A Noble Cunning: The Countess and the Tower
by Patricia Bernstein

Published: 2023-03-07T00:0
Paperback : 266 pages
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"A Noble Cunning: The Countess and the Tower" is based on the true story of a persecuted Catholic noblewoman who rescued her husband from the Tower of London the night before his scheduled execution with the help of her devoted women friends.

Bethan Glentaggart faces down a mob attack ...

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"A Noble Cunning: The Countess and the Tower" is based on the true story of a persecuted Catholic noblewoman who rescued her husband from the Tower of London the night before his scheduled execution with the help of her devoted women friends.

Bethan Glentaggart faces down a mob attack on her home, travels alone from Scotland to London through the worst snowstorm in memory, confronts a cruel king to plead for mercy, and finally attempts to execute a complex plot to spirit her husband out of the Tower and save his life.

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Chapter One

No Safe Place

Heath Hall, Scottish Lowlands, 1710

“…we shall do our utmost endeavor to
have the land purged of Popish idolatry…
particularly the abomination of the mass…
We shall never, consent, for any reason
whatsoever, that the Penal Statutes, made
against Papists should be annulled; but
shall, when opportunity offers, be ready
to concur in putting them to a due and
vigorous execution.”

The Auchensaugh Renovation of the National Covenant.
Reformed Presbytery, July 24, 1712.
I had gone to bed early and slept soundly until I was awakened by
a wild noise of cries and shouts almost under my windows. I rose
and peered out. As if one of my most troubled dreams had come to
life, at least one hundred men were gathered below, waving smoky
torches and brandishing pikes and hammers and other tools they
had probably seized from our smithy.
One night in London many years earlier, when I was a child
of nine, I had witnessed a raucous anti-Catholic parade made up
of London rowdies disguised as grotesque parodies of priests and
bishops and the pope. Ever since then, I have feared mobs at night,
faces distorted by flickering torchlight.
I looked down from my window upon this motley crowd of
bedraggled sowers and reapers, my senses assaulted by the sting of
smoke and the writhing fingers of flame. For a moment I swayed
and felt that I might fall. Gavin, my husband, was many leagues
away politicking in the back-street coffeehouses of Edinburgh. How
could I face this crowd without him?
But I could not fall. I am Bethan Carlisle Glentaggart, Countess
of Clarencefield, a Catholic amid the heathen Protestants, I thought,
and must show neither fear nor weakness. Unruly crowds of this
kind feed on the terror they engender in their betters. I repressed an
involuntary shiver and vowed to demonstrate that they were dealing
with a woman of spirit, in full command of her household, not a
mere drawing-room ornament. They would not smell my fear. My
heart banged violently in my chest, but I would smooth my features
as I had seen my mother do when our family was threatened.
The boldest of the leaders—a ragged bunch with tousled hair,
mismatched garments and broken-down shoes—hallooed up at me.
“Mistress, you are hiding a Romanish priest, a servant of Satan,
and we will have him! Bring him out or we will come in, as is our
right by law!”
Oh yes, of course, I thought but did not say, your “legal rights”
are meant to be exercised in the dark of night with a mob at your
back, against unprotected women and children.
My brain, still a little sodden with sleep, churned and brought
forth no response for a moment, but then clarity broke through.
“Hold there, sirrah. I will come down to you,” I cried.
I tossed an unlaced gown over my shift and wrapped a cloak
over the whole. Leaving my hair loose, I ran down the stairs, as the
storm of bangings and knockings on the front door grew louder and
more insistent. Despite the noise, I paused for an instant at the foot
of the stairs to run my hands over my face, trying to forcibly soften
lines of worry and subdue the pinch of anxiety around my eyes and
My companion Lucy had also risen. Shocked and pale-faced,
she came running to me barefooted. For once, she, also abruptly
jerked from sleep, had no advice to give. But I was beginning to feel
more confident that I could maintain at least the outward appearance
of a woman who was unruffled by scares in the night, even
though my legs were trembling.
“I have read this chapter before,” I told Lucy. “When I was
only seven, soldiers came to our home in Wales for this self-same
purpose, hunting an illegal priest. I believe I can manage these
vermin as my mother once did. None of these men are fit to kiss
the hem of Father Jerome’s shabbiest robe.”
Then Lucy and I looked at each other. She gasped. The fact
was we had been hosting Father Jerome, a secret missionary priest
from France, traveling disguised as an itinerant shepherd and sleeping
in the shielings or shepherd’s huts used during summer grazing.
Somehow the priests who came to Scotland knew where the
Catholics were and who would welcome them. Father Jerome,
diminutive and elderly—but sinewy and strong enough to climb
goat paths from glen to glen—once acknowledged to me that he
knew his ultimate fate would be exile, prison or perhaps death at
the hands of a mob.
“We all believe that at some point we will be caught, my lady,
and we are resigned,” he had said with his gentle smile. “When that
time comes, I will be grateful for my years spent comforting a scattered
and persecuted flock.” I had knelt and asked for his blessing.
The itinerant priests were the holiest men I ever knew.
Father Jerome was supposed to have left us at dusk, but neither
Lucy nor I had actually seen him go. He had a way of slipping away
into the dark without making a sound. But what if he had not yet
left and was still somewhere in the house? I had to hope he would
take heed of the commotion and make himself scarce.
I could hear the leader of the mob yelling, “We will not give
you time to hide him. Open this door or we will break it to…”
I managed to raise the iron latch and pulled open the heavy oak
door, just in time for him to screech the end of his sentence in my
face, “…splinters.”
The night was cold. It was close to Christmastide and, though
there was no snow, the wind was sharp. I gathered my cloak more
closely around me.
This spokesman was of medium height and spindly, his coat
torn and half off his shoulder. His long, greasy, gray-brown hair
crept back from his forehead as if it were running away from his
face, embarrassed by his actions. His linen was soiled, and his jacket
sleeves were too short for his knobby-boned wrists. Ah, but he
carried a Bible and proceeded to wave it in my face.
“And you are…,” I asked quietly.
He hesitated, thinking perhaps to hide his identity, which was
absurd. A shorter, even grimier man standing next to him—this
one wearing a shapeless hat jammed almost down to his eyebrows—
punched the leader’s arm.
“Minister Adam Goodnow,” the leader declared, and immediately
tried to seize the offensive again by brandishing the Bible
in my direction. “Bring us the priest and we will trouble you no
further tonight: ‘For your priests have violated My law and have
profaned My holy things; they have put no difference between the
unclean and the clean and I am profaned among them.’”
“Ezekiel 22:26,” he concluded with an air of satisfaction.
“There is no priest here,” I said, forcing a calm tone into my
voice that I did not feel. “We would bring no man into danger.”
“Your souls are in danger,” he spit at me, “if you follow the
Whore of Babylon and pursue the Antichrist into darkness…”
I pushed my palm out towards him, intent on holding it steady.
I had to find a way to keep a horde of wild men from rampaging
through my home. I remembered that, when the soldiers came to
Castle Banwy in Wales, when I was seven, my mother took control
by telling them they could search for a priest if they left their muddy
boots outside. Something about the foolishness of marching upstairs
and down in their dirty stockings full of holes took the edge
off their eagerness to find the priest. Perhaps I could keep most of
these men outside if I gave way just a little.
“It is late,” I said. “My babies are asleep. I desire you not to
wake them. Three of you—no more than three—may come in and
search the house…if you do it quietly and do not wake the children.”
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1. Why do you think the Jacobites chose September 1715 as the best time to launch their rebellion against the first German king of Britain, George I?

2. Why did Catholics in Britain have to hide any evidence that they were Catholics--for example, rosaries--even if everyone knew they were Catholics?

3. Do you think Bethan and Gavin had an unusually close marriage for the nobility at that time?

4. Why do you think Aelwen decides to help Bethan despite their 25-year estrangement?

5. What do you think was the most important element in Bethan's complicated plan to rescue her husband from the Tower of London?

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