Monday, 5 February 2018

Lady Johanna St.John and The Tower of London by Elizabeth St.John #History @ElizStJohn

Lady Johanna St.John and
the Tower of London
The Lydiard Chronicles: A Family Saga

The Lydiard Chronicles, my historical fiction series, is named after Lydiard Park, the St.John ancestral home in Wiltshire. Full of portraits and memorials of my family, Lydiard House and adjacent Church of St. Mary's is a writer’s dream. Elizabethan monuments, Jacobean portraits and medieval wall paintings all provide a rich tapestry of images, calling across the ages for their stories to be told.

The Six St.John Sisters (Lucy St.John far left)

The first in the series, The Lady of the Tower, takes place in the early 1600s. The Tower of London is infamous for the famous prisoners it housed, the horrific torture that took place within its walls, and the tragic executions witnessed on Tower Green. But along with the kept must be the keepers, and the story of my ancestress, Lucy St.John, is that of The Lady of the Tower – the wife of the Lieutenant of the Tower.
Lucy first moved to the Tower in 1617, with a two year old baby boy and no warning that her life was about to change so drastically. She married Sir Allen Apsley after a heartbreaking betrayal by the Earl of Suffolk, one of King James’ courtiers. Lucy hoped for a quiet life, marrying an older man and bringing up his two children. All that changed when her sister Barbara married Edward Villiers, brother to the Duke of Buckingham. The Duke, George Villiers, was the favorite of King James and his son, Prince Charles, and with that came the power to bestow all kinds of riches on his friends and relatives. As a result, Lucy’s husband was granted the position of Lieutenant of the Tower.

Lucy St.John’s house within The Tower of London

Once within the Tower, Lucy became a witness to history. She took care of Sir Walter Raleigh in his later years, encouraging his alchemy experiments by lending him her henhouse as a workshop. And, in an ironic twist of fate, Lucy became the guard of Frances Howard, Suffolk’s sister, when she was imprisoned in the Tower after instigating the murder of Thomas Overbury.

Along with the duties of organizing food for the prisoners, Lucy was also responsible for their physical wellbeing, as best she could.  According to her daughter, “to all prisoners that come into the Tower she was as a mother. All the time she dwelt in the Tower, if any were sick she made them broths and restoratives with her own hands, visited and took care of them, and provide them all necessaries; if any were afflicted she comforted them, so that they felt not the inconvenience of a prison who were in that place.”

I was also able to include many medicinal recipes within the novel that come from Lady Johanna St.John's Recipe Book, part of the Wellcome Foundation collection in London. Lady Johanna was Lucy's niece, and since so many recipes were handed down and exchanged within the family, I felt it no stretch of the imagination to think some may have been Lucy's.

Lady Johanna St.John

Lady Johanna’s Recipe book
The Lady of the Tower is based on a diary from the 1660s that I discovered many years ago in Nottingham Castle. Written by the heroine’s daughter, her vivid story of her mother brought my ancestors to life, and I was determined to honor the truth of her account of my seventeenth century family. As I researched more, I made the decision to only use contemporary sources to inform my fiction, and so as I read letters, court pleadings, dispatches, their voices started to come alive. And, as I immersed myself more in their world, they became part of my life. Because they were real people, and connected to me, I felt I had an obligation to interpret their lives authentically, while at the same time describing human behaviors that transcend time and place.

Once I had completed The Lady of the Tower, I realized that the story of Lucy and her family could not end. I set about writing the story of her children, Allen and Luce. The second book of The Lydiard Chronicles is named “By Love Divided” and takes place is the years leading up to the English Civil War. Lucy St.John embraced the Puritan cause and yet her son chose to fight for King Charles. As England fell into bloody civil war, her daughter embraced Parliament’s radical views and confronted the very core of the family’s beliefs. Again based on contemporary diaries and documents, By Love Divided tells of the heart-wrenching choices my family faced.

Writing about my own ancestors has been a remarkable journey. Reading their words, their hopes, dreams for the future and loves and sorrows is an incredibly emotional process. And, knowing what lies ahead as they share their thoughts can be very harrowing. In all, though, knowing that these people lived and loved much the same way as we do today gives me great joy as I tell their stories. It is an honor to bring them alive for today’s readers and show us that we all have the same dreams and desires, even with centuries between us.

Lydiard House and Park

The Lydiard Chronicles are on sale on as Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and paperbacks. The Lady of the Tower is also on sale at the Tower of London and both paperbacks are available through bookshops. Visit my Amazon page for more details:

Elizabeth St.John 

Elizabeth St.John at Lydiard House

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. To inform her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost. But that's a different story...

Elizabeth loves to hear from readers, you can find her... Website Facebook Twitter

The Lady of the Tower:
A Novel (The Lydiard Chronicles Book 1)

Orphaned Lucy St.John, described as "the most beautiful of all," defies English society by carving her own path through the decadent Stuart court. In 1609, the early days of the rule of James I are a time of glittering pageantry and cutthroat ambition, when the most dangerous thing one can do is fall in love . . . or make an enemy of Frances Howard, the reigning court beauty.

Lucy catches the eye of the Earl of Suffolk, but her envious sister Barbara is determined to ruin her happiness. Exiling herself from the court, Lucy has to find her own path through life, becoming mistress of the Tower of London. Riding the coattails of the king’s favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, the fortunes of the St.Johns rise to dizzying heights. But with great wealth comes betrayal, leaving Lucy to fight for her survival—and her honor—in a world of deceit and debauchery.

Elizabeth St.John tells this dramatic story of love, betrayal, family bonds and loyalty through the eyes of her ancestor Lucy and her family’s surviving diaries, letters and court papers.

By Love Divided:
 The Lydiard Chronicles 1630-1646

Fiercely independent, Luce Apsley rejects the dazzling English court and an entitled marriage arranged by her aristocratic family, and falls in love with a Roundhead soldier. Her mother follows the Puritan cause and yet her beloved brother, Sir Allen Apsley, chooses to fight for king and country. As England falls into bloody civil war, Luce embraces Parliament's radical views and confronts the very core of the family's beliefs. And when their influential Villiers cousins raise the stakes, King Charles demands loyalty. Allen and Luce face a devastating challenge. Will war unite or divide them? In the dawn of rebellion, love is the final battleground. 

Based on surviving memoirs, court papers and letters of Elizabeth St.John's family, By Love Divided continues the story of Lucy St.John, The Lady of the Tower. This powerfully emotional novel tells of England's great divide, and the heart-wrenching choices one family faces.


  1. Such an interesting post, Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I find this totally fascinating. I really shall, as soon as I get time, read both books. Wonderful post.

    1. Thank you Carol! I hope you enjoy meeting the fam :)


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Mary Anne xxx