Godmother’s Secret
Chapter 21: The Coronation of Richard III
On the sixth day of July, we stand together for the first time since we walked by the river. We are before the doors of Westminster Abbey, and London’s cheers crash over my head like a tempest as Gloucester and his meek little Neville wife approach. As the about-to-be-anointed king, he spent last night in the Palace of the Tower. The Tower! Did he visit Ned and Dickon? Did he go on bended knee as before or make Ned bow to him? Bestow a Judas kiss on his cheek?
How betrayed my boys must feel.
My heart drowns in sorrow’s well. Here I am, encircled by all the nobles of the land while Ned and Dickon lie abandoned in a cold stone room surrounded, not by knights and pages and heralds, but by guards. Are they to protect the princes or prevent escape? I blink away a tear of anger, fracturing the day in a prism of colours, for spread upon the ground are costly fabrics and red-and-white striped carpets, and above our heads are canopies twinkling with gold-threaded stars.
All this was created for Ned. All now is grabbed by Gloucester.
“Here they come!” Jack’s voice thrums with excitement. His face is alive with joy; he believes Gloucester’s—and Harry, for he is the face of the kingmakers—solution a good one, a fateful destiny on the turn of Fortune’s wheel.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and his wife—for I cannot think of them as the king and queen—arrive and walk barefoot past us, a sign of humility. Hypocrites! Jack and I fall into place behind them in the procession. Jack is so proud of his lord’s elevation, and I am so miserable at my boys’ descent.
And there, in the highest position of state, walks Margaret and Lord Stanley, she carrying Anne Neville’s train; Stanley, the Chamberlain’s mace. Their allegiances twist in the wind like vanes upon a church tower. Charlatans.
At the high altar, Richard and Anne appear in their specially crafted undergarments designed to portray humility, their heads bare. How long have the seamstresses been preparing these clothes? Richard presents his pale and muscular back, one shoulder lower, his hip tilted to the right, as if he is casually waiting for a sign from God. My sign from God would be to strike him dead, for I cannot reconcile this man who tearfully pledged loyalty to Ned at that roadside inn with the traitorous uncle who has stolen the crown.
“We are preserving the monarchy, my love, preventing anarchy.” Jack joins with Will’s defence and repeats this legal excuse over and over until he sounds like a stumbling student of law reciting his primer.
“Save your verses, Jack. And leave the legal opinions to Will. They do not sit well on you.” I despise every word they utter. Gloucester has the power to deny Bishop Shaw’s sermon, ride over the claims put forth, even declare the bastardy an untruth, for God was the only other witness. He seizes a different opportunity.
The ceremony is over.
The blessing sticks in my throat. I cannot wish King Richard the Third of England a long life.
Jack takes my hand. “Come, love,” he whispers, his voice cracking with embarrassment. “Your face is thunder. For all of our sakes, do not show your wrath so plainly. King Richard has done no wrong. He is a good and kind and fair uncle.”
Another lie I am asked to perpetrate. I smack his hand away, hug my arms around myself, and march on ahead, caring not who whispers that the Lord and Lady Scrope are in dispute.
The richly woven carpet leads from the abbey to the great hall of Westminster. Jack, along with Catesby, is seated at the barons’ table close by Richard, and I find my place with Meg.
My daughter kisses my cheek, holds me tightly. “Belle-maman, sit with me,” she whispers. “You cannot change this day, and so please accept your place and support your husband.”
“And who is supporting my godson and his brother?” I hiss back. “Who is looking out for them? If I break my godmother’s oath and ignore their plight, will Jack say prayers to release me from purgatory?”
“Will says the king will take care of Ned and Dickon. They have already had discussions as to where the boys can best be brought up. Richard’s bastards are housed comfortably at Sheriff Hutton. It is a luxurious home, surrounded by forests and hunting—all two boys could wish for.” Meg presses me onto the bench. “Have something to drink. Eat. The boys will be fine.”
“They are not just bastards. Ned is the rightful King of England, Dickon his heir,” I say. Does no one think as I do? Meg’s practical words rip at my heart. “Your husband takes care of Richard’s needs first. The princes have no one to speak for them.”
A blare of trumpets and drunken shouts echo from the walls and rafters as the doors are thrown open. The King’s Champion, seated on a huge black destrier resplendent with trappings of gold, red, and white silk, gallops into the hall. The knight throws down his gauntlet to challenge any man who opposes King Richard. I half rise to my feet—I do—and Meg pulls me down again before I can open my mouth.
Jack scowls from his position of honour. We have never been in such discord. My husband is Richard’s man through and through and does not see the wrong. In my heart, I cry for those years when Jack rejoiced in Ned’s company, looked upon him as his own son. All tossed on the midden heap of King Edward IV’s duplicity and betrayal.
Harry presides at the king’s right hand, and Margaret serves the queen her courses in a position of great honour. From the proud set of her shoulders, she relishes her role.
Hypocrite. I wonder at your ability to swing in the winds of fate so swiftly.
As the abbey bells crash above our heads, I remember Cheyneygates and Elizabeth Woodville on that November night of Ned’s birth. How fares she today, locked again in sanctuary, just yards away, now alone with her daughters, her two sons captive in the Tower? I bow my head, but no prayers come. I cannot but think the queen brought this upon herself, complicitly and secretly, thinking her bone-bred witchery above fate. I confronted her upon my arrival, a cuckoo in her York nest, a godmother thrust upon her with no option to accept me. Perhaps I should visit her in sanctuary again tomorrow and demand we discuss a solution. After all, Ned is our son.
I blink and return to the feast, where course after course of fantastic foods on gold and silver platters parade before us, and I am so heartsick I cannot force one bite down my throat as I think of the princes eating mutton from pewter in the loneliness of their guarded tower.
Jack and Catesby and Harry and Stanley sit elevated at the high table, laughing and drinking together, while I am left with the cold company of my bitter thoughts.
This day should have been Ned’s.
Where will he go now?
And how can I protect him?
Without question, my vow at his birth is more important than it has ever been in his short life.
About The Godmother’s Secret
If you knew the fate of the Princes in the Tower, would you tell? Or forever keep the secret?
May 1483: The Tower of London. When King Edward IV dies and Lady Elysabeth Scrope delivers her young godson, Edward V, 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 Elysabeth’s sister Margaret Beaufort conspires with her son 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 Yorkist husband and her Lancastrian sister under her godmother’s sacred oath to keep Prince Edward safe. Bound by blood and rent by honour, Elysabeth is torn between King Richard and Margaret Beaufort, knowing that if her loyalty is questioned, she is in peril of losing everything—including her life.
Were the princes murdered by their uncle, Richard III? Did Margaret Beaufort mastermind their disappearance to usher in the Tudor dynasty? Or did the young boys vanish for their own safety? 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 blends her family history with known facts and centuries of speculation to create an intriguing story about what happened to the Princes in the Tower.
The Godmother’s Secret is available through Amazon as an eBook and Paperback and through Kindle Unlimited.
Elizabeth St.John’s critically acclaimed novels tell the true stories of her ancestors: extraordinary women whose kinship and friendship with historical figures such as Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII, and the Stuart kings and queens bring a unique perspective to Medieval, Tudor and Stuart England.
Inspired by family archives and residences from Lydiard Park to the Tower of London, Elizabeth spends much of her time exploring ancestral portraits, diaries, and lost gardens. And encountering the occasional ghost. But that’s another story.