Forrester, James - 'Sacred Treason'
It is 1563, England is a troubled nation; it is the fifth year of the young Queen Elizabeth's reign and there is still a lot of hostility towards her from all of the English Catholics following the Reformation. Catholic plots against the young Queen Elizabeth have left the country in a state of apprehension and distrust.
On the 7 December, in London on a terribly stormy night of thunder, lightning and heavy rain, respected herald William Harley, known as Clarenceux King of Arms, receives a manuscript from his fellow Catholic, Henry Machyn at his house, without really appreciating what he has been left. He starts to read the document and begins to realise that he has in his hands, papers that could change the course of history.
In the Strand, Francis Walsingham receives instructions from Sir William Cecil that he should use his men and best efforts to locate and trace all the members of a Catholic secret group that call themselves "The Knights Of The Round Table", as these Protestant nobles believe there is a plot of treason against the Queen. Walsingham wants Henry Machyn found as soon as possible and he sends a sadistic Sergeant-at-Arms named Crackenthorpe and other enforcers to find him. They eventually locate him and start to persuade him by torture methods best left to the imagination, that he should tell them all he knows, but unfortunately they go too far and kill him.
Then Crackenthorpe and his men arrest William Harley, who has secreted the mysterious manuscript in a hidden place in the kitchens of his house. They take Harley to their house and try to get from him the whereabouts of the manuscript, but even after some torture he refuses to tell him. He is placed in a terribly dark and filthy cellar until the next day. On the next day, they unexpectedly release him, telling him that he has 12 hours to locate the manuscript or it will be the worse for him. He returns to his home but finds that it has been searched and is in a terrible mess with all the furnishings slashed and broken. He finds a servant boy has been hanged because he wouldn't reveal whereabouts of the manuscript. Harley's wife and family have rushed away to Devon believing that the husband would never be released alive. Harley, accompanied by the young widow of Henry Machyn attempt to pierce together the message in the manuscript which is told in a Da Vinci Code-style riddle and they journey all over the country to do this.
This gripping and very intelligent story is a real page turner once you get past about the first ten pages. After that, I found it difficult to put it down until the final page. The author mentions some medieval words for clothing and furnishings which perhaps should have been explained in a glossary but which I located via google. I also found it strange and very trusting that Harley was released after being tortured and left in a cellar over night and told to come back with the manuscript or else!
James Forrester is a pen name of the historian Dr Ian Mortimer who has a special interest in this period and has written four highly acclaimed medieval biographies and The Sunday Times best-seller The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. With such a degree of expertise behind him, (three degrees in fact), it is no surprise that the level of detail in this book is formidable and very evocative of the time. You know you are reading exactly the appropriate details and descriptions of all the clothing, furnishings, demeanour and other appropriate behaviours for the time. This book is not for the squeamish as the violence is typical to the time and very bloody. I hope Dr Mortimer, follows up this excellent novel with many more, so adding "historical mystery writer", to his many other accomplishments.
Terry Halligan, England
last updated 17/11/2012 11:31