‘The Catherine Howard Conspiracy’ is the first book in The Marquess House Trilogy. It was published as an eBook on the 28th March 2019 by Sapere Books and is also available in paperback. I am thrilled to be taking part in this blog tour together with a number of other book bloggers and would like to thank Caoimhe O’Brien for inviting me to participate.
I have an extract from the book for all of you. First though, here’s what its about.
A timeshift thriller that will have you completely gripped! Perfect for fans of Dan Brown, Philippa Gregory, Kate Mosse and Tom Harper.
What secrets were covered up at the court of Henry VIII …?
Whitehall Palace, England, 1539
When Catherine Howard arrives at the court of King Henry VIII to be a maid of honour in the household of the new queen, Anne of Cleves, she has no idea of the fate that awaits her.
Catching the king’s fancy, she finds herself caught up in her uncle’s ambition to get a Howard heir to the throne.
Terrified by the ageing king after the fate that befell her cousin, Anne Boleyn, Catherine begins to fear for her life…
Pembrokeshire, Wales, 2018
Dr Perdita Rivers receives news of the death of her estranged grandmother, renowned Tudor historian Mary Fitzroy.
Mary inexplicably cut all contact with Perdita and her twin sister, Piper, but she has left them Marquess House, her vast estate in Pembrokeshire.
Perdita sets out to unravel their grandmother’s motives for abandoning them, and is drawn into the mystery of an ancient document in the archives of Marquess House, a collection of letters and diaries claiming the records of Catherine Howard’s execution were falsified…
What truths are hiding in Marquess House? What really happened to Catherine Howard?
And how was Perdita’s grandmother connected to it all?
THE CATHERINE HOWARD CONSPIRACY is the first book in the Marquess House trilogy, a dual timeline conspiracy thriller with an ingenious twist on a well-known period of Tudor history.
“She’s not in the least bit ugly,” whispered Catherine to Isabel as they watched the Lady Anne of Cleves disembark from her coach. She looked a little tired, but after weeks on the road, and the terrible delays caused by harsh weather, this was unsurprising. Unconsciously, Catherine’s fingers went to the beautiful silver locket hanging around her neck. Isabel and Edward had given it to her for Christmas. A delicate pattern was engraved on the front and it was set with a perfect diamond at its centre. It was the first piece of jewellery Catherine had ever owned and she was delighted with it.
“Of course, she isn’t,” replied Isabel. “The king can often be unkind.”
“Careful, Issy,” hissed a low voice. “Bess Seymour’s over there. She hears everything.”
Catherine and Isabel glanced around. Sure enough, Lady Elizabeth Seymour, younger sister of the former queen, Jane Seymour, and aunt to the heir to the throne, had moved within earshot of the Howard women. She nodded her greeting and turned her attention back to the events playing out before her.
“Lady Cromwell looks as though there’s a bad smell under her nose,” whispered Lady Rochford, the person who had first hissed the warning to Catherine and Isabel.
“Wouldn’t you look like that if you were married to the grandson of a brewer?” replied Isabel tartly. The two women laughed derisively.
“I thought you said she was Lady Seymour,” whispered Catherine, confused. It was one of the things she had noticed at court; people with titles seemed to have so many different variations on their names that she lost track of who was who, let alone who was married to whom or who was secretly meeting in the dark of the grounds at night.
“She married Gregory Cromwell not long ago,” whispered Isabel.
“And who’s he?” asked Catherine, wanting to join in the joke but finding it hard to believe the aunt to Prince Edward, the future king, had married such a lowly man.
Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, took Catherine’s hand and nodded towards the group of men greeting the queen.
“See the tall one, quite young, good looking?” Catherine nodded; it was the man who had winked at her in the corridor on her first day at court. “That’s Gregory Cromwell, son of Sir Thomas Cromwell.”
“The Lord Privy Seal?” gasped Catherine.
Jane Boleyn nodded.
“Yes, the son of the man who was instrumental in having my beloved husband George beheaded, and our dear cousin accused of so many barbarous things before she, too, had her head chopped off by her insane husband.” Jane’s voice was low and bitter.
“Careful, Jane,” warned Isabel. “The Seymours and the Cromwells are a formidable power.”
Catherine stared at Lady Cromwell in wide-eyed wonder. The politics of court seemed so complex and here was a living embodiment of one of the worst times in the king’s reign. It had been the moment the people around him had realised Henry was no longer the romantic, chivalric prince who had inherited the throne from his father, but that he was slowly becoming a terrifying tyrant.
“What do you think of her dress?” asked Margaret Douglas, changing the subject.
“It’s — er — unusual,” said Jane, trying to be polite.
“The fabric is gorgeous,” sighed Catherine, “I’m sure we can help her with English styles, she’s obviously not aware of our fashions.”
“You’re a sweet thing, Kitten,” said Margaret, smiling at Catherine, who blushed. She turned back to look at the queen, wondering what it would be like to wear a dress made from sumptuous cloth of gold. Would it be heavy? After all, the cloth was made from real metal strands woven with silk. She tried to imagine how it would feel, then mentally shook herself. She was delighted to be wearing velvet and satin. What right did she have to yearn after cloth of gold? Her new wardrobe, supplied by her uncle, Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, and her sister and her husband, still thrilled her. Never before had she had so much choice and never had her clothes been so exquisitely made.
“Yes, Kitty, you’re right,” agreed Carey. “The fabric is beautiful but the style is extremely unflattering. We must try to persuade her into something more elegant.”
“I suppose it must be what they wear in Cleves,” said Jane.
“Yes, but she’s in England now,” said Margaret. “And looking like that, she’s never going to win the king round, especially after their disastrous first meeting.”
“What happened?” asked Jane. “No one seems to know, or if they do, no one’s talking.”
“The duchess of Suffolk told me,” said Margaret. She dropped her voice to a whisper and the Howard girls stepped closer to listen while still half-watching the gleaming parade and displays of welcome for the Lady Anne.
“You know how obsessed the king is with the idea of chivalry and King Arthur?” she began, the others nodded. “Well, he was so in love with the Lady Anne’s portrait, he decided he’d surprise her disguised as a servant, convinced true love would intercede and she would recognise him, so their first meeting would be one of love, honour and mystery.”
“What happened?” gasped Catherine.
“He stormed in dressed as a servant, carrying a gift for the queen,” continued Margaret. “Then, before she’d really grasped what was going on, he grabbed her and kissed her. She was horrified. She pushed him away and began shouting at him in German, ordering he be removed. He was furious. He stalked out of the room and returned in full royal purple, festooned with jewels. She was devastated and threw herself on her knees, but the damage was done. That’s why he’s being so rude about her — no one had told her we’re all supposed to pretend he’s still the handsome young prince who inherited the throne nearly thirty-one years ago.”
“Margaret, be careful, that’s treason,” whispered Isabel, conscious of the fact Elizabeth Seymour had edged even closer.
Margaret glanced over and smiled winningly at Lady Cromwell.
“Nosy old hag,” she murmured under her breath to the others. Catherine stifled a giggle.
“But what about the queen?” asked Catherine, who felt desperately sorry for the poor young woman.
“She doesn’t speak English, so she didn’t really understand what was going on,” whispered Margaret. “Although, today I heard one of the rumours about their meeting confirmed.”
“What?” asked Carey.
“Apparently, the king’s doing everything he can to wriggle out of the marriage.”
“No!” Catherine exclaimed, appalled. She had hoped this suggestion had merely been spiteful court gossip.
“He summoned Thomas Cromwell this morning, told him he had to make this good; find a way out for the king. Lady Cromwell might well be looking smug at the moment, but if her father-in-law can’t find a loophole in the paperwork, Uncle Henry is going to be very, very cross indeed.”
Catherine watched Anne as Henry, dressed in matching finery, led her from the elaborate throne where she had presided over the ceremonies. Her long, dark hair was covered in a blonde wig but underneath it was a sweet, oval face with dark eyes and delicate, pink-tinged skin. She wasn’t ugly, thought Catherine. She was pretty in a similar way to Jane Seymour, but her colouring was different. Although she was smiling, Catherine thought the new queen looked wary and guarded. She may not speak the language, but she was an educated woman and Catherine was sure she must have picked up on the undercurrents. Perhaps she, like the king, was merely playing along and hoping that someone would rescue her before it was too late.
Isabel exchanged a glance with Katherine Willoughby, the duchess of Suffolk, who was standing to one side, ready to lead the procession, then prodded Jane and Catherine in front of her.
“Come along, girls. It’s time for us to join the queen and be officially introduced,” she said and began organising them. Margaret Douglas, the king’s niece, led the way with Katherine Willoughby, the duchess of Suffolk. Catherine Howard moved back to stand with Lady Carey, while Jane and Isabel followed Margaret.
“We are but lowly maids,” sighed Carey as they waited for the great ladies of the new queen’s household to go ahead of them.
Catherine nodded, but in the midst of all the political crosscurrents, she was happy to be a lowly maid, invisible, insignificant and unimportant.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? ‘The Catherine Howard Conspiracy’ is available to purchase from Amazon UK:-
About Alexandra Walsh
From tales spun for her teddies when she was a child (usually about mermaids) to film scripts, plays and novels, Alexandra Walsh has always been a storyteller. Words are her world. For over 25 years, she has been a journalist writing for a wide range of publications including national newspapers and glossy magazines. She spent some years working in the British film industry, as well as in television and radio: researching, advising, occasionally presenting and always writing.
Books dominate Alexandra’s life. She reads endlessly and tends to become a bit panicky if her next three books are not lined up and waiting. Characters, places, imagery all stay with her and even now she finds it difficult to pass an old wardrobe without checking it for a door to Narnia. As for her magical letter when she was 11, she can only assume her cat caught the owl!
Alexandra’s other passion is history, particularly the untold tales of women. Whether they were queens or paupers, their voices resonate with their stories, not only about their own lives but about ours, too. The women of the Tudor court have inspired her novels. Researching and writing The Marquess House Trilogy (Book One: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy) has brought together her love of history, mysteries and story telling.