Lamentation is the first Shardlake novel to be published by Mulholland Books, but it’s not the first in C.J. Sansom’s internationally bestselling series. That said, I approached Lamentation without having read the first five books in the series and was swept away by Sansom’s depictions of Henry VIII’s court and life in Tudor England. Our hero, Matthew Shardlake, is a brilliant lawyer, a loyal friend, and a thoughtful man of his time. 1546 has never appeared more vivid than when seen through his eyes. Sample the first chapter of Lamentation below, which opens with the burning of radical Protestant Anne Askew.
I did not want to attend the burning. I have never liked even such things as the bearbaiting, and this was to be the burning alive at the stake of four living people, one a woman, for denying that the body and blood of Christ were present in the Host at Mass. Such was the pitch we had come to in England during the great heresy hunt of 1546.
I had been called from my chambers at Lincoln’s Inn to see the Treasurer, Master Rowland. Despite my status as a serjeant, the most senior of barristers, Master Rowland disliked me. I think his pride had never recovered from the time three years before when I had been – justly – disrespectful to him. I crossed the Inn Square, the red brickwork mellow in the summer sunshine, exchanging greetings with other black-gowned lawyers going to and fro. I looked up at Stephen Bealknap’s rooms; he was my old foe both in and out of court. The shutters at his windows were closed. He had been ill since early in the year and had not been seen outside for many weeks. Some said he was near death.
I went to the Treasurer’s offices and knocked at his door. A sharp voice bade me enter. Rowland sat behind his desk in his spacious room, the walls lined with shelves of heavy legal books, a display of
his status. He was old, past sixty, rail-thin but hard as oak, with a narrow, seamed, frowning face. He sported a white beard, grown long and forked in the current fashion, carefully combed and reaching halfway down his silken doublet. As I came in he looked up from cutting a new nib for his goose-feather quill. His fingers, like mine, were stained black from years of working with ink.
‘God give you good morrow, Serjeant Shardlake,’ he said in his sharp voice. He put down the knife.
I bowed. ‘And you, Master Treasurer.’
He waved me to a stool and looked at me sternly.
‘Your business goes well?’ he asked. ‘Many cases listed for the Michaelmas term?’
‘A good enough number, sir.’
‘I hear you no longer get work from the Queen’s solicitor.’ He spoke casually. ‘Not for this year past.’
‘I have plenty of other cases, sir. And my work at Common Pleas keeps me busy.’
He inclined his head. ‘I hear some of Queen Catherine’s officials have been questioned by the Privy Council. For heretical opinions.’
‘So rumour says. But so many have been interrogated these last few months.’
‘I have seen you more frequently at Mass at the Inn church recently.’ Rowland smiled sardonically. ‘Showing good conformity? A wise policy in these whirling days. Attend church, avoid the babble of
controversy, follow the King’s wishes.’
He took his sharpened quill and spat to soften it, then rubbed it on a cloth. He looked up at me with a new keenness. ‘You have heard that Mistress Anne Askew is sentenced to burn with three others a
week on Friday? The sixteenth of July?’
‘It is the talk of London. Some say she was tortured in the Tower after her sentence. A strange thing.’
Rowland shrugged. ‘Street gossip. But the woman made a sensation at the wrong time. Abandoning her husband and coming to London to preach opinions clear contrary to the Act of Six Articles. Refusing to recant, arguing in public with her judges.’ He shook his head, then leaned forward. ‘The burning is to be a great spectacle. There has been nothing like it for years. The King wants it to be seen where heresy leads. Half the Privy Council will be there.’
‘Not the King?’ There had been rumours he might attend.
I remembered Henry had been seriously ill in the spring; he had hardly been seen since.
‘His majesty wants representatives from all the London guilds.’ Rowland paused. ‘And the Inns of Court. I have decided you should go to represent Lincoln’s Inn.’
I stared at him. ‘Me, sir?’
‘You take on fewer social and ceremonial duties than you should, given your rank, Serjeant Shardlake. No one seems willing to volunteer for this, so I have had to decide. I think it time you took your turn.’
I sighed. ‘I know I have been lax in such duties. I will do more, if you wish.’ I took a deep breath. ‘But not this, I would ask you. It will be a horrible thing. I have never seen a burning, and do not wish to.’
Rowland waved a hand dismissively. ‘You are too squeamish. Strange in a farmer’s son. You have seen executions, I know that. Lord Cromwell had you attend Anne Boleyn’s beheading when you worked
‘That was bad. This will be worse.’
He tapped a paper on his desk. ‘This is the request for me to send someone to attend. Signed by the King’s secretary, Paget himself. I must despatch the name to him tonight. I am sorry, Serjeant, but I
have decided you will go.’ He rose, indicating the interview was over. I stood and bowed again. ‘Thank you for offering to become more involved with the Inn’s duties,’ Rowland said, his voice smooth once more. ‘I will see what other – ’ he hesitated – ‘activities may be coming up.’
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