Saturday, June 25, 2016

'The Tapestry' a Finalist for Daphne du Maurier Award

I'm extremely proud to share the news that The Tapestry is a finalist for the 2016 award for Best Historical Romantic Suspense from the Romance Writers of America.

Daphne du Maurier was an influence on my writing from the very beginning, and I look on this as a tremendous honor.

The news on who won the award will be released in July!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Was the Duke of Buckingham Guilty?

By Nancy Bilyeau

Edward Stafford

On May 17, 1521, Edward Stafford, 43, third duke of Buckingham, was beheaded on Tower Hill outside the Tower of London, found guilty of high treason against Henry VIII.

In Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, the king said of Buckingham, “He hath into monstrous habits put the graces that were once his, and is become as black as if besmear’d in hell.”  In the miniseries The Tudors Buckingham actively plots against the king, seeking to replace him, and goes to his execution wailing in terror.

What was the actual evidence against him at trial? Separating fact from fiction, did Buckingham plot against the king? The answer: there was no proof of any plot, no actions taken against Henry VIII. But Edward Stafford was guilty nonetheless — of being too noble, too rich and too arrogant to survive in the increasingly paranoid court of Henry VIII, his cousin once removed.

Buckingham’s entire life was marked with loss and suspicion.

When he was five years old, his father, the second duke, was executed by Richard III. His father allied with Richard to seize Richard's nephew on the road to London, and the duke of Buckingham is considered a key suspect in the murders of the princes in the Tower. For whatever reason, he suddenly turned against the king, and was actively trying to overthrow him when arrested. His heir, young Edward Stafford, was hidden from Richard III in relatives’ homes, not to emerge until  Henry VII defeated the last Yorkist king at Bosworth.

Edward became a royal ward of the Tudor family, knighted at the age of seven. His closest blood tie came through the Woodville family. His mother, Catherine, was the sister of Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV and mother of Elizabeth of York. Edward Stafford was from a strong Lancaster family that recently married into the York dynasty. It should have made him a special favorite.

But as Edward grew into a proud, preening adolescent, Henry VII cooled toward him, fearing that he outshone the heir to the throne, the future Henry VIII. 

The Tudors saw the Staffords as a threat. 

The family's history was turbulent from the start. In 1347, Ralph de Stafford, a supporter of Edward III and a founding member of the Order of the Garter, built Stafford Castle. Ralph was a tough, ambitious and ruthless soldier. After his first wife died, he abducted a wealthy young heiress and married her, ignoring the outrage of her parents. When the girl's family turned to Edward III for justice, he refused to order Stafford to give up his bride. Instead, he gave the parents more titles to shut them up. 

One of the descendants of this union married a descendant of Edward III's youngest son, Thomas of Woodstock. The Staffords now had a royal stake. Humphrey Stafford, the first Duke of Buckingham, was a passionate loyalist to Henry VI and a leading Lancastrian aristocrat and commander of armies. He was known for saying such things as, "The earl of Warwick shall not come to the king's presence, and if he comes, he shall die." He died at the Battle of Northampton in 1460, defending the king's honor.

It was a fiery family legacy for Edward Stafford.

Henry VIII succeeded to the throne in 1509, unchallenged by his older cousin. In fact, the duke was lord high steward for the coronation and carried the crown. But Stafford was noticed. A foreign ambassador wrote admiringly of “my lord of Buckingham, a noble man and would be a royal ruler."

Over the next ten years he was pushed out of the center of power more and more--if he had ever occupied it, which is doubtful. As friends, Henry VIII much preferred lower-born, jovial men of the joust yard like Charles Brandon and William Compton. And the man who ran the entire kingdom was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. There was no place for Buckingham.

In response, Edward Stafford married a noblewoman of the Percy family, fathered four children (and several illegitimate children), and withdrew to his estates, where he was the unquestioned man in charge. The family seat was Stafford Castle, but he wanted something more modern and spectacular. He began construction of Thornbury Castle. Did its beauty draw the hostility of Henry VIII, himself a fanatical builder?

Thornbury Castle

What more likely changed the cousins’ relationship was Henry VIII's lack of a male heir. 

Catherine of Aragon's last pregnancy was in 1518. They had a daughter, Mary. But the Tudor dynasty was a new one , and Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey weren’t sure that the nobility would accept a female ruler when Henry died. Might they not look to the duke of Buckingham or one of his sons, instead? (Henry VIII's decision to annul his marriage and try to father a son with a new wife was years in the future. Anne Boleyn was still in France.)

On April 8, 1521, the duke was ordered to London from Thornbury. He set out for the court, seemingly unaware of any danger, and was greatly shocked when arrested along the way and taken to the Tower.

 At his trial, he was charged with “imagining and compassing the death of the king,” through seeking out prophecy from a monk named Nicholas Hopkins about the chances of the king having a male heir. Evidence was supposedly obtained from disgruntled former members of the duke’s household.

This was a controversial charge. In 1397 a statute was introduced making it treason to imagine or "encompass the death of the king" and conviction could be based on it. But the law was repealed just a few years later because of the need for some action along with the imagining to make it treason. At Buckingham's trial, certain lords asked the chief justice if a person could be convicted "on the basis of words alone." They were told that it was not a felony without an action taken, but nonetheless,  "if one intends the death of the King, it is treason." The message was clear.

Buckingham denied all charges, including seeking prophecy. His friends said those who testified against the duke were bribed or threatened. But a jury of 17 peers found him guilty, led by the duke of Norfolk, who condemned him — while weeping.

Edward Stafford died with dignity on Tower Hill, and was buried in the Church of the Austin Friars. One chronicler said Buckingham’s death was “universally lamented by all London.”

Parliament passed a bill of attainder, and the duke’s enormous wealth — his castles and holdings and titles — passed to the crown. Henry VIII took Thornbury for himself; he stayed there for more than a week  in 1535 with Anne Boleyn. Buckingham's London residence was given to Henry Courtenay, marchioness of Exeter. 

The illustrious Stafford clan never rose to prominence again. They were the first noble family to be crushed by Henry VIII … but definitely not the last. Those who say that Henry VIII changed from a good man into a tyrant in the 1530s, particularly 1536, should take a long look at the death of Buckingham.


Joanna Stafford, a Dominican novice, is the protagonist of The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry, set in Tudor England and published in nine countries. The Crown was an Oprah pick for 2012 and was shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association's Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award.

For the month of June, The Crown is discounted 70 perecent on amazon and Barnes & Noble. Go here.

The third book in the trilogy, The Tapestry, is a finalist for the RWA Daphne du Maurier award for Best Historical Romantic Suspense.

E-Book Price Slashed 70 Percent on THE CROWN

My publisher is discounting the price of the first novel in my series, THE CROWN. The ebook is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble for $3.99.

THE CROWN was shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award from the Crime Writers' Association. It was an Oprah pick in 2012.

The review said: "Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical detail throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy and betrayal."

To order, go here.