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Traitor's Kiss

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About this book

Traitor's Kiss
Traitor's Kiss

I was only two when my father, the king, executed my mother, Anne Boleyn. People say she was a witch who stole his heart with her dark enchantments, but I can remember nothing of her. Yet still the malicious rumours of others haunt me. Now the gossips are saying vile things that threaten me. I am being held captive in my own palace until I admit that their lies are true. I try not to show I'm afraid, but if I cannot prove that I am innocent, I will be condemned to die... Like mother, like daughter?

“Full of palace intrigue and shot through with dark magic, this is a thrilling story of a feisty young girl’s fight for survival.”
Julia Eccleshare for LoveReading4Kids

Read an extract

Prologue

 

Hatfield Palace, Hertfordshire

21 January, 1549

 

A scream comes through the open window, so piercing that it stabs me into waking. Who is it?

Kat will know.

But Kat is not in her bed, although her clothes are scattered on the floor, twisted like bodies in the gathering light.

I run downstairs, two steps at a time. At this hour, laundry maids should be crossing the courtyard. Master Parry should be giving orders to the servants. Roger Ascham, my tutor, should be in the schoolroom, for he likes to read before breakfast.

But all is silent, except for the distant thud of horses’ hooves and the wind whining between the tall chimneys.

Something is wrong.

“KAT! KAT!” I stand under the oak and scream into the wind. Dawn lifts the mist around its crown and softens the frozen grass that chills my bare feet.

I am Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry the Eighth and Anne Boleyn, both dead. Kat is my only constant now. Without her, I do not know what to do.

Shall I pray? No, I do not want to kneel. When my mother knelt for her execution, she did not know that the sword was already hidden under a heap of straw; so the swordsman struck off her head suddenly, from behind, and she knew nothing of it. Full of pity for her, he had taken off his shoes so that she would not hear him coming.

That is the only good thing I have ever heard about my mother: that she died swiftly. As for how she lived, I have had only gossip to tell me.

“KAT! Where are you?” The wind hurls sleet into my mouth.

“Call as much as you want, but she will not come.” It is a man’s voice, just behind me. His peppermint breath warms my neck. He must have crept from the shadows of the tree with the stealth of my mother’s swordsman. I turn my head, take in his short hair and beard, his face bloated from Christmastide although Twelfth Night is two weeks past. Envy bites. I was not at court. The new King – my little brother Edward – did not invite me.

I recognize this man. He was a gentleman in my father’s privy chamber and Master of the Horse to my stepmother, Catherine Parr, when she was Queen.

I shift from one frozen foot to the other. “Sir Robert Tyrwhitt?” His bow is so brief that he hardly bends his back. “What brings you uninvited to my draughty palace on a winter’s day?” I try to keep my voice light, like the snowflakes settling on our heads, but I am chilled with fear. “Where is Kat?”

“Mistress Ashley? She has gone away for a while.”

His voice slaps me like the wind.

That is what they said when my mother stopped coming to see me. I am two years old again and my throat tightens at the memory. I burst into tears as I did then, although I dislike the taste of salt. Now I tug at the collar of his fur cloak. “Is Kat dead?” I ask.

“She might be soon,” he whispers. “She has gone to the Tower with your steward. He was the one who screamed just now.”

“Why?” My voice dies in my throat.

He stares straight into my eyes. “To find out the truth,” he says.

It has come to this. In my heart, I knew that it would. Too many things happened last year when I went to live in London. But Kat has done nothing – except love me.My tears double. I know what truth-seekers are like. I am one myself, and it has taken me to a place worse than hell.

With little concern for my tears, Tyrwhitt commands me to meet him in the schoolroom when I am dressed.

I stiffen. I am a princess. I give the commands.

It is my palace. Not his.

Then he is gone, in a swirl of snowflakes, as if I have dreamed him, and I stumble back to my bedchamber, drenched with sleet, reeking of fear – and anger.

Why did I blubber like a baby in front of Tyrwhitt? He will think I am easy prey.

Have I learned nothing this past year?

 

 

Kat has not laid out my clothes. Blanche Parry has not brought water for me to wash. I call for her; but she does not come either. I run backwards and forwards, like a headless hen, searching for something to wear. Where is the sombre silk from yesterday? Where are my velvet shoes?

I find the dress folded on Kat’s chair. It stinks. But so do I now. I put it on, fastening the buttons wrongly so that the collar lies crooked and the bodice is not tight enough to stop my heart racing. I splash myself with Kat’s perfume to hide my sweating fear and let my hair remain as crinkled as autumn leaves for I cannot find my comb.

 

 

There are wooden steps that lead from the garden to the schoolroom, and I take them instead of the ones from the Great Hall, although I am chilled to the bone. I want to look through the window before I go in. If Tyrwhitt does not choose his words carefully, he will feel the lash of my tongue.

The schoolroom window glows with candlelight.

I stand on tiptoe.

Tyrwhitt is seated in my tutor Ascham’s chair. He has put on all his finery: his sleeves are of scarlet silk to match the feather in his cap. His fingers are as slender as mine, flashing their rainbow rings: emeralds, rubies and sapphires.

In this schoolroom, I learned to read and write at Kat’s knee. Here I read Virgil and Horace and Cicero. It is a room for royal children, its walls warmed by tapestries and cushions, softened by books and maps, perfumed by ink and parchment and warm candle wax.

It is my sanctuary and I do not want Tyrwhitt in it.

He has seen me and opens the door. I go in, and in spite of my dishevelled appearance, he sweeps off his feathered cap in a deep bow. Thenhe waves me to my chair.Ascham always keeps his chair close to the fire. Mine is close to the window and the garden door, for I hate to be shut in.

I remain standing, stamping my foot, forgetting that my brother, the King, must have sent him. “You cannot come to my palace unannounced and take my personal servants to the Tower without my permission,” I protest, breathless.

“Oh but I can, Your Grace. The King’s Privy Council has commanded it.”

“Well, I am the King’s sister and he will help me. And if he doesn’t, I shall ask my stepfather, Thomas Seymour. He is the King’s uncle.”

“Your stepfather…” He lingers on the word, “…is no longer at home. He has also gone to the Tower.”

I am slow to understand. “Is my stepfather to question my servants? He should have asked me first.”

“Ah – no. He is a prisoner too.”

My knees buckle.

Tyrwhitt waits for me to ask what he has done wrong. I do not. When I was very young – after my mother died – I learned one thing: if you watch in silence, you will hear more. I sink into my chair.

His chains of office clink as he fidgets. “Your stepfather, Thomas Seymour, has entered the King’s bedchamber in the middle of the night, and killed his spaniel when it barked,” he says. “He has boasted of becoming your brother’s Protector…and of marrying you, now that his wife, Lady Catherine, is dead.”

I want to cry again at the mention of Lady Catherine. She was my father’s sixth and last wife. A few months after his death at Greenwich Palace almost two years ago, she married Thomas Seymour. I loved her dearly and I curse him in my mind. He is the reason that I did not see her before she died in childbed.

Tyrwhitt smiles like a fond father. “Let us talk of Thomas Seymour and you.”

“There is no ‘Thomas Seymour and me’. He is old enough to be… He is almost forty.”

“Yet there are things” – he lowers his voice – “which you might want to confess to me now, before Mistress Ashley is forced to confess them…shameful things that we might attribute to, let us say, youthful folly.”

The day has barely lightened beyond grey at the window. It was at such times that Thomas Seymour came to my bedchamber… I am close to fainting. Hunger gnaws at my stomach. I have not eaten this morning. “What do you mean?” I whisper.

“You were seen in Lord Seymour’s barge on the Thames last Shrovetide…alone…and before that…” He coughs.      

The door creaks. Blanche Parry comes in, her eyes swollen with weeping. She does not look at me, but, clumsy with nerves, bangs a silver dish onto the table between us – a dish of sugar roses.

My breathing quickens. My cheeks flush. Nobody makes sugar roses for me here. I do not permit it.

Tyrwhitt knows.

I do not know how this will end, but I know how it began – little more than a year ago, when the leaves curled like flames, on the morning of my fourteenth birthday…

…with a sugar rose….

 

                    

Chapter One

 

 

Chelsea Palace, London

1547 

 

The door of my bedchamber creaked open, although it was not fully light outside, bringing in the sweet fragrance of sugar. I wriggled, mouth moist with anticipation, for Kat had promised me a birthday treat.

Fourteen years ago, on this day – the seventh day of September – my father had roared: “I gave up the Pope for this!”

This” was me – another useless daughter like Mary, the daughter of my father’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

The pain his words caused my mother must have been worse than the pains of childbirth.

My birthday. The day when everything was cancelled – beer, banquets and fireworks – because I was not the prince that would have saved my mother, Anne Boleyn. It was the day that marked her descent into despair. Her agony did not end with my birth, but continued for almost three years, until the last sharp pain of the sword.

I pushed these dark thoughts aside. Sugar! My teeth were rotting with it. But another scent came with the sugar, the sour and stale smell of the person who was carrying it. I got ready to scold the maid who had dared to bring her stench into my bedchamber, for, like my father, my sense of smell is keener than a bloodhound’s. My pretty palace at Hatfield contains mostly fragrant women, and my male servants must suck peppermint pastilles if they come into my presence.

But I wanted Kat to have her surprise first. I closed my eyes and waited. Somebody lifted my hair and I thought it must be Kat herself. Something brushed against the nape of my neck, something rough and stinking of stale food. Confused, I twisted away from it, opened my eyes to curse whoever it was.

It was my stepfather, Thomas Seymour, bare-chested and bare-legged, carrying a cloth-covered silver dish. He stroked his beard, laughing at his own silly trick.

Part of me froze with fear. No man had ever entered my bedchamber, not even my father. No man had ever brushed my neck with his beard. And if Kat had to call a physician for me, she never left my side.

Disappointment slowly replaced the fear. Since my father’s death in January, my stepmother, Catherine Parr, had invited me to leave Hatfield Palace to live with her and her new husband, Thomas Seymour. These last months had been the happiest of my life, in spite of my father’s death, for I had grown to love my stepmother deeply. As for my stepfather, he was vain and arrogant, but he had always made me laugh, until now.

I did not know what to do.

My stepfather thrust the dish under my nose.

I backed away. “You frightened me, sir,” I said. “What are you doing in my bedchamber? Where is Kat?”

He showed no shame. “Can a father not bring his daughter a treat on her birthday?” he asked. “I wish you well today, Bess.” I winced at his use of my pet name. He placed the dish on the bedcover between us and removed the cloth. In it lay a single sugar rose. It was white, although grubby at the petals’ edges, and the cook had tried to disguise its greyness with gold leaf. “A perfect rose for a perfect rose,” he whispered. “It was difficult for Maggie to make, Bess.”

“My name is Elizabeth, sir.”

“The rose is a secret flower, for its centre is hidden beneath so many petals…”

My skin tingled. My heart was beating too fast. He should not have brought it to me. He should not have brushed his beard against me.

“Eat it now,” he went on. “Maggie says that she has put too much water on the petals and they may not hold together for long.”

I kicked him in fury. He laughed softly and caught hold of my feet, tickling my toes. My spine tingled. Then he took my hand and ran his fingers up my arm. To my confusion and disgust, I did not want him to stop. I wanted him to tickle my neck again.

Then he forced open my clenched hand and placed the rose in my palm.

Disgusted with him, disgusted with myself, I threw it back at him. It split against his nose, showering sugar crystals onto his beard.

It is not in my nature to run, but run I did, as if the devil himself was after me: following the scent of sugar to the kitchen, through the back entrance into the garden, through lavender and thyme, until I reached a rose walk. Here I slowed to catch my breath. Some roses had been battered by last night’s storm and their damp petals clung to the soles of my bare feet. Their heavy fragrance made my head spin and I glimpsed a shadowy figure reaching out to me; I did not know if it was friend or foe – or my stepfather.

I shuddered. “Who’s there?” I whispered.

The air moved in the early shadows. Not as a dress or underskirt rustles. This was like the movement of  a whole person, displacing the air around my head like the swish of a sword. I touched my neck, calling out wildly, “Show yourself!”

At once, the air stilled.

It was a sudden autumn gust, I told myself – or nothing at all. But how can nothing make the blood rush to the head, the spine shiver?


Pauline Francis

Pauline Francis

With 20 years of experience as a Secondary school teacher and trained librarian, Pauline has a passion for teaching and encouraging creative writing. Pauline had her first book published in 1994, and has had several books published since, including a number of retellings of well-known classics.

Visit the author’s website, www.paulinefrancis.co.uk, for more information.


Press Reviews

The dangers for the young princess at court are brilliantly captured in this nail-biting story of how the young Elizabeth keeps herself safe following the execution of her mother, Anne Boleyn. Held captive and taunted with malicious rumours, Elizabeth tells of her imprisonment and of her fears of being killed for witchcraft following the rumours of her mother’s dark skills in enchanting Kind Henry VIII. Full of palace intrigue and shot through with dark magic, this is a thrilling story of a feisty young girl’s fight for survival.
Julia Eccleshare for LoveReading4Kids
Traitor's Kiss by Pauline Francis, with its shades of Philippa Gregory or Jean Plaidy, tells the story of the teenaged Elizabeth I struggling with friendships, burgeoning sexuality, the ghost of her executed mother and the horror of having so few people to trust.
The Independent
Traitor's Kiss is a prime example of what I think YA historical should be and do. It is brilliantly engaging with characters that you are able to relate to easily. The story gives you a really good insight to the times it is set in without overburdening you with tiny details. Finally the storyline is nice and pacey which keeps you wanting to read page after page...Certainly a book I would recommend and an author I will be keeping an eye out for in the future.
The Overflowing Library
A gripping story, written in the first person, which really gets the reader right inside the life of the future Queen Elizabeth I as she fights to keep herself safe through the treachery that is rife in Tudor England. Nowhere seems safe for the young Elizabeth, as she seeks to find out the truth about her mother, Anne Boleyn. At all turns, it seems there is danger and she fights desperately to keep her integrity and preserve her reputation unscathed. The story is really well written and the reader is drawn into young Elizabeth's struggles in this compelling story. The historical background is authentic and it is interesting to see this earlier period in the Queen's life covered.
Parents in Touch
Well written and paints a very sympathetic picture of Elizabeth as a young girl who has been manipulated and used by a powerful, charismatic and ambitious man, but a girl who showed maturity and skill beyond her years to outface her interrogators.
Carousel
The Elizabeth Francis describes in Traitor’s Kiss is one we would recognize; proud, intelligent, brave and quick-tempered. The author not only captures her character but also what it must have been like to grow up a daughter of a beheaded Queen. Francis also brilliantly captures the Tudor world: its customs, lifestyle, smells, tastes and colours – she really does bring history alive.
School Librarian Journal (Vol. 59, No. 4)

Reader Reviews

Traitor's Kiss
I have only just read this book it is by far one of the best books i have ever read! It has really interested me in the History of the Kings and Queens! I have really enjoyed this book and give it a 5 star rating.

Lucy Imogen, 25th October 2012
Traitor's Kiss
I think that this book is very good, it is a very enjoyable read, once you start reading you just can't stop. It becomes very addictive. There are lots of unexpected twists in this book. One of the best books I have read. I also met the author, and she gave me a sugar rose! (: THANK YOU! Such a lovely touch, also the sugar roses are mentioned in the book, very sweet! I am going to savour that amazing sugar rose forever! I would just like to say after reading this book and meeting the author...she is an amazing person and an extremely talented writer, and I also love her book. I have already read it two times, this is now my third time at reading it. Hope it wins the Carnegie award this year! (: Overall an incredible read loved every bit of it. THANK YOU (:

Poppy Ann, 11th July 2011

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