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Today - A Betrayal in my Family
Earlier this year I was invited on a book tour as a visiting lecturer for the English Speaking Union. Traveling across the southern United States was a wonderful experience, and along the way I met fascinating people who had a deep interest in English history and literature. As I prepared for the tour (the theme of which was “Behind the Walls of the Tower of London”, around my first book The Lady of the Tower), I talked to the directors in each city about their member’s interests. Not only were they eager to hear more about the Tower, the society itself had a strong connection with Richard III, and subsequently the Princes in the Tower.
I added a slide about the princes, some background information about their disappearance and tucked the thought away that some day I would like to explore this more.
Then came COVID-19 lockdown, and a restlessness that I wanted to start a new book but didn’t know quite where to begin. My seventeenth-century Lydiard Chronicles trilogy was complete, and although I missed the characters very much, their story was told. Looking for inspiration (and truly, procrastinating) I hopped on The Friends of Lydiard Park website, where we have a comprehensive family tree, dating back to the 13th century. Idly, I typed in my own name. Twenty-six Elizabeth St.John names appeared in the search box, dating from 1430 to the 1900s. I clicked on the first listing.
And so she appeared. Lady Elysabeth St.John Scrope. Half-sister to Margaret Beaufort and subsequently aunt to Henry VII. Daughter to Margaret Beauchamp, who brought Lydiard Park into the St.John family in the early fifteenth century. And godmother to Edward V, one of the Princes in the Tower. Serendipity at its finest.
Meeting a new character for the first time is fearful and exciting and full of unknowns. But as I became familiar with Elysabeth and her world, I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of the missing princes. And when I was invited to participate in the Betrayal anthology with the Historical Fictioneers, she announced to me that she wanted to tell her story. The real story of what happened to her godson, the prince she took to the Tower. And so, I have my next book. And a short story to set the stage.
Excerpt - Road to the Tower
Lady Elysabeth Scrope and her husband have just been urgently summoned to Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s Yorkshire stronghold, Middleham Castle. Unable to reach Lord Scrope, she impulsively decides to travel on her own to answer the Duke’s command.
He turned then and acknowledged me.
Sanding his signature and flinging the parchment at the nearest attendant,
Gloucester approached, waving Martha and our guards out of ears’ reach. As
always, I wondered what fate had omitted even a ghost of his brothers’ fine
physiques and charm. Richard Plantagenet may as well have been a changeling,
for his stature was small, smaller than mine, and his sallow complexion
concealed him within the hall
As he kissed my hand, Gloucester’s shoulders twisted under his light tunic, and the heavily muscled right side of his body rose dominant.
“Lady Scrope. Elysabeth.” The charisma flickered. He was one who did not need to illuminate a room when he could influence from the shadows. My husband often said his Yorkist lord had perfected that role his entire life, eclipsed by the splendour of his magnificent brothers. “And John is . . . ?” He peered over my shoulder.
“My lord,” I took a deep breath as I curtsied. “I . . . I opened your letter. John is surveying our lands and will not return for many days. I have left word for him. You summoned me urgently with a crucifix.”
I rose, a flush heating my cheeks. “I came alone.”
“Alone. Excellent.” Gloucester’s voice turned harsh. “My brother,” he cleared his throat, “my brother the king is dead of an apoplexy. Nigh on a week ago in Westminster.”
“Sweet Jesu, God rest his soul.” I stepped back, his news unbalancing me. “How could this be? King Edward was hale, hearty, full of life.” I couldn’t read his expression. “This means . . .”
“His heir, my nephew, your godson, Prince Edward, is now the fifth to the throne of that name. The Woodville love-child is King of England.”
King. My precious boy is king. I pulled my attention back to Gloucester. “The crucifix? You sent a crucifix to remind me of my vow. Surely you cannot believe I would have forgotten.”
Gloucester shook his head. “Not I.
And the king trusted you. He wished the relic be given to his heir, for his
last thoughts were of his son’s spiritual well-being. A godmother
“And gladly so, my lord. My vow was
to stand with my godson against danger, against the world of corruption and
temptation.” My thoughts peeled back to the dreadful wars and the miserable
November gloom of Westminster’s Sanctuary. The Woodville woman’s beauty
Gloucester made an impatient motion,
as if thrusting away the past. “
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.