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 Elizabethan Mysteries




One of the fun “perks” of writing, I've always found, is the research.  The chance to jump into a time hundreds of years in the past, discover the people and places and events, and try to make it feel “real” again—I love all of that.


Ever since I did a history report on Anne Boleyn in elementary school (complete with costume and a lute made of cardboard!), the Tudor era has held a special fascination for me.  It was an exciting time of enormous social and political change, as well as amazing artistic achievement (especially in poetry and the theater) at a level beyond anything before or since.  Bawdy, colorful, fast-paced, and populated by so many fascinating characters, what's not to love??


I also discover new things every time I happily dive into my research library.  For Murder in the Queen's Garden, I loved exploring the worlds of the Elizabethan fascination with astrology and the occult; the intriguing figure of Dr. John Dee; and the gorgeous (and now sadly vanished) Nonsuch Palace.


The building of Nonsuch Palace, in Surrey, started on April 22, 1538, about six months after Prince Edward was born, but it took several years to complete.  In fact, it was still incomplete when Henry VIII died in 1547.  It was meant to compete with the glorious chateaus of France, and cost over 24,000 pounds to construct (almost 104 million today!).  Though it was a simple layout, built around two inner courtyards, with a fortified gatehouse and several outer courtyards, it was gorgeously decorated with elaborate ornamental, stucco panels depicting classical gods and goddesses, and tall octagonal towers at every corner that gave it a “fairy tale” look.  The gardens were said to be some of the most beautiful in England.


After Henry's death, the palace lay neglected for some time, until Queen Mary sold it to Lord Arundel, one of the richest noblemen in England, in 1556.  Queen Elizabeth managed to buy it back in the 1580s, but it met a sad fate.  Charles II gave it to his favorite mistress, Barbara Castlemaine, who tore it down to pay some gambling debts in 1682.  It was excavated in 1959, and there is a lovely scale model of it that I used for much research.  (I am not sure King Henry actually brought Catherine Howard there in 1541, but they did go on a long progress.  Wouldn't he have wanted to show it off to her??  Queen Elizabeth did visit in the summer of 1559, where Lord Arundel hoped to persuade her to marry him.  It was always a vain hope, poor man...)


Queen Catherine Howard was, of course, another sad story in King Henry's complicated marital history!  Born in 1523, her real birthday is unknown, so I assigned her one in this story so she could have her horoscope drawn up.  (She seemed like she could have been a Leo, though!).  Her fate is well known.  She was young and full of fun, never prepared for the dangerous career of being Henry's wife, and was executed in 1542, convicted of treason by way of adultery (with Thomas Culpepper, among others, who it seems was not a nice man).  


Dr. John Dee (1527-1608/09) is one of the most fascinating figures of the period.  A mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, philosopher, traveler, occultist, and possible spy, his work has resonance even today.  He attended St. John's College, Cambridge, while still a boy (from 1542 to around 1546).  In 1555, he was arrested by Queen Mary's government, accused of secretly drawing up horoscopes for the queen, her husband King Philip, and Princess Elizabeth (which would have been treason).  He was questioned in the notorious Star Chamber, but then released.  He went abroad, until Elizabeth ascended the throne and summoned him back to England.  He became one of her most trusted advisors, given such important tasks as choosing the best date for her coronation.  He was a tutor and advisor to almost all the important figures of the day, including Robert Dudley, his nephew Philip Sidney, and Sir Christopher Hatton.  For more information, you can check out the website of the John Dee Society.


Robert Dudley, later Earl of Leicester, (1532/3—1588) was one of the favorites of Elizabeth I (and many would consider him to be the “love of her life”), a leading statesman of the time.  He, like Dee, lived a long and complicated life.  During this early part of Elizabeth's reign, when she was nearly inseparable from him (and when he was married to the ill-fated Amy Robsart), he caused a great deal of gossip, both at the English court and abroad.  The Venetian ambassador wrote in April 1559, “My lord Robert Dudley is very intimate with Her Majesty,” while the Spanish ambassador wrote to King Philip, “Lord Robert has come so much into favor he does whatever he is even said that Her Majesty visits him in his chamber day and night.”  He fell from favor for a time in 1578, when he secretly married Lettice Knollys, cousin to the queen and widow of the Earl of Essex.


We briefly glimpsed the beautiful, lively, flirtatious Lettice at her mother's séance in this story—but we will be seeing more of her in later books, I'm sure!  Her mother, Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys (1524-1569) was one of the queen's favorite ladies-in-waiting.  The daughter of Mary Boleyn and (puportedly) Sir William Carey, she was often rumored to be the natural daughter of Henry VIII.  She was always acknowledged as the queen's closest cousin, and married Sir Francis Knollys in 1540.  They went on to have fourteen children, which didn't keep the queen from constantly summoning her to court.  She served as lady-in-waiting to both Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, and was said to have stayed with her aunt Queen Anne in the Tower before her execution (though this is probably a legend).  During the reign of Queen Mary, she and her family lived in exile, only to be summoned back to royal service by Elizabeth.  Catherine Carey was buried with much fanfare in Westminster Abbey.


Her brother, Henry Carey, was made the first Baron Hunsdon by Elizabeth in 1559.  The queen also gifted him many estates, including Hunsdon and Eastwick in Hertfordshire, and mantitles, including eventually Lord Chamberlain of the Household.  He was long married to Anne Morgan, but was notoriously unfaithful (one of his mistresses was the musician Amelia Lanier, possibly Shakespeare's “Dark Lady,” who was forty years his junior and gave him a son).  He was most famous for being a great patron of the theater.  Shakespeare's Lord Chamberlain's Men were under his protection.


Lady Catherine Gray (1540-1568), another cousin of Queen Elizabeth, didn't fare so well as the Boleyns.  As the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary Brandon, Dowager Queen of France, she had the closest claim to the throne after Elizabeth (Henry VIII having excluded his sister Margaret's Scots descendants from the throne, including Mary Queen of Scots), but the position didn't serve her well.  Elizabeth was always suspicious and mistrustful of her, and Lady Catherine was not the most clever of politicians.  She secretly married Lord Hertford, and—well we will see what happens to her later!


I hope you've enjoyed reading Kate's adventures as much as I've loved writing them!  Watch for more of her tales in 2015 and 2016.  In the meantime, be sure and visit my website,, for more behind-the-scenes history and excerpts.  If you'd like to read more about the period, here are a few sources I found particularly helpful in writing Murder in the Queen's Garden...


  • Peter J. French, Dr. John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (1972)

  • Eugenio Garin, Astrology in the Renaissance: The Zodiac of Life (1990)

  • Frances A. Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (1979)

  • Derek Wilson, The Uncrowned Kings of England: The Black History of the Dudleys and the Tudor Throne (2005)

  • M. Levine, The Early Elizabethan Succession Question 1558-1568 (1966)

  • Martin Biddle, Nonsuch Palace: The Material Culture of a Noble Jacobin Household (2005)

  • Lacey Baldwin, Catherine Howard (1961)

Murder at Hatfield House

Murder in the Queen's Garden
















































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January 2019

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