The Lady of the Tower, Review and Audio Snippet by Elizabeth St. John

London, 1609. When Lucy St.John, a beautiful highborn orphan at the court of King James, is seduced by the Earl of Suffolk, she never imagines the powerful enemy she creates in his beloved sister, the Countess of Rochester. Or that her own sister Barbara would betray her and force Lucy to leave the court in disgrace. Spirited, educated, and skilled in medicine and precious remedies, Lucy fights her way back into society, and through an unexpected love match, becomes mistress of the Tower of London.

Living inside the walls of the infamous prison, she defies plague, political intrigues and tragic executions to tend to aristocratic prisoners and criminals alike. Now married into the immensely powerful Villiers family, Barbara unites with the king’s favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, to raise the fortunes of Lucy and her family to dizzying heights. But with great wealth comes treachery, leaving Lucy to fight for her survival—and her honor—in a world of deceit and debauchery.

Elizabeth St.John’s critically acclaimed debut novel tells the true story of her ancestress Lucy through her family’s surviving diaries, letters, and court papers. Lucy’s personal friendships with historical figures such as Sir Walter Raleigh and the Stuart kings brings a unique perspective to the history of seventeenth century England. 


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God, who holds my fate in Thy hands, give me strength, I implore, for today I enter a prison like no other on this earth, and perhaps one that even Hell does not equal in its fiery despair. Give me fortitude to walk through those gates where so many traitors have gone before and never left. Give me compassion to hear the cries of forgotten men and not turn my head away. Give me, above all, Heavenly Father, courage to bear myself with dignity and Your grace when I am inwardly trembling with fear at the horrors that lie behind those walls.

23rd March 1617

Silver drizzle veiled the stone walls rising from the moat’s stagnant water. To the north, the White Tower glistened but bade no welcome for all its shining. Gabled roofs with ornate chimneys pierced the mist and hid again, hinting a house within the fortress. I was not comforted, for it reminded me that the kept must have their keepers.

Thunder resounded through the fog from water swirling around the center arches of the bridge, just upriver from our tethered barge. The first time I was rowed in a shuddering boat through the narrow span of columns was terrifying. “Shooting the bridge” the locals called it, the currents created by the arches manifesting river water into whirlpools. Recollections of impaled traitors’ heads grinning from the pikes appeared before my closed eyes. What hell’s gate was I approaching?

“Ho! Tie here!”

A clash of metal resounded as the pikemen stood to attention on the wharf. I pulled my mind back to the present.

“Aye, make way for the lady.”

Roughened hands guided me from the rocking boat, and I carefully picked my way up the water steps. My heart beat faster as I gazed up at the sheer ramparts. They loomed over my head, broken only by a low arch with an iron portcullis. Blackened bars jutted forth, a reminder I entered a prison.

I shivered from the damp air, and not a little from apprehension, and stood still on the wharf. Behind me, the Thames ebbed now, and the ferrymen urgently called patrons to catch the running tide. In front, the moat lay impenetrably black and still. The cold seeped through the soles of my shoes, for in my anxiety I had forgotten my pattens. Out of the gloom, a man appeared beside me.

“Princess Elizabeth paused here,” The Keeper spoke quietly, his words brushed by the lilt of an Irish accent. “She declared she was no traitor and refused to enter through that arch, for those who arrive through Traitors’ Gate do not leave again.”

My Review

Lucy, our Lady of the Tower starts out as a Cinderella kind of character, with the wicked stepmother and hateful sisters (or at least some of them), though her Prince Charming leaves much to be desired and she is nearly ruined by his attentions. But Lucy is a survivor, and eventually she finds her own way and manages to maintain her dignity in the treacherous Stuart court thanks to a late, mature relationship with a respectable, though risk-taking courtier. Everyone in her family circle is at the mercy of the willful, handsome, aspiring George Villiers (soon to be Duke of Buckingham), court favorite of James I and later Charles I. As an old reader of “The Three Musketeers”, I had forgotten that the Duke of Buckingham rose to power under James. Apparently he had no problem leaving a trail of broken lives on his way up the social ladder, and our Lady’s husband is among his hapless victims.

I found the pace of this book a little bewildering. We spend an inordinate amount of time on her youthful disappointment in love which colors her subsequent behavior throughout. She never seems to grow out of her infatuation until close to the end, and her marriage seems kind of empty as a result. Husband Alan becomes constable of the Tower and Lucy is dragged along as his respectable partner, never having been given a choice in the matter. She is very unhappy, and lonely. Alan spends most of his time elsewhere, never taking Lucy into his confidence. We learn that he has sacrificed his fortune in the service of the Duke, and comes back from Buckingham’s wars terribly injured—along with the rest of the shattered army. Lucy does her best to mitigate her family’s misfortunes, but it seems she is outmaneuvered by the ambitions of her nasty sister Barbara—and by fate, itself. This was not a happy time.

The author has given us an insight into an era that is rarely written about. We don’t often get to see into the glittering court of James I, though even here we are on the outside looking in. Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing glimpse of a superficial world, where the trappings of wealth mean much more than loyalty and honesty. Lucy is almost an anachronism in her own time, which is one of the things that makes her so interesting.

The book is narrated by more of a reader, rather than an actress. In other words, although the several characters do have somewhat individual voices, they are not like players on the stage. I often found myself thinking I was in the midst of a Jane Austen novel, with a very similar pace.

The ebook is available to read on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet Elizabeth St. John

Elizabeth St.John’s critically acclaimed historical fiction novels tell the stories of her ancestors: extraordinary women whose intriguing kinship with England’s kings and queens brings an intimately unique perspective to Medieval, Tudor, and Stuart times.

Inspired by family archives and residences from Lydiard Park to the Tower of London, Elizabeth spends much of her time exploring ancestral portraits, diaries, and lost gardens. And encountering the occasional ghost. But that’s another story.

Living between California, England, and the past, Elizabeth is the International Ambassador for The Friends of Lydiard Park, an English charity dedicated to conserving and enhancing this beautiful centuries-old country house and park. As a curator for The Lydiard Archives, she is constantly looking for an undiscovered treasure to inspire her next novel.

Elizabeth’s books include her trilogy, The Lydiard Chronicles, set in 17th Century England during the Civil War, and her newest release, The Godmother’s Secret, which explores the medieval mystery of the missing Princes in the Tower of London.

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