Blog Tour Guest Post: “This Other Eden” by Margaret M. Williams

I’m delighted to be the next stop on the blog tour for Margaret M. Williams’ debut novel This Other Eden! Amazon links to purchase the book are available at the bottom of the excerpt.

About the author and the book:

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.

And an excerpt from This Other Eden to whet your appetite!

There could surely not be any place in England where the King’s agents had not ridden in recent years, since his marriage to Queen Anne.

Their task was to enforce the swearing of the hated Act of Succession to her children born to the King. To resist was treason. Even to speak in a derogatory manner of the King’s matrimonial arrangements was treason, and treason being punishable by death, many paid so for their opinions. No-one, high or low, lay or religious, was safe.

The Friar shuddered. Only a year ago, in the London springtime, three Carthusian monks suffered terribly for their conscience’s sake. Quietly, but staunchly, they refused to acknowledge the legality of the King’s divorce from Queen Katherine, and consequently the bastardising of their daughter, the Princess Mary.

For this, they were fastened to hurdles and dragged to Tyburn. They were hanged, then cut down whilst still living, to be disembowelled, mutilated and their bodies quartered. The arm of one of them was then nailed up over the door of his monastery as a dire warning to any others who might consider opposing royal authority.

Nor was the King’s friendship any guarantee against his wrath. When the break with Rome came, opposition to his supremacy in the Church resulted in the beheading of his former friend, Sir Thomas More. This death was more merciful than that of another Carthusian, Sebastian Newdigate, once a sporting companion of the King. He, with several other monks of the Charterhouse, were chained in a London street and weighted down with lead. There they were left, in their own excrement, deprived of food and water, and unable to stand upright, until after many days their agony was ended by the mercy of death.

The upheaval of the old order of religion was frightening. Not only those in high places, but the simple folk of England must watch their words. Loose talk in the alehouse, a hasty word, and an unwise opinion overheard, all of these might be reported to the King’s agents, and there were informants in plenty, eager to claim the reward offered by accusing friend or neighbour alike.

As Friar John walked the trackways of the Eden valley, he pondered long upon the fragments of news that, in time, filtered through to the isolated counties of northern England. All in religious orders were agreed that Thomas Cromwell, the King’s chief minister, was indeed a man to be feared, for had he not boasted that he would make his master the richest prince in Christendom? To do this he had already started to seize the lands and revenues of houses of religion in order to augment the King’s depleted coffers. In February, the Cistercian Abbey of Calder in Eskdale was closed. Later, news came that the Benedictine nuns of Seton had been evicted, and to the south, the houses of the Augustinians of Cartmel and Conishead closed.

Those who had known only the cloister were dispossessed, driven out to seek shelter and employment in the world they had renounced. True, it was said that some were to receive pensions, but there were those who would most surely be forced to beg. Many of the smaller foundations were already closed, but the richest houses had the most to fear. Nationwide, their wealth and possessions had already been carefully assessed by Cromwell’s agents, and those ripest for plunder were being systematically stripped of everything of value, and their lands and buildings sold to those who could afford to pay for their acquisition.

In spite of himself, the Big Friar smiled wryly as he remembered the disappointed faces of those Visitors who had made enquiry at Penrith Friary. What had the brethren there of value? Nothing that a King might covet, to be sure. Poor they had always been, begging alms, scratching a meagre living from their few acres of land, living from hand to mouth. In this instance, at least, poverty would seem to be their friend.

For whilst their wealthier neighbours were being uprooted, the lives of the poor friars continued as before. But for how long, Brother John wondered, how long?

In the Cumbrian springtime, the earth warmed slowly and with many a check, as if winter grudged to release its grip upon the land. But as the days of May sped by, the Big Friar marvelled yet again, as he never failed to do each year, at the beauty of the awakening countryside. As if it was revealed to him for the first time, he wondered at the brilliant green of the shining leaves of wild garlic that emerged in the damp and wooded places, to be followed by the white spheres of their flower heads, each composed of tiny star-like florets.

And the downy rosettes of foxgloves, overwintered in close anchorage to the drier ground of woodland clearings, now began to raise their tall spires towards the warmth of the strengthening sunlight. The streams were running fast, free of ice and full with melt water rushing down from the fells to join at length with the rivers Eden and Eamont. The people too, seemed to unbend somewhat, and take pleasure in the brighter days. To them, their daily round of toil, and the earning of their bread, was their first care. But they also felt the powerful surge of new life returning after the miseries of winter’s harshness.

***

Far away, at Greenwich palace, Queen Anne watched the May jousts, unaware that it was her last day of freedom.

The following day she was arrested, and rowed. upriver to the Tower of London. Under escort, she left the state barge, and the boom of its cannon announced her entry there as a prisoner.

Charges of adultery, and therefore treason, were brought against her, one of the charges being of incest with her own brother, Lord Rochford. These she vehemently denied, so too did four of the five men of the Court charged with her. Only poor, unheroic Mark Smeaton, a groom of the King’s chamber, and favoured by the Queen for his skill in playing the lute, was induced by his terror of the rack, to confess guilt.

On the fifteenth of May, Anne was tried by twenty-six peers, presided over by her own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Not one man spoke in her defence. Each knew the verdict expected of him, and pronounced her guilty. She was sentenced to death, the manner of which to be determined at the King’s pleasure, either by burning or beheading. Once that great love that Henry professed for her died, he accused her of entrapping him by witchcraft. And witches were burned: But his “pleasure” spared her the horrors of the fire, and also of the axe. Anne would die by the blow of a sharp French sword.

Execution was to be at eight o’clock on the nineteenth of May. The scaffold on which she would die was erected within sight of her chamber window, and her sleep was fitful on that last night of her life. The clothes for her last public appearance lay ready – a gown of grey damask, a bright crimson underskirt.

Dawn broke. Life could hold nothing more for her. She had gambled for great stakes, and she had lost. But what if Elizabeth had been a prince, or the son she had lost in the winter had lived?

Before sunrise coloured the eastern sky, a blackbird flew up to his favourite vantage point on the walls of the Tower. The pure cadences of his song rang out loud and clear in the early morning, and filled the chamber where the Queen lay. She listened to its silvery notes, remembering a time when she had sat in the shelter of the hornbeam, close to the river bower at Hampton Court. A blackbird had sung then, as she worked at her embroidery, and waited for the King’s barge to pull in at the landing stage below the mount there. Henry had loved her then, hardly able to be parted from her, even to attend to affairs of state.

Tears rose behind her closed eyelids as in memory she saw him leaping from the royal barge and rushing to greet her on the grassy slope leading from the river. “Sweetheart” he had called her then. But now the wheel had come full circle. The King’s roving eye had fallen upon one of her own waiting women, as it had when she herself had served Queen Katherine.

The sun was rising, and she could hear the subdued whispers of her ladies as they waited to perform their last duties for her. They dressed her with care, then she knelt to receive communion. She swore her innocence of the charges upon which she was condemned, both before and after receiving the sacrament.
The time came for her to die, but the headsman of Calais was delayed on the road, and it was not until later that morning that the guard came to escort her to the scaffold. The blackbird was silent now, from his lofty perch he looked down with an uncomprehending eye at the scene below.

He saw the Queen remove her headdress. Her hair was closely netted so as to leave her slender neck bare. There was a flash as the sunlight caught the blade of the sword. It descended, and a flood of crimson spread over the scaffold. A cannon boomed, to announce to the people of London that the woman many regarded, as the King’s whore was dead, and the blackbird rose in alarm, and flew away.

At Hampton Court Palace, workmen were removing the intertwined initials of Henry and Anne carved in the stonework. One, who had been employed all his working life at the Palace, walked down to the river where the Queen’s barge was moored. His orders were to burn away the late Queen’s white falcon badge from its prow.

“T’was not long ago,” he observed thoughtfully to the younger man accompanying him, “that I was sent to get rid of Queen Katherine’s coat of arms from this same barge.”

“What think you,” the younger man asked, “was Queen Anne really as wicked as men say?”

“Quiet now,” his companion replied, “say no more. If the King says she was, ’tis dangerous for any to say otherwise. It matters naught what such as we might think.”



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