I am pleased to welcome Elizabeth St John to the blog today. She shares my passion for Wars of the Roses and Tudor history and even has a family connection for inspiration! So, I am excited to help her celebrate the release of her latest novel, The Godmother's Secret. If you enjoyed my Plantagenet Embers series, you are going to love this too.
Historical Inspiration for The Godmother's Secret
Guest Post by Elizabeth St John
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 - Victorian, Georgian, and Tudor women; some who had lived at court, others who led simple lives in the English countryside. But I was intrigued 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?
Returning to my new main character, Elysabeth Scrope. 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, John Scrope, 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton, 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! Margaret was also married to Lord Thomas Stanley, a powerful follower of Richard III, until the Battle of Bosworth. And we all know how that ended.
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 vast web of political and social influences the family had during the Wars of the Roses.
The Godmother’s Secret revolves around Elysabeth’s vow as godmother and her desperate efforts to protect her 12-year-old godson, Edward V, from the intrigue and betrayal that surrounds him after she delivers him to the Tower of London for his coronation. He was automatically king upon the death of his father Edward IV (“the king never dies”). However, he had yet to be anointed when the Duke of Buckingham moved Edward into the Tower for his own safekeeping and to prepare for his coronation. In my novel, Elysabeth is navigating her own conflict, upholding her loyalty to both her husband and her sister as competing factions battle for the throne. More than anything, Elysabeth defies the bounds of blood and loyalty to make her own decisions for her godson’s survival in a hostile medieval world where women had little authority.
What was fascinating as I started digging deep into the research were the layers upon layers of rumours, gossip and myths that surrounded Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. Our common perception today is very often “Richard III killed his nephews, the Princes in the Tower” (a name for them that only came into being in the Victorian times). Most of what we think about Richard is derived from Shakespeare’s eponymous play, which in turn drew from Thomas More’s account, written during the reign of Henry VIII. As I read further, first hand accounts from foreign diplomats and letters between English merchants revealed only that the boys were not seen after the summer of 1483; later rumours were reported that Richard III had murdered them.
The princes vanished. 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. And that is where I landed 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.
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.
Connect with Elizabeth St John
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.