Sovereign: A Matthew Shardlake Mystery (Matthew Shardlake Mysteries)

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9780330436083: Sovereign: A Matthew Shardlake Mystery (Matthew Shardlake Mysteries)

From one of P. D. James’s favorite mystery authors comes the third Shardlake novel

Autumn 1541. A plot against the throne has been uncovered, and Henry VIII has set off on a spectacular progress from London to York, along with a thousand soldiers, the cream of the nobility, and his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, to quell his rebellious northern subjects. Awaiting his arrival are lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his loyal assistant, Jack Barak. In addition to processing petitions to the king, Shardlake’s task is to protect a dangerous conspirator until he is transported back to London for interrogation.

But when a local glazier is murdered, things get a little more complicated as the murder seems to be not only connected to Shardlake’s prisoner but also to the royal family itself. Then Shardlake stumbles upon a cache of secret papers that throws into doubt the legitimacy of the entire royal line, and a chain of events unfolds that threatens Shardlake with the most terrifying fate of the age: imprisonment in the Tower of London.

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About the Author:

C. J. Sansom, the internationally bestselling author ofthe novelsWinter in MadridandDominionandthe Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery series,earned a Ph.D. in history and was a lawyer before becoming a full-time writer.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:



After a career as an attorney, C. J. Sansom now writes full time. Dissolution, which P. D. James picked as one of her five favorite mysteries in The Wall Street Journal; Dark Fire, winner of the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award; Sovereign; and Revelation, a USA Today Best Book of the Year for 2009, are all available from Penguin. Heartstone, the fifth book in the Shardlake series, is now available from Viking. Sansom is also the author of the international bestseller Winter in Madrid, a novel set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, also available from Penguin. A number one bestseller, his books have been sold in twenty-five countries. Sansom lives in Brighton, England.


Praise for Sovereign


“When historical fiction clicks, there’s nothing more gripping . . . and C. J. Sansom’s fantastic Sovereign left me positively baying for more. It’s that good. . . . Rebellion, plots, torture, fanaticism, a murder mystery and a real historical scandal come alive in this deeply satisfying novel.”

—Deirdre Donahue, USA Today

“Even if heart-pounding suspense and stomach-tightening tension were all Sansom’s writing brought to the table, few would feel short-changed. Added to these gifts is a superb approximation of the crucible of fear, treachery and mistrust that was Tudor England. . . . A parchment-turner, and a regal one at that.”

Sunday Times (London)

Sovereign, following Dissolution and Dark Fire, is the best so far. . . . Sansom has the perfect mixture of novelistic passion and historical detail.”

—Antonia Fraser, Sunday Telegraph (London)

“Here is a world where life is short and brutal. Crows pick at the rotting corpses of felons left to dangle gibbets as a warning to others. Religious persecution and political conspiracy are everywhere and trust in anyone is a dangerous assumption. The foul-smelling, festering ulcer on the leg of the now grossly obese king, in Sansom’s melancholy vision, is an emblem of the larger cancer eating into the body of the politic of England.”

—Desmond Ryan, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The best detective story I’ve read since The Murder of Roger Ackroyd . . . [a] devilishly ingenious whodunit . . . Sansom’s description of the brutality of Tudor life is strong stuff. . . . He is a master storyteller.”

The Guardian (London)

Dissolution by C. J. Sansom was an impressive start to a historical fiction series featuring stubborn, admirable Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake. Sovereign is the third outing, and this series just gets better and better. . . . once again, testing problems for Shardlake are backed by some wonderful research.”

The Bookseller

“This is an atmospheric thriller where velvet and silk hide putrescence, and beyond the grandeur of a Court lies a world where people rot alive or choke in deep mud. Sansom does a nice line in irony and savage humour, as well as the simple affections which keep people going in nightmarish times.”

—Roz Kaveney, Time Out (London)

“The skill with which C. J. Sansom is able to conjure up the sights, smells and sounds of Tudor England is unrivalled. . . . Sovereign is without doubt the best book I’ve read so far this year. In fact, it’s a real treasure.”

—Emma Pinch, The Birmingham Post

“Both marvelously exciting to read and a totally convincing evocation of England in the reign of Henry VIII.”

The Spectator

About the Author and Praise for Sovereign


Title Page




Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-one

Chapter Forty-two

Chapter Forty-three

Chapter Forty-four

Chapter Forty-five

Chapter Forty-six

Chapter Forty-seven

Chapter Forty-eight



Historical Note


Select Bibliography

Chapter One

IT WAS DARK UNDER the trees, only a little moonlight penetrating the half-bare branches. The ground was thick with fallen leaves; the horses’ hooves made little sound and it was hard to tell whether we were still on the road. A wretched track, Barak had called it earlier, grumbling yet again about the wildness of this barbarian land I had brought him to. I had not replied for I was bone-tired, my poor back sore and my legs in their heavy riding boots as stiff as boards. I was worried, too, for the strange mission that now lay close ahead was weighing on my mind. I lifted a hand from the reins and felt in my coat pocket for the Archbishop’s seal, fingering it like a talisman and remembering Cranmer’s promise: ‘This will be safe enough, there will be no danger.’

I had left much care behind me as well, for six days before, I had buried my father in Lichfield. Barak and I had had five days’ hard riding northwards since then, the roads in a bad state after that wet summer of 1541. We rode into wild country where many villages still consisted of the old longhouses, people and cattle crammed together in hovels of thatch and sod. We left the Great North Road that afternoon at Flaxby. Barak wanted to rest the night at an inn, but I insisted we ride on, even if it took all night. I reminded him we were late, tomorrow would be the twelfth of September and we must reach our destination well before the King arrived.

The road, though, had soon turned to mud, and as night fell we had left it for a drier track that veered to the northeast, through thick woodland and bare fields where pigs rooted among the patches of yellow stubble.

The woodland turned to forest and for hours now we had been picking our way through it. We lost the main track once and it was the Devil’s own job to find it again in the dark. All was silent save for the whisper of fallen leaves and an occasional clatter of brushwood as a boar or wildcat fled from us. The horses, laden with panniers containing our clothes and other necessities, were as exhausted as Barak and I. I could feel Genesis’ tiredness and Sukey, Barak’s normally energetic mare, was content to follow his slow pace.

‘We’re lost,’ he grumbled.

‘They said at the inn to follow the main path south through the forest. Anyway, it must be daylight soon,’ I said. ‘Then we’ll see where we are.’

Barak grunted wearily. ‘Feels like we’ve ridden to Scotland. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get taken for ransom.’ I did not reply, tired at his complaining, and we plodded on silently.

My mind went back to my father’s funeral the week before. The little group of people round the grave, the coffin lowered into the earth. My cousin Bess, who had found him dead in his bed when she brought him a parcel of food.

‘I wish I had known how ill he was,’ I told her when we returned to the farm afterwards. ‘It should have been me that looked after him.’

She shook her head wearily. ‘You were far away in London and we’d not seen you for over a year.’ Her eyes had an accusing look.

‘I have had difficult times of my own, Bess. But I would have come.’

She sighed. ‘It was old William Poer dying last autumn undid him. They’d wrestled to get a profit from the farm these last few years and he seemed to give up.’ She paused. ‘I said he should contact you, but he wouldn’t. God sends us hard trials. The droughts last summer, now the floods this year. I think he was ashamed of the money troubles he’d got into. Then the fever took him.’

I nodded. It had been a shock to learn that the farm where I had grown up, and which now was mine, was deep in debt. My father had been near seventy, his steward William not much younger. Their care of the land had not been all it should and the last few harvests had been poor. To get by he had taken a mortgage on the farm with a rich landowner in Lichfield. The first I knew of it was when the mortgagee wrote to me, immediately after Father’s death, to say he doubted the value of the land would clear the debt. Like many gentry in those days he was seeking to increase his acreage for sheep, and granting mortgages to elderly farmers at exorbitant interest was one way of doing it.

‘That bloodsucker Sir Henry,’ I said bitterly to Bess.

‘What will you do? Let the estate go insolvent?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘I won’t disgrace Father’s name. I’ll pay it.’ I thought, God knows I owe him that.

‘That is good.’

I came to with a start at the sound of a protesting whicker behind me. Barak had pulled on Sukey’s reins, bringing her to a stop. I halted too and turned uncomfortably in the saddle. His outline and that of the trees were sharper now, it was beginning to get light. He pointed in front of him. ‘Look there!’

Ahead the trees were thinning. In the distance I saw a red point of light, low in the sky.

‘There!’ I said triumphantly. ‘The lamp we were told to look out for, that’s set atop a church steeple to guide travellers. This is the Galtres Forest, like I said!’

We rode out of the trees. A cold wind blew up from the river as the sky lightened. We wrapped our coats tighter round us and rode down, towards York.


THE MAIN ROAD into the city was already filled with packhorses and carts loaded with food of every kind. There were enormous forester’s carts too, whole tree-trunks dangling dangerously over their tails. Ahead the high city walls came into view, black with the smoke of hundreds of years, and beyond were the steeples of innumerable churches, all dominated by the soaring twin towers of York Minster. ‘It’s busy as Cheapside on a market-day,’ I observed.

‘All for the King’s great retinue.’

We rode slowly on, the throng so dense we scarce managed a walking pace. I cast sidelong glances at my companion. It was over a year now since I had taken Jack Barak on as assistant in my barrister’s practice after his old master’s execution. A former child of the London streets who had ended up working on dubious missions for Thomas Cromwell, he was an unlikely choice, even though he was clever and had the good fortune to be literate. Yet I had not regretted it. He had adjusted well to working for me, doggedly learning the law. No one was better at keeping witnesses to the point while preparing affidavits, or ferreting out obscure facts, and his cynical, slantwise view of the system was a useful corrective to my own enthusiasm.

These last few months, however, Barak had often seemed downcast, and sometimes would forget his place and become as oafish and mocking as when I had first met him. I feared he might be getting bored, and thought bringing him to York might rouse him out of himself. He was, though, full of a Londoner’s prejudices against the north and northerners, and had complained and griped almost the whole way. Now he was looking dubiously around him, suspicious of everything.

Houses appeared straggling along the road and then, to our right, a high old crenellated wall over which an enormous steeple was visible. Soldiers patrolled the top of the wall, wearing iron helmets and the white tunics with a red cross of royal longbowmen. Instead of bows and arrows, though, they carried swords and fearsome pikes, and some even bore long matchlock guns. A great sound of banging and hammering came from within.

‘That must be the old St Mary’s Abbey, where we’ll be staying,’ I said. ‘Sounds like there’s a lot of work going on to make it ready for the King.’

‘Shall we go there now, leave our bags?’

‘No, we should see Brother Wrenne first, then go to the castle.’

‘To see the prisoner?’ he asked quietly.


Barak looked up at the walls. ‘St Mary’s is guarded well.’

‘The King will be none too sure of his welcome, after all that’s happened up here.’

I had spoken softly, but the man in front of us, walking beside a packhorse laden with grain, turned and gave us a sharp look. Barak raised his eyebrows and he looked away. I wondered if he was one of the Council of the North’s informers; they would be working overtime in York now.

‘Perhaps you should put on your lawyer’s robe,’ Barak suggested, nodding ahead. The carts and packmen were turning into the abbey through a large gate in the wall. Just past the gate the abbey wall met the city wall at right angles, hard by a fortress-like gatehouse decorated with the York coat of arms, five white lions against a red background. More guards were posted there, holding pikes and wearing steel helmets and breastplates. Beyond the wall, the Minster towers were huge now against the grey sky.

‘I’m not fetching it out of my pack, I’m too tired.’ I patted my coat pocket. ‘I’ve got the Chamberlain’s authority here.’ Archbishop Cranmer’s seal was there too; but that was only to be shown to one person. I stared ahead, at something I had been told to expect yet which still made me shudder: four heads fixed to tall poles, boiled and black and half eaten by crows. I knew that twelve of the rebel conspirators arrested that spring had been executed in York, their heads and quarters set on all the city gates as a warning to others.

We halted at the end of a little queue, the horses’ heads drooping with tiredness. The guards had stopped a poorly dressed man and were questioning him roughly abou...

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