The Queen’s Spy
By Clare Marchant
By Clare Marchant
Publication Date: 8th July 2021
Page Length: 400 Pages
Genre: Historical Dual Timeline
1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.
There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…
2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.
Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?
A Life in the time of Tom Lutton
Life in the times of Tom Lutton, during Queen Elizabeth 1st reign was so different from how we live today that I can barely scrape the surface here!
People often ask me why I choose to write about Tudor times, but for me it's an easy choice. The era was so volatile and there were such huge differences in how people lived, I find it all fascinating. At one end of the spectrum were the poor, the servants, peasants, labourers living such a harsh existence and at the other end the privileged titles, the noblemen and courtiers who kept as close to the crown as possible. And social climbing in the sixteenth century was the way to achieve the riches and status they all craved.
An example of this disparity between rich and poor can be seen in the food they ate, which varied considerably between the classes. The well off dined on a large variety of meats such as beef, veal, mutton, geese, rabbits, pigeon and venison, although for the most part not all meals would be the extravagant feasts we see depicted on television or in films. There would also be vegetables such as leeks and cabbages, and afterwards cheeses, figs, apples or pears. The rich would have eaten white manchet bread whilst the poor ate rough brown often dry bread, made at home if they lived rurally or bought at a bakery if they lived in towns and cities. Some people made their own dough and took it to be cooked in the big baker’s ovens. Pottage, made from leftover meat boiled with any available vegetables and barley was eaten by the poor for many meals. On non-meat religions days fish would be substituted.
In those days nobody drank water as we do today, even the Tudors recognised that their water carried diseases. Instead, they drank beer or ale which would for the most part be far less potent (small beer) than our current day equivalent. The rich also drank wine, a sweetened wine called hippocras, and a honey wine called mead, whilst in the country cider was drunk. Poor people would have drunk milk as well as beer and women and children sometimes drank whey, the by-product of making butter and cheese.
When it came to how they lived, there was a vast difference in the types of houses they inhabited. For the rich there were stately homes, castles and palaces, old homes either inherited or built with 'new money' by those who gained riches, such as a favourite of royalty, or their civil servants – another reason why the nobility all clamoured to get close to the monarch, where great riches lay.
For the less well off, for instance homes owned by the yeomen and merchants, in Elizabeth’s era they were beginning to have new-fangled brick fireplaces built, as well as glass in their windows. Whilst at the other end of the spectrum the poor lived in almost bare, often squalid one or two roomed houses. Some of the dissolved monasteries in London were refashioned into what we would recognise today as tenement housing, whilst in the country rural workers lived in small cottages with cob walls made from mud, wooden lathes and animal hair, and thatched roofs. They were less likely to have chimneys, with possibly just a hole in the wall or roof to let the smoke out.
In the cities, the wealthy merchants used their houses and businesses to draw attention to themselves and gain more business, so their homes were quite ostentatious. Usually timber framed, and two or three storeys high - we can see today the cantilevered floors, each spreading out a little further than the one below to gain a little more space. Prosperous merchant’s houses were often built around an internal courtyard with galleried walkways around the edges to access the rooms on each floor.
There were also huge differences with how people were clothed; poor people often only owned one outfit which could be riddled with lice and fleas, constantly biting the wearer and therefore increasing the risk of illness. Bathing as we know it would have been rare, only the nobility had someone to fill and empty your bath tub. Otherwise in those days you would usually just wash the parts of your body that showed, hands and face. This would be a reason why almost all classes had several changes of linen shirts so they could at least wash those and feel a bit fresher.
In Tom’s day, the usual longevity for a Tudor man was forty years old. Of course, there was the appalling infant mortality, and a large discrepancy in the age that people would live to, because of the spectrum of income differences. The richer you were, the better medicines you could afford. And with the poor living in far more crowded conditions when a virulent illness such as the plague or sweating sickness arrived, it infected and killed many people in just a few days.
Another reason that someone's life may be curtailed in Tom’s times, assuming you had survived infancy and one of the contagious diseases or a simple accident (no health-safety in the sixteenth century!) was by the strict laws of the day with extremely harsh punishments. Our freedom of speech which we value so highly today is very different to how it was in Tudor times. Nobody dared to speak out against the crown or to displease the monarch in any way. There were many plots to topple the crown and a continuous unravelling of them by the monarch’s people. We can see this in The Queen's Spy, where Tom becomes involved in foiling the Babington plot. There is also a mention of Throckmorton, a previous conspiracy and the sticky ending that those plotters came to. It often wasn't just enough to hang someone; they were chopped into body parts (‘quartered’) and in the case of high-profile cases in London their heads were stuck on spikes on the side of London Bridge. Around the country were plenty of other unpleasant ways to punish people for minor misdemeanours whilst setting an example to deter others. We can still see the stocks where criminals would be clamped on some village greens to this day, and beside rivers we can find places where supposed witches would be dropped into the water (‘ducked’) tied to a stool.
England was a volatile and often dangerous place to be in the sixteenth century, and I for one am very pleased that I didn’t live then! Tom moved up the ranks to become an apothecary to the Queen and then onto more dangerous activities for which he received recognition and the approval of the highest-ranking statesmen in the country. Everything in the sixteenth century depended on money and the way to increase riches was to be in the employ or social circle of the nobility at court. But once there, nobody was safe.
Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.
Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.