Congratulations! A Brilliant New Political Thriller from M.K. Tod

I am so delighted to feature M.K. Tod’s new #1 POLITICAL THRILLER release on my blog today. M.K. is a long-time historical fiction colleague, and I couldn’t be more excited to share her newest novel, THAT WAS THEN, which went immediately to #1 in political thrillers on Amazon. Read my Five Star Review here, and download a copy for yourself, while it’s still on sale during launch week at $1.99.

New Release | #1 Political Best Seller: That was Then by M.K. Tod

Royal Palace or Prince’s Prison: Edward V Enters the Tower of London

The Princes in the Tower by John Everett Millais (1878)

On a bright May morning in 1483, twelve-year-old King Edward V entered the Tower of London to await his coronation. He was moving on the advice of his uncle, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who suggested to the King’s Council that it was time Edward moved from his temporary lodging in the Bishop of Ely’s palace to a location where, according to the Croyland Chronicles, he would be in a “place where fewer restrictions were placed upon him.”
The young prince must have wondered at the rapid changes in his life. Just weeks earlier, the heir to England’s throne had been living in Pontefract Castle under the tutelage of his uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers. Now, with his father’s sudden death, he was king under the protectorship of another uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Following tradition, in the days prior to his coronation he was to be lodged in the Royal Palace of the Tower of London.
In 1483 the medieval palace was a royal residence within a four-hundred-year-old fortress. The White Tower, built by William the Conqueror, dominated London’s skyline since its completion in 1070. Filling much of the Inner Ward, the palace was a sprawling structure of richly decorated lodgings and ancillary buildings. It included a grand hall for feasting, kitchens, storehouses, servants’ quarters, bake houses, stables, and a privy garden. Today, the remaining Wakefield, Wardrobe, and Lanthorn Towers still mark the perimeter of the royal lodgings, with foundations visible up to the entrance to the Royal Palace—the imposing Coldharbor Gate.
The first weeks of Edward’s residence were busy. His Uncle Richard, as Protector, was making final arrangements for his coronation, sending invitations to knights and nobles across the land. Richard also introduced Edward to practical kingship responsibilities, including signing laws and minting a coin with both their images.
The coronation was set for the end of June and all was going smoothly until June 13th. His father’s previous advisors raised a plan to seize control of the young king, the Duke of Gloucester got wind of it, and at a Council Meeting within the Tower, he arrested and then executed the leader of the plot, Lord Hastings. Edward was not reported as being at that meeting and shortly afterwards Edward V’s younger brother and heir, Richard, Duke of York, was brought to the Tower from sanctuary in Westminster ‘to comfort his brother.’ 
As far as anyone knew, the coronation was proceeding. History shows us that this was the beginning of the end of Edward’s short reign.
While researching The Godmother’s Secret and spending time in the Tower with historians, it was fascinating to walk in the footprints of the young princes and reconstruct those vital days leading up to their disappearance. Unravelling conjecture and using contemporary accounts helped me create the suspense, intrigue and innocence that colour those chapters in my novel.

The Great Tower of London Bake Off | Recipes and Alchemy with Sir Walter Raleigh and Henry Percy, The Wizard Earl

Hello and welcome to the Great Tower of London Bake Off Preparation Class. My name is Lady Lucy Apsley, the wife of the Lieutenant of the Tower of London, and I’ll be your host today. Because this is a demonstration to prepare you for your upcoming participation in Neck Off, Bake Off, we have asked the judges to leave the Tower tent. However, I would like to introduce you to my two prisoners, assistants, Sir Walter Raleigh and Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, also known as “The Wizard Earl”. Since they have a LOT of time on their hands right now, and have a keen interest in alchemy cooking, they have agreed to help me with the demonstration.
You can read more about us in The Lady of the Tower, a historical fiction novel written by my descendant, Elizabeth St.John. While researching her book, she visited my home within the Tower of London, walked through my kitchen and garden, and spent time in Walter and Henry’s lodgings, the Bloody Tower and the Martin Tower.
For our demonstration, I require a good 17th Century test kitchen, with the following at minimum:
A large open fire, complete with andirons, firedogs, cupdogs, hooks and chains, and a trammel crane
Drip pans
A spit boy (or a small dog and wheel, if a boy is not forthcoming)
A set of scales
A pestle and mortar
A set of pans – griddle, frying, cauldrons and kettles
Beakers, mug, tankards
Knives and boards
Saucers, trenchers, platters and a porringer or two
Now, although I am in charge of feeding all the prisoners in the Tower of London, I am particularly responsible for their health and wellbeing. There are gardens around my home, and an orchard on Tower Green that leads all the way to the site of the execution block. When I arrived, I expanded the herb and medicinal garden, and ensured that I had all that I needed to take care of the prisoners. In fact, here’s an excerpt from my daughter’s diary (who was born in the Tower) about my life:
Sir Walter Raleigh and Mr. Ruthven being prisoners in the Tower, and addicting themselves to chemistry, (my mother) suffered them to make their rare experiments at her cost, partly to comfort and divert the poor prisoners, and partly to gain the knowledge of their experiments, and the medicines to help such poor people as were not able to seek physicians. By these means she acquired a great deal of skill, which was very profitable to many all her life. She was not only to these, but to all the other prisoners that came into the Tower, as a mother. All the time she dwelt in the Tower, if any were sick she made them broths and restoratives with her own hands, visited and took care of them, and provided them all necessaries; if any were afflicted she comforted them, so that they felt not the inconvenience of a prison who were in that place.
When my father was sick she was not satisfied with the attendance of all that were about him, but made herself his nurse, and cook, and physician, and, through the blessing of God, and her indefatigable labours and watching, preserved him a great while longer than the physicians thought it possible for his nature to hold out.
Extract from Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson
by Lucy Hutchinson

Today, I’m asking Sir Walter and Lord Henry to demonstrate their “Signature Bake” remedies, choosing from a selection of curatives I have to hand. Later in my life I shared these recipes with my niece, Lady Johanna St.John, and her complete recipe book from 1670 is available to read online at The Lydiard Archives.
It is always important to to cleanse and restore our physical beings, I have asked them to provide me their favourite recipes for cordials and blood purifiers. Sir Walter very kindly included a note pointing out that his recipe also cures wind.
Ready boys?
On your marks
Get Set
Bake

Sir Walter is preparing his efficacious and very costly Gilbert’s Water, a curative created by his half-brother Adrian Gilbert. He assures me
“It is bad for nothing it cures wind and the colick restoreth decayed nature good for a consumption expels poison & all infection from the Hart helps digestion purifies the blood gives motion to the spirits drives out the smallpox for the grippes in young children weomen in labor bringeth the Afterbirth stops floods for sounding and faintings”
He certainly used some extremely precious ingredients. I’m not sure he’s left himself much time, for the recipe itself is complex, requiring Dragons Burnett leaves (also known as the simple dragon’s mace, a common weed – he’s one for picking his own, is Walter), and then moving on to a page full of rarer ingredients, such as “Crab’s Eyes taken in the full of the moon.” Promoting the contemporary belief man shared the virtue of the plants digested, Walter is taking no chances with his curative, empowering the recipient with dragon strength to fight his condition.
Now, I see that Lord Henry is also using Crab’s Eyes in his signature bake of Dr Dickinsons great Cordial Powder – along with many other ingredients that only perhaps a wizard would think of consuming. His recipe, I must say, is one I will leave for the judges to sample…he advocates using a Trochisk of Vipers, which is a small lozenge made of the desiccated body of snakes, which is then dissolved into a cordial, powders or held on the tongue. He also insists that his black tipps of crabs are only taken in May. And as for the ambergreies and ivory – the man has no idea of budgeting. However, he does specialize in bespoke, personalised medicine – the Earl recommends “for weomen leave out the musk & Amber greie.”
Lord Henry also kindly included a couple of other recipes with his bake, including that of curing a cramp by laying a decapitated black snayl upon oneself. Personally, I would rather have Sir Phillip Warwick’s recommendation of wearing Briony roote in my pocket.
Well, boys, you have one more turn of the hour glass; that’s one more turn.
For now, we shall leave Sir Walter and Lord Henry in the tent to finish up their recipes. This afternoon, they are insisting on returning to my henhouse to continue their alchemy experiments, where I will be standing close by with a bucket of water, just in case.
I hope you have found this preparation “Bake Off” class helpful, and will return to your modern kitchens full of enthusiasm to replicate these recipes. Be sure to let me know how you get on!
(WARNING: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME).
More recipes are available within The Lady of the Tower.
Many thanks to my dear author friend, Annie Whitehead, who first invited me on her blog with this idea.

A Woman in Peril | Lucy Hutchinson Defends Nottingham Castle

Women faced immense perils during the English Civil War with remarkable resilience and courage. The war brought not only political and social upheaval but also personal tragedies, devastating families and communities. My family found themselves on the front lines, especially in defending strongholds like Nottingham Castle, a critical strategic location.
Lucy Hutchinson and her mother, Lady Apsley, moved into Nottingham Castle when the situation at their home in nearby Owthorpe became too dangerous. Lucy’s husband, Colonel Hutchinson, was governor of the castle during the Civil War and held the stronghold for Cromwell and Parliament. Outside the walls, Lucy’s Cavalier brother Allen fought for the king. The siblings were literally “By Love Divided”, the title of my second novel in The Lydiard Chronicles.
The emotional toll of the war was profound, often pitting brother against brother and splitting families along political lines. Women endured the most of this internal strife, witnessing firsthand the devastating effects of such divisions. The war tore apart households, with fathers and sons, siblings, and husbands fighting on opposing sides. These divided loyalties created an atmosphere of constant fear and grief, as women worried about the fate of their loved ones, no matter which side they fought for.

Lucy Hutchinson

Within Nottingham Castle’s walls, Lucy Hutchinson and her mother played vital roles, acting as nurses and caregivers under siege conditions. They nursed prisoners and their own soldiers, navigating the grim realities of war. The castle, both a fortress and a prison, was a microcosm of the larger conflict, where women’s medicinal knowledge was indispensable. Lucy and her mother treated wounds, managed illnesses, and provided comfort, showcasing the essential nature of their skills in an era when medical care was rudimentary at best. No doubt Lady Apsley’s life as a medical practitioner within the Tower of London brought invaluable experience.
In more than one instance, Lucy Hutchinson writes in her memoirs of their work looking after the wounded, and in a poignant paragraph states:
“There was a large room, which was the chapel, in the castle: this they had filled full of prisoners, besides a very bad prison, which was no better than a dungeon, called the Lion’s Den. In the encounter, one of the Derby captains was slain, and five of our men hurt, who for want of another surgeon, were brought to the governor’s wife, and she having some excellent balsams and plasters in her closet, with the assistance of a gentleman that had some skill, dressed all their wounds, whereof some were dangerous, being all shots, with such good success, that they were all cured in convenient time. After our wounded men were dressed, as she stood at her chamber-door, seeing three of the prisoners sorely cut, and carried down bleeding into the Lion’s Den, she desired the marshal to bring them in to her, and bound up and dressed their wounds also: which while she was doing, Captain Palmer came in and told her his soul abhorred to see this favour to the enemies of God; she replied, she had done nothing but what she thought was her duty, in humanity to them, as fellow-creatures, not as enemies.”
Lucy Hutchinson
Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson

Living within the confines of a castle under siege added another layer of hardship. Scarcity of resources, the constant threat of attack, and the psychological strain of confinement tested the limits of endurance. Despite these challenges, Lucy and her mother’s efforts in caring for their families, prisoners, and even enemies underscored a shared concern for health and the hope for recovery. Their dedication to protecting their charges from the dangers of war and disease was a testament to their strength and compassion.
By Love Divided
“It is evident that Elizabeth St.John has done extensive research in writing this book based on her own family’s experiences during this time in history. The language she uses is so authentic. Her writing engages the senses with the sights, sounds, and smells of 17th-century life. Her world and characters are so real I wanted to remain there. I loved this book, and the Lydiard Chronicles are now on my list of all-time favorite historical novels. A fantastic read.”
Editor’s Choice, Historical Novel Society

A Coffee Pot Book Club Spotlight | Superb Medieval Historical Fiction by Anna Belfrage

I am delighted to welcome Anna Belfrage back to Author Chats, with her latest novel, the final gorgeous story in her medieval Castilian Saga, Their Castilian Orphan. Well, Anna says it’s the last in the series. Read my FIVE STAR review, and those of others who have loved this novel so much, and see if that doesn’t persuade her to write another! Enjoy!

Their Castilian Orphan | Spotlight and Review of Anna Belfrage’s Brilliant Novel

On the Trail of the Missing Princes: A birth in Sanctuary at Westminster Abbey

Elizabeth Woodville (c.1437-1492)

Walking into the private sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, I retraced the journey my ancestress made almost six hundred years ago. Then, Lady Elysabeth Scrope was ordered by the king to watch over his enemy queen, Elizabeth Woodville. On my visit, nothing quite so dramatic. But still, to know I was treading in her steps and gazing from windows that she stood by was an extraordinary connection. Westminster Abbey’s sanctuary is a private space, not open to the public, and is still in everyday use. The Jerusalem Chamber, where Edward V was born and Elysabeth stood watch, exists today. (The name, by the way, was given so knights who weren’t able to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land before they died could pass their last hours before death “in Jerusalem”).
As part of my research for my novel, I visited Westminster for three crucial locations: the Abbot’s House (“Cheyneygates”), Westminster Abbey, and Westminster Hall. I was fortunate to meet with the Abbey’s Almoner, who kindly took me “behind the scenes” into the Jerusalem Chamber and other locations where Elizabeth Woodville sought sanctuary and Elysabeth St.John Scrope joined the queen as she gave birth to Edward V.  As godmother to the young prince—which in medieval times was equivalent to a blood relative—Elysabeth was responsible for his spiritual wellbeing and would have played a crucial role in his early years.

A Medieval Birthing Girdle, Wellcome Museum

One of the areas of historic research that fascinates me is that of medicines and curatives, many of which were based on superstitions and religious beliefs. While I was interpreting what Elizabeth Woodville’s confinement in sanctuary must have been like, I came across the medieval references to a “birthing girdle” and its protective powers. Because they were so fragile (fine parchment or linen) there is only one on record in England, in the Wellcome Library in London. According to tradition, “ the day that you look upon the roll or carry it with you, no wicked spirit will have power over you, and it offers protections from all kinds of sudden death, adding that if a woman ‘in travell’ (labour) lays the image of this cross on her womb, she will be safely delivered without peril and the child will have ‘cristendome’ (be baptised) and the mother receive ‘purification’.” Without baptism or purification, the child and mother would suffer endlessly in Purgatory. I used this research to inform the birthing scene in The Godmother’s Secret.

Excerpt from The Godmother’s Secret: Chapter 1
A secret has been conceived . . .
“Entry, in the name of God and King Henry!” My guard clouts the iron-clad door of Cheyneygates, challenging the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. “The Lady Elysabeth Scrope demands entry!”
A murther of crows startles from the gables, cawing and whirling around my head and circling up into the clouded heavens. I join three fingers in the holy trinity and cross myself; head, chest, sinister and dexter. These ancient purveyors of death do not disturb me, for I have not survived this war to be hindered by a superstition. If there were a crow for every dead soldier, England would be a huge raucous rookery. But it never hurts to invoke God’s protection. The crows swoop and squabble and alight singly among the gargoyles on the parapets of the soot-stained Abbey. Like the granite tors of my Yorkshire home, these walls are impenetrable and inaccessible. And just as hostile. God offers protection to all who claim sanctuary. And men erect walls to keep them safe.
No stirring from within. I sigh. Not unexpected. “Knock again,” I command the guard. “Let them know their visitors will not leave.”
The waning October afternoon trickles shadows into the well of the courtyard. I pull my cloak closer, thankful I had chosen my finest weave to keep the warmth in and the damp out. The sun had shone golden when we rode out from London, but upon reaching Westminster we collided with the rain clouds streaming in from the west.
Fallen mulberry leaves clog the stone steps rising before me, rotting unswept in the hollows. Someone isn’t taking care of the abbot’s house. It is clear that no one has left nor entered for a while. The guard’s hammering is unanswered, and yet to the right of the door a candle flame glimmers through a browed window and a shadow flits elusively.
I push back my hood, and a spatter of rain needles my face. Here, gatekeeper. Here’s reassurance I bear your fugitive no threat. I am of middling age, graceful, fair of face, my countenance pleasing, I’ve heard say. Hardly a threat.
The rain unfurls in sheets. I raise my voice. “I am not asking the queen to break sanctuary.” God knows the wretched woman would make it easier on all of us if she did. I motion the guard aside and edge up the slippery steps to the door. “I am here to join her.”

“One of the best books I’ve read in ages.” Richard III Society
Inspired by England’s most enduring historical mystery, Elizabeth St.John blends her family history with known facts and centuries of speculation to create an intriguing story about what happened to the Princes in the Tower. 

NEW RELEASE | The Fifth Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery hits the shelves today!

Thrilled to feature my wonderful author friend Helen Hollick’s new release today! Congrats on another Jan Christopher winner, Helen. Here’s a snippet from my review – and read more in my Author Chats!
“Can I say this is the best one (of the series) yet? YES! For the depth of the writing, the maturity of the main character, and the complexity of the premise. It’s cosy…with a few chills for good measure!” Elizabeth St John, author

A Memory of Murder | A Fabulous New Jan Christopher Mystery by Helen Hollick

Spymistress to Charles II | A Job Description for Anne St.John Wilmot

Nan Wilmot
aka Anne St.John Lee Wilmot
The Countess of Rochester
Job Title:
Spymistress to Charles II
Qualifications:
Ambitious multi-talented outgoing individual with wide-ranging contacts across both Parliamentarian and Royalist departments. Highly skilled in project management, sales, marketing and procurement. Exceptionally discreet, trustworthy and decorous. Fluent in English and French, with proven communication skills, especially in translations and multi-media. Experienced in multiple coding languages. Good social skills, conversant with inter-departmental protocols and processes and an ability to integrate smoothly within existing teams. Successful problem-solver, works well under stress. A valuable addition to any organization.
Remuneration:
Land, rents, livestock, jewellery, titles, perquisites, patronage, manors, arranged marriages, gold.
References:
Charles II, Oliver Cromwell

Special thanks to my author friend Annie Whitehead, who first came up with the idea of creating job descriptions for our characters on her blog. I’d hire the Countess of Rochester in a heartbeat – how about you?
More about Nan and her activities spying for Charles II, in Written in Their Stars, the third novel in The Lydiard Chronicles:
London, 1649. Horrified eyewitnesses to King Charles’s bloody execution, Royalists Nan Wilmot and Frances Apsley plot to return the king’s exiled son to England’s throne, while their radical cousin Luce, the wife of king-killer John Hutchinson, rejoices in the new republic’s triumph. Nan exploits her high-ranking position as Countess of Rochester to manipulate England’s great divide, flouting Cromwell and establishing a Royalist spy network; while Frances and her husband Allen join the destitute prince in Paris’s Louvre Palace to support his restoration. As the women work from the shadows to topple Cromwell’s regime, their husbands fight openly for the throne on England’s bloody battlefields. But will the return of the king be a victory, or destroy them all? Separated by loyalty and bound by love, Luce, Nan and Frances hold the fate of England—and their family—in their hands.  A true story based on surviving memoirs of Elizabeth St.John’s family.