All posts by Alexandra Walsh

The Weeping Lady Conspiracy

THANK YOU!

 As a big thank you to all my readers for being so wonderful,
here’s a Marquess House short story as a Christmas present.
It is set after the events at the end of the trilogy but, after I’d written it, I realised, the action takes place slightly before the events of
the Epilogue in The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy (something eagle-eyed readers will notice).

A Note About Spoilers

It is because of this, for anyone who has not read The Marquess House trilogy – The Catherine Howard Conspiracy;The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy and The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy, there are unavoidable spoilers in this story. I have done my best to minimise these but there are some which could not be avoided. Despite this, I hope you enjoy the story.

Merry Christmas.

xxxx 

The Weeping Lady Conspiracy
A Marquess House Christmas Story

 

Marquess House, December 2019

Perdita Rivers stared around the Great Hall at the swags of greenery, the twinkling lights and the vast tree which she and her sister, Piper Davidson, had been decorating all afternoon. This would be their first Christmas at Marquess House since inheriting the estate from their grandmother, eminent historian, Mary Fitzroy. The previous year they had been in Andorra but this festive season, they would be able to celebrate in their own home.

“It looks wonderful,” said Perdita as Piper climbed down the ladder from the scaffolding tower they had been using to trim the enormous fir tree and joined her. “You’ve done an amazing job,”

“We did it together,” she said, beaming at Perdita.

Yes, thought Perdita, as they wandered through the house admiring the rest of the decorations, we did do it together, all of it, and we’ll continue to work together, we’re lucky to have the bond of being sisters.

Piper glanced at her watch.

“What time are we on parade?” she asked.

“6.30pm,” replied Perdita. “Apparently, the fun is fast and furious!”

Piper laughed, tucking her arm through Perdita’s as they wended their way upstairs to change. The previous month, Susan Mackensie had approached the twins asking if they would host a fund-raising evening for local charities in the village of St Ishmaels in Pembrokeshire, on the Welsh coast, where they lived.

“Mary used to do it,” Susan had explained, showing them photographs of previous Christmas events, causing a pang of regret to flutter through Perdita. “It’s a short carol service in the chapel, with all the children dressed up, then drinks and mince pies in the Great Hall for the adults and a treasure hunt for the children.”

Delighted by the idea of being able to continue a long-held tradition, the twins had agreed enthusiastically. With help from Kit Mackensie and Callum Black, Perdita and Piper had created the treasure hunt and, while they had been decorating the tree, Kit and Callum had been laying out the clues for the trail. Parting from Piper at the top of the stairs, Perdita wondered if Kit and Callum had finished the extensive trail around the house or whether she might be able to grab a quiet half an hour to examine the box of research Jenny Procter, the chief librarian and archivist, had given her that morning.

“As requested,” Jenny had announced, carrying a cardboard storage box, “this is the transcript of the oldest personal item we have in the archive. It’s a testimonial written by one of the nuns who used to live in the convent on Llyn Cel island and is dated February 1486.”

“Thanks, Jen, it’s great to have you back,” Perdita had said.

“Is this for anything in particular?” Jenny had asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” Perdita replied, “it was more a whim to see how far back the archive went. Do you know if Gran ever worked on this?”

Jenny had opened the box and drawn out a folder containing a number of neatly typed papers.

“She was aware of its existence because it’s been translated and transcribed,” said Jenny. “The original is in a mixture of Mediaeval French, which was mostly spoken and written by high-status women, combined with a local Welsh dialect. It would have been quite a translation task. The transcript is detailed to a PhD student who worked with Mary for a while in the 1960s, a John Foster. He worked here for six months while he was writing his doctorate. From a quick look at the digitised version, there is no obvious marginalia written by Mary but she may have read it and dismissed it – this period didn’t fall into any of her preferred research areas.”

However, Christmas events had overtaken her and she was yet to study the transcript, but now she was itching to read it.

As she entered her apartment, Perdita grinned, Christmas music was blaring, the fire crackled and the Christmas tree twinkled. From the bedroom, her fiancé, Kit Mackensie, was singing along to the festive tunes at the top of his voice, unaware of his unexpected audience. As he ended with an impressive crescendo, Perdita stuck her fingers in her mouth and gave a piercing whistle, before clapping wildly.

Kit stuck his head around the door, his hair wet from the shower, a towel around his hips.

“How long have you been standing there?” he asked, suspiciously.

“A few minutes,” she grinned. “I think we should consider a duet sometime!”

He raised his eyebrows as she walked towards the bedroom, all thoughts of a quiet moment to read vanishing.

“I only sing in the shower,” he replied, his eyes twinkling.

“What a coincidence,” grinned Perdita, “so do I!”

**

Perdita loved Christmas carols. As an historian, she felt the palpable link, revelling in the words that had been sung in worship for centuries, connecting the singers of the present day with those of times past. On one side of her Kit sang, shooting her the occasional complicit grin, causing her to smother a giggle. On her other side, Piper allowed her ethereal soprano to climb to the rafters of the exquisite chapel in the Marquess House grounds, while Callum’s melodious tenor seemed to ground it in Christmas magic. They were standing at the back, watching as the children from St Ishmaels processed up the aisle with lanterns, their parents, grandparents and friends beaming with pride.

There would be another service on Christmas Eve in the beautiful church of Monk Haven, situated on the edge of the village, in a steep valley beside a stream but, according to Susan, the service at Marquess House had always been seen as the start of the festive season.

“Mary loved Christmas,” Susan had explained in an apologetic tone, “this party was her way of covering up the fact she missed you both so much.”

There was no formal Nativity play, instead the children read poems, many of which they had written themselves. Perdita listened intently, applauding loudly at the end of each of recital. As they prepared for the final carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, she allowed her gaze to wander. The chapel was Kit’s favourite part of Marquess House and Perdita could understand why, it was exquisite and reminded her of a miniature version of the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. For her, the vast library with its Tudor graffiti was the space she adored. As she thought about the past few years and all they had discovered, her eyes drifted across the walls, then came to rest on a wall plaque. Squinting through the gloom of the candlelight, she could make out the words, St Adwenna, 1486.

It was not something she had noticed before and she was intrigued. There had once been a convent on the island at the centre of their lake, Llyn Cel, until its dissolution in the 1540s and she wondered if this was connected to the long-lost order of nuns. Making a mental note to examine this further, she brought her attention back to the final verse of the carol, before being carried along on the merry crowd as it returned to the Great Hall and more festivities.

The wind howled and rain lashed the windows as Perdita, Piper, Kit, Callum and the rest of the Marquess House family hosted the excitable and, Perdita thought, as she topped up glasses, successful Christmas party. It was several hours later when they said goodbye to the final guest and collapsed into chairs in the Lady Isabel room. Suddenly, a crack of lightning lit the sky, its blue-white shimmer spilling through the slender gap in the heavy velvet curtains.

“I wonder if the Weeping Lady will walk tonight,” said Susan, throwing another log on the fire.

“The who?” asked Piper.

“Our resident Christmas ghost,” said Alistair in surprise, “has no one told you the tale of the Weeping Lady?”

“Ghost?” laughed Perdita. “it’s inevitable in a house this old but no, none of you have mentioned it.”

“I assumed Sarah would have filled you in, she and your mother used to pester her father, Hector, to tell them increasingly gruesome tales,” smiled Alistair, referring to the twins’ godmother and best friend of their late mother.

“Our grandfather?” asked Piper and Susan nodded.

Hector Woodville had died before the twins were born. They knew he had been a businessman but, having always focused on their grandmother, Mary, they knew very little about her husband.

“Your mother and Sarah created a book, Sarah wrote the tales and Louisa illustrated them,” said Susan. “It’s in the library, I think.”

“Sarah’s never mentioned any ghosts,” said Perdita. “Do you know the stories?” she asked, turning to Kit, who grinned.

“Of course, Meg, Stu and I used to pester Mary and she would relate them with really quite terrifying embellishments.”

He squeezed Perdita’s hand when her eyes darkened with sadness. Another moment of family history which she and Piper should have been there to share but Perdita, blinked, determined not to dwell on things she could not change. Glancing over at Piper who was sitting with Callum and seemed similarly resolute, Perdita said to Kit,

“As you’re the expert, you’d better tell us the tale of The Weeping Lady,” she said and, grinning, he began.

“Long before Marquess House was built, even before the convent on the island was created, a tower stood on this site. It was a lonely place, windswept and desolate, looking out over the churning waters of the saltwater lake. Legend tells us, that imprisoned within its bleak walls was a young woman, locked up by her cruel husband, who had married her for her royal connections and her fortune. He told the world she was mad and left her in the toppermost room to die.

“It was said she could be heard scratching and pounding at the door, begging for release until all her fingers were broken and bloodied. On a fierce and stormy December night she died, alone and desperate. Her wicked husband sealed up the room and there she remained, forgotten. It’s said on windswept, rainy nights during Advent, she can be heard weeping…”

“It all happens around here on stormy nights,” interjected Piper.

“What do you mean?” asked Perdita.

“The Weeping Lady weeps, the Llyn Cel mermaid sings,” she continued, referring to the legend of the mythical sea creature which they had been told when they had inherited the house, “it’s a veritable cacophony of supernatural beings…”

“You asked me to tell you the story,” said Kit and Piper held up her hands in apology.

“Anyway,” he continued, “after her death, if there was a storm during Advent, the Weeping Lady could be heard sobbing in the tower and anyone who dared climb the staircase would see the grey figure of a woman pointing at the wall with a maimed hand, as she wept and begged for help.”

For a moment, they were held spellbound by Kit’s tale, then outside, another roll of thunder made them all jump.

“Creepy,” said Perdita with a shudder, “and very sad. Imagine being imprisoned by someone who was supposed to love you.” The idea made her feel queasy, could something so awful have really happened in their beautiful home? “Have you ever heard her wailing?” she asked Kit.

“Once,” he admitted.

“No way,” spluttered Piper.

“When we were teenagers,” he said. “Stuart and I dared each other to go up to the tower one Christmas Eve when there was a storm like this raging. We were nearly at the top when we both heard it: a woman sobbing. It was terrifying.”

Perdita felt a shiver run down her spine. Returning to their apartment later, after bidding everyone goodnight, Kit went into the kitchen to make a drink, while Perdita threw another log on their fire. Pulling out the notes Jenny had given her and taking a mug of hot chocolate from Kit, who had flicked on the television, she smiled at their cosy domestic scene and began to read, hoping it would banish the disturbing image of the woman in the tower left by Kit’s ghost story.

**

The Convent of Llyn Cel Island, February 1486

From her position at the back of the stream of pilgrims, the Mother Superior, Sister Non, narrowed her eyes in disquiet. Hers was a small order of nuns, attached to the Knights Hospitallers a few miles away in the Slebech estuary. At this time of year, their tiny convent received few visitors, yet there was a growing column of excitable men, women and children, their voices eager in the frosty air, their breath rising in white clouds. Riding past on her chestnut mare, she caught snatches of their conversation.

“A miracle…” whispered a woman.

“The saint’s body revealed after the storm last week…” a man murmured.

“Is it true, her body is perfect? Preserved by God himself…”

A sick feeling settled at the pit of her stomach. When the invitation had arrived to attend her nephew’s wedding, her instinct had been to refuse. She was nun, it was not her place to gad to family occasions but as this had been a royal decree, even her bishop overseer had insisted she travel to London. In her absence, Sister Gwen, an ambitious and impulsive nun had been acting the role of Mother Superior, a position of responsibility Sister Non had given against her better judgement. It seemed in her absence, Sister Gwen had been busy, turning their quiet home into a place of pilgrimage.

A saint? she thought as she guided her horse through the throng. It was incomprehensible

“Mother,” called a voice and she shielded her eyes against the winter sun to see their newest postulant nun, Sister Elen, waiting for her by the wooden gate that was the main entrance and exit into their grounds.

A slight girl, whose heavy blonde curls were resistant to even the tightest of wimples, Sister Elen shifted nervously from foot to foot. The youngest daughter of a local landowner, she had been promised to the convent as a child. However, Sister Non felt Sister Elen might not be suited to holy orders. It was often the case when children were placed in convents by parents who had never questioned the true desire of their offspring. Elen was happiest when tending to the horses the nuns kept and as Sister Non approached, Elen reached out, taking the reins to lead the horse through the crowd of watching pilgrims.

Waiting until they were in the stables – which, Sister Non, noticed were spotless under Elen’s care – and out of earshot of the visitors, the Mother Superior dismounted and asked,

“What has happened in my absence?”

Her tone was calm but there was a hint of steel in her words and Elen winced.

“Sister Gwen will explain,” replied Elen, deftly unbuckling the saddle and leading the tired horse to its stall, where food and water waited. “She is in your office, Mother.”

“Is she indeed?” replied Sister Non, the fatigue from her journey evaporating as fury with Sister Gwen rose in her. “When you have finished attending to Mab,” she patted the horse affectionately, “will you bring my bags in, please. It seems Sister Gwen and I have matters of importance to discuss.”

As the girl dropped into a deep obeisance, Sister Non swept from the stables, a sickening feeling of apprehension creeping through her like a chill mist. Hurrying through the cloisters, she saw a snaking line of pilgrims waiting to enter their chapel. If she did not know better, she would think their convent had become a new stop on the St David’s pilgrimage but this was impossible, they had no shrine at which to worship. She corrected herself; when she had left for London there had been no shrine, however, something had happened during her absence.

In 1123, St David’s Cathedral, which was 20 miles away from the convent, had been granted a privilege from Pope Callixtus II in Rome. It was declared that two pilgrimages to St David’s were equal to one journey to Rome. From then, the landscape around the cathedral had become a sacred pilgrimage as the devout viewed the shrines to its eponymous saint and another Welsh saint, St Caradog. Other relics and the nearby chapels dedicated to St Justinian, St Non – the mother of St David – and St Patrick made the route a popular destination. For reasons she could not yet understand, their small island convent seemed to have become another stopping place on this holy route.

Hurrying along the corridor, Sister Non marched into her office where to her irritation, Sister Gwen sat at her wide desk, writing with her favourite quill. The younger Sister, caught by surprise, had the decency to blush.

“Mother,” she gasped, splattering ink across her letter, as well as onto her nose. Her always-pink cheeks glowed even more brightly in her embarrassment. Almost tripping over her robes in her haste to perform obeisance, Sister Gwen looked suitably discomforted as she muttered, “I did not expect you until the evening.”

“Evidently,” said Sister Non, her voice calm and neutral, belying her growing annoyance. “Rise, for goodness sake, and clear away your clutter.”

Sister Non slid into her seat, waiting while Gwen gathered her belongings, shoving them into a canvas bag.

“Sit,” she said when at last Gwen had stopped flapping. “Explain?”

“Mother?”

“Don’t be coy, Gwen, why are all these people here and why are they muttering about a saint? What have you done?”

Sister Gwen’s mouth compressed into a narrow line.

“What have I done?” she trilled, her tone defensive. “It is what the Lord has chosen to do and it happened while you were away, which suggests he favours my tenure as Mother…”

“I am very aware you believe you would excel in my position,” sighed Sister Non, “but there are many things you must learn before you will be granted a convent of your own, one of which is to control your cruel tongue. However, this is not a moment for discussing your weaknesses, this is the moment for you to explain what you claim is the Lord’s mysterious work.”

Sister Non could see the fury in Gwen’s eyes but she was unmoved, the woman was a liar and a bully, hence the reason for her reluctance to leave her in a position of power.

“The tower, your grace,” said Sister Gwen eventually, “the storms ripped away part of the wall.”

Sister Non’s hands, hidden in the folds of her scapula, balled into fists, her knuckles white as she focused her attention on keeping her face and body serene, quashing any suggestion of shock.

“The tower is used for storage,” said Sister Non, “did the lower floors continue dry and secure?”

“Yes…”

“We have survived many storms on our island, perhaps the price of our salvation is the loss of a human edifice,” she suggested. “We have two towers, the one, on our beloved island and its twin, the centre of the old manor. The loss of one would have been no great sacrifice.”

“If it had fallen it could have destroyed the old manor.”

“Nobody lives in the manor,” said Mother Superior. “Since the new king has taken the throne, the family has abandoned this property.”

Sister Gwen gave a derisive snort before saying,

“When we sent Dewi, the builder’s son, to secure the structure before it could topple, he found something unexpected.”

“Sister Gwen, I expected better of you,” snapped the Mother Superior. “You put a young man in danger for no reason.”

“My dear, there was great work afoot,” replied Sister Gwen. “I believed we were in the hands of God and a miracle was being bestowed upon us. Praise our sweet mother, Mary.”

Mother Superior closed her eyes, not wishing Gwen to see the mounting panic she felt sure was written with stark clarity on her face.

“What did you discover?” she managed to utter, her voice constricted.

“Sister Dilwar and I ascended the stone staircase, followed by Sisters Tegla and Elen,” said Sister Gwen. “We had always presumed the tower had three floors but the violent storms had ripped away the roof and part of the wall, to reveal a sealed door leading to another storey.”

“Another floor? Was there anything within this room?”

The Mother Superior could not look at Sister Gwen, who could barely contain her excitement,

“A shrine,” gasped Gwen, “with a body wrapped in a white shroud. At her feet was a plaster plaque engraved with the words: St Adwenna, blessed be thy martyr. Around this was etched strange symbols and creatures. On the altar behind the sacred body of the saint lay an intricately sculpted golden box with similar adornments and above her, the ceiling was painted to the glory of the Lord.”

Fumbling for her rosary, the Mother Superior turned her face away, biting back her tears.

“You believed this to be the body of St Adwenna because there was a plaque on the wall?” she snapped.

“We presumed this was the case,” replied the Sister Gwen. “I gathered the sisters to keep vigil with the beloved body until Brother Caradoc could come from St David’s to advise us. He, also, drew the conclusion that we were in the grip of a miracle.”

Mother Superior resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Brother Caradoc worshipped money more than the Lord and would have been delighted to find a way to increase his revenue from the pilgrims. Adding a new saint to the current roster would no doubt swell the coffers of the diocese even further.

“Where is this body now?”

“The saint lies in the chapel, where, in time, Brother Caradoc suggests we will rebury her with due reverence.”

“What of the tower?” asked Mother Superior.

“Dewi and his father have secured and repaired the sacred shrine, we were awaiting your return before a decision was made about its future.”

“I wish to see it, immediately.”

Sister Non was already on her feet and near the door; surprised, Sister Gwen followed. Neither woman spoke as they hurried to the tower. Sext was approaching but Sister Non was determined to see the room, even if it meant missing the midday prayers. Torches guttered in sconces on the walls and as they traversed the stone steps, monstrous shadows followed in their wake. With each step, Sister Non felt fear rising like bile, until, at last, the door stood before her.

Taking a steadying breath, Sister Non entered the shadowy space. The marble table on which the body had lain remained in the centre of the room, the golden box at its head; while as described by Sister Gwen, the plaque was situated on the wall opposite. The ceiling was a riot of colour, featuring mythical beasts: unicorns, yales, mermaids and griffons, intermingled with figures from the tales of Camelot. Tears stung Sister Non’s eyes as she gazed around.

“Is this not a miracle?” whispered Sister Gwen.

“Indeed, it is,” replied Sister Non. “Please leave me to contemplate this unexpected development.”

“But the Sext bell will soon be ringing…”

“This is a sacred space, my prayers will be heard with equal clarity from here.”

Waiting until Sister Gwen’s footsteps had retreated, Sister Non stared around the square room, imagining the bed that had once stood there, the stained glass window that had thrown jewel-like light into this exquisite space, and the laughter. But that had died long ago, she thought. Tears welled in her eyes and this time she did not fight to stop them, instead they flowed noiselessly down her cheeks.

“Oh, Ann, my dear sister,” she whispered into the silence. “Through my own weakness, I have failed you. How can you ever forgive me?”

It was when the Mother Superior had composed herself and was preparing to leave that she noticed a few small bones on the marble table. Tiny fragments that had fallen from the wrappings. Blessing them, she looked around and noticed the golden box. Wrapping the bones in a length of linen torn from her own wimple, she placed them inside and stowed them in an indentation in the wall. The following day, she asked Dewi to plaster over it, leaving the remains in the safety of the reliquary.

**

Marquess House, December 2019

The woman’s voice swam through Perdita’s dreams, a whisper, a story, imploring. Perdita struggled to wake, desperate to be free of this uneasy feeling, when suddenly a deafening boom shattered the night, followed by a crackle and a fierce blue-white light.

“What the…?” gasped Perdita.

Hail lashed the windows, the wind howled and the roar of the waves on Llyn Cel added to the wildness of the elements as the storm notched up another level. Her heart pounded as her senses tried to catch up with the unearthly noises. Beside her, Kit was halfway out of bed.

“I think we’ve been struck by lightning,” he said dragging on his jeans.

A moment later, Perdita was pulling on her own clothes, winding her long dark hair into a messy bun as they forced their feet into boots and grabbed coats and torches on their way out of their apartment.

“The lightning rod should have taken the brunt of the blast,” said Perdita, as they hurried along the corridor, when Piper called,

“Perds, did you hear that noise?”

Piper appeared from her own apartment, zipping up her jacket. Behind her, Callum was tying his shoes.

“We think it’s the tower,” said Perdita as they ran down the stairs, towards the oldest part of Marquess House.

The majority of the house was Tudor with a timbered central structure and winding red brick chimneys reaching endlessly towards the sky but at its heart was an old square castle tower from which the rest of the house flowed. This was where they were heading. It was the highest point and held the lightning rod. As they approached the arched doorway leading to the steep, narrow staircase, they ran past a vast window. Through the gloom, Perdita could hear the waves of their lake, Llyn Cel, shrieking and roaring.

“Do you think the Llyn Cel mermaid will walk tonight?” said Perdita, as she and Piper began to climb the narrow stone staircase to the top of the tower.

“It isn’t the mermaid we need to worry about,” came Kit’s voice from behind them as they pounded upwards, “this is the Weeping Lady’s tower and we’re in Advent, which is when she appears.”

A light flashed above them and Perdita paused, squinting up.

“Hello?” she called, irritated with herself for the sudden tremulous edge in her voice.

“Perdita?” came the deep Welsh tones of Billy Eve. “There’s a bit of a problem with the tower. The lightning rod took the bulk of the hit but the wind has caused havoc.”

Billy and his brother, Larry, were the sons of Sarah and Alan Eve. Sarah was the twins’ godmother and housekeeper at Marquess House, her husband Alan was head of security, as well as overseeing the grounds. Recently, Billy and Larry had joined the family firm. Larry now liaised with Perdita and Alistair about the security of the house, while Billy was helping his father with the maintenance of the land, house and the many buildings that made up the vast Marquess House estate.

“What’s happened?” asked Piper.

“We’ve lost some roof tiles and there’s flooding in the attic rooms.”

“Is there much damage?” added Perdita.

“Enough,” he replied, “I’ve called Geraint and he’s suggested we secure it with tarpaulin until he can see it tomorrow. Larry’s gone to fetch some and tools.”

Geraint Williams was the architect Perdita and Piper had employed to help with the endless building and renovations that were required in such an old property. He was currently overseeing a number of their projects: the grotto they had discovered in the abandoned basements, the heritage centre and various other schemes.

“We’ll help,” said Piper, as they made their cautious way into the top room of the tower.

This was the oldest part of the building and the most fragile. The estate had always prided itself that it was one of the few ancient, intact castle towers in the area, now it seemed the vicious storm had other plans. On her first day at Marquess House, Perdita had considered taking over the tower as her own private space but the smaller rooms and the narrow windows, while ideal for a quirky few nights’ stay, were not suited to modern home life.

“The thickness of the walls makes the wi-fi hit and miss in here,” Kit had told her all that time ago as he had shown her the rooms which were used as guest bedrooms. “The showers are a bit feeble, too.”

Now, as they stood in the attic space, Perdita stared around in dismay at the puddles of water sloshing on the floor, while rain continued to pour through the gaping hole in the roof. The original wooden struts lay smashed into matchwood.

“Oh, no!” she gasped, while Piper blinked at the damage through sad eyes.

“We’ll be able to secure it,” Billy assured them, “which will limit the damage but this isn’t all of it.”

He led the way to the room directly below, where Perdita and Piper exchanged looks of misery. The water had trickled through the ceiling and down the walls, leaving a section of the ancient painted plasterwork, which Perdita thought might be early Tudor, hanging off the wall, dissolving and crumbling as the elements forced their way into the tower.

“Careful,” warned Billy as Perdita and Piper picked their way towards the damage, while Kit and Callum hovered in the doorway.

“We need to secure it,” said Piper, reaching towards the sagging mass. “Better to preserve it as a whole than let it fall on the floor and shatter. I might be able to restore it.”

Looking around, Perdita pulled the woollen blanket from the bed and stripped off the top sheet.

“We can hold this underneath it to support it,” she said, “then see if you can remove it and we can catch it.”

She flung the blanket back across the bed, smoothing it out, so it was ready as a base for the fragile plasterwork.

“Are you sure?” asked Billy.

“If it falls, which could happen with the next gust of wind, we’ll have no way of saving it,” said Piper in a voice that broached no arguments. Glancing at Kit and Callum, she beckoned them over, then fixed Billy with a glare. “We could do with an extra pair of hands, Billy.”

Muttering about Grade I listings, Billy joined them by the wall. Perdita took one side of the sheet holding it like a cradle under the plaster, Kit was next to her and beside him Callum, while Billy took the slack on the other side. Using one of the smaller files from Billy’s tool belt, Piper began to chip painstakingly away at the thin edge of plaster that continued to attach it to the wall.

“This is it,” she said, raising her voice over the howl of the wind, “I’m going to tip it gently forward.”

Holding her breath, Perdita tightened her grip, ready to take the strain, Piper tapped away the final piece and guided the chunk of painted wall on to the sheet. Together they carried it to the bed, where Perdita exhaled in relief. It was as they stepped away from the rescued plasterwork, she realised the room held another secret.

“Look,” she gasped, hurrying to the wall, a secondary piece of plain plaster had fallen away and there was a gap, as though two bricks had been removed. Inside was a golden casket covered in carved symbols and letters.

“What is it?” asked Piper, a tremor of trepidation in her voice.

Perdita itched to touch it but without protective gloves she was nervous of causing damage.

“It looks like a reliquary,” she replied, the words of the nun’s testimony running around her head. Surely this can’t be the same one? she thought.

“A what?” asked Callum.

“They were repositories for relics, usually of saints,” she replied.

“There are human bones in there?” asked Billy, sounding revolted.

“Perhaps,” replied Perdita.

Heavy footsteps drew their attention as Larry arrived with his father, Alan, and Kit’s father, Alistair. Placing the sheet over the plasterwork to protect it, Perdita reached into her pockets and pulled out a pair of leather gloves.

“Not ideal,” she admitted, “but we need to put this somewhere safe.”

Easing the box from its hiding place, she laid it on the bed beside the frieze.

“I’ll call Mark in the morning,” she said, “he can get the conservators up here and try to work out exactly what we’ve discovered.”

As another thunderclap sounded, they all turned, eager to return to the attic space in the eaves to help Billy secure the tower and prevent any further damage. Perdita was the last to leave the room and as she pulled the door shut, a voice whispered, “Help me.”

A chill ran through her but when she looked in the room and saw it was empty, she dismissed it as her imagination and the wildness of the storm.

**

The Convent of Llyn Cel Island, March 1486

“Ever since your house has become a new stop on the St David’s pilgrimage,” observed Brother Caradoc, running his finger down the columns in the large ledger. “the Lord has provided for this house in a most pleasing manner.”

Sister Non forced a fleeting smile, trying to disguise the repugnance she felt for the obese monk. Sent from the diocese of St David’s to audit their convent, Brother Caradoc had demanded vast meals four times a day, accompanied by the best wines. Even considering the amount of food he had consumed made her stomach churn, although, with the pains returning to her back and side, she could not entirely blame Brother Caradoc for her nausea. Its true root, she suspected was in the poppy-based tincture brewed by Sister Elen. While it eased her aches, its strength made her feel woozy and sick. The pains had been increasing since the previous year and she was aware her time was short, which was why it was essential to end this nonsense about St Adwenna.

“However,” she said before Brother Caradoc could continue, “a missive has arrived from the Bishop of Cornwall, who states it is not possible for us to have the bones of St Adwenna.”

“Why would he make such a claim?” Caradoc asked with a hint of pomposity.

“The church of Advent near Bodmin Moor in Cornwall has long since laid claim to the bones of St Adwenna,” said Sister Non. “While St Adwenna might have been born in Wales, the daughter of Brychan, king of Brycheinlog in south Wales, the majority of her works are recorded in the Cornish parish of Advent.”

Brother Caradoc considered her for a moment.

“Perhaps the Cornish are mistaken,” he suggested. “The bones Sister Gwen found were in a shrine with a carved plaque saying: ‘St Adwenna, blessed be thy martyr’ were they not? Why would these words be placed at her feet if these were not the bones of the saint? Equally, why was the body of a woman sealed in a room? She had been laid out with due reverence. It is my suggestion this was in order to preserve the sanctity of a blessed saint.”

“Or, she is not a saint, perhaps instead a beloved wife or mother or sister who was greatly mourned?”

Brother Caradoc’s tiny eyes flashed with spite.

“Wouldn’t you and your family be the authority on such a woman?” he spat. “Perhaps the reason you do not wish to praise the glory of the Lord and accept the saint is because you know her true identity.”

Sister Non did not reply. The silence lengthened but she held Brother Caradoc’s gaze, his eyes almost swallowed by the folds of fat on his fleshy face, gleamed hard and unforgiving.

“It is a mystery,” he said eventually.

“Advent has a prior claim on the bones of St Adwenna,” persisted Sister Non.

“Are there any other saints you could adopt in preference of St Adwenna?” he asked. “A local Welsh saint of impeccable reputation? It would be a shame to lose the revenue your bones are creating for the diocese.”

Mother Superior stared at his aghast.

“We can’t choose another saint in order to suit the church,” she exclaimed.

“The bones of St Adwenna have been discovered here,” said Brother Caradoc with a finality which he emphasised by slamming the ledger. “It is not impossible that two saints may have shared the same name…”

“However, it is confusing,” interrupted Sister Non averting her eyes as the monk hauled himself to his feet, his enormous belly rippling under his cassock.

“Pray for guidance, Sister, and see which other name the Lord might suggest. Your own might be one to consider.”

With great relief, Mother Superior watched the enormous monk board his carriage and trundle away into the gathering gloom of twilight. Returning to the chapel where Sister Tegla was replenishing the candles around the shrine, Mother Superior genuflected, before taking a seat facing the golden coffin where the shrouded body now resided. Sister Tegla gave obeisance, then scurried from the chapel, leaving her alone.

“What we going to do?” whispered Mother Superior, gazing at the beautifully enshrined body. “Your husband left me instructions and I failed. Your resting place was so peaceful and your fear of the dark so great, it seemed kinder to leave you in the sanctuary you and Stephen created. In failing to follow his final wishes, I have let you both down and now I am paying for my weakness.”

Sister Non pulled her rosary from her pocket, running the amber beads through her fingers.

“Even my rosary was once yours, a loving reminder of my younger sister,” she sighed. “Forgive me, Ann, I didn’t want you disturbed but perhaps the time has come to reveal the truth and ensure you are buried beside your beloved Stephen, at last.”

Interrupted by the Vesper’s bell, Mother Superior rose, gliding down the aisle to take her place for worship, ignoring the insistent ache in her side. Her eyes focussed on the plaster statue of Mary, the Virgin, as she tried to breathe through the twinges. To her frustration, the cross on her rosary unexpectedly snagged on her habit, causing her to stumble. Reaching out to save herself, she fell against the tomb of Sir Stephen Perrot. Unsteady on her feet from the combination of the throbbing pain and the lingering power of the poppy tincture, she crumpled into an undignified sprawl on the floor.

Muttering at the indignity of her fall, she reached out to the tomb to help pull herself back to her feet. It was then she saw the woman. Her sight was blurred from her faint, she could make out a shimmering grey gown with jewels which suggested a lady of high status but as the woman raised her hand, Sister Non saw it was disfigured, two and half fingers were missing.

“Please help me,” the woman said, her voice misty, distant.

“Of course, my dear,” said Sister Non. “We have a hospital, you will be well cared for, let me rise from this undignified position, then we can attend to your injury.”

“Margaret, please…” the woman whispered.

“Ann…?”

Sister Non felt a wave of dizziness overwhelm her, she closed her eyes, trying to compose herself, unable to believe what she was seeing, was it the poppy tincture or a true vision? By the time her nausea had passed and she was able to turn to face the woman, there was no one in sight. Confused, she called out as the nuns filed in for prayers, the last thing she saw before the sickening pain engulfed her was Sister Elen’s terrified face.

**

Marquess House, December 2019

Perdita sat in the library contemplating the book her mother, Louisa, and her godmother, Sarah, had created about the ghosts of Marquess House. From the description Alistair had given, she had assumed it would be exclusively about the Weeping Lady but it was a compendium of tales, including a phantom cat, a serene nun and a young man playing a lute, all of whom supposedly drifted around the house at varying times of the year.

Fascinated by her mother’s drawings and Sarah’s lurid tales, she imagined the two girls poring over their masterpiece. The picture of the Weeping Lady was unexpectedly vivid, with intricate details of her maimed hand. It made Perdita shudder, the woman who had been drifting through her dreams, causing her disturbed nights had, the previous night, held up a hand which bore an uncanny resemblance to the one in the image. Pushing the thought from her mind, Perdita continued to browse the book of ghost of stories.

Two weeks had passed since the tower had been struck by lightning. The storm had blown itself out by the following morning but its legacy was to reveal another unexpected piece of history. Overnight, in the room where they had discovered the plaque and the reliquary, a few pieces of damp plaster had fallen from the ceiling to show the corner of an ancient frieze.

When Mark, the head of The Dairy – the state-of-the-art, climate-controlled restoration department within the Marquess House research centre – had seen these faded images, he had ordered the site out of bounds to everyone but him, his team, Perdita and Piper. He had arranged for the decorated plaster and gold reliquary to be placed in Piper’s care in her studio and had a scaffold tower erected in order to examine the ceiling. An hour later, he had rung Perdita,

“There’s a frieze on the ceiling!” he had almost shouted down the phone, such was his excitement. “It’s incredible, you must see this! I think it’s Arthurian, there’s definitely a Round Table and figures which I believe are King Arthur, Guinevere and Merlin.”

All other projects had been put on hold as the work on the ceiling began, meanwhile Billy and Geraint had brought in their teams to mend the roof and make the space water-tight again. Perdita was always fascinated watching the speed with which everyone at Marquess House worked together when there was an emergency. In the meantime, she had organised the research to discover the origins of these unexpected treasures.

Jenny Procter had delivered a small pile of documents the following day.

“There’s not much,” she had said, “but what we do have is in remarkably good condition. I’m not sure even your grandmother looked at these, they didn’t fall into any of her timeframes, rather like your nun’s tale. You’ll find that slots into this time period, too.”

“This is a far better haul than I was expecting,” Perdita had admitted sorting through the papers before happily losing herself in this new quest.

However, after reading the new documents, the truth about the ceiling and the golden box remained elusive. She hoped when a clue finally emerged, as she was confident it would, the tale it told would not corroborate the ghost story of imprisonment and fear. The idea of such brutality taking place in the tower continued to upset Perdita but, instinct, as well as the emerging beauty of the room with its plaque and painted ceiling, also told her, this was not a room full of hatred, it was a place of love, care and devotion. No one would prepare such a delicate space for someone they despised, she thought.

The plaque was easier to locate in the records as it had been repaired when her grandmother had turned the tower into guest rooms. The notes Perdita had discovered suggested the plaque had been a Victorian reproduction but Piper’s examination had dismissed this conclusion.

“It’s much older,” she had said, perusing the dating results of the plaster from their laboratory. “Probably fifteenth century and now the debris of years has been cleared away, I’ve found a date scratched on the back: 1457. The patterns on the front match the ceiling and the scrollwork on the golden box. Although, why it’s dedicated to St Adwenna is unclear.”

“From what I’ve discovered, St Adwenna was born in south Wales but is best remembered for her work in the village of Advent in Cornwall,” Perdita had said. “There isn’t much on record about her but it seems she was often seen as the patron saint of sweethearts.”

“Cute,” smiled Piper, then her green eyes sparked with an idea. “Perhaps that’s why.”

“What do you mean?” asked Perdita.

“A saint celebrating sweethearts, perhaps the room was decorated for a much-loved wife,” she suggested, “and that was why the saint they invoked was one connected with love and romance.”

“It’s possible,” agreed Perdita, her heart lifting at this possibility. “The other thing I’ve discovered is that all the nuns at the Llyn Cel convent took their names from Welsh saints, but there was no Sister Adwenna, so you might be right.”

There was one full working day left before the Marquess House research centre closed for Christmas and Perdita was determined to read the last few pages of the ancient nun’s testimony. However, in order to achieve this, she had hidden herself in the library where she hoped to grab a few hours of peace. The next day would see, what was the apparently legendary Marquess House Christmas Party, before everyone either left to stay with family or friends or threw themselves into the festivities in the house and surrounding villages.

Kit’s siblings were also arriving: his elder sister, Meg, and her husband, Pablo; and his brother, Stuart, who was in the middle of the three. With them would be Callum’s family: his mother, Dr Deborah Black, who ran the library in the Mackensie’s home, Castle Jerusalem in Andorra, along with his brother, Elliot and sister-in-law, Sam, who were pilots. The party atmosphere was apparent in the research centre and she did not want to appear to be a killjoy by not joining in with the fun but there was something nagging her and she knew herself well enough to know she would not be able to relax until she had at least tried to resolve her growing hypothesis into a working theory.

Flicking open her laptop, she pulled up the digitised version of the transcript. This suggested the nuns once held, or thought they held, the bones of St Adwenna but the Mother Superior thought differently. However, it was the dates included in the nun’s account which were causing Perdita the most curiosity.

If Sister Non had returned from a family marriage in February 1486, one referred to as a royal wedding, then, thought Perdita, this could only be referring to the union between Henry VII and Princess Elizabeth of York. The match had been arranged to unite the warring families of the Wars of the Roses and to seal Henry VII’s claim to throne after his victory at Bosworth.

Allowing her mind to relax and rove from place to place, she waited for connections  to form between the many strands of information she had gleaned. As realisation began to form, a shiver of excitement ran through Perdita.

“Any luck?”

Perdita turned her slightly unfocused eyes towards Alistair Mackensie.

“Hello,” she said, pulling herself from her reverie, “what can I do for you?”

“It’s more what I can do for you,” he replied, his blue eyes twinkling. “Kit will be over shortly but I thought I’d grab you for a moment before he monopolises you again.”

Perdita laughed.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Your grandmother was aware of the plaque in the chapel,” he said, sitting beside Perdita and nodding towards a photograph of St Adwenna’s carving.

“Really?”

“Yes,” he said. “When Mary inherited the house on her 21st birthday, the restoration of the chapel was her first project.”

“Did it need much work?”

“Extensive, although, to Mary’s relief, a great deal of the original structure and decoration remained but it was hidden beneath panelling. Your ancestor, Lettice Lakeby, was no fool; she realised the ceiling bosses and decorations were probably original, so she decided to cover, rather than remove, them. The plaque you spotted during the carol service was hidden behind a cupboard for years.”

Perdita smiled, trying to imagine her grandmother’s relief when she discovered the ancient decorations.

“Did Granny think there was a saint buried here?”

“I don’t know,” replied Alistair, “she had so many other things she wished to research, St Adwenna was forgotten during the ensuing years. However, I have uncovered something interesting.”

“Which is?”

“The plans of the chapel,” said Alistair, handing Perdita a cardboard tube. “These were filed separately from the other historical documents and I remembered them last night. Kit and I dug these out this morning, he’ll be here in a moment, he’s enlarging them so you’ll be able to see the detail. I thought you’d like to begin studying the originals, though. They’re a useful resource for knowing how many bodies are in each grave.”

“Alistair, thank you,” exclaimed Perdita, pulling the documents out and spreading them on the desk. “These are wonderful.”

“As you can see,” said Alistair, leaning forward, “there are several sets, the Victorian blueprints and building plans to box everything in, as well as a hand-sketched version of what was probably an original plan Lettice discovered in the archive, which is considerably older. The most interesting thing is the number of tombs marked on the early map, particularly as none of these tombs have survived. However, I do wonder if the bodies from these burials remain, as there seems to be a number of receipts for a stone-mason to carve place stones, which I believe may have replaced the old tombs. Now, I must return to my office and a telephone call with the Inland Revenue. Such excitements!”

Turning to the floorplan of the chapel, Perdita began to read the many names and noticed one which made her eyes widen in surprise: Sir Stephen Perrot, 1432 – 1471. Perdita was aware of the Perrot family but not dating this far back. Remembering a document she had read, she was rummaging through her notes, when Kit and Piper arrived.

“I recognise that look,” Kit said, his voice a mixture of excitement and apprehension. “What have you found?”

“My hypothesis is still forming,” she admitted, “but I could talk you through what I’ve got so far.”

Kit sat opposite her, while Piper pulled out the chair beside Perdita. Arranging a series of photographs between her sister and fiancé, before pushing her hair out of her unusual grey-green eyes, Perdita began,

“When Mark examined the reliquary he suggested it might have been a trinket box rather than a custom-made piece because the iconography was secular rather than religious.”

“Yes, he told us it was gold, because there’s no tarnishing,” said Kit, “and from the style, dated it to the early fifteenth century. The symbols were mythical beasts and what looked like a scene from the tales of Camelot, the King Arthur legend.”

“Exactly and as Mark’s PhD is in religious reliquaries, he knows what he’s talking about,” added Piper, studying the images Perdita had selected.

“He also told me, apart from ours, there were only two other known convents in Wales in this period,” added Kit and Perdita jotted this in her notebook. “The one on Llyn Cel island was a small establishment and was linked to the Knights Hospitallers at Slebech.”

Behind her, Perdita heard a whisper and a shiver ran down her spine. Forcing herself to ignore this, she placed a neatly typed transcript between them.

“This is a deed of ownership for the land, then known as Llanismael,” said Perdita, twirling a strand of dark hair around her finger as she waited for them to examine the document.

“Llanismael,” said Kit, “is this referring to St Ishmaels, the village?”

“Yes but also our estate,” said Perdita, glancing at Piper. “According to this, some of the land was given to the church and the rest, the portion around the existing 6th century tower was given by royal charter to Sir Stephen Perrot on the incident of his marriage in 1457 to the Lady Ann Tudor, half-sister of King Henry VI, to build a house.”

“What?” exclaimed Piper. “The tower that’s at the heart of Marquess House? This is a royal charter for our house.”

“I think so,” she said, excitement in her voice, “which means the tower is even older than we realised. However, that isn’t the issue, it’s the date of 1457. The Wars of the Roses began in 1455, so the date of 1457 is a touch problematic in that by then, the sovereignty of King Henry VI was in doubt. Not only that, there are no records of King Henry VI giving titles or charters to any royal half-sisters, only half-brothers.”

“Half-brothers?” asked Piper.

“Henry VI had two known half-brothers,” explained Perdita. “Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, father of Henry VII; and Edmund’s younger brother, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke.”

Kit stared at her in astonishment but Piper said,

“Explain more for the non-historians in the room, please.”

Perdita smiled.

“It begins with Queen Katherine de Valois,” she said, “who was the wife of Henry V and mother of Henry VI.”

“Henry V, as in Agincourt?” confirmed Piper and Perdita nodded.

“After Henry V died, Katherine married attractive Welshman, Owen ap Tudor and had, depending on where you check, anything from two to six children with him. Edmund and Jasper are the best remembered but there are various records suggesting Owen and Katherine had another son, Owen, who became a monk; a daughter called Margaret who became a nun and died young as well as another daughter, Ann, although her existence is doubtful. There are few records of Lady Ann Tudor and it’s always been assumed she died at birth at the same time as her mother, Katherine de Valois.”

“Oh Perds, no,” groaned Piper allowing her red hair to tumble forward and hide her face in mock despair. “What have you done? Have you found more missing Tudors?”

“Perhaps…”

“How did Katherine de Valois die?” Kit asked.

“There are two versions of her death, the first states that knowing she was ill, she retired to a convent where she died of an unspecified illness. While other scholars suggest she died during or immediately after childbirth.”

Perdita recognised the tell-tale glint of interest in Kit’s eyes as he considered her words.

“Couldn’t both have happened?” he suggested.

“She retired to a convent in order to give birth and died either in childbirth or because of another unrelated illness?” asked Perdita and he nodded. “It’s not beyond the realms of possibility. However, what if the baby didn’t die? This could be the mysterious Lady Ann.”

“Which is great but what has it got to do with anything?” asked Piper. “I thought we were trying to find out more about the reliquary and the frieze in the room.”

“We are and I think it’s all connected, not only to the Tudors but to the convent on Llyn Cel island too, St Adwenna and Sir Stephen Perrot.”

The door creaked making them all jump and Callum walked in.

“Hi, gang,” he said, “I come bearing news from Mark’s team. His assistant, Pete, has got the results of the bones in the reliquary and they’re human,” he said, handing the report to Perdita, “fingers bones and from the isotope testing, it seems the person was born in or around the Thames Estuary but spent most of their life in West Wales. They’re quite small, so that would suggest female bones…”

“The Weeping Lady,” said Kit, suddenly, and once more Perdita heard a ripple of noise behind her.

“The ghost?” asked Callum in surprise, then realisation flooded his face. “She has a maimed hand!”

Piper rolled her eyes.

“Do you think she might be buried in the walls?” asked Callum with all seriousness. Kit stifled a laugh.

“In the walls?”

“Why not? Her fingers were hidden in a cavity, perhaps the rest of her is up there, too?”

“She couldn’t be,” said Kit, “the walls are solid stone…”

“There might a bricked up alcove,” suggested Callum, warming to his theme.

“There isn’t,” said Kit, “Dad told me that before Mary converted the tower into guest rooms in the 1970s, she had extensive work done on the walls to ensure they were safe, there were no cavities or bricked up alcoves. You’ve been watching too many horror films, mate.”

Disappointed, Callum flopped down beside Piper, who squeezed his hand.

“I’ve been reading a testimony written by the Mother Superior, Sister Non, of Llyn Cel convent,” continued Perdita. “There are a few pages left and I wanted to check the original because the notes I have open with the comment: ‘Extensive decorative marginalia’, I thought the patterns might give us a clue.”

“Do you have it on your laptop?” asked Piper, Perdita nodded.

“Fire it up, then,” said Callum. “Let’s solve this mystery.”

Perdita and Kit exchanged an amused glance, then she did as requested. As the digitised pages appeared, all four of them gasped in surprise. Around the neatly inked words were the same images carved into the plaster plaque Piper was restoring in her studio and the delicately wrought designs on the reliquary. All of which echoed the images Mark and his restorers were revealing on the ceiling in the tower. Turning to the transcript, Perdita began to read aloud.

**

The Convent of Llyn Cel Island, April 1486

The candle guttered and Sister Non stirred. Sister Elen knelt beside the Mother Superior, a goblet in her hand, which she raised to the older woman’s lips. It would not be long, the Last Rites had been administered, Sister Non knew she was unlikely to witness another sunrise. The postulant, Sister Elen, had been her constant companion these last weeks and she had come to care for the child. Each day, her admiration for the girl with her innate gentleness, strength and courage had grown. It seemed Sister Elen would always do what she felt was the correct thing, even if this caused a sacrifice or loss to her own dreams. A lesson Sister Non felt many of the senior nuns were yet to learn.

“A sip or two will help ease the pain,” Sister Elen whispered.

Sister Non reached out and squeezed the younger woman’s warm hand with her bony one.

“You are a sweet child,” she said, her voice weak, rusty with illness. “Tell me, my dear, was it your choice to be a nun?”

Sister Non knew the answer and she watched as the girl’s eyes widened in surprise.

“No, my lady,” she replied, her tone hesitant. “I wanted to marry Dewi but my parents insisted on my taking holy orders.”

“Dewi, the builder’s son?”

“Yes,” Sister Elen replied, her eyes sad, “we’ve been in love since we were children.”

A smile spread across Sister Non’s face,

“Now I understand why he is always here, finding work, in order to linger.”

“Are you angry?”

“No, my dear, but I’m saddened that you are being forced to do something against your heart’s desire,” she coughed, her body shaking with the effort. “It is within my gift to free you from the cloister,” she continued when she had recovered enough to speak, “should you so desire.”

“You would do that for me?”

“Sweet child, I would do anything for you. In this most holy of orders, supposedly filled with women of piety and compassion, you are the only Sister who has cared for me as my life ebbs; the others are preoccupied with their saint. Over there,” she waved her hand towards the elegant writing desk in the corner of her comfortably appointed cell, “there is a scroll. Bring it to me and I shall sign it. This will release you from the convent.”

Sister Non waited for the postulant to rush to the table, to grab her freedom with both hands but Sister Elen remained in her seat, quivering with nerves.

“I will be able to leave, there will be no persecution, no threat of arrest?” she asked.

“You have not yet taken your vows,” said Sister Non. “As Mother Superior, it is my decision whether you are suitable for this life. There will be no shame, no humiliation, this will be a gift of honour. I am also bequeathing you my mare, Mab, and, in the purse beside the scroll is a sum of money with which you will be able to build a new life. With luck, it will be with Dewi.”

A moment later, Sister Elen placed the scroll and a quill before Mother Superior. Summoning what remained of her strength, Sister Non dipped the nib in the ink and with a few strokes, the postulant was free.

“I believe your name before you took holy orders was Brigid,” whispered Mother Superior, slumping back against her pillow.

“Yes.”

“Brigid, may I prevail upon you one last favour?”

“Of course.”

“To take my final confession and set it upon paper. I know your penmanship is excellent, I have seen your work.”

“It will be my honour, Mother,” she whispered, reaching for the vellum on the table and positioning the inkwell. “But have you not given this confession to Brother Caradoc?”

“This is not my spiritual confession,” she said. “It is the dying wish of an elder sister to a younger. Sister in the secular sense.”

Brigid did not reply, her brow furrowed in confusion.

“Have the bones of St Adwenna been interred?” asked Sister Non.

“Tomorrow,” replied Brigid.

“Fools,” muttered Sister Non. “She is not a saint, although she was angelic and taken from us too young.”

“You know who she is?” whispered Brigid, her eyes round with surprise.

“Yes and this is what must be recorded,” whispered Sister Non. “It is the body of my younger sister, Ann. She died in childbirth but such was her fear of the dark, her husband created a tomb at the top of the tower where she could be bathed in light. This was the reason I chose the religious life in this convent, in order to guard my sister’s body. However, I failed her. Her husband, Sir Stephen, requested that upon his death, Ann would be buried with him and their son in the double grave in the chapel. He told me that if he was with her, he could protect her from the darkness.”

“What happened?”

“He died in 1471, due to his injuries at the battle of Barnet,” sighed Sister Non. “His body was returned to us but I didn’t fulfil his wish. My sister was sleeping peacefully, it seemed cruel to disturb her. Now, it seems God has punished me for my weakness.”

“It wasn’t weakness, it was love,” said Brigid.

“But where has my love got me? Ann will be buried in a single grave, under an incorrect name. Forever alone in the dark and with part of her missing,” said Sister Non, remembering her orders to wall up the golden box containing the tiny bones. “She will haunt me and I deserve it. Sister Gwen will soon be Mother Superior and she will not be thwarted in her desire to create her false shrine but it is important the truth is recorded. Please, write down all I have told you and place it with my testimony,” she pointed towards a canvas bag looped over the back of the chair where Brigid perched. “Perhaps one day, someone will be able to reunite Ann and Stephen.”

A coughing fit rendered her speechless and exhausted, reaching out for Brigid’s hand, she whispered, “Do not let me die alone.”

“I will stay until the end, Mother,” Brigid assured her.

“My name,” whispered the elderly nun, “return it to me before I die.” She could see the confusion in Brigid’s eyes. “My name is Margaret.”

“God bless you, Lady Margaret,” whispered Brigid, tears in her eyes as the Mother Superior’s breath faltered, then stopped. Brigid crossed herself, gathered the scroll granting her freedom and the purse of money, before disappearing on the chestnut mare into the wild blackness of the Welsh night.

**

Marquess House, December 2019

“I know where she’s buried,” said Piper as Perdita finished reading. “Those engravings are on one of my rubbings. It must be her grave, the coincidence would be too preposterous otherwise.”

“Like brass rubbings?” asked Kit.

“It’s for a project I’m working on,” replied Piper. “Let me pop back to the studio and fetch my notes, then meet me in the chapel.”

Perdita, Kit and Callum shuffled all the paperwork together, Perdita slid the floor plan Alistair had given her earlier into a protective wallet, then led the way through the house to the chapel. Piper arrived moments later, her A3 artist’s pad under her arm.

“Up here,” she said hurrying to the back of the chapel near the font where she pointed to the wall. “There’s the St Adwenna plaque and here’s the grave marker where I discovered these,” she flipped open her pad to reveal the original rubbing, opposite this she had drawn her own version, highlighting the details. Swirls of mythical creatures roamed around a woman, all matching the engravings from the plaque in the tower.

“Wow, Pipes, this is beautiful,” said Perdita. Her sister smiled her thanks, then crouched down and using a powerful torch began to explain her discovery.

“Here and here,” said Piper, pointing at the swirling patterns on the worn stone. “They’re hard to see like this but the rubbing shows the intricacy. It wasn’t until we saw the images on the testimony I made the connection.”

Piper pulled up some images on her phone and passed it to Perdita, “These are from the plaque and the golden box. They’re identical, there’s no doubt they’re connected.”

“Do you suppose Sister Elen drew them? asked Kit, standing up and returning to the floor plan of the chapel with the graves marked throughout.

“Possibly,” said Perdita. “She wrote the confession for Lady Margaret. Maybe she even kept it safe until such time as she knew Sister Gwen wouldn’t destroy it. From the other records Jenny gave me, it seemed Sister Gwen’s tenure as Mother Superior was short. Six months later, she was replaced by Sister Tegla.”

“What happened to Gwen?” asked Kit and Perdita shrugged. “Did she die?”

“At a guess, it seems she might have been dismissed,” replied Perdita. “There was a comment in the margin of Lady Margaret’s testimony which must have been added by someone else later. It didn’t make sense at first but I think it does now. The names of Sister Gwen and Brother Caradoc were written together but they’d been crossed through and underneath, the words ‘In France, exiled’.”

“They were exiled to France, together?” questioned Piper.

“Do you think they were in disgrace?” asked Kit and Perdita nodded.

“Possibly for the creation of the false shrine, although I wondered whether they were having a fling too,” said Perdita. “It seems the shrine of St Adwenna was removed from the pilgrims’ trail around the same time and quietly forgotten. My suggestion would be that Sister Elen or Brigid, as she became again after she had left the convent, may well have delivered the truth to the new Mother Superior and with the identity of the body confirmed as Lady Ann Perrot, rather than a saint, Sister Tegla, sensibly allowed the matter to fade away. ”

The others stared at her in surprise but from the back of the chapel, she heard a contented chuckle which seemed to offer confirmation. Even though it was a friendly sound, the small hairs of the back of her neck tingled.

“But what I don’t understand,” said Piper, “is why the tale of the Weeping Lady is so sad. The version Kit told us was about a cruel husband and an abandoned wife.”

“Legends grow over time,” said Perdita. “Perhaps there were other tales about abandoned wives and forgotten loves that were reinterpreted as a ghost story.”

They all exchanged a knowing look.

“I wonder if Brigid and Dewi got married?” mused Callum.

“Let’s hope so,” replied Piper. “Brigid had been through enough, she deserved some happiness.”

Joining Kit by the floor plan, Perdita scanned it, trying to dismiss her unease,

“Sir Stephen Perrot,” she said, pointing to the map, then turning to the chapel, walking halfway down the aisle before pausing. “His tomb and its marble effigy would have been in that alcove.”

Sliding the pew away, she crouched down to inspect the engraved slab below.

“Look,” she gasped and the others crowded around. A huge piece of slate, aged and worn stretched before them. The words: “Sir Stephen Perrot, 1432 – 1471” were engraved in the centre, surrounded by images of unicorns, yales, mermaids and griffons, intermingled with figures from the tales of Camelot. Below this, Perdita could make out another inscription. “It says, ‘Lady Ann Perrot, 1437 – 1457’ and underneath, ‘Her son, Charles, 1457’.”

“But that doesn’t make sense,” said Callum. “If what the nun’s testimony stated is true, then Ann was buried over there as Adwenna.”

Kit smoothed the burial plan out on the pew, reading the tiny letters.

“This says, ‘Although the grave states that Sir Stephen was buried with his wife, Lady Ann, and their infant son, Charles, the survey of 1885, showed there was one adult (male) and one child in the grave’.”

“How do they know it was male?” asked Callum.

“The height,” Perdita suggested, “thickness of the bones.”

“In which case, why does is say Lady Ann is there and where is she if her bones are missing?” mused Kit.

“Probably because Sir Stephen commissioned the tomb, assuming his sister-in-law, Lady Margaret who became Sister Non, would follow his wishes and he would spend eternity with Ann,” said Piper.

Perdita wandered away, her mind buzzing with all the information they had gathered and in a moment of clarity, she understood but there was one last thing she needed to check before she was able to reach back in time and help the two sisters who had loved each other as much as she and Piper.

“Kit,” she called and the others turned, she smiled, overwhelmed with love for the three people in front of her. “When you said that you and Stu heard the ghost, you were telling the truth? It wasn’t Meg up there playing a trick?”

Kit shook his head. “She was away staying with a friend in St David’s,” he replied. “Why?”

“The Weeping Lady,” said Perdita. “She’s been haunting my dreams ever since the night of the storm and I know why.”

Piper gave her a curious look.

“Where are you going with this Perds?”

“I think the Weeping Lady is Lady Ann Perrot, or Tudor, as she was born. She was placed in the tower because she was so scared of the dark her husband couldn’t bear to bury her unless he was there to protect her. Unfortunately, in an act of love, her elder sister, Margaret decided to leave Ann in the tower and didn’t move her when Sir Stephen died. Her body was reinterred by Sister Gwen under the name of St Adwenna but they didn’t bury all of her, did they?”

“What do you mean?” asked Kit but she could see the understanding growing in his eyes.

“Her fingers were left behind and interred in the so-called reliquary…”

“Which is why the ghost is supposed to point at the wall with her maimed hand,” spluttered Callum. “She wants her fingers back so she’s complete.”

“Don’t you think it would be the right thing to do to let Lady Ann finally lay in peace with her husband, her fingerbones restored?”

Perdita turned to look at Piper, a smile was widening on her sister’s face.

“Yes, Perds, you’re right, it’s time Lady Ann was allowed to rest and Lady Margaret’s work was completed.”

Perdita was never sure how Alistair organised things with such speed and efficiency but as dusk began to absorb the grey tones of the stormy Christmas Eve, they processed into the chapel ready to move the bones of Lady Ann from one grave to another. After presiding over the carol service in the village, the vicar had agreed to this interment service. As the coffin was raised from the forgotten and incorrectly marked grave of St Adwenna and carried with dignity to the waiting tomb of Sir Stephen Perrot, Perdita, Piper, Kit and Callum, Alistair and Susan, Meg, Pablo and Stuart, watched as Sir Stephen, Lady Ann and their infant son, Charles, were reunited in death.

Perdita felt a sense of relief wash over her as the ancient slate stone was replaced. As the others filed away, she, Piper, Kit and Callum lingered, their shadows flickering in the candlelight. Outside the wind howled, the waves of Llyn Cel crashed and rain lashed at the windows.

“Shall we go up to the tower?” suggested Perdita.

“To see if we can see the ghost?” asked Piper.

“To make sure we can’t, so we know she’s at peace,” replied Perdita.

Running through the rain and back into Marquess House, Perdita led the way up the stairs to the mysterious room where this unexpected adventure had begun at the beginning of Advent. Opening the door, they crept inside. Perdita felt a shiver run down her spine, then Piper grabbed one arm, Kit the other and Callum swore under his breath. Standing before them were four shimmering figures, a man and two women, one of whom was carrying a smiling child. The man gave a deep bow while the two women dropped into obeisance before rising. The younger woman raised her hand, complete and elegant, then the image faded and vanished.

A wave of warmth washed over Perdita as she turned to look at the others. Kit was white-faced but calm, Piper was wiping away a tear and Callum was smiling.

“Well done, Perds,” whispered Piper, hugging her sister tightly, she then slid her hand into Callum’s and they disappeared back down the stairs.

Perdita paused, then felt Kit slide his arm around her, “You did a great thing here,” he whispered, kissing her cheek.

“Thank you,” she replied, a lump in her throat preventing her from saying more.

“Come on, let’s go,” he said and as she allowed him to lead her from the room, she heard a voice whisper, “Merry Christmas”, and a smile spread across her face as they hurried down the stairs to join the others and raise a toast to family, friends and love.

The End

 

The History

Once again, this is fiction but I have drawn on real historical characters and events. The information about Katherine de Valois and Owen Tudor is correct, as are the details of their children. The date of the wedding of Henry VII and Elizabeth, Princess of York is also correct.

St Adwenna is a real saint and as discussed in the story, she was born in South Wales but is associated with the village of Advent near Bodmin in Cornwall.

**

Thank you to the real Deborah Black, who read and edited this story, and Gemma Turner for her marketing advice and general excitement.

Thank you to you too, for reading this story and I hope you enjoyed spending more time with Perdita, Piper, Kit, Callum and the residents of Marquess House.

Merry Christmas!

 

If you would like to read The Marquess House Trilogy,
they are available, here:

The Catherine Howard Conspiracy: http://getbook.at/CatherineHoward

The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy: http://getbook.at/ElizabethTudor

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy: http://getbook.at/ArbellaStuart

 

 

Copyright © Alexandra Walsh, 2020

Alexandra Walsh has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this work.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events, other than those clearly in the public domain, are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblances to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales are purely coincidental.

 

Christmas Competition – The Marquess House Trilogy

As a big thank you to everyone who has bought, read and (hopefully) enjoyed The Marquess House trilogy, it’s time for a Christmas
Competition!

I’m giving away signed copies of The Marquess House trilogy to ONE lucky reader. Just head over to @purplemermaid25 on Twitter, retweet and follow. If you already follow, a retweet will do! The winner will be selected at random on 11 December 2020. Good luck!

#win #giveaway #books #historicalfiction #history #secretsrevealed #TheCatherineHowardConspiracy #TheElizabethTudorConspiracy #TheArbellaStuartConspiracy @SapereBooks

Twitter: @purplemermaid25

 

Or, to buy the series, follow the links below!


http://getbook.at/CatherineHoward

http://getbook.at/ElizabethTudor

http://getbook.at/ArbellaStuart

 

 

Review: Women of Science Tarot by Massive Science

A few months ago, I was asked to a review an unusual set of Tarot cards: The Women of Science Tarot by Massive Science. It is a deck featuring inspirational women of science with an accompanying book of their biographies. As Tarot cards have interested me since I was a teenager and promoting the achievements of other women is something I will always advocate, this was two of my favourite things combined. Even better, the illustrations are by a neuroscientist who also happens to be a comic artist, Matteo Farinella. What a woman!

The press release states: “The Women of Science Tarot deck is a card game that helps us tell stories about our futures based on principles of science. Each Major Arcana card features a fundamental scientific concept: extinction, diversity, gravity, while the 56 Minor Arcana cards feature inspirational women who have changed the course
of science, technology, engineering or mathematics, known collectively as STEM.”

My first interest in the Tarot was due to the dark allure of the occult connections but, after looking at the packs, my vivid imagination became more intrigued by the iconography. The images drew me in, challenging my preconceptions and helping me to trust my story-telling abilities. Having studied and read the cards for years, it’s no surprise that I would one day feature them in a story and the book I am currently writing features the mysteries of the Tarot pack and the influence it has on the characters’ lives.

To give you some background, the oldest Tarot pack in existence is the Visconti-Sforza pack. These are a hand-painted pack which were created in mid-fifteenth century Italy in the International Gothic style. Named for the great ducal families of Milan, who commissioned them, they began life as a card game similar to whist.

The first esoteric interpretation of Tarot cards to be recorded in print was in the eighth volume of an unfinished work of dubious scholarship, Le Monde Primitif, by Antoine Court de Gébelin, published in 1781. The author claimed that Tarot cards were invented by ancient Egyptian priests to conceal symbolic instructions in their religious doctrines in the guise of a card game.

Whichever origin you believe is correct, the structure of the Tarot deck was similar in both and remains relatively unchanged today. The Tarot is split into two decks: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The cards in the Major Arcana are icons. The meaning in this case is: “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol”. There are 22 cards numbered from 0 for The Fool, a card indicating birth up to 21 for The World. While the Minor Arcana has 56 cards arranged in four suits like traditional playing cards running from one to 10. The Tarot deck differs from the traditional pack as it contains four court cards: Page, Knight, Queen, King (or variations of such) rather than three in a normal pack.

In a traditional Tarot pack, the four suits of the Minor Arcana are Cups, Swords, Pentacles (or Disks) and Wands (or Staffs), however the Woman of Science set features Nano, Micro, Macro and Astro instead. The images throughout are of influential woman including astronomer and mathematician, Hypatia, who was murdered by a Christian mob in Alexandria in 415AD to the chemist Alice Augusta Bell who was the first African American and the first woman to earn a Master’s Degree at the University of Hawaii. Each turn of the card provides a new woman to greet, understand and acknowledge. The only difficultly I encountered, was the similarity of the colours throughout the Minor Arcana which sometimes made it difficult to differentiate the cards when laying them out in a spread but this is a tiny quibble.

For me, the real fascination of this pack was the juxtaposition of the hard-edged world of science with its rigid facts, figures and research with the ethereal, elusive and changeable element of the Tarot. Rather like most women I know, this seemingly odd mix is actually the perfect representation of women, with the many facets of personality and the multiple roles we all have to play to make it through each day.

A fascinating set of cards for experienced readers, beginners or even people interested in science rather than divination. They are also a useful and fun resource for promoting the achievements of women in science.

 

Five stars *****

 

The Women of Science Tarot is available online.

 

Sleep Well

A little while ago, the lovely people @pukkaherbs asked if I would fancy trying their organic Night Time tea, as well as a selection of other fabulous herbal blends. As I’m allergic to ordinary black tea (NIGHTMARE!) my preferences for the past few years have been the herbal variety. This  was a perfect match.


The Night Time tea has been expertly blended with the finest quality organic herbs to help bring relaxation as you prepare for bed. Usually, sleeping is something I do best but, as a lot of us have discovered during these strange times of lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions, our normal routines have occasionally been disrupted. Finding a way to help me sleep better was not something to ignore.

With a soothing blend of oatstraw flowering tops, lavender flower, chamomile flower, limeflower and valerian, sipping this heavenly blend was the perfect way to take a moment of calm for myself each evening as I began to settle down for a good night’s sleep. The valerian acts as a natural sedative helping to ease tension and anxiety, while the remaining ingredients are designed to encourage healthy, undisturbed sleep, leading to a regularised sleeping pattern that calms and grounds the body and mind.

If this isn’t enough to help restore your nocturnal nature, #PukkaNightTime has created a seven-day, step-by-step routine with one tip per day helping to build a more relaxed sleep pattern, with tips on how to create the perfect sleep environment through to establishing your unique wind-down sleep routine. There is even a sleep diary to help you pinpoint any problems with your bedtime routine and help you unwind naturally.

My bedroom routine includes reading, so to sit in bed, my current book in my hand, sipping a mug of #PukkaNightTime was a great way to end a busy day in the writing hut.

For more information, visit https://www.pukkaherbs.com/uk/en/sleep.html or head to @pukkaherbs on Instagram.

 

#PukkaNightTime

Interview with Author, Elizabeth Bailey

Queen of Regency romance, Elizabeth Bailey has had a long and prolific career. Here she tells us how she began and what inspires her enduring romance with the Regency period.

AW: Hi Liz, thanks so much for talking to me today. When did you first begin writing and what drew you to it as a career? How many books have you written?

EB: Honestly, I don’t recall not writing! My first romance was a fairy story written when I was about 12, I think. Then later the more gothic side of me came out in a saga poem about a murdered mermaid. I wrote a lot of poetry, quizzes, and started potential stories which never got finished. The turning point came when my sister and friends formed a co-operative to send out short stories. I had written a few romantic shorts and articles, so I decided I would write a Mills & Boon historical romance. I soon learned it’s not nearly as easy as one thinks. Eight years and eight full-length novels later, I finally landed a contract.

By that time, I had abandoned the stage as an actress because I realised writing stories was what I truly enjoyed. I have to say I think over the years I became a much better writer than actress! But that background has proved valuable to me as a writer. As for how many books, I have written far more than I have had published. I think I must be up to around 50 by now. Every so often I have a count up. It’s easy with the published books, but the bottom drawer ones I can’t be sure – especially as I have mined some of them for plots and written them in a radically different manner.

Elizabeth Bailey

AW: You must have written millions of words and thought of hundreds of plots over the years, what is it that particularly draws you to the Regency period in your novels?

EB: From age 11, I was addicted to Georgette Heyer, so the Regency was a no brainer when I came to writing myself. What I love about the Georgian and Regency era is the pace of life, the earthy reality of the simplest things – like washing and the exigencies of running a household. Just dressing was a chore and took time to put all the pieces together. No wonder ladies needed a maid!

Then too, there’s a glamour about riding horses and travelling in horse-drawn vehicles, despite the lengthy journeys and jolting over bad roads. I love introducing all the basic necessities of life in that time, in hope the reader will feel immersed in the period.

 

AW: The Lady Fan books feature Lady Ottilia Fanshawe, an amateur sleuth, what was your inspiration for this series? And do you base her cases on real incidents?

EB: Originally, the character was an idea for a historical romance. The Fan idea grew from that and was intended to be a sprawling historical series involving a fan that was passed down through generations. I think it was my brother who suggested that idea might be a mystery series. It was some years before I took up that suggestion, but the first story married up the fan idea with the Ottilia idea and Lady Fan was born.

I don’t base her cases on actual incidents, but I am very careful to ensure that what she knows about medicine is valid for the period. The doctors of the day were surprisingly knowledgeable, considering the lack of medical aids we have today. They experimented a great deal and studied anatomical science, and also shared their findings in treatises.

 

AW: There is a huge amount of research in your novels, what are the sources you find most useful? Do these ever point you in the direction of a new story?

EB: I read extensively in my early years, lots of contemporary material including novels of the time, and made copious notes kept in files. This was before digital so I accumulated masses of paper. Now I have a library of books that I can rely on, as well as the internet.

My best internet sources are contemporary writings, either in books (Google Books is excellent for these) or articles. I use Phyllis Cunnington for costume because her detail is meticulous. I have The Royal British Atlas, which is a copy of an original set of maps of all the English counties. This is a mine of information as the maps include stage coach routes with symbols indicating staging posts, tourist spots, forests and whether a village or town had a rectory, vicarage or curacy. Each map includes historical details and lists of VIPs living in the area. I have certainly picked up ideas to include in my stories from these maps.

Mostly, I find research points up ideas for inclusion rather than an actual new story. However, by the time a set of ideas have generated into a potential story, I have usually forgotten where the original impetus came from.

These questions were really evocative, Alexandra. Thank you so much for inviting me for an interview. I could have continued banging on all day!

AW: Thanks Liz, it was my pleasure, it’s been fascinating!

For more information on Liz’s books, visit: www.elizabethbailey.co.uk or follow her on twitter @lizbwrites

Liz’s books can be bought at: https://saperebooks.com/authors/elizabeth-bailey/

 

The Gunpowder Plotters’ Wives

Remember, remember the fifth of November…

 

Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour are the names most often associated with the fateful plan to blow up King James I and Parliament in 1605 but there were many more, including their wives.

My interest in the people involved in the Gunpowder Plot was an off-shoot of the two plots, the Bye and Main Plots of 1603, which I researched for The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy (Part Three of The Marquess House Trilogy). What intrigued me was the reappearance of the names of the men involved in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. Even more intriguing was their involvement in an earlier rebellion, led by Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex in 1601, when he tried and failed to and wrest the throne from Queen Elizabeth I.

One of their main links was through their religion, Catholicism, but I was interested by the fact that they were willing to continue plotting together even after several catastrophic failures: 1601 left the Earl of Essex dead; 1603 caused the execution of several of the plotters and the life-long incarceration in the Tower of London of the others, including the famous Elizabethan adventurer, Sir Walter Raleigh.

Why were these men so determined to continue?

Delving into their genealogies, it became apparent there were family ties through their mothers, wives and sisters. These connections wove them more tightly together, making the progression of their desperation to try and secure better rights for Catholics and revenge themselves in King James I, more logical.

However, as is often the case, their story is written in a vacuum with few mentions of those around them. To commemorate the failed plot, here’s a brief round-up of the wives of the plotters, the women who may have encouraged or discouraged
, depending on their views, but who all shared the fate of becoming widows when things went so horribly wrong.

 

Catherine Leigh (b: 1571/2. m: 1593. d: 1599)

 The wife of plot planner and instigator, Robert Catesby (abt 1572, Warwickshire – 8 November 1605, Holbeach House, Staffordshire). Father: Sir William Catesby. Mother: Lady Anne Throckmorton (Great-Aunt of Elizabeth Throckmorton, wife of Sir Walter Raleigh).

Extract from christening record

Catherine was the daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh, Warwickshire and Alice Barker, sometimes known as Coverdale. Alice was an heiress, thanks to her uncle Sir Rowland Hill of Longborough, Gloucestershire. Sir Rowland’s estate was entailed to Alice on her marriage in 1533. Thomas worked with Sir Rowland and after he had married Alice, Rowland bought Stoneleigh Abbey for Thomas, where he built a manor house. They were a wealthy Protestant family.

Christened in January 1572 in Warwickshire, Catherine grew up in a comfortable and influential home. When she was 21 she married Catholic Robert Catesby in March 1593. They had two sons: William – who died as a baby – and Robert. It seems Catherine’s family offered Robert Catesby some respite from the recusancy laws. The differing religions suggests various possibilities: it was a love match or in his youth, Catesby, was not such a zealous Catholic and political activist.

There are varying suggestions for the date of Catherine’s death, one is the proposed date of 1599, the other is 1602. The earlier date seems likely, as it was only after his wife’s death that Catesby seemed to take more interest in politics and embrace Catholicism. Whichever is correct, Catesby was a widower by the time he instigated the Gunpowder Plot and perhaps felt he had nothing to lose no matter what the outcome.

 

Martha Wright

Martha, the daughter of Robert Wright and his wife convicted recusant Ursula Rudston, was up to her eyes in Gunpowder Plotters. She was married to Thomas Percy (1560 – 8 November 1605, Holbeach House, Staffordshire), while her brothers were John (Jack) and Christopher (Kit) Wright staunch members of the team. Her brothers had also been involved in the 1601 revolt with the Earl of Essex and interestingly, were at school with Guy Fawkes.

The Wrights were a respectable family and Martha’s husband, Thomas Percy (Father: Edward Percy of Beverley. Mother: Elizabeth Waterton), was well connected. His grandfather was the 4th Earl of Northumberland and his second cousin, was the incumbent earl: Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, who was married to Dorothy Devereux, sister of the Earl of Essex, who led the 1601 coup.

Thomas was said to have dined with his cousin, Henry Percy, the evening before the plot. He was also the man who hired the basement where the gunpowder would be stored and where Guy Fawkes was discovered. When the plot was revealed, Percy rode to Holbeach House in Staffordshire, where he joined Robert Catesby and his brothers-in-law, John and Christopher Wright before the bloody shoot out when the main instigators were killed.

 

Anne Tufton

Anne was married to Robert Catesby’s cousin, Francis Tresham (1567 – 23 December 1605 in the Tower of London, of a natural illness). Anne was the daughter of Sir John Tufton of Hothfield in Kent and his first wife, Olympia Bloor/Blore. She married Tresham in 1593 and they had three children: twins, Lucy and Thomas, and Elizabeth. Thomas died young, Lucy became a nun and Elizabeth married Sir Heneage of Hainton, Lincs.

There are few records of Anne but her father, Sir John Tufton, was the Sheriff of Kent from 1575-1576 and was knighted in 1603. He was created the 1st Baronet Tufton of Hothfield on 29 June 1611 and became a Baronet of Ulster – the Red hand of Ulster can still be seen on his tomb. When the church of St Margaret in Hothfield, Kent, was destroyed by fire caused by a lightning strike, he paid for it to be rebuilt and included within this a Tufton family vault.

The Tufton family were not known to be Catholics, so it is debateable whether Anne knew of her husband’s involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. Records of Tresham’s misdemeanours – assault, affray and general bad behaviour – suggest he was not always reliable and it is thought he was a latecomer to the plot, not joining the others until October 1605. However, with Catesby as his cousin and Thomas Wintour, another plotter, secretary to Tresham’s brother-in-law, William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, it is possible Tresham guessed there were plans afoot and wanted involvement.

It has been suggested that Catesby did not trust him and with good reason as it is thought Tresham was the writer of the Monteagle Letter warning his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, not to attend Parliament on 5 November, which gave away the plotters. Tresham denied this vehemently. Whether Anne was aware of her husband’s involvement, he was arrested on 12 November after being named by Guy Fawkes. Tresham was saved the indignity and shame of execution by dying of illness while incarcerated in the Tower of London.

Anne’s reaction appears to be undocumented but as a Protestant, she would have been safe from the law. Even as a secret Catholic, she would have escaped suspicion but it must have been tough to see her husband die in such squalid circumstances.

 

No records

Guy Fawkes (1570 – 31 January 1606, executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster) was the man caught at the scene of the crime and is the best remembered. Sources claim he was married with a son but there are no records to confirm this.

He went to St Peter’s School in York with the Wright brothers and was recruited by Thomas Wintour. Robert Catesby initiated him and Thomas Percy into the plans in May 1604.

On 6 November 1605, the king authorised the use of torture and the testimony Fawkes gave on 7, 8 and 9 November revealed the names of his conspirators. He was tried with the other surviving conspirators on 27 January 1606.

 

No records

Thomas Wintour (1571, Worcestershire – 31 January 1606, executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster).

No records of a wife. (Although, you might want to read Tracy Borman’s brilliant The King’s Witch for suggestions!)

 

 

 

Gertrude Talbot (1563 – 1608)

The Talbot name walks astride many ancient families in the English nobility. The most famous is that of the Earls of Shrewsbury, most notably George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and his second wife, Bess of Hardwick who were hosts to Mary, Queen of Scots during her captivity in England.

Gertrude married the elder brother, Robert Wintour, and they had three children: John (1595 – 1622); Mary (1597 – 1617) and Helena (1600 – 1671). An online genealogy site suggests, Gertrude was born in 1563 at Grafton Manor, near Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, and was the daughter of Sir John Talbot and his second wife, Katherine Petre. Her brother was George Talbot, 9th Earl of Shrewsbury and was also a Catholic priest.

The Wintours were known Catholics and, with Catesby, were at the heart of the plot, making it probable Gertrude was aware of her husband’s involvement. Whether she quietly supported him, providing places for the plotters to meet at their homes is supposition but would seem possible. Robert was arrested with the remainder of the plotters and was executed 30 January 1606 in St Paul’s Churchyard. Anne died two years later.

 

Dorothy Wintour

 The sister of Thomas and Robert Wintour and the daughter of George Wintour of Coldwell, Worcestershire and Jane Ingleby. George Wintour was the son of Catherine Vaux and Sir George Throckmorton who was Anne Throckmorton’s brother. Anne Throckmorton was Robert Catesby’s mother, so the plotters were very intertwined. Dorothy married fellow plotter, John Grant (1570 – 31 January 1606, executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster) from Warwickshire, where he owned Norbrook, a house not far from Stratford-Upon-Avon. This was regarded by the other plotters as a strategic stronghold.

Dorothy and John had one son, Wintour Grant, however, he does not seem to have married.

To think Dorothy did not know what was happening would be insulting to her intelligence when so many of her family was involved. With the other wives, many of whom were related to her through marriage and blood, the possibility of the women providing a support network for their husbands is one which cannot easily be dismissed. These were women who had grown up at the heart of power, they understood the games of the court and it’s likely they too were hoping for a change of regime which might have been more sympathetic to their religious beliefs.

 

Dorothy (no known maiden name)

Dorothy was the sister-in-law of Martha Percy. She was married to John Wright (aka Jack) (January 1568 – 8 November 1605, Holbeach House, Staffordshire) who was one of the original members of the Gunpowder plotters. Sadly, despite searching, I am yet to discover Dorothy’s maiden name, making it difficult to ascertain more details.

However, there are suggestions the couple had a daughter but there is no record of her name or survival.

 

Margaret Ward

Margaret was also sister-in-law to Martha Percy, as she married the younger brother, Christopher (Kit) Wright (8 November 1605, Holbeach House, Staffordshire).

The brothers were known recusants and were arrested in 1596 under suspicion of a conspiracy concerning Queen Elizabeth I. This led to them being imprisoned after the Essex rebellion in 1601. From the beginning of Catesby’s plot, they were at the centre of activities and stayed with Catesby until the bloody end.

One online genealogy site suggests Margaret was the daughter of Edward Warde and was baptised on 12 October 1571 in the parish of Aldborough in Yorkshire. There is another suggestion that Margaret and Kit had six children: Katherine, Edward, John, Elizabeth, Francis and Marmaduke.

 

Elizabeth Tyrwhitt

The daughter of William Tyrwhitt and Catherine Browne, Elizabeth and her family were an old, wealthy and prominent Catholic family. Her marriage to Ambrose Rookwood (1578 – 31 January 1606, executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster) was a power match combining two powerful Catholic families. Ambrose was the son of Robert Rookwood of Stanningfield, Suffolk by his second wife Dorothy, daughter of Sir William Drury of Hawstead. The Rookwoods were also an old and influential family, having held the manor of Stanningfield since Edward I, and had many members who represented Suffolk in Parliament. However, the family remained staunchly Catholic and many of them, Ambrose’s parents included, were fined and imprisoned for their faith.

Kit Harington as Robert Catesby in the 2017 drama Gunpowder

In 1600 on the death of his father, Rookwood inherited his father’s considerable estates, all four brothers by his father’s first marriage having predeceased him. Along with his wife Elizabeth, he made Coldham Hall a ‘common refuge of priests’.

Rookwood was the go-to man for horses too, dabbling in horse breeding. Once again, it seems likely Elizabeth was aware of the plot but as with the other wives, the punishments for female recusants was far lighter than those for men, suggesting they might have been willing to shoulder the responsibility of the mechanisms of the plot.

Men who refused to conform to the Protestant ruling of the country were subjected to the punishments laid out in the 1559 Act of Uniformity of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacrament and the 1593 Act for Restraining Popish Recusants which included: imprisonment if you held or attended private masses; initial fine of 12 shillings for non-attendance at church, increasing to £20 per month for continued non-attendance and if the fines were not paid, imprisonment.

It was quite different for Catholic women. Married women had no property of their own, therefore could not pay their own fines, meaning that wives had some degree of immunity from financial penalties if found to be an active recusant. Also, allowances were made for women whose husbands were conformists, but only if those women were not converting people to Catholicism. In the early 1590s the Privy Council began ordering the imprisonment of recusant wives of conformist men if they converted or tried to convert others.

 

Christina Groome (widow)

Married to Robert Keyes (1565 – 31 January 1606, executed in Old Palace Yard, Westminster) there are no records of Christina’s maiden name, so it is difficult to trace her connections. However, it is recorded that Christina was the widow of Thomas Groome and was working as governess to the children of Henry Mordaunt, 4th Baron Mordaunt, when she married Keyes.

Robert was first cousin to Elizabeth Tyrwhitt, the wife of Ambrose Rookwood, giving him Catholic connections as well as links to the other plotters, although, it is suggested his father was a Protestant rector.

Keyes was brought into the plot late in October 1605 and was given the role of looking after the gunpowder and other equipment stored at Thomas Percy’s house. He left London once the plot had been discovered but did not travel to Holbeach House with the others, instead he was arrested a few days later. Sadly, with no further records, we know nothing of Christina’s role events.

 

Martha (no known maiden name)

The wife of Robert Catesby’s devoted servant Thomas Bates (1567 – executed 30 January 1606 in St Paul’s Churchyard) Martha is another whose parentage is proving hard to trace.

Born at Lapworth, Warwickshire, Bates was initiated into the plot in December 1604. When the plot was discovered, he raced with Catesby to Holbeach House in Staffordshire but was not there for the deadly shoot-out. Whether he dashed off to see his wife, we will never know, but he was arrested soon afterwards.

 

Mary Mulsho

Mary was the daughter and heiress of the staunchly Protestant William Mulsho of Gothurst (later Gayhurst). In 1596, she married Sir Everard Digby, who was born a Catholic but was raised as a ward of court as a Protestant. The marriage seemed to be a happy one and they had two sons: Sir Kenelm Digby (11 July 1603 – 11 June 1665) who married Venetia Stanley and John Digby.

After their marriage, the young couple moved in with Mary’s father at Gayhurst House in Buckinghamshire. The house was built in the early 16th century on the site of a Roman villa and Norman manor. Mary’s father extended it in 1597, possibly to accommodate the newlyweds.

Digby was the eldest son of Everard Digby, Esquire (d. 1592) and his wife, Maria Neale, daughter of Francis Neale of Keythorpe, Leicestershire. However, his first cousin Anne Vaux, a known Catholic sympathiser who was also related to Catesby. In 1605, Sir Everard was part of a Catholic pilgrimage to the shrine of St Winefride’s Well, Holywell. It was not long after this he met Catesby and was persuaded to become part of the Gunpowder Plot.

Letters smuggled out of the Tower of London written by Sir Everard Digby were discovered 70 years later and tell of his growing commitment to the Catholic faith and its restoration in England. From these letters we discover that after the death of her parents, Mary inherited Gayhurst House and also claimed she wished to convert to Catholicism. It is also suggested she accompanied her husband on the pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well.

However, most interesting of all, was the fact that when the plot was discovered and Sir Everard Digby joined his co-conspirators at Holbeach House, Mary was at Coughton Court in Warwickshire, the family home of the Throckmorton family, with the priest, Father Garnet. If Mary was there, it begs the question, who else was with her? The Throckmortons and the Vaux family were related and as Anne Vaux was a known recusant and had hidden many priests, it suggests Coughton Court was being used by other members of the families of the plotters as they prepared for the gunpowder attack and the subsequent planned uprising.

Coughton Court

Digby was not at Holbeach House when the other men were killed having ridden away accompanied by two servants in order to fetch help. He was caught and arrested a few days later and while in the Tower of London managed to smuggle out his letters.

He was tried separately because he pleaded guilty and made a speech from the scaffold referring to what Catholics thought were promises made by the king at the beginning of his reign, all of which had been reneged upon. Mary escaped punishment and after her husband’s execution, she was allowed to keep Gayhurst House. It was eventually inherited by their eldest son, Sir Kenelm Digby.

 

Thanks for reading my blog. If you would like to know more about the other plots some of the men were involved with prior to 5 November 1605, then check out The Marquess House Trilogy, particularly The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy which features the Bye and Main Plots.

Available on Amazon and to order from all good book shops.

Interview with author, Simon Michael

Simon Michael

Simon Michael is the author of the best-selling Charles Holborne series. Set in 1960s London, they feature his antihero barrister as he navigates his way through the criminal underworld. Inspired by his own 37-year career as a barrister, when he defended and prosecuted a wide selection of murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy, Simon was published here and in America in the 1980s. He returned to writing when he retired from the law in 2016. The sixth book in the Charles Holborne series: Force of Evil will released by Sapere Books on 3 November 2020.

 

 

AW: You were a barrister and use your years of experience in the law as inspiration for your series featuring, Charles Holborne. How do you decide which cases to use? You must have a huge amount to draw on.

 

SM: That’s a really interesting question, one which no one has asked before. Some cases are so extraordinary, they’ll stay with me forever, like the one that formed the story of The Waxwork Corpse. It’s pretty unusual for a quiet respected professional man to kill his wife and dump her body in Wastwater, a lake in Wasdale and the deepest body of water in the Lake District National Park. He was not charged at the time, then over a decade later, while the lake was being searched during an entirely different case, the body was found in a perfectly preserved condition.

 

Similarly, I’ll never forget the case behind An Honest Man because much of the background material actually happened to me. So, some cases just jump out and demand to be the subject of a story. Others are not based on a single case but are compilations of several. Even the most interesting cases, like murder, are boring in parts. In the new Charles Holborne adventure, Force of Evil, there was a line of cross-examination which was so astonishingly successful in reality, I still remember it (as do other barristers who heard it). It’s a case of keeping the excitement up, and cutting out all the boring, procedural or legalistic parts of the case. I try not to take liberties with how the courts actually work, but simply cut from one good bit to the next!

 

It’s also helpful that I’m following the story of the Krays throughout the 1960s, which was a very eventful time in British history. Everyone has heard of the Profumo affair, but no one has heard of the event, which I think is much worse, retold in Corrupted. That was a much worse cover-up, also involving politicians and sex, because as a result at least two people died. It was a political and legal story crying out to be told, into which I wove the murder plot.

 

AW: Sounds fascinating. Is this what drew you to setting your books are set in London, during the 1960s?

 

SM: I wanted to tell the story of what it felt like to be an outsider at the Bar at the time when I started in practice. There was rampant class, race and religious prejudice, both at the Bar and indeed on the Bench. I came from a working-class Jewish family, no money, state educated. I paid my way through university and pupillage by working as a labourer. You can imagine how well I fitted into the establishment, very traditional, Bar. I also wanted to tell the story of the corruption at the time, particularly in the Met. The year I was called, 1978, was the beginning of Operation Countryman in which the Home Office drafted in honest coppers from the provincial forces to try and weed out the corruption in the Metropolitan Police. The government has never published the report into Operation Countryman, but it was still imprisoning senior police officers until the mid-80s.

 

The two decades before then were like the Wild West of British justice, with gangs like the Krays and the Richardsons fighting to control the profits from illegal enterprises including protection, prostitution, gambling and pornography, and large swathes of Met officers were completely corrupt. The corruption went beyond taking a cut of the profits like many in the Sweeney did, or being paid for information and influence by major criminals. It also included tampering with evidence, fitting up innocent people and using strong-arm techniques.

 

The 60s was also a time of enormous societal change. People forget that London at the beginning of the decade was not flower power, the Beatles and Carnaby Street. Until the mid-60s it was grey and drab, with rationing and bomb sites. The post-War deference broke down slowly with the tide of sex, drugs and rock and roll coming over the Atlantic until London found itself the centre of the universe for music, fashion and the arts. I still find it a fascinating time in British history.

 

AW: What inspired you to start writing? And what advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

 

SM: I’ve always loved telling stories, and I’ve been writing since I was at school. I suspect that most writers feel impelled — to a greater or lesser degree — to write. Although I wrote some books which did quite well in the 1980s I didn’t really have time to focus on it until I retired, and although I loved my career at the Bar and it brought obvious rewards, I sometimes wish I’d had the courage of my convictions to start writing in earnest sooner. Now, I find myself at the start of a writing career in my mid-60s. I want it to be more than a hobby, and I don’t have much time left. On the other hand my parents both lasted until the 90s, so if I retain my marbles I could have another quarter of a century.

 

The only advice I would give to other aspiring writers is: Get on with it! A “writer” is someone who writes. As I’m sure you know, you can’t wait for the muse to arrive. It’s a matter of hard work and discipline. I knew Brian Clemens, the writer of many of the Avengers and Professionals scripts (he also wrote some very good short stories by the way) and he used to say: “Bum on seat, fingers on keyboard.” I don’t think you can put it better.

 

Thanks Simon, it’s been great talking to you.

 

The new Charles Holborne thriller, Force of Evil, will be published on 3 November 2020 by Sapere Books.

 

 

For more information about Simon Michael and his Charles Holborne thrillers, visit:

www.simonmichael.uk


Twitter: @simonmichaeluk

FACEBOOK |  https://www.facebook.com/simonmichael.uk

 

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Tudor!

#OTD Elizabeth I was born, today would be 487th birthday! Elizabeth has always been the woman I’ve most admired in history. She was fearless in the face of adversity and never wavered in the endless challenge of ruling during a time where women were often viewed as less important than a good hunting dog. Her privy council regularly rebelled against her and if she made a proposal they disliked, they would bicker like children. As queen, she would use dignity, diplomacy, tact and guile to make them understand she was the person in charge and not them.

Elizabeth was unique and incredible.

All power Elizabeth! Happy birthday! #herstory #womensvoices #theothersideofhistory

 

Review of Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth by Jame DiBiasio

Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth

 

Words: Jame DiBiasio

Illustrations: Harry Harrison

Published by OANDA

Available on Amazon from September 2020

Review:

Money, it’s a commodity that is intrinsic to our existence: whether we have it or don’t, or we’re striving for more, its presence is something we all feel and we need it to survive. The fascinating Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth by award-winning financial journalist Jame DiBiasio will have you looking at the money in your pocket in a very different way. This light-hearted but thoroughly researched walk through time takes you on a trail from the development of cowry shells in China as a way to pay for barley to the rise of e-money technology. Illustrated by Harry Harrison, this is a must-have for anyone interested in money, social history, trivia and the hidden world of finance.

 

Each of the 12 chapters peels back the traditional take on history to offer a new interpretation of events showing how money has helped to shape our past. DiBiasio’s approachable writing style transforms a potentially complicated subject into one that is both entertaining and enlightening, as well as presenting an enticing and eye-opening story of a hidden piece of history. He leads us through the influences of how world currencies have played a part in the development of religion, politics and wars, including the introduction of the gold standard. While Harrison’s illustrations provide the perfect accompaniment.

 

From my own historical research, I knew about the Knights’ Templar being early bankers, however, this was my one fact about the history of finance, so I was fascinated to discover the origins of the word money. It is derived from the Roman cult of the goddess, Juno Moneta. Her name, Moneta, was derived from the Latin monere (to warn) and she was the patroness of the city of Rome. However, her role soon changed as she became the guardian of the city funds, it is from her name, we have the words money and mint.

 

At the end of most chapters, there is a panel of trivia including everything from the most expensive collectable coins available to sci-fi money to the works of art on the bank notes. The two which most intrigued me were not only the descriptions of the way many banknotes have become works of art but also how in Japan, the artist Genpei Akasegawa copied the JPY1,000 note in order to use it as an artistic representation. His notes were printed on one-side, therefore, were clearly worthless. The Japanese authorities were less than impressed and eventually, Akasegawa, was charged with creating imitation banknotes in violation of the 1894 law controlling The Imitation of Currency and Securities. He was found guilty and given a three-month suspended sentence.

 

DiBiasio’s meticulous research makes this a book that is not only fun to dip in and out of in order to find fascinating facts but also a page-turning read on a commodity that is so common but about which most of us know very little.

 

5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

The East End Matriarchy – Interview with Kate Thompson

On this month’s Interview with an Author, I chat to Sunday Times bestseller, Kate Thompson. Author of The Stepney Doorstep Society – a detailed and important history of the matriarchal society of the East End of London – as well as six novels set in the East End during World War II. Kate explains why women’s history is vital in our understanding not only of the past but in how we live today.

   

AW: Hi Kate, thanks for speaking to me this month. For those who don’t your work, you specialise in the female experience of WWII, what particularly drew you to this subject?

Kate Thompson: At first, it was an interest sparked by the history of the Second World War and in particular, the East End, a place I had always been endlessly fascinated by, but it quickly evolved into something much more complex.

The more women I interviewed, the more intrigued I became about the power of the matriarchy in East London. My interest became far more focussed on a narrative that examined and celebrated the contribution of women to the rich social, economic and political history of East London in the days before the Welfare State existed.

The East End, in common with all working-class communities, was a matriarchal society. Women in crossover aprons and turbans were the beating heart of their neighbourhoods. The matriarch, or auntie, was the go-to woman, responsible for birthing the babies of the street, laying out its dead and a plethora of other roles. As chief female of her neighbourhood, she was a social worker, midwife, citizens advice worker, funeral parlour, nurse, hairdresser, childminder, moneylender and abortionist, all rolled up in a starched apron.

It began to dawn on me that these are the women missing from the history books, and their unfiltered gush of history deserves our scrutiny. These women might not have held any power in an official sense, taken part in military campaigns, made laws or started wars, but they were forced to react to them. History, when viewed up close and personal through their eyes, is so much more revealing and takes the true temperature of the times.

AW: You’re right, women are so often missing from the pages of history, particularly working class women, yet they tell a fascinating tale of survival and fortitude.  All your books are based on real-life events; how do you decide which stories to use and what are your most useful research tools?

KT: It’s a very organic and fluid process. I tend to hear about things as I’m on my travels interviewing women, then I go to archives and see what more I can uncover. For example, the book I’m researching now about Bethnal Green’s wartime shelter library built over the tracks of the westbound tunnel at Bethnal Green Underground was sparked when a lovely wartime survivor and cockney, Pat Spicer, told me she used to borrow Milly Molly Mandy from the shelter library when she was a child and it sparked a lifelong love of reading.

I remember thinking, how peculiar and curious: was there really a library built over the tracks? She was young, perhaps she was mistaken? I went off to the local history library archives and sure enough, I should never have doubted an East End matriarch (they never forget) there it was, a perfect wood-panelled little library with 4,000 volumes, built 78 feet underground. This library offered a lifeline to thousands of weary wartime shelters, offering escape, solace and a blessed respite from the war waging overhead. I had heard of Dig for Victory but never Read for Victory.

AW: How interesting! It must have been a relief to escape from the difficulties of war for a few hours in the safety of the library. Your new book, Secrets of the Lavender Girls, is the sequel to Secrets of the Homefront Girls and are both set in the Yardley factory. The books focus on female friendships and the support women give each other. What did you find most inspiring about the real-life stories you gathered during your research?

KT: I think the ingenuity of the way women support one another, and their resilience. Women back then definitely placed female solidarity ahead of all else, and truly believed you had a duty to help those in your community, because you never knew when it was your turn to rely on that help: what little we had we shared. Neighbours were as close as friends. We lived collectively, not individually – are sentiments I have heard shared over again from Hoxton to Hackney.

Gladys, 92, puts it this way:

‘The problem is, once you reach a certain age, people think you’re not important,’ she frowns. ‘You cease to exist as a valid member of society. You’re a “dear”, not a person. There’s such a lack of understanding. We need to be teaching manners, morals and respect to our younger generation. Attitudes towards older people must change. We have lived through so much. We have stories to tell, and advice to offer.

‘After all, when you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future. We’re missing a trick by not utilising the skills and wisdom of our older generation.’

92-year-old Irene agrees: ‘I may have snow on the roof, but I’m not old, I have stories to tell.’

Women like Gladys and Irene don’t leave a paper trail, which makes it all the more rewarding when you do find them and listen to those stories. Because after all, aren’t we all in the business of storytelling?

These women and their generation are irreverent, subversive, politically aware, resourceful, cunning and wickedly funny. They got the job done and kept communities functioning.

AW: Never a truer word, Kate. These women are as important to history as the men who are also, quite rightly celebrated. They all fought the war, the men with guns, the women with their guts and ingenuity. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.

Thank you, Kate, it’s been a wonderful insight.

Secrets of the Lavender Girls (Hodder & Stoughton) is available on Kindle and will be released in paperback on 21 January 2021.