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The Final Sacrament by James Forrester
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The Final Sacrament

by James Forrester

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My Thoughts

The Final Sacrament is the third and final installment in James Forrester's William Clarenceux trilogy, following Sacred Treason and The Roots of Betrayal (check out my review for the second novel here).

Like the first two novels in the trilogy, The Final Sacrament centres around a secret marriage agreement that would render Elizabeth I illegitimate. After agreeing to take possession of the document, Clarenceux spends much of the first two novels evading capture by enemies of the state who want to knock Queen Elizabeth off England's throne and replace her with a Catholic monarch. In The Final Sacrament, however, Clarenceux's enemies strike at him right where it will hurt the most -- his family. Does Clarenceux continue to keep the document from his enemies and help prevent a civil war? Or does he sacrifice England's security to ensure the safety of the people he loves most?

While The Final Sacrament isn't as action packed as Sacred Treason or The Roots of Betrayal, I think this novel is the strongest and best of the three. Clarenceux is faced with some difficult, heart-wrenching decisions in this book, and Forrester does an excellent job of conveying and communicating Clarenceux's thought process as he seeks to determine an appropriate course of action. Clarenceux's love for his family is clearly evident, but so too is his earnest desire to keep the secret document from getting into the wrong hands.

Clarenceux's faith plays a large role in this novel. Although Catholic, Clarenceux holds an important position within Elizabeth I's court, and is a close friend of Secretary Sir William Cecil. Determined to maintain his faith even though England continues to become increasingly Protestant, Clarenceux is able to reconcile his faith with his support for the monarch, showing that being Catholic doesn't automatically make one an enemy to Elizabeth I. Ultimately, it is his faith that helps Clarenceux determine a correct course of action in relation to the secret document.

While they appear only as secondary characters in the novel, I enjoyed the interactions between Sir William Cecil and Francis Walsingham. I especially liked Forrester's characterization of Walsingham, and would love to see him write a novel focusing on Elizabeth's spymaster.

As a historian, Forrester (pen name for Ian Mortimer) is able to infuse his novel with a strong sense of time and place. Through Clarenceux and his family, Forrester is able to provide readers with a glimpse into daily life in Elizabethan England. Even though the narrative of this novel is fictitious, through Cecil, Walsingham, and their enemies, Forrester is able to showcase certain threats faced by Elizabeth during her reign.

Even though Forrester provides enough background from previous novels to ensure The Final Sacrament can be read as a standalone, I recommend starting this series from the beginning.


Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
( )
  Melissa_J | Jan 16, 2016 |
The Final Sacrament is the concluding volume in the Clarenceux Trilogy. All three books have been engaging and thought provoking. All are built upon the premise that a copy of a marriage certificate exists for Anne Boleyn and Henry Percy and its revelation would prove Elizabeth I illegitimate and put a Catholic monarch on the throne of England. The keeping of this document has fallen to William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms - a lifelong Catholic, but a man loyal to the throne. Not that William Cecil completely believes that.

William's house is being watched day and night by Walsingham for Cecil and by a group of murderous woman for Lady Percy who is going mad with her desire for revenge against Anne Boleyn. She wants that certificate and will stop at nothing to get it. What she does not count on is William Harley.

This book, like the first two takes some serious liberties with history but the story is so good you really don't care. It's more of a character study than it is a retelling of late Tudor times. There is much to be considered on the nature of religion, loyalty, life, love and betrayal and how to live a life worth living. Mr. Forrester does an excellent job with creating mood and taking you into the minds of the characters - both those that existed and those he created. You are left thinking about what you would have done in similar situations. It was a very difficult book to put down and I must admit to a couple of very late nights reading. I'm very sorry to see the end of this particular journey into the reign of Elizabeth I. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Oct 24, 2013 |
...a stunning conclusion to a saga of loyalty, faith and endurance!

The concluding chapter to this Tudor conspiracy saga was excellent. Like some massive Chaucerian pilgrimage the relentlessness momentum surrounding the lives, loves and tragedies of those involved rolls on inexorably.
It seems like every page has a line, a gem, that you want to ponder before moving on. However the story line is so intense that all I could do was note them so that I can return and meditate.
What is the final sacrament? The idea is heavy with meaning and symbolism.
William Harvey(Clarenceux) comes to know and understand. We the reader come to know and understand somewhat. The final sacrament can allude to many things, but in his fight for loyalty and truth even unto death Harvey the man, not just the Herald, embodies the idea.
As he says, 'Loyalty has been the driving force of my life and betrayal my greatest fear...'
The biblical Job comparison to Clarenceux at the start is a telling comment on all Harvey has faced and will face.
The crux of the three novels is the supposed marriage document of Anne Boleyn to Lord Percy. A document that might illegitimatize Elizabeth and place the Scottish child prince, Charles James Stewart, on the throne. At this time, for a Protestant England especially, the fear of more civil unrest, deaths and persecution, and a possibility of a return to the times of bloody Mary Tudor is a real danger.
Elizabeth learns the truth about the document and the gift of legitimacy her mother, Anne Boleyn had her in reconciling herself with King Henry before going to her death. Again a reference to the idea of 'final sacrament.'
I found Walsingham's later talks to Lord Cecil about Elizabeth insightful, 'She must...do all she can to stay alive--and that means not marrying, not becoming pregnant, not being seen to be womanly or weak, but playing the part of God's angel in England.' Another sort of final sacrament?
The events that leads to this series' culmination, this third act, pares back like an onion being peeled away precisely and carefully, layer upon layer, with a stringency that leaves you helpless in the onslaught of dissection, even as you are brought to tears.
Always the 'Document', the sword of Damocles, hanging across our characters lives.
Walsingham wants the document to keep the throne and England secure. As does Cecil.
The bitter harbinger of vengeance, Lady Percy has commanded an army of assassins to destroy those near to Harvey, paving the way for her to secure the documents and throw the English throne into turmoil, returning Catholicism to it's former place. Towards the end, a third player, strategically hidden, is also revealed.
What Harvey wants and is trying to prevent is an England free from the threat of revolution and unrest, and safety for his family, the touchstone of his life and joy.
What I find telling is that in this novel that I am thinking about him and referring to him more and more as William Harvey, the man, the husband, the father, not Clarenceux the Herald of Arms.
Harvey's reflections throughout are wonderful.
When he muses on a quote from Aristotle about memory he reasons,
'Memory is imagination...If that is so...then all recorded memory is merely fable. And the document I guard...is also nothing more than fable. The illegitimacy of the Queen becomes untrue. But the truth is the truth, and always will be; so the truth of the past is changeable even if God alone knows it.'
'In all our struggles the last word is hope...in the final struggle the last word is love.'
If you like Tudor era historical suspense this series is a must!

A NetGalley ARC ( )
  eyes.2c | Oct 22, 2013 |
Catholic Herald William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms has a document that could destroy the monarchy. The Lady Percy, the Countess of Northumberland, is desperate to further the Catholic cause and will do anything to obtain that document. An adventurous courtier by the name of John Greystoke is all of a sudden very concerned for Clarenceux's safety and Francis Walsingham, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, has his spies watching the Herald day and night. But when blood is shed and Clarenceux's wife and daughter are abducted and with no help from Sir William Cecil the Queen's Secretary, he knows that he has to destroy the document somehow even if it cost him his life.

Treachery, treasonable motives, an abducted wife and daughter, dissoluted abbeys and priest holes – add up to a wonderful mix for a thriller that really hits the spot

James Forrester’s descriptions of the sights, smells and dangers of Tudor England make the reader realise just what a dangerous time it was - religion and monarchy both wanting power and even the Royal Courtiers, Sir William Cecil and Francis Walsingham, are not above weaving their own skulduggery to 'protect the Queen'.

The mixture of fiction and fact is skilfully done, and I certainly am looking forward to more. Apparently this is the third in a trilogy – and I’m off to order books 1 & 2. ( )
  Jawin | Sep 23, 2012 |
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December 1566. William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, lives with his family in London, with a document in his possession that could destroy the state. The aged Lady Percy, Countess of Northumberland, has not given up trying to find it. Nor has she forgotten how he betrayed her and the Catholic cause.… (more)

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