Publication Date: February 1, 2020
About the Author: Catherine Meyrick is a writer of historical fiction with a particular love of Elizabethan England. Her stories weave fictional characters into the gaps within the historical record – tales of ordinary people who are very much men and women of their time, yet in so many ways not unlike ourselves.
Although she grew up in regional Victoria, Australia, she has lived all her adult life in Melbourne. She has worked as a nurse, a tax assessor and finally a librarian. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also a family history obsessive.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
As a young woman, Alyce Bradley was sent away her parents’ house on account of her unbridled tongue. Now that she has returned, is this daughter of a prosperous merchant too old to find a husband? Determined to avoid a union with a lecherous journeyman, she agrees to marry Thomas Granville, a privateer several years older than her who wants a competent, agreeable, and virtuous wife. Alyce finds herself growing attracted to Thomas, but at the same time becomes painfully aware of the previous liaisons Thomas had before marrying her. Is it too much to hope that he will prove faithful now that they are wed?
Business takes Thomas to town, and he brings his new bride with him. The intrigues of London are foreign to Alyce, however, and she soon finds herself irritating and undermining her husband in all manner of ways, simply from an ignorance of who are his friends…and who are his enemies. When the Spanish Armada threatens and Thomas takes ship to fight for queen and country, Alyce eventually returns to visit her parents and finds herself embroiled in a fight of her own. But whereas Thomas will come through his battle unscathed, it is very possible that Alyce will lose her life from the unbridled tongues of others.
Throughout the story, Alyce’s circumstances are paralleled with and affected by the circumstances of her younger sister. Isabella, wed to Will Sutton, is a willful woman who yearns to have a child of her own. Her philandering husband is often away from the house, trying to escape her shrewish tongue. When Isabella falls pregnant, she insists that Alyce stay with her and create herbal remedies to ensure that she does not miscarry. Trained in the arts of the still room by her grandmother, Alyce is able to make simple potions that alleviate headache and other small pains.
When Alyce and Thomas are blessed with a daughter and Isabella’s own child meets his demise, Isabella is looking for someone to blame. With the connivance of her scapegrace husband and the orchestration of her father-in-law (a longtime enemy of Thomas Granville), Isabella accuses her sister Alyce of witchcraft. Alyce endures weeks of torment in the filthy rooms of the Tudor gaol, constant pressure to confess her “crimes”, and the fear that she will be executed before Thomas learns of her predicament.
Catherine Meyrick presents a vivid tale, steeped in the milieu of the Tudor world. The narrative voice, switching often to characters like Isabella Sutton, allows the reader to experience the emotions driving other characters besides the principals. While other authors writing about this time period might be tempted to put the invasion of the Spanish Armada front and center, Meyrick focuses instead on the very human drama of two people unsure of each other’s love, separated often by distance and uncertainty, and striving to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. Her handling of the witch trial is the most sensible treatment of this subject that I have ever seen in a historical novel. The members of the courtroom both believe in the reality of the devil and witchcraft but are also prudent enough to understand that accusations must be weighed fairly. Recommended.
BOOK CLUB / DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
- Why, in Robert Chapman’s opinion, does Alyce continually hang around her father’s cloth shop? Why, in reality, does Alyce like to be in the shop?
- What is the relationship like between Alyce and her sister?
- How does marriage to Thomas change the duties and responsibilities that Alyce has to the rest of her family?
- What mistakes does Alyce make when she goes to London as a new bride? How could these mistakes have been avoided?
- How does Alyce’s distress over Clifton’s death drive a wedge between her and Thomas?
- How are Alyce’s mother and Grietje de Jong contrasted in the story? What does their treatment of Alyce say about each of them?
- What array of circumstances lead to the supposition that Alyce is a witch? Could Alyce have done anything to avoid this accusation?
- During this time period, what burden of proof was needed to show that Alyce was guilty of witchcraft?
- Which characters in the story suffer from having an “unbridled tongue”? What effects does their speech have on themselves and others?
- What customs, manners, clothes, furniture, or other setting pieces make this story so vividly set in the Tudor Era?