The Phantom Tree
“My name is Mary Seymour and I am the daughter of one queen and the niece of another.”
Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait – supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better… The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.
The painting is more than just a beautiful object for Alison – it holds the key to a past life, the unlocking of the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.
But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows…
“Filled with romance, drama, mystery and intrigue.”
— Historical Novel Society
Alison Banastre and I were cousins of a kind. We were both orphans. There the bond between us began and ended: Alison, my enemy.
We made a bargain, she and I. She helped me to escape; I helped her to find her son. It is entirely possible to bargain with an enemy if there is something that you both want and so it proved. Thus we were bound together through time.
We met at Wolf Hall. I came there in the summer of fifteen hundred and fifty seven, in the fourth year of the reign of Mary the Queen. I was a Mary too, cousin of the late king, Edward, daughter to one dead queen and niece to another, with a famous name and not a penny to pay my way. I was ten years old and I already had a reputation for witchcraft.
“The child is possessed, your grace,” the cook at Grimsthorpe told the Duchess of Suffolk when, at the age of five, I was found sitting under a table in the kitchens holding a posset that had curdled. “That cream was as fresh as a daisy only a moment ago.”
“Mary broke my spinning top!” One of my Seymour cousins wailed one day when the wooden toy was found to have split neatly into two halves like a cut pear. “She put a spell on it!”
That was the first time that realised I possessed the magic. He had been tormenting me and I had hated him; the anger had boiled over within me and I had wanted nothing more than to teach him a lesson.
I did not want such power though. I wanted no more than to be ordinary, accepted. My mother, many years before, had been within inches of arrest for heresy. Witchcraft was but one strand of such blasphemy and dissent and the thought of following her fate terrified me. Yet I could not escape. It came with me to Savernake, the whisper of witchcraft, wrapped like a cloak about me for I was different, other, an outsider, whether I wished it or not.
My name is Mary Seymour. I was born at Sudeley Castle but have no recollection of my nursery there, hung with red and gold, for almost as soon as I came into the world my mother left it. I’m told that my father had never anticipated that she might die in childbirth, which is odd since it is a common danger, particularly for a woman such as my mother Katherine Parr who was past the age when it was wise to have a first child or indeed perhaps a child at all. But she was giddy for love of him and he was giddy for love of himself so I imagine they gave little thought to the consequences of their infatuation.
I was born. My mother died. My father professed himself to be so stunned by grief that he could not think straight. However he knew enough to realise he did not want the burden of a baby daughter so he took me to London and abandoned me in the nursery of my aunt and godfather, the Duke and Duchess of Somerset, where I might have cousins with whom to grow up. It was a good plan, if a self-interested one, and it might well have turned out quite differently had it not been for his overweening ambition, which toppled over into treason.
My earliest memory was of being unwanted.
“What is to become of the Lady Mary?” My governess, Mistress Aglionby was the only one who, in the chaotic aftermath of my father’s arrest for treason, pressed for my family to continue to care for me. I can still hear the wail of her voice rising above the sound of my belongings being packed away into boxes. I had no real sense of what was happening. I remember tipping my set of skittles out of the box again, spilling them all over the floor and tripping the nursemaid up as she ran about trying to fold my clothes into a bag that was too small. She was red of face and flustered, and looked near to tears.
“Lady Mary cannot stay here.” It was my aunt, the duchess, who spoke. She had no warmth in her, least of all towards me.
“I agree it would be difficult to explain to her in the future that her godfather signed her father’s death warrant.” Dearest Liz Aglionby. She could be tart when she chose. She had been one of my mother’s maids before she became my governess. Her family were ambitious for preferment at court but that did not prevent her from defending me like a lioness.
“That was not my point.” The duchess’s tone had chilled still further. “Let her mother’s kin take her in.”
“The Parrs do not want her.”
No one wants her.
My skittles had been a present from my father. They were carved into the shape of men, painted to look like sailors. I took one in my fist and neatly struck off the head of another with it. Or so I am told. In truth I probably remember nothing of this, being too young, although it feels as though the memory is real.
“Lord Seymour suggested her grace of Suffolk…” Mistress Aglionby sounded hesitant now and my aunt gave a brusque bark of laughter.
“Why would he do that? I thought he liked her?” Her voice changed. Malice rang clear as a bell. “Mayhap the rumours are true and she did refuse him and this is his revenge.”
“Her grace was a close friend of the late Queen.”
“Which does not mean she would wish to be saddled with her penniless child.”
Yet to the Duchess of Suffolk I was sent, like an unwelcome gift, trailing my retinue of nursemaids, rockers, laundresses and servants.
End of Excerpt
The Phantom Tree
“Filled with romance, drama, mystery and intrigue.”
“A brilliant time-slip novel with a great twist in the tail!”
“The Phantom Tree is a novel for fans of mystery, drama and romance. Perfect for readers of Philippa Gregory and Barbara Erskine.”
“'The Phantom Tree' is a well-written, intriguing and convincing historical fiction novel, and definitely one I can recommend to anyone looking for their next read!”
“This book is like a historical package wrapped up in a Tudor bow with a jewel of a plot inside, intrigue spilling out of the sides and….well you get the idea!”
“I love a good time slip book and this is one of the best.”
“The Phantom Tree is a captivating historical time slip mystery romance that was utterly spellbinding, mystifying, tragic but equally beautiful. I didn’t want the story to end.”
“Nicola Cornick has combined her research with a cracking mystery. An historical novel with a difference.”
“The Phantom Tree is a skillfully written multi-stranded mystery with thoughtful reflections on two women’s quests for belonging. Read it not only for its evocation of the 16th century but for greater appreciation of the conveniences and freedoms we take for granted today.”
“The time travel aspect of the story is so credible I forgot I was reading a timeslip. I forgot everything when I was reading this book! In a nutshell, The Phantom Tree is cleverly constructed and brilliantly written.”
“Nicola Cornick has written an imaginative and unpredictable tale, with twists and turns and surprises aplenty, well-crafted with memorable characters. This is a book that I'll remember for a long time. Very enjoyable!”
“This is a unique book, heart-breaking but poignant in equal measure. It will have you hooked to each page.”
“I read this book in two sittings and I think I have just discovered a new favourite author. I loved how it all came together in the end even if it did make me cry too, a brilliant book!”
“A fascinating read, full of twists and turns. The two different periods are weaved together effortlessly to make an absolutely gripping read. I loved it!”
“This epic tale of fantasy and history is interwoven in such a way that will keep you ensnared from beginning to end. THE PHANTOM TREE by Nicola Cornick is a truly remarkable read!”
“I found this to be a fascinating read, full of twists and turns. The two different periods are weaved together effortlessly to make an absolutely gripping read. I loved it”
“Nicola Cornick creates a mesmerizing world populated by the lost children of Wolf Hall”
“There is much to enjoy in a sumptuous novel that slips between present day and 1557”
“Well written, gripping to the last and eagerly awaited by Cornick fans”