Publisher: Nydie Books
Page Length: 298 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Runner-up, SAW Barbara Hammond Trophy
A group of nobles seize St Andrews Castle foiling all attempts to re-take it. Local lad Will is among them, fighting for the Protestant cause. His treasonous activities place his family in grave danger, forcing his sister Bethia into an unwelcome alliance. As the long siege unravels, Bethia and Will struggle over where their loyalties lie and the choice they each must make — whether to save their family, or stay true to their beliefs and follow their hearts.
This debut novel closely follows the true historical events of the siege of St Andrews Castle, and its dramatic re-taking.
Mary Anne: It is so lovely that you could drop by today and have a chat. Would you mind introducing yourselves to our readers?
Bethia: I am Bethia Seton, a young woman living in St Andrews, the foremost town of Scotland. It is the year of our Lord fifteen hundred and forty six (1546) and a most perilous time to be alive. The wee Queen Mary of Scots is upon the throne. She is no more than three years of age and all fight over who should wed her. The most determined is King Henry VIII of England who wants her for his son, Prince Edward. This king is not to be gainsaid and his attacks upon our country are cruel and relentless. Thanks be to Cardinal Beaton who protects our Queen and resists King Henry’s bullying of Scotland.
Will: I am Will Seton and my sister does not tell this story correctly. Cardinal Beaton may be Queen Mary’s great champion, but he is an evil man who had the Protestant George Wishart burned at the stake —a kind preacher who did not deserve such a terrible end. For this reason we took St Andrews Castle, Cardinal Beaton’s home, and hold it against all comers. We call ourselves The Castilians, and I am sure it cannot be true that some among us are in the pay of King Henry of England.
|St Andrews Castle in 1580.|
Mary Anne: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Bethia: This is one thing my brother and I can agree on. There is no town greater than St Andrews. Pilgrims come from as far away as Russia to do penance here, and our town is known as the second Jerusalem.
Will: We can agree our town is most magnificent but not for the pilgrims who follow Papist practices and swell the coffers of a rich church by paying for indulgences. Our town is great because here is where John Knox is finding his calling. Last week he preached his first service in Holy Trinity, the church of the people, unlike that ower-grand cathedral.
Mary Anne: What would you consider to be your greatest strength?
Bethia: My mother cannot read but she can write her name. She thinks a girl need do no more than this. My father, a merchant of St Andrews, has allowed me learning and now I can read Latin and speak French and help him with his accounts. This makes me happy.
Will: I am but fifteen years of age and most tall. I am called Will the Giant but my strength is not great, especially after months stuck inside this mouldering castle — which stinks, and all the Cardinal’s food stores have been eaten so we are always hungry. One day I hope I to grow into my strength, and become a man who is both powerful and true.
Mary Anne: What is your biggest regret?
Bethia: I should have stopped my brother. There was a chance and I missed it. Now I have entered the castle secretly from the seaward side, which was both terrifying and the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. But I could not persuade him home with me. He has a most unaccountable loyalty to those wicked Castilians.
Will: I did not know my fellow Castilians would attack the people of St Andrews, otherwise I would never have joined them. And they told me Cardinal Beaton would stand trial and a sentence be passed; I was misled here too. But they are my fellows and I believe our cause is right, so I will not desert them but stay until this terrible siege ends — regardless of what may happen to me.
Mary Anne: If you could choose a magic power, what would it be?
Bethia: I am a young woman of the sixteenth century and the the word magic is most perilous. I do not have choices but will do what is best for my family, and obey my father. They say I must marry to save the family from punishment from my brother’s treasonous actions. I fear the man they may choose will be old. I would ask, most humbly, for the power to make my own choices — and for men to stop this turmoil about reform. Surviving this life is treacherous enough, without religious strife.
Will: For all to know and understand that the church must be reformed. Listen to the words of the great John Knox and we shall all be saved. But still, I would wish for the power to make change happen without this peril for the people of my town.
All images are mine – the drawing of the castle was done by my husband taken from the Geddy map of 1580, which I have permission from the National Library of Scotland to use ( and which is also the cover of the book)
‘Castilians,’ Will says with a cheeky grin, and for a moment she sees again the little brother she loved to play with.
‘We are “The Castilians”.’ He thrusts his hips out, folding his arms and flings his head back, so that his cap falls off.
She cannot help but laugh. ‘But you’ll soon run short of food.’ She waves her arm around.
The smile fades from Will’s face and he sniffs. ‘Aye, ever the wee merchant, counting stock.’
‘If you’d put the time into learning Father’s trade you wouldn’t be in this mess.’
‘You think I want to spend my life bent over an abacus?’ He bangs his hand down on an empty barrel. ‘What will I say to St Peter at the Gates of Heaven, when he asks me to reflect on my life; that I counted and added and bought and sold? There must be something more, some higher purpose, and that’s what we’re working for here. The right way to live in God’s true faith.’
‘How is it that this whole escapade is about faith, and yet your fellows are running wild in our town? Our town, Will!’
All the fight goes from him and his shoulders droop. ‘I do not leave the castle, I do not condone their actions.’
She notices how his wrists dangle from the too-short sleeves of his jerkin. He may be tall, but he’s not yet come to manhood and, despite his broadening shoulders and beard growth, he can still sound like a lost boy.
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