Her voice sounded by turns pleased and then pleading, her laughter scaled from bass enjoyment to treble fear. A highborn woman held fast the girl’s arms while the rougher hands of a man ran over the young woman’s jawline, her hairline, her hemline. I could not see his face, but on his left small finger he bore a costly gold and black onyx signet ring. With the other hand he took his dagger and began to slash.
Pieces of her black gown fell to the ground, one by one, like the locks of a condemned woman shorn before execution, though he stayed himself from touching her bright red hair before sheathing his dagger again. Her woeful face betrayed that she knew this would be her utter undoing. The gown was ruined and the black clumps, which had plummeted to the ground, received the breath of life of a sudden and became a flock of beady-eyed ravens that took wing toward the Tower of London, whilst we watched in horror and dread.
A Novel of Kateryn Parr
The Secret Keeper
A Novel of Kateryn Parr
What she sees in secret, she may not tell.
Mistress Juliana St. John is the lovely, forthright daughter of a prosperous knight’s family. Though all expect her to marry the son of her late father’s business partner, time and chance interrupt, sending her to the sumptuous but deceptive court of Henry VIII.
Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane, returns to Wiltshire to conclude his affairs with Juliana’s father’s estate and chances upon her reading as lector in the local church. He sees instantly that she would fit into the household of the woman he loves and wants most to please, Kateryn Parr. Juliana’s mother agrees to have her placed with Parr for a season and Juliana goes, though reluctantly.
For she keeps a secret.
As Juliana accompanies Kateryn Parr to court, Henry’s devout sixth queen raises the stakes for all reformers. Support of firebrand Anne Askew puts the queen and her ladies in life-threatening jeopardy, as does the queen’s desire to influence her husband’s—and the realm’s—direction and beliefs. Later, without Henry’s strong arm, the court devolves to competition, duplicity, and betrayal. The risks could not be higher as Juliana must choose between love and honor, personal fulfillment and sacrifice. Ultimately, her course is driven by a final kept secret, one that undoes everything she thought she knew.
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Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. People sometimes say that, with historical fiction, we insert twenty-first–century values like “girl power” into the world of sixteenth-century women. But could that be a bit dismissive? How were women such as Kateryn Parr, Anne Askew, and Juliana St. John empowered in ways similar to and also different from contemporary women?
2. Two of the charges against both Askew and Calthorpe is that they were unnatural and unkind, mainly because they continued to use their given names in some capacity and for their forthright speech, especially where the exercise of their spiritual gifts was involved. Has that changed with, for example, women such as Anne Graham Lotz, or is there still a sense of that today?
3. Juliana felt social pressure to remain quiet about her sexual abuse, as there were messages, both overt and subtle, that she was “damaged goods” after having been assaulted and that those in power could twist the circumstances to harm her reputation as well as bring trouble to those see more