The Godmother’s Secret
by Elizabeth St.John
Publication Date: October 4th, 2022
Publisher: Falcon Historical
Page Length: 350 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Mystery
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.
Writing a Novel from Family History
As a little background, my books are inspired by my own family stories that I have discovered through our ancestral records, diaries, letters, and the homes they’ve lived in – from Nottingham Castle to the Tower of London, Lydiard Park to Bolton Castle. I’m fortunate the St.John family was prominent in English history, and so we left quite a trail—which can be both good and bad! My previous novels, The Lydiard Chronicles, are based on the diaries and records of my 17th century family, and it has been a glorious research journey uncovering their words and stories.
When I was looking for inspiration for my new book, The Godmother’s Secret, I literally entered my own name into our digitised family tree to see who else was recorded. About half a dozen Elizabeths appeared, from me (nope!) to Victorian, Georgian, and Tudor women. Most of all, I was thrilled to find Elysabeth St.John who lived in the 15th century – and over the moon when I discovered she was the godmother to Edward V – the eldest brother of the missing Princes in the Tower. I had a new family story to investigate! And surely Elysabeth, above anyone else, would know what happened to those poor boys?
In medieval times, a godmother was considered a blood relative, and was responsible for the spiritual wellbeing and security of their godchild. A serious commitment! Where it gets interesting is that Elysabeth St.John was also the half-sister to Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Elysabeth’s husband was a close ally of Richard III. So not only was Elysabeth (a Lancastrian) godmother to the York heir, she was also aunt to the Tudor claimant. Talk about family feuds! On a sidenote, Margaret’s prominence as “The King’s Mother” (the official title she enjoyed using) really expanded the fortunes of the St.John family – she was exceptionally generous to all her half brothers and sisters, and the family rose to prominence because of that link to the Tudor throne.
The St.John ancestral home, Lydiard Park, has a wonderful collection of paintings and documents, scholarly reports and papers tracing the history of the family all the way back to the 14th century. So I’ve a rich and always growing repository of content to research and explore. And it’s when I started making those connections – as in The Godmother’s Secret – seeing who the St.John women married, who they were allied with, where they lived, that I realized the political and social influences the family had.
About five years ago, The Friends of Lydiard Park, our charity that supports and promotes interest in the house, grounds and museum, started work on www.TheLydiardArchives.org, a free on-line digital repository of the history of Lydiard and the surrounding parish of Lydiard Tregoze. What’s really exciting is the wealth of information about families connected with the house and parish, who also have fascinating histories. Multi-generational families who’ve farmed the land for hundreds of years, young men in service who served in the Great War (and in some cases, sadly, didn’t return), people who went to the village school and St. Mary’s Church – they’ve all left their mark in diaries, wills, letters and photographs.
What I’m saying is that every family has a story to tell, and although my family is exceptionally well documented and happened to be in the right place at the right time (more than once – we seemed to make a habit of it), I think there are opportunities for so many historical fiction novels based on family history. When I meet readers, there is always someone in the group who has researched their own genealogy, and I always encourage them to preserve the stories, for next generations – or the next best-seller!
And returning to my ancestress, Elysabeth St.John, godmother to Edward V? Remember, the princes went missing. Their bodies were never discovered, and no one was ever found guilty of murdering them. Even the bones that are claimed to be theirs in Westminster Abbey are not authenticated. Their disappearance is the biggest mystery in English history. As a historical fiction novelist, I could weave in genuine family facts and create my version of their story. About halfway through the first draft I came across a piece of family history (basically a dynastic marriage) that made my story plausible, which was really exciting. As far as if my version is true? It’s historical fiction. We create narratives from the known facts, sift through rumours and gossip until we find the source – or can dismiss them. Until the next fact comes along.
As a writer friend recently said to me, “history is fragile”. We were commiserating that we were both rewriting significant parts of our novel because of previously unfound documents that suddenly came to light. Incredibly exciting and a lot of hard work to reform plots! We don’t know when the next letter, diary or document will reveal a completely different truth than one that we hold dear today. So we write what we know, what we can authenticate, what we believe is history. For now.
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.
Connect with Elizabeth:
Thank you so much for having me! I loved sharing The Godmother's Secret (well part of it!).ReplyDelete
You're very welcome, Elizabeth. It's a pleasure.Delete
I loved this authors series on the Tower of London, and was thrilled to discover she's a descendant of the family featured in that series. Can't wait to read this one!ReplyDelete
Thanks for your lovely comments, Adriana. Yes, isn't that small fact so exciting!Delete
I finished reading The Godmother's Secret last night. You have a treat waiting for you there!