Karen Harper Talks about Mistress of Mourning

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

I'm delighted to once again welcome Karen Harper as a Word Wenches guest.  Karen is a New York Times bestselling author of romantic suspense novels from Mira Books. She won the Mary Higgins Clark Award in 2006 for her novel Dark Angel ANGEL, and her novels make the "Heatseekers" bestsellers lists in the UK.  She is looking forward to attending ThrillerFest in NYC in July and the Historical Novel Society Conference in London in September.

As you can see, Karen is as versatile as she is widely honored!  Today, she is going to tell us about her romantic historical mystery, Mistress of Mourning.  Welcome, Karen!  I turn the virtual floor over to you:

MistressofmourningKaren Harper: It’s great to be visiting Word Wenches again.  Although I am a Tudormaniac, I love to read the varied eras and settings of historical novels, and WW does a great job of spotlighting those books. 

Although I have written five other historical novels, Mistress of Mourning is my first historical mystery.  It was more challenging to write, but the main characters, the era and plot ran headlong into a murder mystery—three of them in fact, tragic royal murders, especially since two of the victims were young boys and the third murder was of a teenage Prince of Wales.  

Mistress of Mourning is set in England and Wales in 1501, a pivotal year in the early reign of the Tudors.  Henry VII and his queen, Elizabeth of York, daughter of a Plantagenet king, are trying to solidify their new monarchy.  The War of the Roses has ended in a might-not-right victory for Henry.  (Trivia for the day:  The term “War of the Roses” was not coined until 1762 in David Hume’s History of England, so I have steered clear of it in the novel.)  And, Henry VIIof course, this first Tudor ruler can bolster his family’s future by leaving male heirs to reign and daughters to marry off to royalty in other countries.

 But, ah, there’s the rub.  Henry and his queen have lost two children, and their heir, Arthur, Prince of Wales, is sickly at times, although he has just wed the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon.  (Yes, later Henry VIII’s first wife, overthrown in his passion for Anne Boleyn, but Catherine is a young woman in this novel and very appealing.)  The only remaining male child (the Tudors have two daughters) is Henry, Duke of York, later Henry VIII.

Catherine of AragonBesides the losses of two of her own children, the queen is also haunted by the fact that her two young brothers were evidently murdered in the Tower of London years before.  Enter the chandler and carver of candles, Varina Westcott, a merchant-class widow who is allowed to run her own chandlery shop only because her husband died and left it to her.  (The powerful, male-only guilds of the day play a part too, but that’s for another day.)

At first Varina thinks she has been summoned to the palace to carve Her Majesty’s children’s faces on memorial candles, but Elizabeth of York wants full waxen images of her lost brothers and children to keep in secret.  Catastrophe befalls when the Tudor heir, Prince Arthur, dies in Wales under mysterious circumstances.  Because Varina’s shop also produces wax shrouds with which the noble dead used to be wrapped before burial and since chandlers of the day also acted as undertakers, the queen sends Varina to Wales to oversee the burial preparations—and to discovery whether Arthur was poisoned and by whom.

Coat of Arms, Wax Chandlers Guild

This is greatly a woman’s book as the two first-person leads are the queen and Varina, who bond over the sad fact that they have both lost sons.  But the novel also probes the passions and evils of men.  Can even King Henry VII be trusted?  Young Henry Tudor is only ten when the novel begins, but his wily personality is already in evidence. 

Varina’s love interest in the novel is Nicholas Sutton, an ambitious courtier above her rank, who is originally assigned to her as a guard.  Together, they navigate their relationships with the Tudors and go to wild Wales to discover whether Prince Arthur met with foul play. 

It was great fun to write about Wales of that day.  It was still a land of legends, superstitions, tribal chiefs and danger.  Bogs and fens, even witches presented a marvelous milieu.  The novel is somewhat Gothic in tone, but that’s what emerges when the Medieval Period begins to tiptoe into the English Renaissance.

Arthur. Prince of WalesBut back to the historical crimes which are the backbone of the story.  Who murdered the Princes in the Tower is still argued today.  Many blame King Richard III, but there is another possible royal villain too.  (Yes, that’s a teaser.)  Later, in the Reign of King Charles II, in July of 1674, during some rebuilding in the White Tower, the bones of two children were found in an elm chest that was covered by rubble at a depth of about ten feet.  This was under a staircase that led to the king’s lodging.  At King Charles’s request, the bones were interred in a white marble urn designed by Sir Christopher Wren and placed in the Henry VII chapel at Westminster Abbey, close to the tomb of their sister. 

Ludlow CastleAs for Arthur Tudor’s demise, that is yet being investigated.  Ground-probing radar has been used to pinpoint his final resting place beneath the limestone floor of Worcester Cathedral.  Professor John Hunter of Birmingham University has worked on the investigation, although so far the current queen has not given her permission for the exhumation of Arthur’s body to perform toxicology tests.  Of course, if Arthur had not died, Henry VIII would never have been king.  If the Princes in the Tower had not died, perhaps the Tudors would never have come to the throne at all.

In Mistress of Mourning,  I have suggested possible solutions for these three murders of royal princes.  But part of the joy of writing the novel was immersing myself in its era, that period which saw the stormy dawn of the Tudors. 

 The novel will also be released by my British publisher, Random House UK, at the same time as the Penguin USA release, but with a different title and cover.  Mistress of Mourning will be The Queen's Confidante in the United Kingdom.  Perhaps in this year of the current queen’s jubilee, the title "queen" carries real cachet. 

MistressofmourningI'll be giving away two copies of MISTRESS OF MOURNING, so I hope the winners—and all you subjects of the realm—will enjoy the story and be surprised by the big reveal at the end. 

MJP: Karen, thanks so much for visiting!  The book sounds wonderful, and just from reading your blog, I've discovered things about candlemakers that I didn't know.  A feast for history lovers. Here's an excerpt.  And don't miss all the interesting info, including a clip of an interview with Karen, at her website.

The winners of the two copies of Mistress of Mourning will be chosen from among those who comment between now and midnight Saturday. So what do you think about the princes in the tower?  And did you learn as much about wax working as I did reading this?

Mary Jo, sure that Mistress of Mourning will be a cool read for a hot summer!

 

95 thoughts on “Karen Harper Talks about Mistress of Mourning”

  1. Congratulations on the new book Karen. It looks like an intriguing story. The past often makes me think of simpler times but reading this post reminded me that it was no such thing. I like the idea of a woman doing the investigation since it is in a time period that I don’t think of as being easy for women to prosper.

    Reply
  2. Congratulations on the new book Karen. It looks like an intriguing story. The past often makes me think of simpler times but reading this post reminded me that it was no such thing. I like the idea of a woman doing the investigation since it is in a time period that I don’t think of as being easy for women to prosper.

    Reply
  3. Congratulations on the new book Karen. It looks like an intriguing story. The past often makes me think of simpler times but reading this post reminded me that it was no such thing. I like the idea of a woman doing the investigation since it is in a time period that I don’t think of as being easy for women to prosper.

    Reply
  4. Congratulations on the new book Karen. It looks like an intriguing story. The past often makes me think of simpler times but reading this post reminded me that it was no such thing. I like the idea of a woman doing the investigation since it is in a time period that I don’t think of as being easy for women to prosper.

    Reply
  5. Congratulations on the new book Karen. It looks like an intriguing story. The past often makes me think of simpler times but reading this post reminded me that it was no such thing. I like the idea of a woman doing the investigation since it is in a time period that I don’t think of as being easy for women to prosper.

    Reply
  6. Kare, congratulations on your new release! I love the Tudor period and have long been intrigued by the mysterious disappearance of Edward IV’s sons. The book sounds great.

    Reply
  7. Kare, congratulations on your new release! I love the Tudor period and have long been intrigued by the mysterious disappearance of Edward IV’s sons. The book sounds great.

    Reply
  8. Kare, congratulations on your new release! I love the Tudor period and have long been intrigued by the mysterious disappearance of Edward IV’s sons. The book sounds great.

    Reply
  9. Kare, congratulations on your new release! I love the Tudor period and have long been intrigued by the mysterious disappearance of Edward IV’s sons. The book sounds great.

    Reply
  10. Kare, congratulations on your new release! I love the Tudor period and have long been intrigued by the mysterious disappearance of Edward IV’s sons. The book sounds great.

    Reply
  11. Karen, Congratulations and best wishes on this fascinating release. Reading about this era is enthralling and is an introduction to the characters that inhabit the novel and make this book captivating.

    Reply
  12. Karen, Congratulations and best wishes on this fascinating release. Reading about this era is enthralling and is an introduction to the characters that inhabit the novel and make this book captivating.

    Reply
  13. Karen, Congratulations and best wishes on this fascinating release. Reading about this era is enthralling and is an introduction to the characters that inhabit the novel and make this book captivating.

    Reply
  14. Karen, Congratulations and best wishes on this fascinating release. Reading about this era is enthralling and is an introduction to the characters that inhabit the novel and make this book captivating.

    Reply
  15. Karen, Congratulations and best wishes on this fascinating release. Reading about this era is enthralling and is an introduction to the characters that inhabit the novel and make this book captivating.

    Reply
  16. This sounds like a great read! LOVE historical mysteries, especially those based on actual events! I have always been fascinated by the story of the princes in the tower. It is such a sad story and often think of what their final moments must have been like and the evil, evil creature who could do such a thing. I am equally intrigued by the idea Prince Arthur might have been poisoned as I had not heard that theory before now. Being a royal in the Tudor era could definitely be hazardous to one’s health!

    Reply
  17. This sounds like a great read! LOVE historical mysteries, especially those based on actual events! I have always been fascinated by the story of the princes in the tower. It is such a sad story and often think of what their final moments must have been like and the evil, evil creature who could do such a thing. I am equally intrigued by the idea Prince Arthur might have been poisoned as I had not heard that theory before now. Being a royal in the Tudor era could definitely be hazardous to one’s health!

    Reply
  18. This sounds like a great read! LOVE historical mysteries, especially those based on actual events! I have always been fascinated by the story of the princes in the tower. It is such a sad story and often think of what their final moments must have been like and the evil, evil creature who could do such a thing. I am equally intrigued by the idea Prince Arthur might have been poisoned as I had not heard that theory before now. Being a royal in the Tudor era could definitely be hazardous to one’s health!

    Reply
  19. This sounds like a great read! LOVE historical mysteries, especially those based on actual events! I have always been fascinated by the story of the princes in the tower. It is such a sad story and often think of what their final moments must have been like and the evil, evil creature who could do such a thing. I am equally intrigued by the idea Prince Arthur might have been poisoned as I had not heard that theory before now. Being a royal in the Tudor era could definitely be hazardous to one’s health!

    Reply
  20. This sounds like a great read! LOVE historical mysteries, especially those based on actual events! I have always been fascinated by the story of the princes in the tower. It is such a sad story and often think of what their final moments must have been like and the evil, evil creature who could do such a thing. I am equally intrigued by the idea Prince Arthur might have been poisoned as I had not heard that theory before now. Being a royal in the Tudor era could definitely be hazardous to one’s health!

    Reply
  21. this historical mystery is unique and intriguing. Reading about the background and the era is daunting to learn about. Congratulations Karen on this release during the Queen’s Jubilee making this a great event.

    Reply
  22. this historical mystery is unique and intriguing. Reading about the background and the era is daunting to learn about. Congratulations Karen on this release during the Queen’s Jubilee making this a great event.

    Reply
  23. this historical mystery is unique and intriguing. Reading about the background and the era is daunting to learn about. Congratulations Karen on this release during the Queen’s Jubilee making this a great event.

    Reply
  24. this historical mystery is unique and intriguing. Reading about the background and the era is daunting to learn about. Congratulations Karen on this release during the Queen’s Jubilee making this a great event.

    Reply
  25. this historical mystery is unique and intriguing. Reading about the background and the era is daunting to learn about. Congratulations Karen on this release during the Queen’s Jubilee making this a great event.

    Reply
  26. I am a bit of a Tudormanic myself. Have been since I saw Keith Michell as Henry VII in the… er..um.. 70’s. I have always been fascinated with the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. I don’t believe Henry VII killed them as the Ricardians claim. Sure he had a reason, but so did Richard not to mention his friend and ally the Duke of Buckingham. Currently I’m leaning toward the Duke. I can’t wait to read your take on this mystery!

    Reply
  27. I am a bit of a Tudormanic myself. Have been since I saw Keith Michell as Henry VII in the… er..um.. 70’s. I have always been fascinated with the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. I don’t believe Henry VII killed them as the Ricardians claim. Sure he had a reason, but so did Richard not to mention his friend and ally the Duke of Buckingham. Currently I’m leaning toward the Duke. I can’t wait to read your take on this mystery!

    Reply
  28. I am a bit of a Tudormanic myself. Have been since I saw Keith Michell as Henry VII in the… er..um.. 70’s. I have always been fascinated with the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. I don’t believe Henry VII killed them as the Ricardians claim. Sure he had a reason, but so did Richard not to mention his friend and ally the Duke of Buckingham. Currently I’m leaning toward the Duke. I can’t wait to read your take on this mystery!

    Reply
  29. I am a bit of a Tudormanic myself. Have been since I saw Keith Michell as Henry VII in the… er..um.. 70’s. I have always been fascinated with the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. I don’t believe Henry VII killed them as the Ricardians claim. Sure he had a reason, but so did Richard not to mention his friend and ally the Duke of Buckingham. Currently I’m leaning toward the Duke. I can’t wait to read your take on this mystery!

    Reply
  30. I am a bit of a Tudormanic myself. Have been since I saw Keith Michell as Henry VII in the… er..um.. 70’s. I have always been fascinated with the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. I don’t believe Henry VII killed them as the Ricardians claim. Sure he had a reason, but so did Richard not to mention his friend and ally the Duke of Buckingham. Currently I’m leaning toward the Duke. I can’t wait to read your take on this mystery!

    Reply
  31. The book sounds fascinating. Henry VII was a ruthless man; it would not be surprising if he had a hand in the deaths of the young princes. And history would have been very different if Arthur had lived!

    Reply
  32. The book sounds fascinating. Henry VII was a ruthless man; it would not be surprising if he had a hand in the deaths of the young princes. And history would have been very different if Arthur had lived!

    Reply
  33. The book sounds fascinating. Henry VII was a ruthless man; it would not be surprising if he had a hand in the deaths of the young princes. And history would have been very different if Arthur had lived!

    Reply
  34. The book sounds fascinating. Henry VII was a ruthless man; it would not be surprising if he had a hand in the deaths of the young princes. And history would have been very different if Arthur had lived!

    Reply
  35. The book sounds fascinating. Henry VII was a ruthless man; it would not be surprising if he had a hand in the deaths of the young princes. And history would have been very different if Arthur had lived!

    Reply
  36. I’ve always been intrigued with what happened to the two princes – I wonder if there will ever be a firm conclusion. I didn’t have any idea about the uses of wax (other than candles) at that time – very interesting.

    Reply
  37. I’ve always been intrigued with what happened to the two princes – I wonder if there will ever be a firm conclusion. I didn’t have any idea about the uses of wax (other than candles) at that time – very interesting.

    Reply
  38. I’ve always been intrigued with what happened to the two princes – I wonder if there will ever be a firm conclusion. I didn’t have any idea about the uses of wax (other than candles) at that time – very interesting.

    Reply
  39. I’ve always been intrigued with what happened to the two princes – I wonder if there will ever be a firm conclusion. I didn’t have any idea about the uses of wax (other than candles) at that time – very interesting.

    Reply
  40. I’ve always been intrigued with what happened to the two princes – I wonder if there will ever be a firm conclusion. I didn’t have any idea about the uses of wax (other than candles) at that time – very interesting.

    Reply
  41. Fascinating. I admit I’ve never been into the Tudors, but the protagonist sounds appealing and the mystery. I never knew there was controversy re: Arthur’s death and that there is a modern investigation going on. I will definitely be adding this to my TBR pile. I do like novels that include the ordinary people/women being drawn into the extraordinary.

    Reply
  42. Fascinating. I admit I’ve never been into the Tudors, but the protagonist sounds appealing and the mystery. I never knew there was controversy re: Arthur’s death and that there is a modern investigation going on. I will definitely be adding this to my TBR pile. I do like novels that include the ordinary people/women being drawn into the extraordinary.

    Reply
  43. Fascinating. I admit I’ve never been into the Tudors, but the protagonist sounds appealing and the mystery. I never knew there was controversy re: Arthur’s death and that there is a modern investigation going on. I will definitely be adding this to my TBR pile. I do like novels that include the ordinary people/women being drawn into the extraordinary.

    Reply
  44. Fascinating. I admit I’ve never been into the Tudors, but the protagonist sounds appealing and the mystery. I never knew there was controversy re: Arthur’s death and that there is a modern investigation going on. I will definitely be adding this to my TBR pile. I do like novels that include the ordinary people/women being drawn into the extraordinary.

    Reply
  45. Fascinating. I admit I’ve never been into the Tudors, but the protagonist sounds appealing and the mystery. I never knew there was controversy re: Arthur’s death and that there is a modern investigation going on. I will definitely be adding this to my TBR pile. I do like novels that include the ordinary people/women being drawn into the extraordinary.

    Reply
  46. I’m a big fan of Josephine Tey’s book “The Daughter of Time” which also delves into the mystery of the princes in the tower, so I would love to read this book. And it’s great to have a protagonist who is an ordinary working woman. The first couple chapters had me hooked.

    Reply
  47. I’m a big fan of Josephine Tey’s book “The Daughter of Time” which also delves into the mystery of the princes in the tower, so I would love to read this book. And it’s great to have a protagonist who is an ordinary working woman. The first couple chapters had me hooked.

    Reply
  48. I’m a big fan of Josephine Tey’s book “The Daughter of Time” which also delves into the mystery of the princes in the tower, so I would love to read this book. And it’s great to have a protagonist who is an ordinary working woman. The first couple chapters had me hooked.

    Reply
  49. I’m a big fan of Josephine Tey’s book “The Daughter of Time” which also delves into the mystery of the princes in the tower, so I would love to read this book. And it’s great to have a protagonist who is an ordinary working woman. The first couple chapters had me hooked.

    Reply
  50. I’m a big fan of Josephine Tey’s book “The Daughter of Time” which also delves into the mystery of the princes in the tower, so I would love to read this book. And it’s great to have a protagonist who is an ordinary working woman. The first couple chapters had me hooked.

    Reply
  51. Thanks for all the good wishes for this novel. It was a dangerous time to be royal. One thing I learned about Henry VII in my research is that he and Queen Elizabeth of York apparently had a good marriage, and that could not be all her doing. (It takes two to tango, to put it in an unTudor way.) Also my research showed me why Henry VIII had the personality he did. Once he was elevated to be Prince of Wales, he never looked back. He adored his mother, and I think only came close to that feeling for one other woman over the years–Jane Seymour, and if she would not have given him a son and died early, he probably would have strayed from her too.
    Karen Harper, aka researcer, author and, right now, someone grateful to have power back on in her Ohio home!

    Reply
  52. Thanks for all the good wishes for this novel. It was a dangerous time to be royal. One thing I learned about Henry VII in my research is that he and Queen Elizabeth of York apparently had a good marriage, and that could not be all her doing. (It takes two to tango, to put it in an unTudor way.) Also my research showed me why Henry VIII had the personality he did. Once he was elevated to be Prince of Wales, he never looked back. He adored his mother, and I think only came close to that feeling for one other woman over the years–Jane Seymour, and if she would not have given him a son and died early, he probably would have strayed from her too.
    Karen Harper, aka researcer, author and, right now, someone grateful to have power back on in her Ohio home!

    Reply
  53. Thanks for all the good wishes for this novel. It was a dangerous time to be royal. One thing I learned about Henry VII in my research is that he and Queen Elizabeth of York apparently had a good marriage, and that could not be all her doing. (It takes two to tango, to put it in an unTudor way.) Also my research showed me why Henry VIII had the personality he did. Once he was elevated to be Prince of Wales, he never looked back. He adored his mother, and I think only came close to that feeling for one other woman over the years–Jane Seymour, and if she would not have given him a son and died early, he probably would have strayed from her too.
    Karen Harper, aka researcer, author and, right now, someone grateful to have power back on in her Ohio home!

    Reply
  54. Thanks for all the good wishes for this novel. It was a dangerous time to be royal. One thing I learned about Henry VII in my research is that he and Queen Elizabeth of York apparently had a good marriage, and that could not be all her doing. (It takes two to tango, to put it in an unTudor way.) Also my research showed me why Henry VIII had the personality he did. Once he was elevated to be Prince of Wales, he never looked back. He adored his mother, and I think only came close to that feeling for one other woman over the years–Jane Seymour, and if she would not have given him a son and died early, he probably would have strayed from her too.
    Karen Harper, aka researcer, author and, right now, someone grateful to have power back on in her Ohio home!

    Reply
  55. Thanks for all the good wishes for this novel. It was a dangerous time to be royal. One thing I learned about Henry VII in my research is that he and Queen Elizabeth of York apparently had a good marriage, and that could not be all her doing. (It takes two to tango, to put it in an unTudor way.) Also my research showed me why Henry VIII had the personality he did. Once he was elevated to be Prince of Wales, he never looked back. He adored his mother, and I think only came close to that feeling for one other woman over the years–Jane Seymour, and if she would not have given him a son and died early, he probably would have strayed from her too.
    Karen Harper, aka researcer, author and, right now, someone grateful to have power back on in her Ohio home!

    Reply
  56. I am looking forward to reading the Mistress of Mourning – I am interested to meet Henry VIII as a child! I am also interested to see if you come up with someone besides Richard III. I am a bit of a convert that it wasn’t by his order – But Sharon Kay Penman is very persuasive! I look forward to reading your telling and I am thrilled that you have a female merchant as the protagonist!!! Thank you and of course, we selfish beasts want you to get back to the next book!

    Reply
  57. I am looking forward to reading the Mistress of Mourning – I am interested to meet Henry VIII as a child! I am also interested to see if you come up with someone besides Richard III. I am a bit of a convert that it wasn’t by his order – But Sharon Kay Penman is very persuasive! I look forward to reading your telling and I am thrilled that you have a female merchant as the protagonist!!! Thank you and of course, we selfish beasts want you to get back to the next book!

    Reply
  58. I am looking forward to reading the Mistress of Mourning – I am interested to meet Henry VIII as a child! I am also interested to see if you come up with someone besides Richard III. I am a bit of a convert that it wasn’t by his order – But Sharon Kay Penman is very persuasive! I look forward to reading your telling and I am thrilled that you have a female merchant as the protagonist!!! Thank you and of course, we selfish beasts want you to get back to the next book!

    Reply
  59. I am looking forward to reading the Mistress of Mourning – I am interested to meet Henry VIII as a child! I am also interested to see if you come up with someone besides Richard III. I am a bit of a convert that it wasn’t by his order – But Sharon Kay Penman is very persuasive! I look forward to reading your telling and I am thrilled that you have a female merchant as the protagonist!!! Thank you and of course, we selfish beasts want you to get back to the next book!

    Reply
  60. I am looking forward to reading the Mistress of Mourning – I am interested to meet Henry VIII as a child! I am also interested to see if you come up with someone besides Richard III. I am a bit of a convert that it wasn’t by his order – But Sharon Kay Penman is very persuasive! I look forward to reading your telling and I am thrilled that you have a female merchant as the protagonist!!! Thank you and of course, we selfish beasts want you to get back to the next book!

    Reply

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