I am delighted to be hosting a stop on Margaret M. Williams’ book tour, for her debut novel This Other Eden. To celebrate the release, I have an excerpt from the book to share with you. Happy reading!
The Pilgrimage of Grace. A bloody stain on the reign of Henry VIII. These were years of deeply held and conflicting beliefs, the adherence to which cost many, of whatever status in life, a terrible price. The destruction of religious houses across the country has plunged England into a period of fear and uncertainty. Henry’s court watches as he moves from one Queen to another, destroying those he claims to love. This Other Eden is the story of Henry’s merciless religious campaign, the lives of the women he raised to the status of Queen, and those ordinary men and women who were destined to live during those years of turmoil.
In the joyousness of his new marriage, Henry never tired of showing his gentle wife to the people. He showered her with jewels, furs, and gifts of great cost. Their days were filled with all manner of pleasurable activities, and their nights – they too were filled with other labours, the urgent need for an heir ever present in the King’s mind. There too, deep and fearful, lurked that germ of canker, seeded by the Boleyn whore’s taunts. Now, in the forty-sixth year of his life, that once magnificent body was growing ever more gross and corpulent, and the lustiness of the King’s rampaging youth was undoubtedly waning.
The Queen’s ladies drew closer, in a tacit reminder of the need to make ready for the evening’s festivities. With a sigh, Jane rose, reluctantly acknowledging she could no longer stay in the perfumed peace of her arbour. On an impulse, as if to take with her a token of that special joy she had always derived from a garden, she bent to pluck a rose. It was full open, its scent musky and sweet.
It was the rose of York, white, pure and so beautiful, yet so fragile, too. Thoughts of the King’s own mother, Elizabeth of York, flitted into Jane’s mind. Alas, poor lady, Jane remembered with a shiver, she whose fruitfulness secured the Tudor line, had been destined to die at her last lying-in, of the dreaded childbed fever. She stooped again and gathered a fine red rose. It was the symbol of the House of Lancaster.
“God grant me a son, a healthy, living son,” Jane whispered into the perfumed velvet of the roses’ petals.
“Madam, we must make haste. See, there is a storm coming,” her ladies urged. The sky was darker now, and the red glow of the setting sun blazed angrily behind a widening bruise of purplish-blue. In the near distance, there was a crack of thunder. It rumbled ominously around the threatening sky, and sent the Queen and her ladies scurrying for the shelter of the palace. The first heavy drops of rain slanted like arrows upon the warm earth. Once inside they quickly shook off the wet from the skirts of their gowns, before speeding along the corridors leading to the royal apartments. In their wake, the shattered petals of the Queen’s roses, both the white and the red, fluttered down unnoticed, leaving a trail upon the floor, the white as flakes of fallen snow, and the red as drops of new-spilt blood.
Before a blazing fire in the bedchamber of his house in London, Thomas Cromwell stood, wet through, and hastily divested himself of his sodden clothes. He had ridden on horseback on the last lap of his journey from Hampton Court, where for the moment the King had no further need of his services.
The day had been gusty, driving the rain-laden clouds across a leaden sky. Thomas had come by water from Hampton to London, then ridden into the city in the stinging rain. The October night was starting to close in even as he was mounted, the wind strengthening to gale force. It whipped the rain into sharp arrows that penetrated his thick riding coat. Now, he tossed it aside, the brown and the blue of its colouring barely distinguishable in its dark wetness. When he was quite naked, he coaxed life back into his numbed limbs by the vigourous application of hot cloths handed to him by his manservant. Then, once in his nightshirt, he quickly slipped into the comforting warmth of his fox-faced bedgown.
A serving wench was admitted carrying a warming pan, with which she deftly stroked away the chill of the bed. Hot wine was brought in, mulled with honey and spices. Thomas gulped it down, and a comforting glow began to course through his body. He poured himself more wine, and sat close to the heat of the fire. He began to feel himself revived, without and within, then he clambered gratefully into the great curtained bed.
The chamber was of middling size, and so was quickly warmed. The blazing fire created a cheering glow in the shadowy recesses, for the single candle his servant had placed close to his bed cast but a limited circle of light. A pleasant sense of lethargy, a feeling seldom enjoyed by the King’s chief minister, began to overtake him. In his master’s service, many were the long night hours he was used to toil for the King’s benefit, for which labour he received, more often than not, but scant appreciation.
Indeed, had he not, of late, been deprived of his own palace apartments so that Edward Seymour, the new Queen’s brother, might be accommodated there?
This so that the King and Jane might meet there before their marriage, ostensibly chaperoned, and thus untainted by any possible whiff of scandal.
Thomas sighed. Many were the slights he had endured in the rise to the power he now enjoyed. He was well aware that he was most likely now the most hated man in England. Hated he most certainly was by the nobility, for his common blood. They could not stomach the fact that he, the son of a Putney blacksmith, should by means of an astute mind, and a dogged capacity for unremitting toil, aspire to the ear of a monarch. And the people, his own, they feared his far-reaching powers to tax them, and perhaps more disturbingly, they feared his ability to imperil their immortal souls. To these simple folk, the religion of their fathers, held inviolate for over a thousand years, was a thing too sacred to be set aside for secular reasons.
Outside, the wind howled and gusted, and an eddy of draught crept along the boards of the chamber, setting the candle flame aflicker. The heat of the room, and the hot, spiced wine soothed and lulled Thomas’s senses. Soon, sleep would come. Quickly, he finished the remainder of the wine his servant had placed at his bedside, and slid down into the feathery softness of goosedown.
“Close the curtains,” he ordered, and when the heavy draperies were loosed, he was in darkness. His man adjusted the folds, then picked up the candlestick and stepped softly towards the door.
“Goodnight, Sir,” he called, and left Thomas to sleep.
In the darkness of his enclosed bedspace, Thomas savoured the quiet of his own house. In the palaces when he attended the King, it was rarely so, for always at Court there was movement at some time, somewhere, even in the night hours. Though Thomas soon slipped into a deep slumber, another sound other than the wind in the chimney drew him up to consciousness. It wanted still some minutes to midnight. He woke, instantly alert.
There was a clatter of hooves below, and a horse whinnied as its rider reined in sharply and dismounted with haste. There was a mighty hammering on the door, and the rider’s accompanying shouts for admittance were matched by curses from within by the recently retired household. Thomas parted the bedcurtains and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Already, footsteps could be heard running up the stair, and his chamber door was flung open.
“Sir, pardon the intrusion,” his servant gasped. “There is a messenger ridden from Lincolnshire. With urgent news, he says.”
A shadow of annoyance crossed the face of the King’s chief minister. He had expected a summons from no less a person than the King himself, who might well require his presence, and think nothing of recalling him back to Hampton Court at so late an hour. However, he was awake now. He might as well see what the commotion was about, or further sleep would elude him.
“Fetch him up, then,” he barked, and seated himself by the still glowing fire. The messenger, when he stumbled into the chamber, was barely recognisable as one of Cromwell’s own agents.
His sodden clothes were covered in the filth his galloping horse had churned up in the relentless rain on his journey from Lincolnshire.
“Well, what news, man’? Cromwell asked testily.
“Rebellion, Sir. In Louth it began.” He steadied himself. So long had he spent in the saddle, his legs pained him when fully stretched.
“A misbegotten crowd set upon two of your tax collectors there,” he continued. In the heat of the fire, steam began to rise from his rain-soaked clothes, and a noxious puddle was gathering on the polished floorboards beneath his filthy boots.
Cromwell leaned forward in his chair, and stirred the glowing embers of the fire, then thrust the poker into its ruddy heart. He rose and opened the chamber door.
“Wine. Fetch more wine,” he shouted. When it arrived, he plunged the tip of the red-hot poker into the neck of the flagon. There was a sharp hissing as the fiery metal met with the cold wine. When the spluttering within the flagon ceased, Cromwell poured a goblet full to the brim, and held it out to the man.
“Here, drink this” he said. “It will revive you.” To the waiting servant, he ordered, ” Lay out dry clothes beside the kitchen fire, and set down a mattress for this fellow to sleep on. And find him something to eat” he ordered.
The servant bowed, and withdrew. When the door closed behind him, Cromwell eyed the messenger keenly.
“Now, continue. Your full report, man, and then you can rest.”
“Sir, it happened in Louth,” the messenger began. “A riot broke out there on the first day of October. It was about the taxes you ordered to be collected. Whether the people could not or would not pay, I know not, for ’tis a poor and miserable county is Lincolnshire, and prone to bad harvests. What I do know is that your two tax collectors were shamefully mishandled by that rioting mob.”
“How so,” Cromwell asked. His voice was dangerously
“Sir, the mob was mad with fury. They stripped these two, then bound them in animal skins, and set their dogs upon them.” He paused, and took another gulp of wine. “And that is not all, Sir. There is unrest spreading like wildfire across the whole county. The ringleaders are demanding…”
“Demanding! What are they demanding?” Cromwell interrupted. His icy calm momentarily deserted him.
“Sir, it is to do with the changes in religious matters, as well as their tax burdens they rail about. They want the new bishops they look upon as heretics to be dismissed. And they demand an end to the closure of the abbeys, and the restoration of the monks ejected from their Houses. Sir…” he paused, uncertain as to how to continue without giving offence.
“Go on, man,” Cromwell urged. “I must know all.”
“Sir, they rage at you yourself, and…..” he hesitated, gulped down the remainder of his wine, then blurted out, “they demand your person, to do with as they will.”
Margaret is no stranger to adventure. She has been married for thirty three years to her Welsh husband, whom she met as result of a coach crash in Bulgaria, while they were travelling across Europe on the old Crusader route to Palestine.
Margaret has always been passionate about her family history, and it was through her research that she realised her Bowerbank line must have lived through and witnessed the events leading up to the Pilgrimage of Grace as it affected Cumberland. She used the actual names of family members as characters, and researched how certain trades would have dominated their imagined lives. Margaret visited the Eden Valley on several occasions and was struck by the beauty of the landscape and the river there, and walked along that narrow foothold above the water leading into the gorge described in the book. Margaret has published several short stories, and This Other Eden is her debut novel.