Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Tudor Court as you’ve never seen it before!

Thank you to Francine Howarth for giving me the chance to share my work with you the reader.


The Winchester Goose
at the Court of Henry VIII
Judith Arnopp

Tudor London: 1540. Each night, after dark, men flock to Bankside seeking girls of easy virtue; prostitutes known as The Winchester Geese. Joanie Toogood has worked the streets of Southwark since childhood but her path is changed forever by an encounter with Francis Wareham, a court spy. 

Meanwhile, across the River, at the glittering court of Henry VIII, Wareham also sets his cap at Evelyn and Isabella Bourne, members of the Queen’s household. Political intrigue draws the girls into danger and the shadow of the executioner’s blade.

Set against the turmoil of Henry VIII’s middle years, The Winchester Goose provides a brand new perspective of the happenings at the royal court, offering a frank and often uncomfortable observation of life at both ends of the social spectrum.

Reader comments on The Winchester Goose: 

"I truly love anything Tudor and I must say this positively one of the best one I've read so far."

"Probably the best historical fiction I have read in a long time"

"This book stands out because the main characters are completely different from your run-of-the-mill Tudor folk."

The Winchester Goose

The Wincestrian goose
Bred on the bank in time of popery
When Venus there maintain’d her mystery
(Ben Jonson – Underwoods 1692 folio)

Prologue – Southwark Stews

Although she follows me, I can tell she wishes she wasn’t here. She lifts her skirts above the foulness of the alleyway and her feet slip in the mire, the hem of her gown all besmirched with mud. She is pale, glancing anxiously from side to side, her lips colourless as she shivers and sweats, and her hands are trembling as if she has the plague.

We pass my friend, Bertha, who is sitting on her threshold with her skirts hitched, airing her blue-veined legs. I wave, “good day” to her but she doesn’t respond for, just as she sees me, her man comes lurching round the corner, sozzled with drink although it is not yet noon. Every day he pisses all Bertha’s hard earned pennies up the wall. 

As his wife sets her beefy fists squarely on her hips and lashes him with her tongue, the lady beside me whips her eyes from the raucous disaster of their marriage. She turns her head so fast that I glimpse her yellow hair tucked beneath the veil of her hood. “I cannot be responsible for the things you see here, my dear,” I say gently.

The way she averts her eye, raises her nose and flinches away from the stench of my world tells me a lot about her. She shies away from unpleasantness and would rather not see the half-naked starvelings peering from the shadows. Their hunger is an affront, their bare feet an insult, yet it was she who asked me to lead her here. It isn’t my fault if she doesn’t like what she finds. 

We pass a stranger, a shady fellow up to no good, he melts away into the shadows not wanting to be seen. When I stop suddenly, the lady does likewise and I point a finger along the route she is to take. “See there, past the midden where the pigs are rooting? It’s up that stairway behind the inn that you must go. The Cock’s Inn it’s called, my dear.”
She doesn’t see the joke of that. She is an innocent, kept ‘nice’ by her mother. My own mother did nothing to protect her daughters from the world but she made sure we learned enough to follow where she led. 

“Be careful on those rickety steps,” I call after her. “M’ room is the one right at the end.”
I wonder what she will make of the musty chamber where one corner of the shingle leaks when the rain is blown in from the west. My sisters and I have grown accustomed to damp in that corner and catch the worst of the drips in a bowl, for water always comes in handy. Things’ve been a lot worse mind, before our luck began to change. Once, the place was caked with grime and the blankets on our narrow bed were thin and moth-eaten but I’ve a thicker counterpane now. 

In winter the bitter blast still manages to find a way through the broken shutter but we do well enough and are grateful to have a room at all. It is better than a ditch and provides us what comfort it can. But my fine, pretty lady will not have seen anywhere like it before, of that I am certain.
“Go on up, my dear, that’s where you’ll find him.”  I urge her onward, knowing Francis will have thrown off his cloak and be growing impatient. As I watch her sidling past the pigs, tiptoeing through the mire, I snort at her gullibility but then, as she places her foot on the lowest step, to my surprise I feel a twinge of conscience. 

I bite my lower lip, wondering if I should call her back. What will she say to him? What would any woman say on finding her husband sprawled on a whore’s bed on a dull July morning?
But she is gone, already climbing gingerly up the unsteady stairs, her gloved hand reaching out to push open the chamber door.  I hold my breath and listen for the rumpus that will follow for it promises to be as good as any bawdy play. But instead, I hear a scream so grisly that it turns my skin to gooseflesh.The hair stands up on my scalp and, for a few moments, I find I cannot move.

Then, all of a sudden I am wrenching up my skirts to fly across the yard and scramble up the steps behind her. Just as I reach the top she stumbles backwards across the threshold with her hands held to her face. Her eyes are wide open, her mouth an ugly scar as she gropes blindly at my arms, scrabbles at me, babbling nonsense. I am afraid of such madness and cannot bear to let her touch me.
Crossing myself in the old way, I wrench away from her clutching hands so violently that she loses her footing. Her ankle turns on the top step and I see her face open like a flower as she realises she is going to fall. Before I can stop her, she tumbles backwards, her body bouncing loosely from stair to stair. 

I dare not look down and it takes a few moments for me to find the courage to look upon the bundle of fine linen and velvet that is sprawled in the mud. She is lying very still and her face is white, her eyes closed but I think I can just see her chest rising and falling. I don’t know whether to run and help her or venture indoors to see what trouble awaits me there. 

There is no sound from within and I glance one more time at her prone body before, with my heart hammering like a drum, I hold my breath and push open the door.

The Winchester Goose is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Other books by Judith Arnopp are

Available here USA


The Forest Dwellers

The Song of Heledd

Dear Henry: Confessions of the Queens



  1. Thank you for taking part, Judith.

    Well now, you've got me hooked. I want to know what kind of Hell is in that chamber. ;) My TBR piles are toppling over.


  2. Joanie is a charming down-to-earth character that stays with you long after you've closed the book. Well worth the read!

  3. Thanks for posting the explanation and excerpt, Judith, I think we're all wanting to find out what happens next...

  4. Nice post - I'm so enjoying all the interesting things to read via the Book Fair - thanks for sharing