Book Title: Queen of Blood
Series: The Cross and the Crown, Book 4
Author: Sarah Kennedy
Publication Date: 26th March 2021
Publisher: Penmore Press
Page Length: 321 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Twitter Handle: @KennedyNovels @maryanneyarde
Instagram Handles: @coffeepotbookclub
Queen of Blood
(The Cross and the Crown, Book 4)
By Sarah Kennedy
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.
Excerpt from Queen of Blood by Sarah Kennedy
The room was smaller than Catherine had expected, an ambitious, gilded closet rather than a grand receiving room. Anne of Cleves had had more imposing places than this for playing cards. Catherine expected her heart to clutch at her ribs, but it sat quiet within her. Almost against the back wall, Mary Tudor perched on a defiant, single throne, and when Catherine approached the chair and knelt, Ann drew back. Catherine uttered a simple “Your Majesty” and waited. She could see the specter of her own breath.
“Catherine Davies,” said the queen. “On your feet.”
Catherine obeyed and faced her monarch. Mary’s skin hung from the bones in soft pouches, but she was fatter. She wore a severe headdress and a more severe smile.
“How does your family?” said the queen. “Growing?”
“Not growing, Your Majesty. Not for many a day. My husband is well. We have our three daughters about us, and they take lessons in writing, music, and languages. I have much to thank God for.”
“God. You have much to thank us for. It was our hand that formed your family. You will recall that. It was this hand that stayed our father’s wrath. The king’s.” The queen extended five knobby fingers. “We will not see sundered what God has joined together, however ill-conceived was the joining.” A smirk wrinkled her lip. It looked painful. Mary Tudor was not famed for her wit.
The walls breathed cold. Someone’s skirts whispered. Catherine said, “I am in your debt, Your Majesty, and will ever be your loyal servant.” She did not know whether she was expected to return to her knees, and no one was nearby to provide an example, so she dipped her head in a compromise.
“Do you still practice your art?”
“My art?” Catherine’s mind skittered about. Safer to let the other woman say it.
“Your healing. Your herbs.” A high note of irritation, in discord with the undertone of threat.
“I tend my household these days, mostly.” It was true enough. “The younger girls help me. I keep a small garden, but I would want the countryside to grow herbs. We depend on the merchants in the city.”
“Yes, yes.” Mary waved her hand and laboured from the seat. “Come. We will walk. Do you recall our walks?”
The women behind Catherine swept backward. Catherine stood her ground. “Yes, Your Majesty. Those times stick in my memory.”
“It was a difficult time,” Catherine said.
“I have something to show you.” Mary linked her arm through Catherine’s, as though they were still girls, chaining themselves together against the king. They turned, and Ann busied herself with her shoe, not wanting to be noticed at all. She wasn’t. Mary led Catherine out and down a hall, where courtiers plastered themselves to the walls, “Your Majesty”ing themselves into a blur of noise. She turned into an enclosed courtyard. “This will please your eyes,” said the queen. It was a garden of herbs, still mostly green in the aging autumn. Here, the red walls burned, and the plants, laid out in raised beds, lifted their rusting leaves to the sun. Some exotics that Catherine had never seen before. She touched a familiar rosemary stem and put her fingers to her nose to remind herself that she knew this woman, this world. The scent brought water to her eyes, and she closed them.
“You have a son, as well as daughters,” said Mary.
Catherine wiped her hand against her skirt. “Robbie. He prefers to be addressed as Robert now.” She allowed herself a shadow of a laugh. “Young men want to be men before they have worn out their boyhoods.”
“So he lives?” Mary strolled down the center aisle, and Catherine followed.
“Lives and breathes.”
“Breathing the air of England lately, or so I hear.” Mary’s fingers grazed the top of a stem and snapped off the head.
“He has unexpectedly returned. I hope he means to celebrate the Yuletide with us.”
“Here is one that you will enjoy.” Mary walked to a small tree. “An orange. Sent to me from Spain. Isn’t it delicate?” She took it by the trunk and squeezed. “If this were a man’s neck, how easily it would break.”
Catherine said, “From Spain? It is a gift for a queen indeed.”
“Yes.” The hand relaxed. “And why has your son come back to this island? We thought that he abjured our policies. Our religion.”
Catherine stepped into a soggy spot and almost lost her balance. “My husband thinks that he has tired of his studies and longs for home. We have not sounded him on the matter. He is too lately arrived.”
“Your husband. And how do you like your husband, Catherine?”
“Right well, Your Majesty.”
“Once, you claimed never to think to see yourself outfitted with a husband.” Mary sniffed and her face puckered. Her nose was red. “But that was a long time ago.”
“I am a mortal woman, and I hope God will forgive me for my sins. I pray for it.”
“As do we.” Mary moved on, and they reached the wall. “Feel of this stone.”
Catherine put her palm up to the heat. “This place must give you great comfort. It holds the sun.”
“More comfort if it held a son.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. You will marry?”
Now Mary Tudor smiled, and looked like a woman. She fished in her pocket and produced a miniature. “Have you seen him?” The portrait showed a dark prince, posed in arrogant red.
“He is as handsome a man as befits your station.”
“He is.” Mary gazed into the slick surface, and Catherine thought she might giggle. Then she popped him away, into the folds of her skirt. “He must get me a child.”
“I will pray for it,” said Catherine. “Children bring great comfort. A child of yours would comfort an entire people.”
“You will study upon it. You know of women’s bodies. How to improve the chances of conception.”
“I must consult my books. I have only dealt with my own people of late.”
“Your son will inherit a great deal of land.”
“Those lands. They belonged to the Church, did they not?”
They had made their way back to the center of the garden, where the alien tree grew, and Catherine stopped to admire it. “His name is on the Overton lands, once Havens lands. The convent and church are in Mount Grace, miles away.”
“And who has his eyes on that?”
Catherine examined the bark and stroked the branches. “My daughter is named for those.”
“Veronica. The elder. The little one, my Alice, will get half of her father’s lands.”
“The Davies property. It is extensive.”
Catherine nodded. “Benjamin has raised it all with his own hands. The country house was his mother’s, but it was almost fallen into the dirt when he took it over. You should see how he prospers. He has a great head for business.”
Mary walked on, and Catherine resisted the temptation to pluck a leaf before she followed. She wondered idly if a cutting would root, then scolded herself inwardly for allowing her curiosity to overtake her.
“Let us hope that he can keep those lands. And what of your father?”
“Dead these six years, God rest his soul.”
“You will have to light many a candle to ensure that. But he is perhaps the more fortunate.”
“He is with God.”
“He may be, in time. The others will lose their benefices.”
“Priests who once were. The ones who have broken their vows and taken wives. We shall see to the lands in time. But yours,” she said, claiming Catherine’s arm again, “will remain your daughter’s.”
“You are most generous.”
“I am just. I have a justice in me that burns like these walls.” They had achieved the doorway back into the palace, and Mary slapped the stone. She faced Catherine, blocking their entry. “Your son. A mother must direct her son to goodness. Sometimes back to goodness. We hear that he runs with a pack of malcontents. This displeases us.”
A cold bolt from the heart of the palace enveloped them, and Catherine, sweating inside her heavy clothes, shivered. “They are young, and young men often try out their strength before they have their wits.”
“And they sometimes find themselves up against strength mightier than their own.”
“Indeed they do. They are like young stallions, eager to leap and kick. I will endeavor to correct it in him.”
“Do, Catherine, do. We should like to see you keep your family.” Mary Tudor waved her hand, waded through a pile of kneeling women, like enormous pillows with heads; just inside she turned right, away from Catherine, and walked on alone.
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