Mastodon The Writing Desk: Book Review: Carol McGrath’s The Woman in The Shadows: Tudor England through the eyes of an influential woman

11 July 2017

Book Review: Carol McGrath’s The Woman in The Shadows: Tudor England through the eyes of an influential woman


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband.

I recall being intrigued by the character of Elizabeth Cromwell after reading Wolf Hall, particularly after David Starkey’s assertion that the notion of Thomas Cromwell as a loving family man is total fiction.

This book tels the story  from Elizabeth’s point of view. Written in the first person, this touching and evocative account makes impressive use of the few known facts of Elizabeth’s life.

We are transported to a dangerous and dirty Tudor London, where you need to look over your shoulder and watch for cutpurses. I loved the details of daily life, of the Tudor attitudes to birth, marriage and death - and feel I understand what life was like as a medieval cloth merchant.

In an inspired break from the conventional timeline, we dip into the past for entire chapters. It reminded me of watching a skilled portrait artist at work, with increasing detail over broader brushwork until the result is three dimensional.

I cared about Elizabeth Cromwell. I worried about the way women were treated. I cheered at Elizabeth’s achievements and groaned at her mistakes. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Based in England, Carol McGrath writes Historical Fiction. She studied History at Queens University Belfast, has an MA in Creative Writing from the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast and an English MPhil from Royal Holloway, University of London. The Handfasted Wife is her debut novel, first in a trilogy titled The Daughters of Hastings. The second and third novels The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister have followed and are now available on Amazon and in bookshops. Carol is an historian specialising in the medieval era. Her first love, however, is writing. She is an avid reader and reviewer. Find out more at Carol's author website and find her on Twitter @carolmcgrath.


  1. Thank you Tony. I am so pleased that you enjoyed the structure. I think it works well for this book. It is meant to be a portrait with a bit of tension and a story.

    1. Well done Carol I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next in your Tudor series!

  2. Carol - congratulations on your novel. Love the cover.


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