The Unprofitable Servant [ISBN-10 : 1838210377 and ISBN-13 : 978-1838210373] – is set in Bristol and its environs during the reign of Mary Tudor. The basic theme of the story is that a little knowledge can be an extremely dangerous thing, particularly in the wrong hands.
Thanks to a great deal of media interest in the Tudors over the last few years everyone thinks that they know what happened during the reign of “Bloody” Mary. Protestants were hunted down like dogs and burnt at the stake during a reign of terror which lasted five years.
The story is much more interesting than that, however. Real people were in the grip of genuine concerns for their lives, their souls, their salvation, and over imaginings of what would happen to them in the afterlife. Some were so concerned that they took matters into their own hands, following false preachers, blind to anything else.
Balancing these concerns was an ingrained need to obey their social and cultural superiors, copying them and, in their most private spaces mocking them. It was in those places were these imperatives crossed where some of the best stories emerge.
The Unprofitable Servant (a novel based on real events) is set at the very start of the so-called “burning times” – when events in far off London were no more than horrific rumours. The former (and very first) bishop of the diocese of Bristol, Lord Paul Bushe, is recalled into the service of his church by the second and much less experienced bishop who fears the repercussions for the city and region if rumours of an emerging sectarian problem in the Kingswood Forest are true. Bushe reluctantly agrees to investigate, juggling official duties and personal objectives as he gets pulled back into a world and a life with which he thought himself finished. As the reputed leaders of this sect are known to him personally, does he really have a choice?
Along the way, Bushe reminisces about his times as a bishop (serving one of England’s most important cities), and his time as a servant of the great Henry VIII and the boy Edward VI, as an agent of Thomas Cromwell, recalling the princess he once knew and the queen she has now become.
The main protagonist is a woman, a potential new Anne Askew named Margaret Burgess. She is serious about her faith but unaware of the impact she is having on her husband John, his work, and their livelihood, as well as of the little prophecy group they host in the wool yards and dying houses of their little corner of England. Bushe must find them, confront them, and save their souls before their antics bring down a rain of a royal hellfire which will burn everything in its path.