Picking threads from an elaborate tapestry of Tudor lore, the author builds her novel around the rumor that continues to haunt Elizabeth Tudor’s history: did Elizabeth have a child? And what became of that child?
The most likely scenario is that Elizabeth’s romantic entanglement with Dowager Queen Katherine Parr’s new husband, Thomas Seymour, produced an illegitimate baby, any real facts lost to history. This is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the impressive Elizabeth Tudor’s fascinating life, daughter of the beheaded Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, who succeeds her half-sister, Mary, on the throne of England.
Ella March Chase brings that long-whispered possibility to life in her protagonist, Mistress Elinor de Lacey, a flame-haired young girl of exceptional intelligence, liberally educated by her father, Lord Calverley, in science, philosophy and language. Her mother, Lady Calverley, was once lady-in-waiting to Katherine Parr, an experience the woman would prefer left to the past.
Eschewing the court since her service with Katherine Parr, Lady Calverley has settled happily in Lincolnshire with her husband, a man devoted to science. Their daughter’s birth is shrouded in mystery: Lady Calverley is unable to carry a baby to term until she goes on pilgrimage to the holy well near the old Abbey of St. Michael.
This blessed birth raises suspicions concerning Elizabeth’s long months of isolation after living with stepmother Parr and Thomas Seymour, a noted roué with designs on power, however he may achieve it. Seymour is noted for his seductions, Elizabeth a rare and tempting opportunity that he may have found irresistible. The bright-haired Elinor has no knowledge of her birth history, captivated by Elizabeth’s delicate beauty and haunting nobility. They first meet in London, Elizabeth held in the Tower by her suspicious half-sister, Mary, five-year-old Elinor’s imagination engaged.
Years later, heedless of her mother’s warnings, Nell impulsively inveigles an invitation to court. Her appearance piques the curiosity of courtiers as ladies alike, her similarity to the queen remarkable. Raised to express her opinions, Nell lacks the sophistication to control her reactions to the queen and the intricacies of such a world, falling into a contretemps with a courtier known for his pragmatic intention to marry a woman of wealth and increase his fortune, Sir Gabriel Wyatt: “Marriage makes prisoners of us all.”
Elinor’s resistance to Wyatt’s intentions captures Elizabeth’s interest, the wary queen assaulted on every side by those who would plot to steal her throne. She relies on Sir Francis Walsingham to protect his queen’s interests; Walsingham attends these duties with characteristic conscientiousness. Unfortunately, Elinor is soon embroiled in a situation that will bear painful consequences, her naiveté contributing to the queen’s enmity where once there was affection.
Peopled with shadowy characters that threaten all Elizabeth has gained, Elinor is caught at the center of a rumor that could cost her life. Her lesson harshly learned, Nell wants nothing more than to escape the court and the machinations that plague even the most innocent in a treacherous environment.