The King’s Witch

Written by Tracy Borman

Once an attendant and healer to Queen Elizabeth I, Frances Gorges has no interest in joining the court of James I. Anti-papist to the hilt, James also believes it is his duty to ensure that all witches – and that includes wise women and healers – are put to the stake or hanged. Wisely, Frances wishes to remain at her family ancestral estate, Longford, as far away as possible from the Stuarts. But when Frances’s ambitious uncle, always trying to wiggle his way into the Court’s good graces, arranges for Frances to become the attendant to Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of James and Queen Anne, she joins the Court. Immediately becoming a suspect of Lord Cecil’s, who is also trying to earn his bones with James, Frances is accused of witchcraft and sent to the Tower.

But when Princess Elizabeth falls deathly ill with smallpox, James and Anne realize that it is only Frances who is capable of saving her – and despite Cecil’s machinations, Frances is freed and Elizabeth survives. By that time, Frances has fallen in love with Tom Wintour, a young lawyer at Gray’s Inn, a man she does not realize is a Catholic until he involves her in what will ultimately be known as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. We all know that the plot failed, but Frances survives, apparently to be featured in Books 2 and 3 of this anticipated trilogy.

Borman is a respected historian with a passion for the Tudor world. This departure into fiction is not merely welcome; it should be celebrated. Beautifully written with characters lovingly formed, it grabs you and keeps you in thrall. Everyone including Frances is an historical personage, and all are as real as if they lived on your street – good and bad alike (and there is a lot of bad!). Frances, through whose eyes we witness events, is a masterpiece: sensitive, smart, often fearless. The best book I’ve read this year.