I am thrilled to host author Adrienne Dillard on the very first stop of the blog tour for her just-out The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn. I am also thrilled that there are TWO amazing giveaways associated with the blog tour – one of my lucky followers will win a copy of the book AND you will have the chance to enter a tour-wide drawing sponsored by MadeGlobal (Adrienne’s publisher) where the prizes are a Kindle e-reader or a special prize bundle (details available below).
So to start with, here is the book description from Amazon:
The river was as calm as I had ever seen it. Ordinarily, the tide would have been wild by this time of year, and woe unto any man unfortunate enough to fall into the fierce currents of the Thames. Tonight the tides were still, and the surface of the water appeared glassy. When I peered down into the dark depths, I saw my tired, drawn face wavering in the reflection. I quickly turned away as I fought back a wave of nausea, frightened by the anguish I saw etched there.
“Only a few moments more my lady, the Tower is just ahead.”
Jane Parker never dreamed that her marriage into the Boleyn family would raise her star to such dizzying heights. Before long, she finds herself as trusted servant and confidante to her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn; King Henry VIII’s second queen. On a gorgeous spring day, that golden era is cut short by the swing of a sword. Jane is unmoored by the tragic death of her husband, George, and her loss sets her on a reckless path that leads to her own imprisonment in the Tower of London. Surrounded by the remnants of her former life, Jane must come to terms with her actions. In the Tower, she will face up to who she really is and how everything went so wrong.
Next we’ll go to today’s post (which is what made you click through in the first place!). This was written for me by Adrienne, it gives you a great idea of her voice and take on things. After that, you can read more about Adrienne and get the details of the giveaways (!)
Over to Adrienne…
The scene of Henry VIII’s second queen on her knees before the Constable of the Tower outside Traitor’s Gate is a ubiquitous staple of any fictional account of the life of Anne Boleyn. “Am I to be sent to the dungeon?” she cries. When Sir William Kingston assures her that she will be lodged in the royal apartments, she replies, “It is too good for me. Jesu have mercy on me.” Though not a wholly accurate account, as Anne was actually taken in through the Byward Gate, not the Traitor’s Gate, it is a haunting and poignant portrait of her relationship with the man charged to manage her imprisonment. Kingston is an important piece of Anne’s story, and rightly so. It’s because of his careful notes that we know just what was going on with the disgraced queen in the days leading up to her death. We know of her cries and hysterical laughter. We know of her fear and of her great courage. It is because of his impeccable recording we know the details of her final confession to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer – a key-piece of evidence pointing to her innocence of the charges laid against her.
William Kingston’s value as a Tudor chronicler doesn’t stop with his account of Anne’s final days. It is because of him that we know about the imprisonment and deaths of other luminaries: Archbishop John Fisher, Sir Thomas More, and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Perhaps more importantly, it is his details of the men who are usually forgotten that are the greatest treasure: Marc Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton, and George Boleyn. These five men condemned alongside Anne always seem to be an afterthought in fiction and biography alike, out-shined by the tragic death of the vibrant queen. And though it is rarely pointed out, the constable’s letter to Cromwell describing the message he received from George’s wife, Jane Boleyn, is critical to dispelling the myth of her involvement in his downfall because of her unhappiness in their marriage. It’s telling that it is she, alone, who offers any sort of comfort to George; the only one who doesn’t utterly abandon him to his fate.
Kingston was a complex and sympathetic figure, to be sure, but by the time Jane Boleyn found herself in the same alabaster prison that swallowed up her husband, the constable was dead. A new man had taken up the keeping of the king’s prisoners and it was one who was no stranger to his future charge or the queen who would accompany her to the scaffold.
Sir John Gage was born on October 28, 1479 at Bristowe in Surrey, coming of age at the tail end of the “Wars of the Roses.” He was relatively young when his father died and his wardship was bought by Robert Tate just a few weeks before his 20th birthday. Shortly upon reaching his majority, he was wed to the daughter of Sir Richard Guildford, Comptroller of the Household. The early years of their marriage began with Gage’s appointment as Esquire of the Body to King Henry VIII. His star continued to rise after the king’s death and the ascension of his son, the Eighth Henry. He was deputy of Guisnes and then Comptroller of Calais before taking on the post of Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household. It is in this post that we start to see a strain between Sir John and his monarch.
The king’s obstinate quest to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and his dogged pursuit to make Anne Boleyn his second queen enhanced the existing rivalry running rampant in his court. Anne certainly had her share of detractors and the Vice-Chamberlain was chief among them. When it became clear in 1533 that Anne would indeed be crowned, he spoke out against her promotion and found himself swiftly banished from court. Undaunted, Gage renounced his position, declaring his intention to take the cloth and become a Carthusian monk, even though by this point he and Philippa Guildford had been married for over three decades and had eight children between them. It’s not entirely certain whether Gage’s dissatisfaction stemmed from a personal issue with Anne or if it was due to his own religious conscience. It was noted at the time by close friend, Sir William Fitzwilliam, that Sir John was ‘more disposed to serve God than the world.’ This seems in line with the papal dispensations he sought in 1532 and 1533 for his sons. During those two years, the king’s relationship with Rome was under great strain; while it is not inconceivable that Henry’s courtiers would seek Papal dispensations, it was probably considered ill-advised.
In 1536 both of the king’s wives shuffled off their mortal coils, paving the way for the reestablishment of ties that had long been frayed. Gage returned to court with a clean conscience in 1537 for the christening of the first legitimate heir (as Henry VIII saw it). The event was bittersweet; tinged by the tragedy of Queen Jane Seymour’s death. Sir John joined the throng of courtiers at the funeral to mourn her passing, and then he stayed on at court to resume his duties to the monarch.
At the start of the next decade, Gage was swept into the intrigue swirling across the English Channel at the king’s stronghold in Calais. He and Lord Sussex were sent to probe the claims that the deputy, Viscount Lisle, was involved in acts of heresy and abuse of power. On their reports, Lisle was recalled to England and Lord Mautravers was sent to take the reins. The conspiracy landed both the viscount and Thomas Cromwell in the Tower of London. Lisle escaped with his head, but Cromwell already had a strike against him: the abject failure of the king’s marriage to his fourth wife, Anna of Cleves, a match Thomas himself had arranged. When combined with a penchant for heretical leanings, there was no other appropriate punishment, save for execution. Gage’s reward for a job well-done was a promotion to Privy Councillor, Comptroller of the Household, and Constable of the Tower.
It is during this time that we find Sir John Gage in The Raven’s Widow. Alongside Sir Edmund Walsingham, Lieutenant of the Tower, he has overseen the executions of the king’s cousin, Margaret Pole; the king’s closest advisor, Thomas Cromwell; and a mentally unstable peer, Walter Hungerford. When the king’s fifth wife, the young Katherine Howard, is accused of adultery, Gage finds himself at the head of another investigation. He is swiftly dispatched to the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s home to suss out the truth of the queen’s involvement with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham. It is through his and the other interrogators’ careful questioning of the Howard family and their intimates that Katherine’s connection to Thomas Culpeper is revealed.
Once the mountain of testimony against the queen had been put to the king, Gage commenced his duties again, escorting Dereham and Culpeper to the Guildhall in London to be tried for treason; a week later, he oversaw their deaths. In the following days, Gage took custody of the family members who had hidden away Katherine’s past, including the Dowager Duchess herself; then he went to Syon Abbey, where the queen had been banished since her arrest, to break up her household and escort her to the Tower. While all this was going on, Lady Anne Russell was nursing Jane Boleyn back to health at her home on the Strand. Three days into her incarceration, Jane had fallen into a fit of madness; an event rendering her ineligible for execution. Undaunted, the king changed the law so that he could carry out his punishment, and Jane found herself back at the Tower the day before her mistress.
Just as his predecessor had done before him, Gage took copious notes of the behavior of the queen. He seems to have been quite disturbed by the distress she showed when he and the other lords arrived at Syon to take her to the Tower. Her later request that he bring her the block so that she could practice laying her head upon it no doubt gave him pause. Regardless of his feelings in the matter, he had a job to do and he did it well. On morning of the 13th February, 1542, Gage entered the royal apartments twice; first for the queen, and then for her lady. He led them, one at a time, to the scaffold where they made their final speeches and breathed their last.
Adrienne Dillard, author of “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” is a graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with emphasis in History from Montana State University-Northern. She has been an eager student of history for most of her life and has completed in-depth research on the American Revolutionary War time period in American History and the history and sinking of the Titanic. Her senior university capstone paper was on the discrepancies in passenger lists on the ill-fated liner and Adrienne was able to work with Philip Hind of Encyclopedia Titanica for much of her research on that subject. Her previous works include best-selling novel,“Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” and “Catherine Carey in a Nutshell” for MadeGlobal’s History in a Nutshell series. When she isn’t writing, Adrienne works as an administrative assistant in the financial services industry and enjoys spending time with her husband, Kyle, and son, Logan, at their home in the Pacific Northwest.
So – ready to try to win a copy? Paperback or kindle version, your choice! Just leave a comment below this post before midnight on Sunday, April 9. Tell me something you love about the Tudor era (yes, if you want to just tell me how you loved my Jane the Quene I’ll accept it!) One lucky commenter will be picked at random and contacted for their details.
AND – MadeGlobal (Adrienne’s publisher) is running a parallel giveaway during this time. Want to try to win a Kindle e-reader or a prize package consisting of a sterling silver pendant modeled after the book’s cover image, Henry and the Six Wives drink charms, and a Henry and Anne scarf? Click through to the giveaway site they set up to learn more about this – follow their simple instructions.
PS – there will be more chances to win a copy of the book at every stop of Adrienne’s book tour (!) and here is the schedule: