Seeking a novel rec on the Reformation, please

Phyrebrat

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Hi all,

I’m working on a novel about priest holes and like to get into the period mindset.

Can any Chronners recommend a novel? I was hoping for something written a while ago, rather old, say Victorian/Edwardian but any recs will do.

Many thanks
 
Not novels, but I thought that War And Society in Renaissance Europe by JR Hale and The Time-Traveller's Guide to Tudor England by Ian Mortimer were very good. I think there's a sequel to Pillars of the Earth set in Tudor England, too. I've got a book about Elizabethan spies called The Watchers, but I've not read it yet.
 
Rory Clements has written several books set in Elizabethan England where his main character, John Shakespeare (yep, brother to Will) is an intelligencer in the pay of Walsingham. The books are murder mysteries, but a lot of the plot is to do with investigatng Catholic conspiracies against Elizabeth. I can't recall any priest holes in the ones I've read, though The Queen's Man does involve Catholics being harrassed by the pursuivants, whose role it was to find priests hidden by recusants, but the priests are mainly hiding in plain sight as servants eg gardeners and it's the things for the celebration of mass which are carefully hidden.

KJ Maitland has the Daniel Pursglove series which is set later, in the reign of James I & VI. Traitor in the Ice is set in and around Battle Abbey where Magdalen, the dowager Lady Montague is known to have sheltered priests, and from memory there is a priest hole there, but again the priests are out and about, and it's the trappings which are hidden. (Rather an overly complicated novel in my view.)

Both those authors are writing now, though, rather than Victorian times, but it does mean their history is far more accurate than that of the Victorian writers.
 
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Hilary Mantel in “Wolf Hall” and “Bring up the Bodies”
C.J. Sansom’s “Dissolution

Robert Hugh Benson, one of the best-selling novelists of Edwardian England -- Come Rack! Come Rope!, published in 1912, a complicated romance set against the background of the mission of St Edmund Campion., -- star-crossed Catholic lovers, are children of Derbyshire recusant families. But in the face of mounting persecution, Robin feels a call to the priesthood. Marjorie heroically relinquishes her lover and turns her home into a safe house for fugitive priests. Robin departs for Rheims, is ordained, and returns to a clandestine ministry in England

The Man on a Donkey, by Hilda Prescott, published in 1952. It dealt with the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the rebellions in Northern England -- well researched
 
I'd second Snicklefritz's recommendation of Mantel's first two books and CJ Sansom's Shardlake series as thumping good reads but they're set in Henrician England, so if you're writing about priest holes, they're a good 35-40 years earlier than the period you really need. It's only after the Pope issues the Bull against Elizabeth that the laws against Catholics become so drastic, leading to the old Catholic nobility to have to find ways of hiding their priests.

But if you're also interested in that earlier period after the schism from Rome, The Traitor's Mark by DK Wilson deals with the Prebendaries Plot against Thomas Cranmer, the AB of C, and shows the febrile atrmosphere of plots and counterplots between the new Protestantism and the old Catholics. Again, a modern author, though.
 
I assume you mean the English Reformation? It doesn't necessarily run alongside the introduction of priest holes, which tended to be more prevalent in the latter part of Elizabeth I's reign and James I. And the persecution of Catholics (and use of priest holes) went on some time after the 'reformation' was complete.

I say it was complete, as was seen with the utter faiure of the Babington and Catesby plots (amongst others), which were in large part because of the iron grip of committed Protestants such as Francis Walsingham and the the two Cecils.

It's worth checking out information on Nicholas Owens, who constructed many of the priest holes. There's an informative (though fairly simplistic) 27 minute video on Youtube with his life, capture and death related from his personal perspective.

Still trying to think of a work of fiction that covers this specifically though.
 
I would also strongly recommend going to one of these country houses and viewing the priest hole for yourself. Some were (relatively) spacious, but most were neccessarily cramped, with little room to move.

Imagine being forced into one those places, with no idea the time of day or how long you may be there. Perhaps no food or water, having to be careful of making no noise. And of course the horrific fate that awaited if you were discovered.
 
What year do you plan to set the novel set in? Things are rather different in 1558 when Elizabeth comes to the throne than in 1568 when Mary QoS arrives expecting help (2 years before the Papal Bull) and that's different from 1587 when Mary is executed following the various conspiracies, and that's different from 1601 with the Essex rising (not a Catholic plot, but closer to a real threat than the others), and all very different again after James come to the throne in 1603, and then again in 1605 after the failed Gunpowder Plot. Tensions ebb and flow, as do alliances between courtiers and states, all of which affects how people behave -- even the weather is an issue some years because of famine and an increasing number of beggars. Fashion change over the years; even the food people are eating.

Anyhow, I've remembered another set of novels set in the relevant period, the Hew Cullen series by Shirley McKay which spans 1579 to 1587. They're set primarily in the Scotland of James VI so might not be what you want, but some action in Queen and Country takes place in England (In flashback, at least) and again involves Mary QoS. The other books I've recommended are good on period detail but these were excellent in that respect, the characters very much of their time, and not C21st people in fancy dress as can happen in historical novels, and the dialogue reads as authentic. (The murder mystery plots aren't of the best, unfortunately.) What might be of particular interest to you, though, is 1588: A Calendar of Crime which contains five short stories set at each of five festivals during the one year – Candlemas, Whitsunday, Lammas, Martinmas and Yule with notes at the end giving full detail of the festivals and the year.

Speaking of notes, the Rory Clements book I mentioned gives an overview of the legal penalties attaching to Catholics during Elizabeth's reign, together with a transcript of the Catholic Spiritual Testament which John Shakespeare (father of Will) probably signed, which may be of interest.

Having said that, if you're setting the novel in a real time, even if not a real place, you might be better off finding a good non-fiction book rather than relying on another author for period detail, which could well be wrong.
 
What might be of particular interest to you, though, is 1588: A Calendar of Crime which contains five short stories set at each of five festivals during the one year – Candlemas, Whitsunday, Lammas, Martinmas and Yule with notes at the end giving full detail of the festivals and the year
I think this is a great call. Thanks! It will give me perspectives from different characters.
Having said that, if you're setting the novel in a real time, even if not a real place, you might be better off finding a good non-fiction book rather than relying on another author for period detail, which could well be wrong.

I’ve got my research but what I’m lacking is context and character. You know how I like to sit on an egg for a good decade before putting pen to paper… ;)

Edit: oops forgot to say to @The Judge I’m not particularly bothered when it’s set but I’d be best suited to an era of the Ref where priest holes were more common.
 
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What year do you plan to set the novel set in? Things are rather different in 1558 when Elizabeth comes to the throne than in 1568 when Mary QoS arrives expecting help (2 years before the Papal Bull) and that's different from 1587 when Mary is executed following the various conspiracies, and that's different from 1601 with the Essex rising (not a Catholic plot, but closer to a real threat than the others), and all very different again after James come to the throne in 1603, and then again in 1605 after the failed Gunpowder Plot. Tensions ebb and flow, as do alliances between courtiers and states, all of which affects how people behave -- even the weather is an issue some years because of famine and an increasing number of beggars. Fashion change over the years; even the food people are eating.

Anyhow, I've remembered another set of novels set in the relevant period, the Hew Cullen series by Shirley McKay which spans 1579 to 1587. They're set primarily in the Scotland of James VI so might not be what you want, but some action in Queen and Country takes place in England (In flashback, at least) and again involves Mary QoS. The other books I've recommended are good on period detail but these were excellent in that respect, the characters very much of their time, and not C21st people in fancy dress as can happen in historical novels, and the dialogue reads as authentic. (The murder mystery plots aren't of the best, unfortunately.) What might be of particular interest to you, though, is 1588: A Calendar of Crime which contains five short stories set at each of five festivals during the one year – Candlemas, Whitsunday, Lammas, Martinmas and Yule with notes at the end giving full detail of the festivals and the year.

Speaking of notes, the Rory Clements book I mentioned gives an overview of the legal penalties attaching to Catholics during Elizabeth's reign, together with a transcript of the Catholic Spiritual Testament which John Shakespeare (father of Will) probably signed, which may be of interest.

Having said that, if you're setting the novel in a real time, even if not a real place, you might be better off finding a good non-fiction book rather than relying on another author for period detail, which could well be wrong.


Yes, the Tudor period has probably been written about and fictionalised more than any other. It's also very easy to have events in these stories that are very unlikely to have happened (the recent-ish Mary QOS movie had her meeting Elizabeth, which was highly imptobable).

It's also worth noting which periods are 'Reformation' and which are the after-effects. By the time of Elizabeth's death, the Act of Reformation was done and dusted, so it would need to take a truly extraordinary event (such as the Gunpowder Plot) to change anything.

But as The Judge mentions, there were a number of significant episodes in this period, and the Reformation era of Henry VIII was quite different to that of Edward, Mary, Elizabeth or James. Even then, significant events during the reigns of these monarchs (particularly Elizabeth and James) saw changing fortunes and attitudes for and against Catholics.
 
I think this is a great call. Thanks! It will give me perspectives from different characters.


I’ve got my research but what I’m lacking is context and character. You know how I like to sit on an egg for a good decade before putting pen to paper… ;)


CJ Sansom's 'Shardlake' novels (currently) span the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward . His first book 'Dissolution' concerns a murder-mystery set in a monastic building that Cromwell wants dissolving, his last Kett's Rebellion.

Although his stories do (to some extent) touch on the Reformation, they don't give a deal of informatiin. What they do do though is to paint a vivid picture of Tudor England; the sights and smells. To counter that though Shardlake himself has very 20th Century principles, although the characters around hom largely do not.

They are also great stories to read.
 
additional to the above, suggest A Man For All Seasons ( read the play or watch the brilliant Paul Schofield film).
 
Set earlier in the 16th century The Sprig of Broom by Barbara Willard. I read this 35 years ago, but it stayed with me and gave a great feeling for the period.
 

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