A powerful, evocative new novel by the critically acclaimed author of The Handfasted Wife, The Woman in the Shadows tells the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor England's most powerful statesman, through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth.
When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband.
Security – and happiness – comes when Elizabeth is introduced to kindly, ambitious merchant turned lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect…but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London.
The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights – and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen…or risk losing e she has chosen…or risk losing everything.
Author Guest Post
Thank you for inviting me to speak about Elizabeth Cromwell and my experience writing about this little known Tudor woman.
Elizabeth Cromwell was the wife of one of Tudor England’s most famous statesmen, Thomas Cromwell who is recently immortalised in Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. I was curious about a woman married to such a personage and wanted to bring her out of the shadows and give this Tudor wife and mother of three children, Anne, Grace and Gregory, her own story.
My first challenge was finding out what was known about her. There was not a lot. She had been married before to a Yeoman of the King’s Guard and was a widow. Her father was a cloth merchant and she had a sister, Joan, and a brother, Henry. It seems that Thomas Cromwell may have known the family as they all hailed from Putney. I don’t think Cromwell came from an impoverished background either as his father owned land and a fulling mill. He had a brewery and a blacksmith’s concern. Cromwell hailed from a middling sort of background, though he later claimed that his father was drunken and violent.
It is important to get into the mind-set of the period you are writing. It was not really about stepping into Elizabeth Cromwell’s shoes and inhabiting her. It was more about trying to see life and her world as she might have seen it. That is difficult for a twenty-first century writer looking back. I do believe people throughout history experience emotions in common but the way these are played out is different and an historical writer must pay attention to this. My challenge was to give Elizabeth a plausible story and to work out situations containing conflicts to engage a reader and draw reader into her character and her world. I had to research this world first and then conceal all that knowledge within the narrative and the way I constructed her personality and character. No one wants to read information dump.
Elizabeth was a widow. Widows during this period had a degree of legal and financial independence within a society controlled by men. It might be a shock to us now to think of English women as commodities and, indeed, there were women who disliked the total control family and society exerted over their lives, but there were very few. Running their own households would afford a degree of freedom within the domestic sphere so, unless they wished to enter a convent, women aspired to marriage, accepting the protection of often much older men, or unfaithful young men. The idea was that love or at least respect would follow the marriage. Marriage was rarely romantic. However, a widow could choose her own second husband and I use that fact to make Elizabeth’s character appealing to the modern reader without her seeming too free. Her desire to marry Thomas Cromwell sets up conflict along with the fact that Elizabeth inherited a failing cloth business and wants to make it successful despite her father’s objections and his attempts to remarry her.
I knew that Thomas Cromwell was interested in the new learning known as Humanism– humanists were interested in interrogating the past through discussion and in new translations of old works by Latin and Greek writers, and that Thomas was also a ‘Renaissance Man’ who adored all things Italian and beautiful objects. There is indication that by around 1517 he was a realist who disliked reliquary and indulgences. He never remarried after Elizabeth’s death in 1528/29 and he was a family man. I think I can conclude that it may have been a solid marriage. All this made it easier for me to make Elizabeth, a Tudor woman accessible for today’s reader. I hope that when you read the book you will agree.
Huge thanks to Carol McGrath for the interesting and highly informative guest post! If you wish to purchase her nice, The Woman in the Shadows, you can do so Here!
About the author
Carol McGrath has an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing from University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAs in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this best-selling trilogy. The Woman in the Shadows, a novel that considers Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, through the eyes of Elizabeth his wife, will be published on August 4th, 2017. Carol is working on a new medieval Trilogy, The Rose Trilogy, set in the High Middle Ages. It subject matter is three linked medieval queens, sometimes considered ‘She Wolves’. She speaks at events and conferences on the subject of medieval women, writing Historical Fiction, The Bayeux Tapestry, and Fabrics, Tapestry and Embroidery as incorporated into fiction. Carol was the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels Association Conference, Oxford in September 2016 and reviews for the HNS. Find Carol on her website: