by Frances Burke
At the beginning of the so-called ‘Tudor Age’ with Henry VII’s seizure of the throne, England was still very much a medieval society, with glimmerings of the Italian Renaissance on the horizon.
By the time Henry VIII took power many changes had taken place. For the educated class the development of printing was putting the Bible and other books in the hands of more and more people. There was great wealth in the land, thanks to the previous king’s care. Things were relatively peaceful, save for some back and forth with France.
However, towards the end of Henry’s reign, the Treasury was depleted, the country was weary of war with France and Scotland, and religion was about to take a complete right-hand turn.
The Protestant faith had put an end to clerical supremacy, and the rituals and ‘magic’ of the Catholic Church, which had so ordered people’s thinking, both comforting and terrorizing them, had been taken away. There was a huge gap in the still medieval-oriented lives of the common folk, and to fill this they turned with increasing enthusiasm to their traditional belief in magic, witches and fiends.
According to the historian, Nigel Heard, ‘In popular imagination, alongside the real world of everyday life there existed a spirit world inhabited by ghosts, fairies, vampires and devils.’ It was very important to guard against the supernatural, and every community had its magicians and ‘cunning’ man or woman who could be consulted about the future, heal the sick, and generally use special powers to protect the neighbours.
There were witches, too, who supposedly could kill with just a glance, and were known to indulge in sexual excess – despite the fact that they were most often poor and elderly women. They were not, however, linked with the idea of diabolical practices, as were witches on the Continent. This only came about in England during the 17thC. Toward the end of Elizabeth’s reign there was a huge upsurge in the number of witches and sorcerers which led to several statutes against ‘Conjurations, Inchantments and Witchcraft’. Books were published dealing with the phenomenon, and it was clear that witchcraft was intellectually accepted and discussed by all classes.
Another quite superior category of occultists existed, the alchemists – who took it for granted that ‘magic’ really worked and that it was possible to make contact with and control angels and demons. Some, like Doctor John Dee, Elizabeth’s own magician, were renowned scholars, although many were less reputable. Almost all were in the business of transmuting base metal into gold and discovering the Philosopher’s Stone, a mysterious object that would turn men into gods (although they didn’t put it in so many words). They studied geomancy, or fortune-telling through the earth, astrology and the Kabbalah, and some even tried to create life without the aid of a woman – ‘the ultimate proof of man’s divinity’, according to Paracelsus, a celebrated physician/alchemist of the time.
These men were the forefathers of today’s science, and they left behind them valuable manuscripts related to their experiments and discoveries. It’s unfortunate that so much of the written work was kept deliberately obscure. However, today’s investigators with open minds are inclined to think that there was much to be gained from these ancient writings – especially with regard to the study of the occult, spiritualism and a belief in life-after-death.
Doctor Cosmo Meniscus, the alchemist in my novel ENCHANTRESS, was initially an explorer of the unknown who had dedicated his life to the science of that Age. It was his misfortune to discover in an innocent young woman a magical faculty that he craved. The manipulation of that gift brought terrible danger and, in the end, an extraordinary revelation of what ‘magic’ might be.
ENCHANTRESS is a tale of passion and intrigue set against a backdrop of brilliant pageantry and political and religious conspiracy.
Peregrine Woodward, an insignificant relative attached to Anne Boleyn’s entourage at King Henry VIII’s Court, is thrown into violent conflict with the powerful and ambitious men and women of the times. Her healing and prophetic gifts are particularly dangerous and confronting. They are coveted by the fascinating alchemist, Doctor Cosmo Meniscus, who almost destroys her in his attempt to control her destiny; while Richard de Burgh, the man she loves, will betray her innocence, before succumbing to her enchantment.
Peregrine’s own increasing ability to alter people’s destiny is her challenge. But the bond with Richard throughout their turbulent relationship becomes her greatest strength.
The past is endlessly fascinating, and I bring it alive, peopling it with men and women who are hardy and adventurous, and willing to travel beyond the boundaries of polite society.
Endless Time, my first paranormal, was a prize-winner with Random House, and since then I’ve published five more romantic historicals, each with a different background and time frame. I’ve followed different paths with the regency novella and a contemporary crime novel which somehow managed to involve itself in history. I’ve struggled with characters who deliberately wandered from their place in the storyline, and had to dismiss some who simply would not fit in. My library shelves groan with the weight of research material, rarely dusted, I admit. Life is too busy, too packed with things to know, places to go, characters to create, stories to weave.
I write about adventure, the unexplained, murder, war and love. I write because I must.
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