Book Review and interview: The Tapestry

The Tapestry

The Tapestry

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this ebook for free in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post
as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.


US Publication Date: March 24, 2015
UK Publication Date: April 24, 2015

Touchstone Publishing
Formats: eBook, Hardcover
Pages: 390

Series: Joanna Stafford, Book Three
Genre: Historical Mystery

Received for a virtual book tour

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Having read and enjoyed a lot The Crown and The Chalice, I’m totally thrilled to be part of this tour and to present to you the third installment of the Joanna Staford series, as well as an interview with the author herself! If you are tired of some lengthy Tudor series where everything and everyone is too predictable, no fear with The Tapestry! With a unique main character, this historical novel is packed with fascinating information and irresistible twists and turns.

Joanna Staford was a novice in Dartford. But her Dominican monastery did not survive the wrath of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell: it was closed two years before this book opens. She has been living a simple quasi-monastic life in the city of Dartford when she is summoned by no less than the King himself, to be the keeper of his wardrobe, that is also the manager of his tapestries. Henry seems to be interested in her talent at tapestry making as well.

But as Joanna makes her way to Whitehall, she has the bad feeling someone is following her. When a page proposes to escort her, she really knows something doesn’t feel right. From then on, she is stuck in unknown woes and life threatening political intrigues that will even lead her to foreign countries where more dangers are lurking!

Like a tapestry, this book is made up of multiple layers and threads, and it was absolutely fascinating to follow them all. With unexpected twists and turns, it felt like working on the back side of a tapestry: only at the end when the job is done, can you turn and see your work revealed. Only at the end will you have all the elements of this book come together.

I really enjoyed indeed how all the themes were intertwined and keeping the reader in suspense. Let me highlight a few of the leads:

  1. the world of art, with tapestries and paintings – the painter Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497–1543) is quite present
  2. The Tudor political milieu, with its main characters: Henry VIII (described both typically with his crazy angry outbursts and as a weak man afraid of losing power), Cromwell (also pictured with weaknesses), Catherine Howard, Jane Rochford, Bishop Gardiner, Henry Howard, Norfolk, French ambassador Chapuys, and others
  3. The occult world quite linked to the royals at the time. We hear about Nostradamus, Paracelsus, Orobasa, and Cornelius Agrippa has a major key role
  4. And Joanna’s personal relationships: whom can she really trust in this dangerous milieu?

All along the book, Joanna evolves and matures. Prevented by civil law from marrying former friar Edmund after she left, what will she do when she meets him again? Is their connection strong enough to decide to restart their life together?
Along those lines, I enjoyed the way Nancy Bilyeau offered gentle reminders of the two previous books all along. I think this would make this book perfectly work as a standalone, although of course you will enjoy it even more if you’ve read the first two volumes.

I would like to highlight that Catherine Howard, through Joanna’s friendship, is presented as both naïve and victim, not as the seductress I have met in some other books on the period.

VERDICT: With multiple intertwined threads and an unusual heroine, The Tapestry provides the reader with a unique view on the Tudor world. Art, politics, and the occult combine into a fascinating historical novel rich in suspense. What not to love?



“Nancy Bilyeau’s passion for history infuses her books and transports us back to the dangerous world of Tudor England. Vivid characters and gripping plots are at the heart of this wonderful trilogy, and this third book will not fail to thrill readers. Warmly recommended!” – Bestselling author Alison Weir

In THE CROWN, Sister Joanna Stafford searched for a Dark Ages relic that could save her priory from Cromwell’s advancing army of destruction. In THE CHALICE, Joanna was drawn into an international conspiracy against Henry VIII himself as she struggled to learn the truth behind a prophecy of his destruction.

Now, in THE TAPESTRY, Joanna Stafford finally chooses her own destiny.

After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.



Nancy BilyeauNancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle,
Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal.
She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine.
Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions.
Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition,
and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza.
A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013. THE TAPESTRY will be released in March 2015.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Stay in touch with her on Twitter at @tudorscribe. For more information please visit Nancy Bilyeau’s website. Follow also her blog with fascinating information on the world of her novels




reading bugNancy, thanks so much for taking time to answer my questions.
How did you first meet Joanna?


 Nancy BilyeauTen years ago I set foot in a fiction workshop and told the four other people, “I want to write a mystery set in 16th century England.” It took me three sessions before I came up with the idea of making my main character a nun. I wanted a strong woman protagonist who was different than what we’d seen before. Then, slowly, I filled in other things about her from my imagination: half English and half Spanish, from a fallen aristocratic family, intelligent and loyal and also hot-tempered, and with a talent for embroidery and tapestry weaving.



How did you come up with the idea of focusing this time on tapestries?

Each of the three novels uses tapestry as a key part of the plot and also they fulfill thematic needs. In THE CHALICE, the tapestry Joanna wove, The Rise of the Phoenix, symbolized her own need for rebirth but it also raised the political question of whether she was pushing for the return of the Catholic faith in England–and yet it was such a beautiful piece of work that Henry VIII, the driving force of tapestry collection in the early 16th century, was pleased and intrigued. I thought, What would happen if the man Joanna fears and detests above all is far and away the connoisseur in all England of tapestries, her passionate interest as well, and she is drawn into Henry VIII’s orbit…


Tapestries and paintings are key elements in this volume. Are you an artist yourself?

No, but my father, Wallace Bilyeau, was a watercolor landscape artist. He had a studio in the basement of our suburban Detroit home. I grew up smelling paint and every summer I helped him sell his work at the booth at the Ann Arbor Art Festival. Wonderful memories.

Joanna is rather sympathetic towards Catherine Howard. What sources did you use for your portrayal of her ? She doesn’t always appear this way in other books on the same period.

The primary contemporary sources we have describing Catherine are the two ambassadors in the English court: Eustace Chapuys, reporting to the Emperor Charles V, and Charles de Marillac, representing France. They don’t view her with the same prurient disdain as people do today because of course events were unfolding in real time for them. They were evaluating her as a queen and as a possible source of influence and power, and she did carry out duties as queen and exert influence. When she was questioned, arrested and then executed, they were surprised, skeptical, horrified and finally rather cynical about it.
Some nonfiction writers look down on her today as promiscuous when really all she did that we are certain of is sleep with one man who relentlessly pursued her and talked of marriage, Francis Dereham, and then she met and married the king. She denied having sex with Thomas Culpepper, and so did he. There was a flirtation and they met several times, but we don’t know what happened. Historical novelists have for the most part depicted her as stupid, shallow and slutty.
I saw other sides to her in my research. For example, she arranged for warm clothes to be sent to the prison cell of Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury, and she successfully pleaded for the pardon of Sir Thomas Wyatt, and others too that her older, volatile husband wanted killed. I would argue that she accomplished more as queen than Anne of Cleves, and actually she did more by getting those pardons than Jane Seymour did–particular when you figure into this that she was probably 18 when she married. Jane’s sole accomplishment as queen was giving birth. Now you won’t see these queenly acts of Catherine’s in most Tudor novels. Philippa Gregory in particular writes Catherine Howard as a shallow, grasping, pleasure-loving idiot. I don’t agree.

How much were the Tudors really involved with Cornelius Agrippa?

Most of the monarchs and leading aristocrats of Western Europe knew about Agrippa, scholar and occultist. He served the Hapsburg family of Charles V, as court secretary, perhaps soldier and we think a spy. He moved around a lot, living in France, Germany and Italy. He was a physician to the queen mother, Louise of Savoy, at the Court of King Francis I and dedicated a book to Marguerite of Navarre.
But before that he lived in England. In 1510, he arrived in England presumably in the service of Emperor Maximilian I. He attended the lectures on St. Paul’s Epistles by John Colet. In 1834, William Godwin, the philosopher and political writer and father of Mary Shelley (“Frankenstein”), published his last book, “Lives of the Necromancers.” It is a collection of biographical studies of the famous “magicians” who’ve lived since ancient Greece. In his long chapter of Agrippa he relates a very strange story about Agrippa meeting Henry Howard, earl of Surrey. Godwin’s fascinating with Agrippa is especially interesting because in the classic Shelley book Dr. Frankenstein becomes obsessed with creating life from the dead after reading too much of a certain man’s work when he was a medical student–that’s right, Agrippa. Gives me chills.

Wow, what a fascinating link!
Nostradamus and Cornelius Agrippa have important roles in this historical novel and in The Chalice. Where is John Dee?

 I *love” John Dee, but he wasn’t born until 1527, which would have made him 13 years old at the beginning of the action in this novel. Maybe if I tell more stories of Joanna, he can catch up to her. 🙂

Thanks Nancy for your fascinating input. I do hope more stories are coming with Joanna. I am also fascinated by John Dee, it would be thrilling to have them met for sure!


What’s your favorite historical fiction on the Tudor period?



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