In sixteenth century England, Catholic blood runs in the streets. Torture, humiliation and death are meted out to anybody who follows the old faith.
Yet they persist. Hidden, frightened, traumatised but determined. In private houses and chapels Mass is still said and the rosary prayed — but the threats of the rack and the gallows are never far away.
For three Catholic children born into this terror, their parents ruined and dead in its wake, there is a glimmer of hope. Thomas and his sister Ann are sent to live with Protestant Sir Harry Allingham on the windswept and isolated isle of Portland, off the Dorset coast. In time, another Catholic orphan, Peter, joins them. The intention is for the papists’ children to be redeemed, to be led from the old faith to the new order. But it does not work out like that.
As the children grow to adulthood, their lives are profoundly shaped by their original religion and its place in the world, but they are also driven by the harsh experiences of their youth. Ann, wilful and clever, is led by her intelligence and some pragmatism but retains her Catholic identity. Her brother, prompted by complex and competing impulses and, it seems, without much conscience, goes wherever the advantage is. Peter, who thinks he knows where his destiny lies, still has difficulty in following his path.
Life draws them apart but then — in a terrifying climax — brings them back together one last time…
The Bloody Question is a thrilling and at times very gritty read, a blend of compelling story and historical detail that brings the religious and social conflicts of the Elizabethan age vividly to life.