REVIEW: A Noble Cunning: The Countess and the Tower by Patricia Bernstein
A thrilling tale, based on a true story, of one woman’s tremendous courage and incomparable wit in trying to rescue her husband from the Tower of London the night before he is to be executed.
The heroine of A Noble Cunning, Bethan Glentaggart, Countess of Clarencefield, a persecuted Catholic noblewoman, is determined to try every possible means of saving her husband’s life, with the help of a group of devoted women friends.
Amid the turbulence of the 1715 Rebellion against England’s first German king George I, Bethan faces down a mob attack on her home, travels alone from the Scottish Lowlands to London through one of the worst snowstorms in many years, and confronts a cruel king before his court to plead for mercy for her husband Gavin. As a last resort, Bethan and her friends must devise and put in motion a devilishly complex scheme featuring multiple disguises and even the judicious use of poison to try to free Gavin.
Though rich with historical gossip and pageantry, Bethan’s story also demonstrates the damage that politics and religious fanaticism can inflict on the lives of individuals.
Dear Ms. Bernstein,
This sounded too interesting to pass up. Reading your notes at the end, I see that though the plot is based on a real life couple, the names were changed and a few fictional characters were added. As I hadn’t heard of and didn’t know the details of the real event, that was okay with me.
Bethan Glentaggart has dealt with a lot of persecution over her lifetime due to her religion. When a mass of rowdy men appear at her doorstep, literally with pitchforks (among other implements) and torches, she thinks quickly and devises a strategy to manage the situation. When her husband arrives home days later, thankfully he takes a deep breath and doesn’t head off in a rage over the insult to his wife and property. As Catholics in Lowland Scotland, they both know that they must get justice as and if they can.
After the death of Queen Anne, Gavin gets swept up in the rebellion to put a true born Englishman on the throne and hopefully insure more freedom of religion for them. Due to politics, bad weather, and sickness the Chevalier doesn’t arrive until after the effort has collapsed and landed Gavin, along with several other noblemen, in the Tower of London on charges of high treason. To save her husband, Bethan sends her children to relatives, buries the family treasure and papers, then heads to London with her faithful companion through blinding snowstorms. When Gavin is condemned and Bethan’s attempt to petition the Hanoverian Toad fail, will her plan to free Gavin succeed or land them all in deeper trouble?
The first section of the book was harrowing with Bethan facing down those who would storm her house and threaten her children. Then things slowed down quite a lot – though we did see the happy marriage between Bethan and Gavin and get some flashback scenes and discussions of her past, including her family’s persecution before the accession of James II. When the plotters met at their house, even without knowing how things were going to end, I would have known how things were going to end. It had Disaster written all over it. If anything could go wrong …
But the story picked up steam and kept going once Bethan and her companion Lucy began their journey through a Snowpocalypse to London. Not knowing whom she could trust, Bethan has to judge character at a glance and (happily if a bit conveniently) discovers someone who, along with his family, will be essential to her ultimate plan.
I would love to have seen Bethan in her (required) court costume though from the description in the book, it sounded more like something from the 1740s and none of her dresses would have had buttons down the back. But her carefully plotted plan, which began from the first time she visited him, to gain Gavin his freedom while not ending up trapped in his place in the Tower was daring. Booyah for female friendship – as well as a great degree of money needed for all the intricacies plus finding people in London willing and able to help her. “A Noble Cunning” might have taken a little while to get going but once it did, I went happily along for the ride as Bethan’s cool deception won the day. B
NOTE – “A Noble Cunning” will be released on Tuesday