Review: The Godmother's Secret by Elizabeth St.John

I'm delighted to share my review for The Godmother’s Secret, a wonderful historical novel set during the Wars of the Roses by Elizabeth St.John.

Just what happened to the Princes in the Tower? Elizabeth St.John gives us her ideas...

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The Godmother’s Secret

Elizabeth St.John

What can I say? This novel is a tour de force, a masterpiece of historical fiction.

We are thrown right into the action when Elizabeth Woodville, former queen and wife of deposed Edward IV, gives birth in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. Their living conditions are basic, yet she and her daughters manage to make the best of a bad situation.

Elysabeth Scrope (the author's ancestor!) has been appointed Godmother by King Henry VI. Her loyalties are divided between the house of Lancaster, to which her family belongs – she is half-sister to Margaret Beaufort – and her husband's Yorkist loyalty.

Neither the exiled queen nor Elysabeth are particularly fond of each other. The Woodville family is regarded with suspicion. Social upstarts. Yet when the birth seems to go awry, Elysabeth's decision ensures the child – a boy – is safely delivered. She instantly forms a bond with the newborn prince, and begins to care deeply for him.

This sense of duty and love weaves its way through the novel as Ned, the long-awaited son of Edward IV grows up.

When the tide turns, and Edward IV regains the throne, Ned is sent to the queen's brother for his education, and Elysabeth returns home.

Years later, the tall, handsome King Edward IV is dead, and the troubles start anew. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the king's younger brother, is appointed guardian for the 12-year-old prince and his younger brother, Dickon, but Elysabeth eyes Richard's ambition with suspicion, unlike her husband, leading to tensions between the couple.

And then there's her ever-scheming half-sister, Margaret, mother to Henry Tudor who stakes his claim to the English throne. Soon, Elysabeth is torn between loyalty towards her sister or her husband, and her task to see young Ned safe...

Poor Elysabeth never has a quiet moment in this fast-paced, engrossing story, where the politics of the day appear in a harsh, realistic way. The Godmother's Secret lays bare the scheming, the undercurrents, and the naked ambitions of the individuals involved. The author doesn't try to make one side look better, but remains firmly on the fence. There is good and bad in both houses, York and Lancaster, and Ms St.John brings the brutal realities of the times across without any hint of unnecessary, gratuitous action. She lets her characters speak and act for themselves.

I felt for Elysabeth, torn between sister and husband, and her love for Ned and Dickon. The boys’ safety is always foremost on her mind. She is conscientious and brave, but all within the limitations that applied to women in the 15th century. The author brought this lady to life, with her flaws, fears, and joys, and it was a delight to discover more about this lady whose name appears on Elizabeth St.John's family tree.

The novel focuses on Elysabeth and her task as godmother to a prince, and her plot to see the boys safe from the political machinations between King Richard III and Margaret Beaufort deserves much credit. Perhaps Ms St.John has solved the riddle of what happened to the Princes in the Tower? Her fictionalised version of events certainly made sense to me.

I liked that the author focuses on a small group of characters and their actions, and she leaves other major players of the day – Henry Tudor, Stafford, the Woodville family – on the periphery. It means the novel isn't cluttered by too many important characters, and the focus always remains on Elysabeth.

The Godmother's Secret is one of the best novels I've read in years. It's exceptionally well-researched, beautifully written, with a real sense of 'being there', and utterly gripping. I read it over several evenings, until 2am, wanting to know what happens next, but also not wanting it to end. A wonderful, engrossing reading experience.

If you enjoy historical fiction, don't miss this gem! Highly recommended.



What if you knew what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Would you tell? Or would you forever keep the secret?

November, 1470: Westminster Abbey. Lady Elysabeth Scrope faces a perilous royal duty when ordered into sanctuary with Elizabeth Woodville–witness the birth of Edward IV’s Yorkist son. Margaret Beaufort, Elysabeth’s sister, is desperately seeking a pardon for her exiled son Henry Tudor. Strategically, she coerces Lancastrian Elysabeth to be appointed godmother to Prince Edward, embedding her in the heart of the Plantagenets and uniting them in a destiny of impossible choices and heartbreaking conflict.

Bound by blood and torn by honour, when the king dies and Elysabeth delivers her young godson into the Tower of London to prepare for his coronation, she is engulfed in political turmoil. Within months, the prince and his brother have disappeared, Richard III is declared king, and Margaret conspires with Henry Tudor to invade England and claim the throne. Desperate to protect her godson, Elysabeth battles the intrigue, betrayal and power of the last medieval court, defying her husband and her sister under her godmother’s sacred oath to keep Prince Edward safe.

Were the princes murdered by their uncle, Richard III? Was the rebel Duke of Buckingham to blame? Or did Margaret Beaufort mastermind their disappearance to usher in the Tudor dynasty? Of anyone at the royal court, Elysabeth has the most to lose–and the most to gain–by keeping secret the fate of the Princes in the Tower.

Inspired by England’s most enduring historical mystery, Elizabeth St.John, best-selling author of The Lydiard Chronicles, blends her own family history with known facts and centuries of speculation to create an intriguing alternative story illuminating the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.

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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.

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