When you read historical fiction that’s anchored in real events, do you ever wonder where your own ancestors were at that point in time, what their role was, what they were doing? My husband and I each have UK and European ancestors, and we’ve been able to follow some of their lines back farther than we’d ever hoped. A distant relative traced one my husband’s lines all the way back to England’s Edward III, through Edward’s second son, John of Gaunt, and John’s mistress, Katherine Swynford (later his wife).
So when the two of us delve into books about UK royalty during the War of the Roses, the Tudor era, and beyond, we’re reading about (very) distant relatives, and yes, we wonder where our related ancestors were and how they fit in with those events.
When I downloaded The Lady of the Tower, by Elizabeth St. John, I didn’t know what to expect. I was immediately pulled into 17th century England. The opening lines bring us a woman entering the Tower of London, uncertain what will happen to her next. I feared for her and kept reading. You will, too.
It turns out that the Lady who looks to be in peril is Lucy St. John, a descendent of the St. John family who owned the Lydiard estate, now preserved as Lydiard Park, some 85 miles east of London. The author is a present day descendent of that same family.
In her three-book series, aptly named The Lydiard Chronicles, Elizabeth St. John traces four generations of family members who, as relatives of Elizabeth I, were close to that court and continued to be connected to royalty throughout the 17th century during the reigns of James I/VI, Charles I, and later Charles II. During the civil war and the Commonwealth era, family members took opposite sides, with sometimes tragic results.
The works are thoroughly researched, and the major events are historically accurate. The prose is so engaging and the details rich that I was compelled to stay in in the 17th century through all three books in her series. I didn’t want to set them down, and I know I will go back and re-read them.
The Lady of the Tower
The Lydiard Chronicles
Author Elizabeth St. John has graciously sent me the following three photographs of portraits several major characters in the Lydiard series. The portraits were commissioned by their older brother, John St. John, for a family Polyptych which now hangs in St. Mary’s Church, Lydiard.
The Lady St. Johns (Lucy St. John is on the left, Barbara next to her.
The Original Polyptych
John St. John, painted when he had just acquired his title of Baronet in 1611: