Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Historical Inspiration for The Godmother's Secret

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.

Welcome, Liz!

~ Samantha


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?

Bolton Castle

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.

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.

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.

The Godmother's Secret is available now on Amazon & FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

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.

Connect with Liz on her Website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Book Bub, Amazon Author Page, or Goodreads.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Enoch Hale's Search for his Brother

Detail of Nathan Hale's Signature
from letter to Benjamin Tallmadge

When Nathan Hale was executed by the British on 22 September 1776, the news crossed enemy lines quickly. Captain Montresor met with American officers, including Alexander Hamilton according to at least one source, that very day and informed them that a spy had been hanged. Nathan had spent a few moments with Montresor, who said Nathan had been allowed to write letters to his commanding officer and his brother Enoch. Those letters and Nathan's Yale diploma were destroyed by a less sympathetic officer. Captain William Hull, a friend of Nathan's, wrote that Montresor assured them that Nathan 'was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions. . . . His dying words were remembered. He said, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."'

The news, however, took longer to reach Nathan's family. Throughout their lives, Nathan had been closest to his brother, Enoch. They had attended Yale together at ages 14 & 15 and separated for the first time when Nathan took a position as schoolmaster, first in East Haddam then New London. Enoch returned to their childhood home in Coventry, Connecticut, where he continued studies to become a preacher.

Letter from Nathan to Enoch
dated 20 Aug 1776

Enoch's diary, which includes notes to 'write Brother Captain' on multiple dates in 1775 & 1776, records his concern about Nathan for the first time on September 30. 'Hear a rumour that Capt Hale belonging the east side College was seen to hang on the enemies lines at N York being taken as a spy - or reconnoitring their Camp - hope it is without foundation - something troubled at it sleep not very well.'

Two days later, Enoch wrote, 'Hear some further rumours of the Capt - not altogether agreeing with the former!'

One's heart breaks for Enoch almost 250 years later, reading his words and knowing his hope is in vain. He did not realize - or at least not fully accept - the truth until October 14, when he wrote, 'Accounts from my brother the Capt are indeed melancholly! That about the 2nd week of Sept. he went to Stanford crossed to long Island & Had finished his plan but before he could get off was betrayed and taken & hanged without ceremony!'

Increasing his grief, Enoch recorded the same day that rumor also named the betrayer. 'Tis said by his cousin Sam Hale.' This line was crossed out by one of Enoch's descendants, so perhaps Sam's name had been cleared. At least at the time he wrote it, Enoch believed it might have been true. Nathan and Enoch had visited Samuel Hale and his father of the same name in Portsmouth following their commencement at Yale. They had enjoyed the time in New Hampshire, as Nathan had written to the elder Samuel afterward that the trip 'served only to increase the nearness of your family and make me the more desirous of seeing them again.'

Enoch also wrote on October 14 about his determination 'to go visit the Camp next week.' He hoped, at least, to recover his brother's body and belongings. Perhaps he also prayed his brother would be in camp and the rumors all false. If so, his optimism was not rewarded.

Nathan Hale's Army Trunk
Image (& trunk) property of
Nathan Hale Homestead

The 26 October 1776 entry in Enoch's diary records his visit to camp and the confirmation of his brother's execution. 'When at the Gallows he spoke & told that he was a Capt in the Cont Army by name Nathan Hale!' With several people in camp adding details to the story of Nathan's capture, Enoch was forced to accept that his brother was gone. At least Nathan's friend and fellow soldier, Asher Wright, had kept Nathan's trunk.

On what would have been Nathan's 22nd birthday, 6 June 1777, Enoch wrote, 'busy myself a little looking over some paper &c of Brother Nathan's.' Then on the 28th, 'Make in part a distribution of Brother Nathan's Cloathing.' By that time, there was no doubt of his death, though Enoch was never able to recover Nathan's body and his burial place remains unknown. Enoch quietly remembered his closest brother by sorting through his meager belongings and passing some along to those who could put them to use.

It was the Essex Journal that reported Nathan's final words as 'among other things . . .. that if he had ten thousand lives, he would lay them all down.' By all reports, Nathan went to his death with dignity, despite the poor treatment he received, undergoing no trial and being denied even a Bible for comfort. One hopes that these reports helped soothe the pain of his grieving brother.

Enoch Hale went on to become a reverend, and he was called to serve the new Westhampton Congregational Church in Massachusetts in September 1779. He married Octavia Throop in 1781 and named his first son Nathan in 1784. Enoch served the Westhampton congregation for 50 years before he died on 19 January 1837 at age 83. His papers, including diaries, letters, and sermons, are kept in a special collection at Yale University.

(No contemporary images of Nathan or Enoch Hale exist.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Conjuror's Apprentice

Hello, dear readers! If you have enjoyed my Plantagenet Embers series, I know you will enjoy my guest today. GJ Williams is here to celebrate the publication of The Conjuror's Apprentice by sharing with us a sneak peek!

~ Samantha


The Conjuror's Apprentice: An Excerpt

Guest Post by GJ Williams

As Margaretta retreated through the stables, she passed a stall with the name Jonas carved into the cross beam. Inside was a truckle bed, neatly covered with a blanket and, on the floor, a leather bag. She banged the stable door closed without stepping out. It was only five quiet steps back to Jonas’s bed space, where she huddled down in the black of the shadows.

The voice of Father Thomas started in a rhythm of prayer and blessing. Then Luke, his voice strained and urgent, like all men who are trying to stop their emotions spilling out of their mouths.

‘I cannot just sit here and do nothing, Father. Jonas was like a son to me… and…’

The priest’s response was low and firm. ‘Luke. We have spoken of this before. Lord Cecil will not let this rest until the killer has been found.’

‘Killers. Jonas was a strong lad. It would take more than one to hold him down and do those things to him.’ Luke’s voice was tinged with anxiety now, like a child whose pleading is being dismissed. ‘Have you told Lord Cecil what I told you? Did you tell him that Jonas spoke of someone called the Shepherd? Did you tell him that Jonas said he was in a flock?’

Then banging followed by a whimper. It was Luke beating his fists on the timbers of the stable. The priest was telling him to calm himself, that there was nothing he could do. Luke almost shouted: ‘Jonas was afeared the night before he disappeared. In church that morning he was praying like he had never done before. Flock be damned. He was a lamb to the slaughter.’

‘Did he say who he feared?’

‘No. But he had a bruise on his cheek a few days before. When I asked him who did it he claimed a few street boys battered him…that a woman called…called…something I cannot recall…had helped. That she was good no matter what others said.’

The priest snapped. ‘What woman? You did not tell me of this before.’

Luke’s intake of breath was audible. ‘Tell truth, father. My mind has been full of witnessing the lad’s body. Memories are sneaking back.’

‘You must tell me everything, Luke. How can I pass the information to Lord Cecil if you do not? Now, what was the woman’s name?’

‘I cannot recall.’

‘You must.’ The voice was hard now, like a teacher with an errant child. ‘I will return in half of an hour for the name.’

There was a rustle as the priest turned, his long black coat sweeping hay along the floor. His tread was heavy, determined as he made towards the stable door. Then he stopped. From the shadow on the floor it was obvious he was looking into Jonas’s sleeping area. Margaretta held her breath. The cleric muttered something low under his breath as he peered into the gloom. It was not English. He stepped forward. Then a shout from outside. ‘Father. Are you here?’

With a grunt, he turned for the door and walked away. The only sound was the chomping of the horse in the stable opposite and the moaning from Luke. She was listening to a heart break.


Born with the ability to hear thoughts and feelings when there is no sound, Margaretta Morgan’s strange gift sees her apprenticed to Doctor John Dee, mathematician, astronomer, and alchemist. Using her secret link with the hidden side and her master’s brilliance, Margaretta faces her first murder mystery. Margaretta and Dee must uncover the evil bound to unravel the court of Bloody Mary.

The year is 1555. This is a time ruled by fear. What secrets await to be pulled from the water?

The Conjuror’s Apprentice takes real people and true events in 1555, into which G J Williams weaves a tale of murder and intrigue. Appealing to readers of crime and well researched historical fiction alike, this is the first in a series which will follow the life, times, plots and murders of the Tudor Court.

Available on Amazon or at Waterstones.

Connect with GJ Williams

After a career as a business psychologist for city firms, G.J. Williams has returned to her first passion – writing tales of murder, mystery and intrigue. Her psychology background melded with a love of medieval history, draws her to the twists and turns of the human mind, subconscious powers and the dark-side of people who want too much.

She lives between Somerset and London in the UK and is regularly found writing on a train next to a grumpy cat and a bucket of tea.

Connect with GJ Williams on Twitter.