The Crown

The Crown

by Nancy Bilyeau


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In this debut historical thriller, an aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father’s life and preserve all she holds dear from Cromwell’s ruthless terror.

When novice nun Joanna Stafford learns her rebel cousin is condemned by King Henry VIII to be burned at the stake, she makes the decision to break the sacred rule of enclosure and run away from her Dominican Order in Dartford to stand at her cousin’s side.

Arrested for interfering with king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, Sir Richard Stafford, is sent to the Tower of London. Joanna’s father is brutally tortured by Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester who leads the Catholic faction bent on saving England’s monasteries from destruction. In order to save her father, Joanna must submit to Gardiner’s will and become a pawn in the struggle between religious extremes. Gardiner forces Joanna to return to Dartford Priory with a mission: find the long hidden crown worn by Saxon King Athelstan in AD 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain. Gardiner believes the crown itself to possess a mystical power that will halt the Reformation.

Uncovering only dark betrayals and murder at Dartford, Joanna flees with Brother Edmund, a troubled young friar, and with time running out, their hunt for the crown leads them through royal castles, to Stonehenge, and finally to the tomb of the mysterious King Athelstan under Malmesbury Abbey. There Joanna learns the true secret of the crown, a secret tracing all the way back to Golgotha and the Relics of the Passion. Now, as Cromwell’s army of destruction advances, Joanna must finally determine who to trust and how far she is willing to go to protect a way of life that she passionately loves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451626865
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 09/04/2012
Series: Joanna Stafford Series
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 5.42(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.95(d)

About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown and The Chalice, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. She is currently the executive editor of Du Jour magazine. A native of the Midwest, she lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Visit her website at

What People are Saying About This

Deborah Harkness

Nancy Bilyeau's polished, inventive debut has all the ingredients of the best historical fiction: a broad cast of characters, well-imagined settings, and vivid story-telling. . . . In Joanna Stafford, Bilyeau has given us a memorable character who is prepared to risk her life to save what she most values, while Stafford's desperate search for a lost religious relic will satisfy even the most ardent mystery fans. (Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches)

M. J. Rose

The events of the period come to life in Nancy Bilyeau's dazzling and heart-wrenching novel. The Crown is evocative, provocative, and full of intriguing characters—a gorgeously written novel that has mystery and history, pathos and depth. This is a stunning debut about a woman whose spirit shines through and deeply moves the reader. (International Bestseller, M.J. Rose)

Katherine Neville

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau is an amazing first novel, filled with excitement, intrigue, espionage, and set against the background of one of the bloodiest periods of British history; the schism between Church and State. It's an action-packed tale of one nun's dangerous quest to discover the secrets of an ancient relic that dates back to the time of Christ. (Katherine Neville, author of The Eight)

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Crown includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Nancy Bilyeau. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


When Joanna Stafford, an aristocratic young novice, learns that her rebel cousin Margaret Bulmer is condemned by King Henry VIII to be burned at the stake, she makes the decision to break the sacred rule of enclosure and run away from her Dominican Order to stand at her cousin’s side.

Arrested for interfering with the king, both Joanna and her father are sent to the Tower of London. During their imprisonment, Joanna meets Stephen Gardiner, the powerful Bishop of Winchester, who allows her to leave the Tower on one condition: that she return to Dartford Priory to search in secret for the lost crown worn by Saxon King Athelstan. In order to save her father, Joanna must become a pawn in a struggle between religious extremes. As she faces challenges on every front, Joanna must determine whom she can trust and how far she is willing to go to protect a life that she loves.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. What does Joanna Stafford’s decision to flee the Datford priory to attend Margaret’s execution reveal about her character? Why is she willing to compromise her position to bear witness to her relative’s last moments? Why do you think Nancy Bilyeau chose to begin her novel with Joanna’s journey to Smithfield?

2. “[Margaret Bulmer] sought to harm no one. She and the others wanted to preserve something, a way of life that has been honored for centuries. Which gives comfort to the poor and the sick. They rebelled because they felt so passionately about their cause.” Why do the Catholics in England face political persecution at the hands of Henry VIII and his government in the aftermath of his annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon? Why does Joanna risk exposing her own religious beliefs in her spirited defense of Catholic rebels like her cousin Margaret Bulmer?

3. Were you surprised when Geoffrey Scovill came to Joanna’s aid in Smithfield? To what extent does his decision to protect her seem selfless? Do you agree with Geoffrey that Joanna’s decision to attend the execution as an unescorted gentlewoman was ill-advised? If you were in a situation in which a relative in the last moments of her life depended on you for spiritual sustenance, would you take the same risks? Why or why not?

4. “I said nothing. There was no amount of abuse, no device of torture, that would ever make me disclose what had happened on the single day that I spent in royal service ten years ago.” Why does Joanna choose to conceal this? How does that episode affect her ability to trust men? How does this moment of foreshadowing by the author affect your feelings when the facts of Joanna’s having been sexually abused by George Boleyn are revealed much later in the novel?

5. How would you describe Joanna’s experience in the Tower? Why does Lady Kingston’s servant, Bess, agree to help Joanna try to make contact with her father, Sir Richard Stafford, in the White Tower? What do you think of Joanna’s experiences in the Tower tunnels and chambers? What aspects of those scenes were especially evocative for you?

6. Why does Bishop Gardiner seek out Joanna in the Tower? Why does he use Joanna’s father to blackmail her into doing what he asks? What does her decision to go along with his requests and deceive the prioress at Dartford, among others, reveal about her sense of filial obligation?

7. How does Joanna’s intimacy with the disgraced and dying Katherine of Aragon make her vulnerable to Gardiner’s quest for King Athelstan’s missing crown? What complicated motives might be behind Gardiner’s quest for the crown?

8. On her deathbed why does Katherine of Aragon urge Joanna to “protect the secret of the [Athelstan] crown” for the sake of her daughter, Mary? Why does Katherine choose to reveal the possible existence of the Athelstan crown to Joanna?

9. How does Joanna Stafford get along with Brother Richard and Brother Edmund, when they all return to Dartford Priory on Gardiner’s orders? How does their friendship change when Joanna discovers that Edmund sends her letters to Bishop Gardiner and Richard oversees their exchanges and facilitates their work? Why does Gardiner choose not to tell the three of them that they are all working for him, searching for the Athelstan crown at Dartford?

10. How does Lord Chester’s murder affect the mood at the priory? How does Joanna’s and Edmund’s interpretations of the Dartford tapestries yield to uncovering both the murderer and motivation?

11. How does the revelation of the Athelstan crown’s existence—and that it contains thorns from the crown Jesus wore—make Joanna’s quest more urgent? When Bishop Gardiner discovers Joanna and Edmund disguised at the Howard home, why doesn’t he punish or attempt to detain them? What role does Mary, daughter of Katherine of Aragon, play?

12. Did you like the ending of The Crown? What do you think will become of Joanna? What could her return to Dartford suggest about her aspirations—spiritual, romantic, and otherwise?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. In The Crown, Joanna Stafford exhibits a kind of family loyalty that many readers may relate to. She sacrifices her spiritual calling to show support for her condemned cousin, takes many risks to save her father, and accepts her much-younger stepbrother as her flesh and blood on her father’s deathbed. Who in your life has made sacrifices out of loyalty to you? How have you demonstrated your loyalty to others?

2. Are you interested in visiting or learning more about Dartford, England, where the Dartford Priory was located? Visit, to read up on the history of the village of Dartford. This Web site features a tremendously detailed historical time line and useful information about the priory and its role in the town’s medieval history.

3. “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” Have you heard this famous mnemonic about the wives of Henry VIII? What possibilities were there for noblewomen in this era? How did members of your book club feel about the portrayal of women—whether it was Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Joanna Stafford, Princess Mary, Lady Kingston, or Bess? What did it mean to be a woman at this time in England? Of the many women featured in the novel, which did your book club most admire, and why?

A Conversation with Nancy Bilyeau

What attracted you to historical fiction as a genre and to the Reformation era in English history?

Historical fiction was my first love. I found it so exciting to enter those richly imagined worlds of the past. When I was a teenager, I voraciously read books by Jean Plaidy; Mary Stewart; Susan Howatch; and, of course, Daphne du Maurier. I’d read in bed, and nod off with my head in a book—literally. In the middle of the night, I’d turn over and the book would fall off the bed. My parents got used to that thumping noise. In college and afterward, my tastes broadened to all sorts of fiction, but I always loved discovering a finely crafted historical, whether it was Mary Renault’s or Robert Graves’s enthralling books on the ancient world or the beautiful stories of A. S. Byatt. Part of it is that I am fascinated by history, with examining the differences in the daily lives of people who lived long ago, their values and beliefs, and yet finding how we are the same. Love, fear, greed, hope, ambition. A well-done historical novel makes you aware of the contrasts as well as of those uniting threads. The historical novelist closest to my heart is Norah Lofts, who wrote about everyone from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Hortense de Beauharnais. In fact, I named my daughter Nora in tribute to her.

I picked England’s Reformation for my first novel because the Tudor period is so mesmerizing. I’ve been fascinated with sixteenth century Europe for many years. I am especially drawn to writing about a society under great strain—and what greater turmoil could be caused than the English church’s split from Rome? There were grisly executions, imprisonments, and martyrs from every level of society, a serious rebellion, and the king’s excommunication by the Pope. Yet Henry VIII would not stop. I found myself wondering what happened to the thousands of nuns and monks and friars who lost their way of life, some of them turned out into the world with no idea of what to do or where to go. It’s hard to imagine living through that kind of rupture.

How did you first become interested in the Athelstan crown? How much is known about Athelstan’s reign?

The early Middle Ages intrigue me. Because of the comparative scarcity of written sources, we don’t know that much about the kings of England in the first millennium—not as much as we know of the Plantagenets and certainly not as much as we know about the Tudors. In my research I was struck by how few books have been written about Athelstan, who accomplished such significant things in his sixteen-year reign. I wanted to shine a light on this pious and fearless warrior king known as “the English Charlemagne.” Yet there is a swirl of mystery around Athelstan that extends to the crown. Historians believe he received objects of great religious value from Hugh Capet, the father of the French royal line. The crown of thorns has been mentioned as well as the lance of Longinius and other relics of the Passion. But exactly what the relics were, and what became of them, no one is sure. We don’t even know where the historic Battle of Brunanburh took place—or what happened to Athelstan’s corpse! He requested burial at Malmesbury Abbey instead of with the rest of his family at Winchester. But the tomb, which you can still see today, is empty. Makes me shiver.

The Crown reads like a sixteenth century thriller. To what extent did you make a conscious decision as a writer to depart from the more usual romance-driven plot for a female protagonist?

I love thrillers almost as much as I love historical fiction. Weaving a story that is filled with suspense is what I wanted to do. And it was important to me that a woman be at the center of the book and that she be very active. I wanted my protagonist to be strong and intelligent and courageous—and yet vulnerable. She isn’t always allowed the luxury of developing a sound plan and carrying it out in a clear way. Events move quickly in The Crown and people’s motives aren’t clear. Joanna has to think on her feet.

Having said that, Joanna has romantic feelings in this book, though her being a novice sworn to chastity obviously complicates what she does with such feelings.

A lot of people die in The Crown—many of them in gruesome ways. Did you regret killing off any of the characters? Why or why not?

I’m afraid that I’m a bit of a sadist. I think it’s thrilling to write a strong death scene. I believe a book of this sort must feature high stakes and plenty of shocks and twists. I wasn’t always planning to kill off Brother Richard. But then, while in the thick of it, I suddenly decided that he had to be murdered too. I was jumping around the room, waving my arms over my head, yelling: “Brother Richard is going to die!” Probably anyone witnessing this would have questioned my sanity.

I suppose the person I most regret making an end of is Margaret Bulmer, and that is because she really was burned to death at Smithfield in 1537 for high treason.

She had young children and by all accounts loved her husband. And she didn’t do anything that other wives of rebel leaders weren’t doing. Yet Margaret was singled out among the women for a terrible death. It’s very disturbing.

You open the novel with a scene of a religious execution, while the conclusion alludes to a sense of religious optimism—that perhaps the old ways and Catholic faith will not be permanently extinguished in England. Can you talk about how you chose to begin and end The Crown?

Believe it or not, in the earliest draft of my book I wanted Joanna’s going to Smithfield to take up two or three pages, to be a prologue. But I spent a lot of time researching Margaret Bulmer and Smithfield and the Pilgrimage of Grace, and all the things that happened in 1537, and when it came time to send my main character, Joanna Stafford, to Smithfield, it just exploded in my imagination.

When writing the end of the book, I had so much faith in the intelligence and spirituality and innate kindness and humanity of both Joanna and Edmund, that I felt optimism about their futures and their ability to navigate whatever challenges lay ahead.

In the course of your research, did you come across facts or details from this era that surprised you or that you wished you could have incorporated into the novel?

Oh, everything surprises and enthralls me about the Tudor period! The hardest thing for me is leaving things out that I think are interesting. There are contemporary comments about Margaret Bulmer’s execution—people who found it baffling or especially sinister—that I wish I could have included in the book, but there was no way to do it. A monk named Robert Johns said, “It is a pity she should suffer . . . but let us speak no more of the matter, for men may be blamed for speaking the truth.” That phrase has rolled around in my head for years: “for men may be blamed for speaking the truth.”

Joanna Stafford is a compelling protagonist who seems unwilling to think of herself in the terms her society dictates. Did you have any historical figures in mind when you created her?

No, Joanna is not based on anyone. She is her own person. She wouldn’t have it any other way. But of course I am always interested in reading biographies of strong women who have defied the challenges of their time.

What led you to leave Bishop Stephen Gardiner’s motives for possession of the crown unclear?

I know what Bishop Gardiner intended to do, but Joanna never did, and it is important that I honor the secret, as strange as that may sound. I don’t despise Stephen Gardiner as much as some assume I do. In a way, I feel sorry for him. He was the architect of his own anguish. Gardiner was an eager young lawyer who helped Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry with their legal arguments for the King’s Great Matter. Gardiner watched the country split from Rome and progress toward Protestantism with dismay that must have bordered on panic. He attained great power, but he spent most of his adult life enmeshed in deadly factional struggles, such as when he nearly succeeded in destroying Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr. During the reign of Henry VIII’s Protestant son, Gardiner was himself imprisoned in the Tower of London. He then came into his own under Mary Tudor, but of course that is when the fires of Smithfield burned the highest.

Gardiner is one of the biggest monsters in the influential writings of the Scottish Protestant leader John Knox. And yet I saw glimpses of a different man in my research. When Gardiner was in his twenties and studying at Cambridge he passionately loved music and theater—he acted in a play by Plautus. And he was a loyal friend. How do we reconcile this young man with the bishop who presided over the persecution and eventual burning of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the Protestant martyrs?

Can you describe a bit of your research into Catholic religious institutions in England? How many monasteries and priories survived when England became an officially Protestant country under the Tudors?

There are many wonderful books about the Reformation. And the dissolution of the monasteries has been written about and depicted onscreen. But what was more challenging to research was the daily life in a priory or monastery in sixteenth century England. At the time nuns did not keep diaries or write letters describing their everyday experiences. But I kept at it and found a few books and papers written by some very determined and resourceful scholars. There was one letter I read from Elizabeth I’s reign that was very moving. It described a monk who had been displaced and found a new life for himself suddenly seeing another ex-monk from the same monastery, out on the road, decades after the dissolution. And they were so joyful at seeing each other again that they wept while standing together in the road. I have to say, that brought tears to my eyes as well.

Henry VIII dissolved 825 religious communities, raising more than 1.4 million pounds, which has been calculated as worth 481 million pounds in today’s money. His treasury was nearly empty before this enormous transfer of wealth to the monarchy. Only a few monasteries escaped Cromwell’s attention to detail, such as St. Benet’s Abbey in Norfolk. Sir John Fastolf, reportedly the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Falstaff, was buried there.

What remains of Dartford Priory today?

Henry VIII demolished the priory so that he could build a royal manor house on the twelve acres of property. All that remains of England’s single order of Dominican nuns are the stone foundations of the wall that surrounded the priory.

Anne of Cleves lived in the manor house after her divorce. It remained a crown property and Elizabeth I slept there in 1572. In 1606 James I gave Dartford to Robert Cecil. It belonged to various families until the eighteenth century, when it was torn down. There is an engineering works on the property now, but the manor house’s impressive gatehouse still stands and is owned by the Dartford Borough Council. There is a museum in town and a strong sense of pride in the priory.

Several archaeological digs have yielded exciting finds, including window glass, coins, rings, part of a nun’s leather belt, and a silver pomander. I like to think the pomander dangled from the waist of a prioress.

If you could cast any actress as your heroine in a movie version of The Crown, who would it be and why?

I never thought of any particular actress while creating Joanna. There are some talented women who could portray her, though I don’t want to single anyone out in case a movie is made and that actress doesn’t get the part! Among the actresses of past generations, I think Vivien Leigh and Merle Oberon had the kind of dark fire a woman would need to play Joanna. And Deborah Kerr played a great nun in Black Narcissus!

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The Crown 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 49 reviews.
ewillse More than 1 year ago
The Crown Nancy Bilyeau Touchstone, January 2012 416 pages (thanks to Touchstone for sending me a review copy!) The Crown is excellent historical fiction, and a satisfyingly suspenseful mystery, set during the reign of Henry VIII. Joanna Stafford, a young nun, learns that her favorite cousin is about to be burned at the stake. Disobeying the Dominican sisters’ vow of enclosure away from the world, she leaves Dartford Priory to support her cousin. Joanna and her father are captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London, charged with obstructing the King’s justice. That is where Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, finds her and makes his proposition. In exchange for her freedom and her father’s life, Joanna is to return to Dartford Priory. There, she must search for Athelstan’s crown, a relic so powerful it might grant eternal life, or brutal, cursed death. If found, it could end the Reformation. The Crown is just about everything I could want from well-written and well-researched historical fiction. Sister Joanna’s perspective gives an excellent sense of time and place. Sister Joanna is devout and certain in her faith, and finds purpose in the rituals of the Dominican order. Supporting characters are equally well-drawn. Their ideas and beliefs feel properly anchored in their time period, rather than 21st century imitations mouthing lines and wearing costumes. As Joanna begins to search the priory in secret, the level of detailed description means I can almost see what she is seeing: the shadowed passages of the priory, half-finished tapestries, leeches in the infirmary. Once things get more suspenseful, there is a distinct whiff of supernatural chill, to go along with the increasingly complex turns of history and conspiracy. Forced to leave her priory more than once as she searches for the missing relic, Sister Joanna has to make choices about her faith and her allegiances, as the conspiracy leaves her questioning who she can trust. I’ve already seen a few reviews comparing The Crown to The DaVinci Code. Maybe it’s an inevitable comparison, given elements of Church lore, a gory murder tinged with the supernatural, and a main character trying to untangle conspiracy. I hope the comparison boosts Bilyeau’s sales of her debut novel. I also think it’s a lazy comparison that shortchanges The Crown. If Dan Brown’s fans are led to this novel, they’ll read Bilyeau’s nuanced characters, and well crafted descriptions, and see what they’ve been missing.
Beachparrot More than 1 year ago
The Crown is a wonderful historical fiction set in Tudor England. What a story! It was unequivocally entertaining and a must read for historical fiction lovers. Care was given to maintain historical accuracy while artfully crafting a captivating tale. The Crown is packed with fast paced action, absorbing visuals and a fascinating array of characters; foremost is Joanna, the heroine of the tale. I liked her from the beginning. She is a sweet novice yet courageous and savvy heroine. This is a nice contrast in a character. I can’t recommend this book enough. It is just a great read!
Humbee More than 1 year ago
It was apparent immediately that I had the makings of a time-drifting adventure ahead of me when I opened the pages of "The Crown." Do you know what I mean when I talk about a writer's voice? Well, Nancy Bilyeau's voice rings out in storytelling definition from her first sentences, just listen: " When a burning is announced, the taverns off Smithfield order extra barrels of ale, but when the person to be executed is a woman and one of noble birth, the ale comes by the cartload. I would ride in one of those carts on Friday of Whitsun week, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King Henry the Eighth, to offer prayers for the soul of the condemned traitor, Lady Margaret Bulmer." I could hear the lisp of the narrator's English accent, the conspiratorial tone of her voice as she revealed the secret story's beginning, and I settled down in my chair for the reading. I'm mad for a book and an author who can not only write an interesting historically referenced book, but one that can transport me in time and give me characters to love and cheer for along the way. This is the strength and beauty of "The Crown" and Nancy Bilyeau. This book has some of the elements that originally brought me to reading historical fiction in the first place. It has the secretive qualities of a Daphne du Maurier novel (and I know the poor woman's name has been tossed about too much lately, so I don't use that reference lightly), and it has substance. I think "The Crown" will be noted on all the best lists this year. It will appeal to many on several levels. And, I personally can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, "The Chalice." I also have a feeling this won't be the last we hear of Nancy Bilyeau by a longshot. I predict she will become one of the major historical fiction writers of this decade. Highly recommended with a 5 star review
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely adored this book! As a fan of historical fiction, I loved the setting: the raid and destruction of the abbeys and monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII, as he broke with the Catholic Church. The period details where richly painted by the immensely talented Nancy Bilyeau -- from the terror of the Tower of London, to the bloodthirsty crowds at the barbaric executions, to the beauty and serenity of the abbeys and monasteries. But it was the mystery of the Crown that riveted me, hidden for years and years, only a few knowing its true location. Does it posses unimaginable power? Has it played a role in who will rule as King of England? The courageous heroine, Joanna Stafford, is truly a remarkable character. Born to a wealthy aristocratic family that suffered a frightening and unjustified fall from grace, Joanna is unwaveringly loyal to those she loves, risking torture and death to save them. As I travelled along with Joanna in her quest, I was quickly swept up in the suspense and intrigue. The characters are all multi-faceted, especially Johanna. She must rely on her wit, intuition and conviction to solve the puzzle. Fans of historical fiction will love The Crown, but so will those who enjoy mystery and suspense. Read The Crown, you won’t be disappointed!
VicG More than 1 year ago
Nancy Bilyeau in her new book, “The Crown” Book One in the Joanna Stafford series published by Touchstone brings us into the life of Joanna Stafford. From the back cover: Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London. While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation. With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide who she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past. The quest is on! How much danger can a young novice get into? Well, the answer, according to Nancy Bilyeau, is a lot. Joanna sneaks away from the priory to be at the side of her cousin who is sentenced to death. She and her father are arrested and sent to the infamous Tower of London. There Joanna is blackmailed to return to the priory to find the missing crown of Saxon king Athelstan. History, danger, mystery, action, adventure and thrills abound in “The Crown” Certain characters are full of deceit so we know that there is much more tot he story than what has been told Joanna. However, we only know what Joanna knows as she finds out because the story is told in her first person viewpoint. Get ready for a page-turning, thrill ride. Ms. Bilyeau gets us caught up in the story and the characters lives to the point that we actually hate to say goodbye to them when the book ends. I liked this book very much and look forward to the next adventure from the pen of Nancy Bilyeau. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Touchstone. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Henry VIII and his supporters are busy eliminating opponents, those who opposed his annulment to the first Queen and those who maintain the "old ways" of the Catholic Church, including priests, monks, friars, professed nuns, and novices. Henry wants his Protestant Church (that name is used here, though it was really called Church of England by its adherents) to thrive, and the coffers of the monasteries will add to his dwindling wealth. This is the story of those who oppose Henry but out of different motives. For Joanna Stafford, the death of her cousin marks the beginning of a long journey of suffering, confusion, shocks, betrayals, and more; however, it's a journey that will deepen her faith and yet free her from its restrictive boundaries. The protagonists are the nuns in her Dominican home, Dartford Priory, two Dominican friars, Brother Richard and Brother Edmund, various porters and servants, and Bishop Gardiner. The latter has freed her from the notorious Tower, where she has been imprisoned for attending her cousin's execution and as a member of the rebellious Stafford family. Gardiner holds her father hostage and will free him if she finds the secret crown that once belong to a medieval King, Athelstan. The Crown is said to hold a secret that may be a blessing to some, a curse to others, a mystery supposedly applying to those with pure or impure motives who wish to possess it. Is it the curse or coincidence that all who have possessed it have died very soon after briefly owning it? This is a thriller containing constant surprises as the mystery of the hunt continues and vile acts of others comes to light. But there are unique qualities to Bilyeau's plot. While some may think this is a proverbial stereotypical plot with like characters, nothing could be farther from the truth. For some want to protect the Church which is gradually being exterminated by King Henry VIII, others want to turn the tides of political power with the inherent sacred power of this crown, and others turn to violence because of events that snap the mind in a frightening, life-threatening instant! Most, however, have mixed motives that only get sorted out as the story progresses! Who will each character ultimately serve? Joanna Stafford is a feisty woman who exhibits incredible intelligence, a penchant for leadership and confrontation when necessary, but also a vulnerable woman acting outside of the confines of roles allowed for women at that time (outside of the seducers in Henry's court, that is) and knowing she yearns for more - and more as the mystery approaches an unexpected end. After what she has endured, how could she settle for a marriage planned by someone else, with a a shadow of existence under the shameful "Stafford" reputation? She can't and so the future remains an open question, and somehow the reader knows disappointment will not loom in the follow-up to this super story. And what of the other relics that are held and then hidden by the Benedictine monks? The Crown is outstanding historical fiction, a ripping thriller, in short A GEM!!!!
ScrappyDew More than 1 year ago
New take on historical fiction. The Crown is a truly wonderful read, historical fiction at its best. This is the story of Joanna Stafford, a cunning woman and novice nun no less. Nancy Bilyeau manages to create a work which is richly detailed and engaging without losing her audience into tedium. Joanna is tasked to find a missing crown believed to hold certain powers in order to save her father from the tower of London. Her search is tangled up with the lives of important figures from Henry VIII reign, as well as the challenges facing the church at the time. The characters which Joanna encounters on this mission are all well developed, unlike many novels where the main character’s shine comes from the dullness of her competition. Bilyeau keeps you in anticipation through the mysteries, conspiracy, and journey with a masterful interconnection of the details and storyline. While not probably an entirely novel storyline, being set among the monasteries and priories gives this work provides a unique perspective on the time. The story keeps you on the edge of your seat and just when you think that you know where things are headed and how the story will end, Ms. Bilyeau changes the game. Hopefully this sets the stage for a sequel, because I need to know what lies ahead for Joanna Stafford. I highly recommend The Crown to fans of historical fiction, religious conspiracy/mystery, and sixteenth century England. Full disclosure: I have been provided a copy of the book for the purpose of providing a review; however the opinions presented are my own and not influenced or dictated by publisher or author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Horribly disappointing ending!!! The fate of young Arthur, Joanna and Geoffrey Scovill left hanging.... the only redemption to this unfair conclusion is a sequel!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just reread this before reading the sequel and I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, the second time. Great mystery, characters, and unique plot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was great! I can't wait to read the authors next book.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book really gets off to a slow start (this was probably exacerbated by my having read it directly after Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman - she tends to spoil other historical fiction for me in too close proximity). Just as I was beginning to think that maybe I'm just bored with the Tudors (I've always liked the Plantagenants much more), I got hooked. Wow, did I get hooked - from that moment I had a really hard time putting this down.Bilyeau writes well and the historical part of it all is interesting, but the best part is the mystery and the exploration of Joanna Stafford buried right underneath. Also interesting is seeing a somewhat different (but familiar) side of the great Protestant/Catholic divide - this time from the Catholic side. Henry VIII isn't much loved by anyone in this book, but really did anybody truly love him? He was big, he was cranky, he liked to take off heads - not a lot to like there. Cromwell is a villain here and blamed for much which makes sense given his role in the disbanding of the monasteries and in his strong promotion of Protestantism, the publishing of the Bible in English, and on and on - the whole commoner risen above his natural rank plays a part, as well. I admire Cromwell and find the whole religious conflict interesting, but if I was a Catholic at the time I doubt I'd care for him.Best of all, this book deals with the Catholic religious orders in England at the time, with the disgraced noble families of Stafford and Howard, and very much with the lives of common people living in religious community.On the flip side, the mystery is a little too Dan Brown for me and the book could really use an editor for both cuts and pacing, but Joanna Stafford is a great character - hope to see more of her.
ShanLizLuv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I REALLY enjoyed this book. A bit slow to take off, but once it did, I was hooked. Well written, interesting history, great mystery. Aside from all that, though, its the first book I've read with nuns who are devout and love their lives. Obviously, given the time set, some are bitter about being shuffled off to a convent but the main character loves God and loves the life she has chosen. Ditto with the priests in the book. How refreshing.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hard to believe this is a first novel, and that is was extremely well researched is very apparent. Taking place during the reign of Henry VIII and he and Cromwell's dissolution of the monasteries and the convents, she seamlessly blends fact with fiction. Liked very much that most of the novel is told by the nuns and brothers who make up these monasteries and the reader feels the full impact of these closings on these spiritual people. This is also a very good thriller, a murder within the convent and a search for a mystical crown makes this a very entertaining read. Can't wait to see what she does next.
BookAddictDiary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set against a Tudor backdrop, The Crown is a surprisingly enjoyable and thrilling historical mystery that explores the religious upheaval during Henry VIII's reign, and the people who were affected by it. At first glance, I wondered how a story about an aristocratic nun could be interesting, especially set in such a juicy period, but The Crown amazed me with its intriguing twists, unexpected plot, and unique hero.The Crown follows the story of Joanna Stafford, a young nun from an aristocratic family, who learns that her favorite cousin is to be burned at the stake. Joanna defies her vows and sets out to help her cousin. That's when she is imprisoned in the Tower of London and meets the dangerous Bishop Gardiner, who has his own designs on Joanna's future. In exchange for her freedom, he sends Joanna to Dartford Priory to search for Athelstan's crown, a powerful relic that might grant eternal life -and, hopefully, end the Reformation.Incredibly well-written and intricately researched, the Crown is an amazing piece of historical fiction that stands out from the rest of the genre. Joanna is a unique and fascinating protagonist, somewhat torn between her faith and her duty to her family, and most importantly -incredibly intelligent and cunning. The period is just as well constructed, with plenty of detail and a vivid depiction of life in a convent during a time of serious religious unrest.The Crown offers plenty great Church lore, and an engaging mystery that's reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code, complete with just a whiff of the supernatural. Probably the only small issue I had with this book was that the action is somewhat uneven. At times things really slowed down, so much that it felt laborious to keep going, but I soldiered through and was rewarded with a worthwhile mystery.Not for romance lovers, The Crown is an incredibly engaging historical mystery for fans of conspiracies, intelligent female protagonists, and Church lore. And it looks like it may be only the first of a series of novels about Joanna Stafford -so more to look forward to.
dgmlrhodes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a fan of historical fiction, I loved this book. The story of Joanna Stafford born of a wealthy aristocratic family fallen from grace is a wonderful tale. Joanna, ex-aristocrat turned nun, must solve a mystery to save members of her family. As the first book in a new series, I am looking forward to other books in this series! Reader received a complimentary copy from Good Reads First Reads.
BookishDame on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was apparent immediately that I had the makings of a time-drifting adventure ahead of me when I opened the pages of "The Crown." Do you know what I mean when I talk about a writer's voice? Well, Nancy Bilyeau's voice rings out in storytelling definition from her first sentences, just listen:" When a burning is announced, the taverns off Smithfield order extra barrels of ale, but when the person to be executed is a woman and one of noble birth, the ale comes by the cartload. I would ride in one of those carts on Friday of Whitsun week, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King Henry the Eighth, to offer prayers for the soul of the condemned traitor, Lady Margaret Bulmer."I could hear the lisp of the narrator's English accent, the conspiratorial tone of her voice as she revealed the secret story's beginning, and I settled down in my chair for the reading. I'm mad for a book and an author who can not only write an interesting historically referenced book, but one that can transport me in time and give me characters to love and cheer for along the way. This is the strength and beauty of "The Crown" and Nancy Bilyeau.This book has some of the elements that originally brought me to reading historical fiction in the first place. It has the secretive qualities of a Daphne du Maurier novel (and I know the poor woman's name has been tossed about too much lately, so I don't use that reference lightly), and it has substance. I think "The Crown" will be noted on all the best lists this year. It will appeal to many on several levels. And, I personally can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, "The Chalice." I also have a feeling this won't be the last we hear of Nancy Bilyeau by a longshot. I predict she will become one of the major historical fiction writers of this decade.Highly recommended with a 5 star review
celticlady53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh the intrigue!! The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau is a story that takes place in the Tudor era. Henry VIII is still on the throne, his current wife Jane is pregnant and the country is in turmoil due to the demolishing of the churches, abbey's and other religious houses by the kings men led by the infamous Cromwell. Joanna is a novice at Dartford Priory. She finds out her cousin Lady Margaret is to be burned at the stake for treason. Joanna leaves the Priory without permission to be there for her cousin, but along with her father, she is imprisoned in the Tower of London to await her fate. She is there for months and questioned extensively by the Bishop of Winchester as to the whereabouts of The Crown, a relic which was said to have been a crown of thorns that was worn by King Athelstan , which he believes is hidden at Dartford Priory. He orders Joanna, along with Brother Edmund and Brother Richard, to go back to Dartford Priory to search for the Crown. He claims he will release her father from the Tower when she delivers the information he wants about the Crown. That is when the adventure really begins for Joanna. Joanna is deeply religious and will do what it takes to not only get her father released, but also to do what she can to save the Priory from being destroyed. Henry VIII certainly plays a part in the story but he is not one of the main characters. The research that went into the writing of this novel is extensive and I found the book to be well written. I enjoyed learning about the history of the Crown. In the story there is a lot mentioned about the tapestries that were done by the nuns. The tapestries are not just beautiful but they tell stories of the times and help with the search for the Crown. I enjoyed the story immensely and give it 5 stars. Highly recommended for the history buff as well as the historical fiction lover.I received an ecopy of this book and was not monetarily compensated for my review.
Twink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nancy Bilyeau began work on her first novel - The Crown - in 2005. Her hard work definitely paid off - The Crown is an absolutely wonderful debut.The Crown is set in Tudor England in 1537. Joanna Stafford is a novice nun at the Dartford Priory. She leaves without permission to attend the public death of her cousin Lady Margaret Bulmer. Her presence does not go unnoticed. She is found out and soon becomes the unwilling agent of a Bishop determined to find a sacred relic - the Crown of Athelstan. Bilyeau has created an engaging character in Sister Joanna. She is a pious young woman, but has a streak of stubbornness and determination that make her all the more believable and engaging. The supporting characters are also well drawn, as are the 'villians'.But for me, Bilyeau's strength lies in her research. The historical detail in The Crown is phenomenal. I have a working knowledge of this time period, but learned so much from reading this book. Her prose, characters and setting all accurately captured this time period and brought it to life.The Crown successfully combines history with mystery, intrique and yes, some romance to provide a throughly engrossing read. Bilyeau is working on a second novel featuring Sister Joanna - I'll be picking it up. I'd like to see where Joanna's path next leads.
arielfl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book so much. I have read a lot of Tudor fiction including the book I am currently tackling, Wolf Hall. This is the first mystery book that I have read that is set in the same time. It was reminiscent of another beloved historical mystery series, Mistress of the Art of Death.In this novel novice nun Joanna Stafford is tasked with finding a hidden religious relic with untold powers. Unfortunately for Joanna it is not a good time to be on King Henry the VIII's bad side and danger lurks everywhere. Joanna is strong, intelligent woman up to the task and you can't help rooting for her. The supporting characters are equally engaging and the mystery has several intriguing layers. If you like a smart historical mystery series set in Tudor times then you will enjoy this book. Once I started it I could not put it down. This is the first novel in a new series and I can't wait to read Joanna's further adventures.
dsolter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Here are my thoughts about THE CROWN¿ First off, I loved the strong heroine Sister Joanna. She drives the story forward while struggling between her vows and doing whatever she has to in order to save her father¿s life. How such a devoted nun deals with this internal struggle adds a deeper layer that slips the reader into Joanne¿s point-of-view and thus re-enforces the empathy we feel for her. THE CROWN moves at a fast pace like a good thriller should. I would almost compare it to the concise pace of young adult novel. (Which is meant as a compliment.) The pace keeps you turning pages and never lags. The historical setting of Tudor England feels so authentic on the pages and helps to ground the reader into the time period. Ms. Bilyeau does a nice job of sprinkling details here and there, using it to spice up the chapters rather than making them bland under a mountain of endless historical detail that would slow a novel down to a crawl. The characters are strong and diverse. Not one is wasted or overlooked. Each character has a specific purpose in the story and are used to great effect, thus making THE CROWN a very well-balanced book. Setting. Pace. Character. Plot. Story. It¿s all here. In fact, I think this book will turn some non-history readers into Tudor-England fanatics. Or at least curious enough to google some English history websites. I look forward to reading more of Ms. Bilyeau¿s work.
Judith_Starkston on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Crown, set in 16th century England, follows a young nun as she tries to save her family, her priory and her faith, armed primarily with a stubborn streak and a good mind. There are a number of pleasures to reading this book. One is watching the development of Joanna. When we meet her, we are struck by her naïveté and unpreparedness for the world that she has thrust herself into, but also by her determination and intelligence. She¿s one of those rare people who gain a clearer, more cynical understanding of the world without loosing her principles and religious devotion (but allowing them to grow more complex). Her choices don¿t follow a predictable pattern. She¿s more subtly portrayed than I would have guessed at the outset. Towards the end, characters sometimes heap more praise on Joanna than feels believable¿she becomes almost a 16th century superwoman¿but for the most part she¿s persuasively done. Her limitations and strengths fit within the scope of a well-educated noblewoman who has taken religious vows. Another delight of reading The Crown lies in its web of intrigue, politics and mysticism. Bilyeau has built a nonstop plot that keeps bringing you to new settings, new crises, and new sides of characters you thought you understood. The Crown reads as a thriller set within the 16th century¿hard to put down, full of action. Generally you wouldn¿t guess that a Dominican Priory would be so intense, but even the extended portion of the book set there twists with ever rising suspense. Much of the plot arises out of the politics of Henry the Eighth¿s court and the upheavals following his split with the Catholic Church. Katherine¿s divorce, the Boleyns, Cromwell, the Bishop of Winchester¿familiar characters from history take part but not in their stereotypical ways. Added to these pages from history, Bilyeau interweaves a more mystical thread involving the crown of the title¿King Athelstan¿s crown, the first king of England. Powers beyond human understanding may or may not lie in this crown, but the actual crown is counterpointed against the mystical power of individuals¿ beliefs. What sort of miracles are possible and why? Mixed into this theme are characters such as Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, who proclaim deeply held beliefs but who may have participated in pragmatic power plays to such an extent that their doctrines are only a screen behind which they have lost themselves. Deciphering who is trustworthy is a constant challenge in this book both for Joanna and for the reader. I also enjoyed the 16th century life Bilyeau paints. Through Joanna we understand the quiet value of the life these cloistered women chose and the small graces of community she feels. We also see, smell, and hear castles and manor houses, lowly inns, hovels, and the Tower of London. The book portrays great cruelty and viciousness, but the overarching sensibility is one of hope and a clear-eyed optimism even in the face of all that tries to crush the human soul. It¿s both a fun, fast read you can¿t put down and an insightful read about spirituality and endurance.
EraCG More than 1 year ago
Excellent book!. Joanna Stafford is a young novice in England under the rule of king Henry VIII. She must find an ancient relic or her father dies. But the relic holds a secret . Wonderful story with great historical detail, mystery, suspense and remarkable characters. Nancy Bilyeau is my new historical fiction author. Historical fans will love this book. I can't wait to get the sequels, ( The Chalice and The Tapestry ). I Highly recommended!!!
eternalised More than 1 year ago
The Crown was just an ‘okay’ read. The writing wasn’t all that great, and the book seemed to try too hard to hold on to historical events, and mix them with the plot, as if the plot was predicted by the historical events, and the other way around. The back cover compares this book to Philippa Gregory’s work, but Gregory has a lot more attention for detail, and manages to provide better character sketches. All in all, just okay. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hard to get past burning a person alive, but hang in there. This story with Henry the 8th and his many wives in the background of the dissolution of the monesteries is well researched and brings the era to the front of the story, in all its beauty and savagery and skulduggery. That tension keeps the story moving. The characters remain in your mind long after the last page.