The Tudor Throne Series, Book 1: The Usurper's Throne

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Back Cover:

Henry VII faces traitors on all sides.

In a darkened abbey in Hampshire, a dozen monks conspire against him.

In a French garrison, a governor favors his enemies.

And one of them holds a secret to devastate England.

Katharine of Aragon arrives in the midst of a storm, bought in a traitor’s blood. The death of Edward Plantagenet turned the queen’s cousin, the Duke of Suffolk, against Henry. He has since fled to the Netherlands to recruit an invading army. Henry hopes to keep his new daughter-in-law close, but Suffolk’s allies stir corruption in Wales, forcing him to send his son into the north.

There, a brutal feud threatens all Prince Arthur holds dear.

As his ruthless enforcer, Sir Thomas Lovell, closes in upon his enemies, Henry’s last hope lies in his children, and in a dynastic marriage to unite two kingdoms…

Author's Notes:

This book was a labor of love for me, since I have had a twenty-odd-year love affair with Katharine of Aragon and the Tudors. As I struggled to fit her story into one book, I decided a series would be more appropriate, which would allow me to explore the many different romantic, political, and cultural dynamics of the period, as well as give voice to the lesser known individuals at court, such as the king’s ruthless enforcer, Sir Thomas Lovell, and Katharine’s ladies in waiting.

This is the first installment in what I hope will be a long, adventurous series full of historical truths and fictional forays into a period that has long captivated my interest. This book introduces the reader to crucial figures that will have greater storylines in subsequent installments and that, hopefully, will become as dear to the reader as to myself.

Excerpt:

Margaret Pole walks a courtyard full of familiar faces. Her shoes crunch on new-fallen snow, the Tower’s parapets covered in frost. She ignores the sympathetic glances from family and friends and pulls the bell. A guard with deep-set eyes unlocks and wrenches the side door open across scarred stones. She enters from a November chill, a basket on her arm. He searches it for sharp objects but finds only her brother’s favorite honey-sweetened flatbread, a prayer book, and a rosary. Meg cannot stand his pity and averts her gaze. As he leads her upstairs, she realizes with each step she will never walk this path again. She pauses, her chest tight, sick with grief. The turnkey waits for her, a key ring in his palm.

She must stay strong for Ned.

Meg forces herself into an upright posture and grits her teeth. Her worn hem snags rough stone steps as the man unlocks the cell and she enters a comfortable space warmed by the sun. Books crowd the desk, thick faded velvet draperies surround the bed, and a fire burns in a brazier. Her brother, Ned, rises from a chair, twenty-four, with their father’s wide shoulders and handsome face, no longer the plump boy who chased her in the royal gardens. She is only two years older, but it seems like more as she stares into his plump, youthful face.

The door closes, and once the guard shuts the spy hole, Meg crosses the room, drops the basket, and pounds Ned’s chest. Tears cloud her vision, and harsh sobs wrack her slender form as she collapses into his arms; her weight drags him to the floor.

Ned’s voice  breaks as he holds her. “I’m sorry, Margaret. I wanted freedom. Warbeck said he had friends in France!”

The traitor Perkin Warbeck lies in the ground, the most recent victim in Henry’s executions. Incredulous, Meg demands, “How could you scheme with him, attack a guard, and assume Lovell couldn’t catch you?”

“We escaped!” he insists.

She pulls back to meet his gaze. “You didn’t.”

Ned pushes her away. “If you spent every day for fourteen years inside these walls, what might you risk for freedom? You can walk in the sun, feel the rain on your skin, go where you choose, and visit whom you please. No one comes here but you. I cannot leave the yard. I’m alone.”

Meg prefers his anger to his pain and drowns in guilt as Ned glowers out the window, his dark eyes haunted. “We were so careful in our plans! How did Lovell know?”

“The enforcer knows all.” Meg loathes Sir Thomas Lovell, a tall, gaunt man responsible for all her miseries. She wipes away bitter tears, rises to fetch the basket, and eats beside him in  silence. King Henry heard her petition with compassion but denied her plea to spare Ned’s life. “I’m sorry, Margaret,” he said, anguish behind his resolute gaze, “but Ned is a traitor.”

She listens for the knock to show she must leave, afraid to look at the figures gathered in the execution yard. Meg knows their precious time is short, and tries to memorize his face, unable to believe she will never see it again. She has no portraits, only memories.

Once he eats the bread, Meg clasps the rosary and prays with him. Her legs shiver through thin cotton skirts on a hard floor. Ned wears faded garments a year out of fashion, his tangled golden hair too long. Meg runs her fingers through it, horrified to realize her shears lie in her sewing basket, forgotten in her haste. She cannot secure a lock as a remembrance.

The turnkey enters and says, “It’s time to leave, Lady Pole.”

Ned clutches her hand and leans their heads together, a gesture from childhood when he used to whisper secrets to her in the great hall. A tear dampens her cheek. “God go with you, brother,” she chokes.

He struggles to speak through his pain. “I love you, sister.”

She kisses him and bolts out the door. It shuts behind her as Meg covers her mouth to stifle anguished sobs. Unconcerned, the guard locks the cell and goes downstairs. She sags into the wall, falls to the floor, and rocks back and forth against the unforgiving stone as a shadow emerges from the gloom and pauses beside her. Meg identifies their owner and twists away from his bony wrist.

Lovell says, “Don’t make a scene.”

“How should I react?” She glares at him.

Emotionless eyes examine her flushed features, and Lovell drags her to her feet. “Ned will seek your face in the crowd. Be strong for him.”

“You tell me to find courage when you did this?” Meg struggles in his firm grip as he forces her downstairs, his expression rigid in the torchlight. “You deceived him, moved his chambers above Warbeck. You intended them to become friends.”

As they descend a narrow passage to the outer arch, Meg wrenches her arm free and slaps Lovell hard enough to leave a mark. He touches his long jaw, his expression unreadable, and throws her into the snow. The door slams in her face. She rests her head against it, motionless until a hand strokes her back.

“Cousin,” the Duke of Suffolk says, tenderness in his touch, “you shouldn’t witness this.”

“I must.” She cannot recognize her own voice. “Ned needs me.”

The executioner mounts the stage, Suffolk beside her, his arm at her waist, his presence no comfort, their friends in the crowd. A downcast Ned emerges from the Tower, his hair tousled, and a rip in his sleeve. In minutes he will adorn a pine box, a once-fine doublet drenched in blood.

Meg cannot stand it. She heard his first cries; saw him in her mother’s arms. She stuck a finger in his mouth when he teethed, smiled at him, nursed him through illness, dried his tears when he fell from the apple tree. They shared secrets beneath the table in the front room. She slept beside him whenever he felt scared. Now, she must watch him die.

Ned ascends the platform and kneels before a priest, Lovell behind him. Her thunderous heart drowns out all else. The cleric makes the sign of the cross and steps back. Ned rises, stumbles, and catches his balance on the block. He wavers, his voice soft. “I come here to die without anger. My sins demand death, but my merciful cousin the king spares me a traitor’s execution. Please pray for my soul to find rest.”

Their gazes meet. Her heart shatters.

It is time.

Meg cannot watch but neither can she look away.

Ned crosses himself, kneels, and places his neck on the block as the executioner steps forward, Meg shuts her eyes, flinches at first a loud followed by a second smaller thud, and sucks air through her teeth. Planks shift beneath heavy footfalls, and after a pause, she opens her eyes, the executioner nowhere in sight. A crimson pool stains the snow. The guard pounds nails into a wooden crate.

Lovell descends the steps, the priest on his heels. Meg pushes through the crowd to block his path, proof of her blow on his pallid cheek. “You will burn in hell for this, Sir Thomas!”

“I’m England’s servant, no more, no less.” Lovell’s scowl dares her to challenge him further. His detachment sickens her.

The nobles scatter, her brother’s coffin loaded on a cart. Suffolk drags her to his carriage as the enforcer vanishes into the Tower, his blue lions painted on the door. Meg stumbles onto a velvet seat, too numb to weep. She finds Ned’s death hard to accept, preoccupied at his torn sleeve, his anguish driven into her heart. She half believes this a nightmare and longs for her husband, but Richard serves the king’s son in Wales.

Suffolk’s blue eyes seethe under thick black hair. “This cannot continue. Henry will kill us all before the end. Someone must stop the Tudors; make them suffer for their sins.”

“John tried and paid with his life,” she reminds him.

The first Suffolk rebellion failed and his brother died on a battlefield. He sinks into a sullen silence as the Tower falls behind them. Meg hopes he won’t follow in the earl’s footsteps.

 

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