Review: By Love Divided by Elizabeth St.John

I'm so thrilled to share my review of By Love Divided by highly-acclaimed historical fiction writer, Elizabeth St.John!

Whilst I've known about the author's Lydiard Chronicles series for a while, I've never got around to actually reading the novels, so when I was offered a spot on this blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club, I jumped at the chance. And now I am hooked!

By Love Divided is a novel you must read!

There is no way around it. I had to force myself to switch off my Kindle at 1am, when all I wanted was to continue reading. The fact that this trilogy is based on real events experienced by real ancestors of the writer makes it even more special. You get a strong sense of this in the narrative.

I have not read The Lady of The Tower, the first instalment. But you don't need to have read it to get into By Love Divided, as the author brings events into this novel in a way that you know what happened, but you find out through the characters’ eyes, not by large blocks of info-dumping. This catch-up of previous events is very well executed (pardon the pun), and you get a real sense of the characters’ past.

By Love Divided introduces you to various members of the Apsley and St.John family. Following the death of her husband, Lucy Apsley struggles to make ends meet. Her husband had banked all their fortune on a venture by King Charles I in his war against the French, and lost it all. The family have the warrants – but the king won't pay! The creditors demand their share of the small inheritance – mostly consisting of gifts given to them when they were in charge of The Tower – and Lucy is hard-pressed to find a solution. 

Lucy is estranged from her sister, Barbara Villiers, and her relationship to her brother John St.John is strained too. The reason for this lies in the past, and we catch glimpses of poor Lucy's early fate. Suffice to say, Lucy has all my sympathy. Barbara is lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria, but she refuses to help Lucy appeal to the king to honour his warrants. 

When a court case comes to nothing, Lucy thinks the only way to save herself, and her youngest children, is to marry, but her new, strictly Puritan husband has other plans with the money she's due. As so often, reality is stranger than fiction, and you will need to read the book to find out how she fares in this marriage.

Other main characters are Lucy's eldest son Allen, whose ambition includes a position at court, and who's a staunch kingsman; her outspoken daughter Luce (a bit confusing at first, having similar names, but you get used to it due to their very different characters), who is a bookworm, studying Latin and Greek, and who loves nothing more than a good debate, but she's not a Royalist. Then there are the younger children, James, who wants to join the army, and Barbara (Babs) who is what one would consider a typical girl of her times. 

Then there are the secondary characters of the wider family: Lucy's siblings and various courtiers she tries to avoid (for reasons that become obvious). All characters are clearly defined, their strengths and weaknesses obvious to a reader. 

As King Charles’ obstinate policies divide the country, weakening his position, the family is forced to cope with the split in English society. For years, Lucy's children have kept their differences to the side, not letting them affect their relationship, but with civil war looming, each is challenged in a different way. 

This novel is as gripping as it is engaging. It sweeps you into the early mid 17th century with its religious zealots, societal pressures – and a king intent on reigning supreme. Families are torn apart by their beliefs, the threat of treason hangs in the air, and even supporters of the king question their actions.

By Love Divided takes us on a thrilling journey, through the eyes of Lucy and her children. It shows how easy it is to fall from grace with royalty, even if you've done nothing wrong. It shows a family divided by petty jealousies and opposing religious views. And it shows brave people who fought for their rights – and their very existence.

Elizabeth St.John shows us Lucy's courage as if we knew her. She has her weaknesses, which are also explored, and which make her the woman she was. Allen's temperament, Luce's outspokenness, Babs’ playfulness are brought across realistically. A clear 3D image of the family emerges from the pages. Now I want to know more...

By Love Divided is a beautiful novel, filled with personal challenges, strife, happiness, and danger. The quotes from Luce's journals give us a glimpse into her life in her own words, adding a lovely touch to the evocative narrative.

I have now ordered all three novels of The Lydiard Chronicles for Kindle. Although this isn't one of my favourite periods, I'm hooked.

A highly recommended read!


By Love Divided

(The Lydiard Chronicles Book 2)

By Elizabeth St.John


London, 1630. 

Widowed and destitute, Lucy St.John is fighting for survival and makes a terrible choice to secure a future for her children. Worse still, her daughter Luce rejects the royal court and a wealthy arranged marriage, and falls in love with a charismatic soldier. As England tumbles toward bloody civil war, Luce’s beloved brother Allen chooses to fight for the king as a cavalier. Allen and Luce are swept up in the chaos of war as they defend their opposing causes and protect those they love.

Will war unite or divide them? And will they find love and a home to return to—if they survive the horror of civil war. In the dawn of England’s great rebellion, love is the final battleground.

A true story based on surviving memoirs, court papers, and letters of Elizabeth St.John's family, By Love Divided tells of the war-time experiences of Lucy St.John, the Lady of the Tower. This powerfully emotional novel tells of England's great divide and the heart-wrenching choices one family faces.

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About the Author:

Elizabeth St.John

Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An acclaimed author, historian, and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Lydiard Park and Nottingham Castle to Richmond Palace and the Tower of London to inspire her novels. Although the family sold a few country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them-- in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost. But that's a different story.

Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth-century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St.John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth-century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort. A new medieval short story featuring these women, Road to the Tower, is within the recently-published Historical Fiction anthology Betrayal.

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  1. By Love Divided is such a great book and so deserving of such a lovely review .

    Thank you so much for hosting today's tour stop.


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