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The Lydiard Chronicles

Author Elizabeth St.John was inspired by a 17th-century diary

I love historical fiction that reveals stories long-hidden in the shadows of history. When I learned novelist Elizabeth St.John drew from personal family documents to create her fiction, I was intrigued. After reading her excellent novel Written in Their Stars, I was captivated by the courageous and brilliant women she’d brought to life. I knew I had to learn more.

It all started when Elizabeth discovered family letters, diaries, and papers documenting the dramas, joys, and tragedies of her ancestors—who happened to be power players in 17th century England. By combining historical sleuth work with masterful storytelling skills, the genealogist and history buff created the Lydiard Chronicles: A Family Saga. The three-novel series and companion novelettes masterfully dramatize events and characters during a tumultuous time in English history.

In her own words, here is Elizabeth St.John’s story:

A thrilling discovery

“It was on the 29th day of January, in the year of our Lord 1619–20, that in the Tower of London I was at about four of the clock in the morning, brought forth to behold the ensuing light. My mother was Lucy the youngest daughter of Sir John St. John, of Lydiard Tregoze, in Wiltshire.”

When I read this entry many years ago for the first time in Lucy Hutchinson’s seventeenth century memoir notebooks archived in Nottingham Castle, I was elated. Not only had I found another thread in my ancestry research, but this woman was born in the Tower of London. Amazing! The more I read, the more excited I became. Here she describes her mother, Lucy St.John:

“She was of a noble family, being the youngest daughter of Sir John St. John, of Lidiard Tregooze in the county of Wilts; her father and mother died when she was not above five years of age, 8 and yet at her nurse’s, from whence she was carried to be brought up in the house of the Lord Grandison, her father’s youngest brother; an honourable and excellent person, but married to a lady so jealous of him, and so ill-natured in her jealous fits, to anything that was related to him, that her cruelties to my mother exceeded the stories of stepmothers.”

Lucy Hutchinson

Hooked

The Tower of London, an orphan and a wicked stepmother. Now I was truly hooked. And so began my journey, researching and reconstructing the characters in my first novel, The Lady of the Tower. As an amateur historian, I committed to using primary sources for the evidence of their lives; and then weaving together the facts with fiction. Lucy Hutchinson’s memoirs were such a rich resource that I continued to use it for my second and third novels in The Lydiard Chronicles: my Civil War epic By Love Divided, and my novel of women spies during the Restoration, Written in their Stars.

I’ve been visiting Lydiard Park—the St.John family ancestral home in Wiltshire—since I was a child, and am part of the Friends society, preserving its unique history. The portraits within the house of Lucy St.John’s brother John, his wife (Lucy’s best friend) Anne, and her sister Barbara were quite lovely. And, of course, the extraordinary polyptych in the Church of St. Mary’s, with its unique portrait of all six sisters, was a writer’s dream. It helped me put faces to my words.

A journey through history

My research for The Lydiard Chronicles was a long and meandering journey. I visited the National Archives, combed online scholarly sources, and spent countless hours transcribing wills, court documents, letters and other written evidence. I had some exciting finds:

  • a letter outlining Will St.John’s pirating escapade and his deep friendship with Sir Walter Raleigh
  • Coded messages and false names from the family during the Civil War – several were founding members of the Sealed Knot spy ring
  • Sir Allen Apsley’s will and testament where he declares his love for his wife, Lucy St.John

Touching Allen’s signature, I felt such an emotional connection to Lucy St.John and all that she was to him. Here’s a heart-wrenching and loving extract from Sir Allen Apsley’s will and testament:

“If my deare wife (unto whom never man was more bound) take any distast I doe earnestly entreat her to forgive mee and I desire all the world should know that shee is a religious and vertuous lady a most kind wife.”

In those days, writing a will was also an opportunity to make peace with God. Sir Allen Apsley’s Calvinist testament clearly afforded him the means to make his apology for the challenges he imposed on his beloved Lucy.

Lucy St.John’s house within the Tower of London

I am truly fortunate that my family is one that left its mark on the pages of English history. Following their paper trail, discovering their portraits and walking through the rooms they once inhabited has been a discovery of my own heritage. And as I’ve married my passion for history and joy of writing, I’m always conscious of the ties binding me to these people who lived so long ago. Ancestors whose words, deeds and lives I now share with my readers.

Biography

Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. To inspire her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle to Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St.John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort.

Although the family has sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s ancestors still reside within them —in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost.  But that’s a different story …

Find Elizabeth St.John’s books on Amazon: https://geni.us/AmazonElizabethStJohn

Find Elizabeth St.John’s books on all other online stores: https://books2read.com/u/b6kgzJ

Website www.elizabethjstjohn.com

Twitter @ElizStJohn

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