Queen of Blood
By Sarah Kennedy
Publication Date: 26th March 2021
Publisher: Penmore Press
Page Length: 321 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Queen of Blood, Book Four of the Cross and the Crown series, continues the story of Catherine Havens, a former nun in Tudor England. It is now 1553, and Mary Tudor has just been crowned queen of England. Still a Roman Catholic, Mary seeks to return England to its former religion, and Catherine hopes that the country will be at peace under the daughter of Henry VIII. But rebellion is brewing around Thomas Wyatt, the son of a Tudor courtier, and when Catherine’s estranged son suddenly returns from Wittenberg amid circulating rumours about overthrowing the new monarch, Catherine finds herself having to choose between the queen she has always loved and the son who seems determined to join the Protestants who seek to usurp her throne.
A man with a curdled face stood in the front hall, squashing his hat in his hands. Clerical dress. Quite grand. His line of attendants loitered behind him, snaking from the door into the courtyard. He wiped the edge of his shoe on the pavers and lifted it to examine the result. He said, “Catherine Davies?”
“Yes,” she said, still on the stairs. “My husband is not at home.”
“A man of business,” he said, “and of industry. How admirable.”
“He is,” Catherine said, wary now, “except on holy days.” Her fingers touched the cold Christ against her chest.
“My name is Stephen Gardiner. I am here to speak to you. About your son.”
The name fluttered around Catherine’s brain. She knelt. “Archbishop. Lord Chancellor. I am honoured. I would have better prepared if I had known of your coming. Forgive me. I am unready for such a presence.”
“Get on your feet,” he said. “I’m not here to be entertained, and I don’t care what you’re wearing.”
Ann tore away, headed for the kitchen, and Catherine stood. He had put the crown on Mary Tudor’s head, she had heard. She looked at his hands, porky and spotted, but thick with power. “I am at your service.”
“So Her Majesty assures me. But is your family?”
The house was suddenly hollow with silence. The music had stopped. The girls were probably around the corner above them, listening. Catherine’s heart whipped itself into a gallop before she remembered that Robbie was gone.
“My family?” Catherine saw a couple of the kitchen girls scoot into the dining gallery with a plate and jugs, and she motioned toward the room. “Come and sit by the fire. Your men, as well.”
She left the big chair at the end of the table for the archbishop and waited until two of the men had seated themselves. They’d left the seat to Gardiner’s right unoccupied, and Catherine ordered the maids to pour before she slid into it. “Have more wood brought,” she said, and the girls curtsied and tiptoed away.
Gardiner reclined and let his head fall back so that he could study the ceiling. Catherine thought he was trying to make out the designs through the soot, and her cheeks went hot at the thought of how many months it had been since she had had it cleaned.
He finally sat up and said, “Your son, Robert Overton.”
Of course. Catherine reined in her voice. Steady now. “My son.”
“He has been in the company of the Duke of Suffolk lately, or so we hear. And one Peter Carew. Do you know him?”
Catherine shook her head. She could speak the simple truth. “The duke is Jane Grey’s father, is he not?”
“He claims to be,” said the archbishop. He leaned back again, as a man brought in logs and arranged them over the dying fire. The flames licked upward, and he sighed. “But this Carew. He’s an adventurer. Old enough to know better than he acts.”
“I do not mingle with adventurers. I am more of a home body.”
“Yes.” Again he straightened. “Her Majesty tells me that you prefer your kitchens to the court.”
“The court is for greater persons than I.”
“But you have done well for yourself.” He let his head fall back yet again and gazed upward. “This house would hold multitudes.”
“It is comfortable for our family,” said Catherine, “but it is shallower than it appears. We provide well for our servants, and they reward us with loyalty.”
“Loyalty. Now there is the point,” said Gardiner. “You have vowed your loyalty to our queen.”
“I have done so, many times.”
“I hope the promise is not as shallow as your house.”
“Indeed not. I have sworn my duty to her many times.”
“She remembers this. She has a great deal of affection for you. But this Carew. He’s a more unsteady sort of person. He prefers to play. He likes a challenge, and he likes loud companions. And yet, like so many of his character, he is loose of tongue when he drinks. And he likes to drink.”
“I would not have him near my daughters,” said Catherine.
“Your daughters are not my object,” said Gardiner, “nor his. Your son seems drawn to him. Almost a man, isn’t he?”
“He will be seventeen this winter.”
“Mm. A difficult age. And young men are impressionable, like heated wax. And like wax, they melt. Like moths, drawn to the flames of exploits, real or imagined. Like this.” He plucked a loose thread from his sleeve and tossed it into the hearth. It sizzled and was gone.
“What are you telling me?”
“I am telling you a story. A moral story. Some men’s mouths work faster than their minds. And their deeds run along with their words, on wind. Such men often blow up trouble, when they cast them to the ears and arms of others. Such a man is this Peter Carew. Ask your son about him. And tell him to steer clear, lest he be shipwrecked. Do you understand me?”
“I think I do,” said Catherine.
Gardiner gulped his wine and belched. “Good day to you, Lady Catherine.” The men were up before the archbishop had pushed back his chair, and they flanked the door as he went out. They mounted their horses and were gone, the line of attendants slithering after the great Lord Chancellor.
Catherine stood at the open door. The day was stark and frigid. The sun had already begun its retreat into a mass of cloud, and she closed the house against its weak face. Ann, behind her, said, “What was all that? It sounded like nonsense from where I stood.”
Catherine said, “It was a warning. It was a threat.”
Sarah Kennedy is the author of the Tudor historical series, The Cross and the Crown, including The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, The King’s Sisters, and Queen of Blood. She has also published a stand-alone contemporary novel, Self-Portrait, with Ghost, as well as seven books of poems. A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing. She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.