It is 1535, and in the tumultuous years of King Henry VIII’s break from Rome, the religious houses of England are being seized by force. Twenty-year-old Catherine Havens is a foundling and the adopted daughter of the prioress of the Priory of Mount Grace in a small Yorkshire village. Catherine, like her adoptive mother, has a gift for healing, and she is widely sought and admired for her knowledge.
Catherine’s hopes for a place at court have been dashed by the king’s divorce, and she has reluctantly taken the veil. In the remote North, the nuns enjoy the freedoms unavailable to other women. England is their home, but the times have changed, and now the few remaining nuns dread the arrival of the priory’s new owner, Robert Overton. When the priory’s costly altarpiece goes missing, Catherine and her friend Ann Smith find themselves under increased suspicion.
King Henry VIII’s soldiers have not had their fill of destruction, and when they return to Mount Grace to destroy the priory, Catherine must choose between the sacred calling of her past and the man who may represent her country’s future.
Sarah Kennedy holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance Literature from Purdue University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College. The author of seven books of poems as well as The Altarpiece and City of Ladies, books one and two in The Cross and the Crown series, she has received individual artist grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, as well as an award for scholarship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She teaches at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia. Her website is http://sarahkennedybooks.com/.
Henry VIII has broken with Rome to establish the Church of England. He wants(demands) that all priests and nuns forsake the Catholic religion and embrace the new church. Over a period of time, there were a lot of complaints about monastic impropriety and supposedly this new act by Henry VIII will stop that, but it is only to line the pockets of the royalty and new church. Catherine Havens was abandoned on the church doorsteps as a baby and taken in by the nuns at Priory of Mount Grace, becoming the adopted daughter of the prioress. Catherine was one of these nuns forced out of the only home she had ever known. Most of the nuns refused to leave when the men came ordered by the priory’s owner, Robert Overton, to take what wasn’t nailed down and destroy the monastery itself.
A very valuable Alterpiece goes missing and the nuns are accused of hiding it or they know who stole it. Catherine is not really committed to being a nun, she would rather heal people and live a quiet life. Robert’s brother William becomes ill, along with other people in the region with the pox. Catherine nurses him back to health and at the same time tries to figure out who and why the Alterpiece was stolen or hidden away. Robert is adamant that it is the nuns who are to blame so Catherine along with William and her fellow nun and friend Anne race against time, before the men who were ordered by Robert come back to either get it back. At the same time there are a few mysterious deaths occuring at the monastery and Catherine finds the deaths suspicious.
This is a story that is not often told, what happened to the nuns or priests and where did they go and how did they live after a mostly sequestered life in the monasteries and nunneries. This book gives the reader a glimpse into the decisions that these people had to make. Do they accept the new religion and start new lives outside the church or do they risk danger of imprisonment or death for not complying.
I loved Catherine’s character, a young woman who is passionate about what she does and clearly wants to do nothing but help people, even at the risk of her own health. The story also gives us a further look into Henry VII and his more often than not cruel machinations against his own people. This novel is filled with suspense, illicit love and human emotions all put into a historical fiction novel that is a worthy read. I really loved it and am eager to read the next in the series, City of Ladies. After that there is the third in the series called the King’s Sisters. Excited to read both of those. If you love a great historical fiction series that is impeccably researched, this one is for you!
I received a copy for review and was not monetarily compensated for my review.