Sacred Treason by James Forrester

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In the volatile reign of Elizabeth I, William Harley likes to think he is a man for all seasons...

As England’s respected herald, he has walked with kings, has friends in high places and yet keeps the common touch.

But Harley, known universally as Clarenceux Kings of Arms, has a secret that he does not publicly proclaim...he still adheres to Catholicism, the old faith.

And his conviction that it is possible to be ‘both a true believer and loyal to her majesty’ will be tested to the limit by unseen and ruthless enemies...

Sacred Treason is the dazzling debut novel of James Forrester, better known as Dr Ian Mortimer, social historian and acclaimed medieval biographer.

Although a work of fiction, Forrester’s atmospheric thriller draws on the fascinating real-life chronicles of a 16th century merchant taylor called Henry Machyn whose everyday detail of his work as a funeral arranger and parish clerk has become an invaluable source for both social historians and linguists.

Taking Machyn and his diaries as the pivotal point for his novel, Forrester masterfully recreates the turbulent Tudor period and weaves an intriguing and terrifying tale of murder, betrayal, loyalty, faith and the potency of the pen.

When Machyn, a committed Catholic, turns up at Clarenceux’s London home late one night, his old friend is haggard and haunted, declaring that ‘it’s all over.’

Machyn hands over his precious chronicles, studiously written over the last 13 years and charting every event in the old man’s life.

But inside is a secret that not only endangers the life of anyone who comes into contact with the chronicles, but could also change the fate of two queens.

Meanwhile, the realm’s two most powerful men – William Cecil, the queen’s chief adviser, and Francis Walsingham, her shadowy spymaster – are on the hunt for traitors, particularly the religious variety.

And they have learned of a Catholic plot involving a group of men calling themselves the Knights of the Round Table.

After his home is wrecked by government agents, Clarenceux goes on the run with Machyn’s young wife Rebecca and only by solving the clues in the manuscript can he hope to stay alive...

Forrester’s historical knowledge enables him to perfectly capture the perilous politics of an age in which a man’s religion often determined his destiny.

With spine-tingling suspense, plenty of codes to be cracked and a ruthless State machine indulging in executions and torture, Sacred Treason delivers all the action and menace of The Da Vinci Code but with a more measured and credible plot.

Let’s hope that Clarenceux’s danger mission is just the first of many adventures...

(Headline Review, hardback, £12.99)