Sacred Treason: no country for Catholic nobles…

Exclusive interview with author Ian Mortimer and a review of his mystery novel set during Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

Rating: 4 stars

 By Gabrielle Pantera

 “While researching an article I came across a reference to a society in London in the 1550s called The Knights of the Round Table,” says Sacred Treason author Ian Mortimer who writes under the pen name James Forrester. “As I was also writing an article on Elizabethan secret societies, I imagined the Knights of the Round Table to be a Catholic conspiracy. The story just took off from there.”

Sacred Treason is the first in a trilogy, and part two, Roots of Betrayal, will be available in the US in May 2013.

Elizabeth I’s England in 1563 was a dangerous place for the Catholic nobility, who could face death at any moment if suspected of plotting against the crown.  Elizabeth’s Herald William Harley is a secret Catholic. When another Catholic noble, Henry Machyn, brings William a manuscript to hide William soon and realizes his life could be in danger.

Elizabeth’s leading councilor Sir William Cecil instructs Francis Walsingham, considered England’s first real spymaster, to find a secret group of Catholics who call themselves The Knights Of The Round Table. Walsingham quickly targets Henry Machyn and starts a search to find the rest of the group. How far will they go?

This historical mystery contains plenty of adventure with vivid and detailed evocations of time, place and character during a tumultuous period of religious persecution. This book is 500 pages long, but worth the time invested, but it is certainly not for the squeamish, as the author does not shy away from graphic violence.

Mortimer also wrote The Time Travelers Guide to Elizabethan England, The Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England a Handbook for Visitors to the fourteenth Century.

“I was commissioned by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in about 1998 to write the entry for a man called Henry Machyn, a self-taught chronicler and one of England’s earliest diarists, who died in 1563,” says Mortimer. “I knew the extent to which fiction allows you to weave past and present together seamlessly,” says Mortimer. “My own experiences share space in the book with historical facts, and somehow it seems natural.

Mortimer has four degrees in history, is a qualified archivist, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and has written historical books, articles and poems. “Of course none of that really helps with writing fiction,” says Mortimer. “But, it did mean that I did not need to do a great deal of research on the period detail. I’d already read 18,000 documents for my Ph.D [the social history of medicine 1570-1720]. I took a great deal of information from that study with me into the process of imagining 16th century London.

Mortimer was awarded the Alexander Prize in 2004 by the Royal Historical Society for his research into the social history of medicine in the 16th and 17th centuries. “It’s a big silver medal: it lives on my desk, in front of me as I type,” says Mortimer.

Mortimer is from Kent. He currently lives in a small town of Moretonhampstead on the north-east edge of Dartmoor in Devon. “It’s the largest expanse of wild land in southern England,” says Mortimer. “I can see open moorland from my study window.”