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The Sister Queens

The Sister Queens by Justin Scott

The Sister Queens, an historical thriller starring William Shakespeare snared in the rebellion against the Queen of England, will be published February 6, 2024.

London, 1600. Queen Elizabeth is old, and she refuses to plan for succession. Her enemies understand how a popular playwright’s voice can sway popular opinion. Spymaster Anthony Bacon seizes William Shakespeare and threatens Will’s family unless he writes a play on the poisonous history of Queen Elizabeth and her rival monarch she executed, the catholic Mary Queen of Scots. Will knows that Elizabeth's one-time favorite, the powerful Earl of Essex, will try to seize her throne. And he fears that his beloved England and the wise queen who has enforced peace between Protestants and Catholics are in peril. Must he be ensnared in a ruthless plot fated to tumble his country into civil war?  Or can he navigate a treacherous path through the dark warrens of London and the tortuous world of Elizabethan politics to save his family, his country, and his Queen.


Justin Scott’s The Sister Queens is costume drama, murder mystery, and history book all wrapped up in delicious twenty-first century prose that manages to evoke the rich, sensuous language of the Elizabethans. Reading it, I feel at once in the company not just of Shakespeare but also of a master storyteller from our own time

Leonard Barkan, author of Reading Shakespeare Reading Me

The play's the thing, wherein Justin Scott will catch your attention and hold onto it throughout this riveting historical thriller.  The Sister Queens finds Will Shakespeare enmeshed in the bloody intrigues of Elizabethan England and literally writing for his life.  Scott's mastery of the time and his characters, real and invented, will leave you as absorbed as the groundlings at the Globe, watching Hamlet for the first time.

Kevin Baker, author of Paradise Alley


Kirkus Reviews

The intrigue swirling around Queen Elizabeth I and her long-dead cousin Mary Queen of Scots envelops William Shakespeare, who’s pressed to write a play that’s guaranteed to make a bad situation worse.

Anthony Bacon, spymaster to the Earl of Essex, snatches Will from a London street to make him an offer he can’t refuse. Either Will writes The Sister Queens, a new play that barely fictionalizes the rivalry between Elizabeth and the kinswoman she had executed, or Bacon will call out Will’s mother, Mary Arden Shakespeare, who’s never renounced her Catholicism. The plot twist Bacon insists on is that Mary never plotted treason against the Queen; she was falsely accused on the basis of trumped-up evidence. The play, which Will can hardly decline to write, will surely bring the unnerving partisanship of 1600 England to a full boil. So even as he works on The Sister Queens, he makes every effort to identify the power behind Bacon who’s making this foolhardy demand. Is it the spymaster’s brother, Queen’s Counsel Extraordinary Francis Bacon, or Essex himself, or possibly even Will’s patron, the Earl of Southampton? Will is haunted at every turn by the spirit of Father Valente, an unrepentant Jesuit friend who’s been hanged at Tyburn prison. Now if only Father Val could tell him the identity of the prime mover of this dastardly plot, or even what corner of Will’s world was likely to produce the next threat to his life and his peace of mind. Veteran Scott crams in enough historical detail for a miniseries before identifying a mastermind who’s likely to leave readers as shocked as Will is.

Highly recommended for readers disgusted with contemporary politics. Yes, things have been worse.

Booklist Reviews

Meticulously researched . . . Scott is well known for writing popular historical thrillers, and his latest doesn’t disappoint.




a Company of Players in London’s Globe Theatre

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE – Popular playmaker of royal histories and comedies, poet, stage-player, and shareholder of the company.

RICHARD BURBAGE – London’s most loved actor and double shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. ‘A tragedian of great name’.

JIM MAPES – Former coxswain to Sir Walter Raleigh and the company’s new stage-keeper.

STEFANO FOGLIAVERDE – Italian fencing master, engaged by Dick Burbage to teach the players to stage fight with the modern rapier.

WILL KEMPE – Famous clown and jig dancer, contentious share­holder, player of Shakespeare’s characters Bottom, Dogberry, and Sir John Falstaff.

HARRY CONDELL and JOHN HEMINGES – Player-shareholders.

EDMUND – The book-holder.

MARC HANDLER – Will Shakespeare’s player apprentice, an orphan.

ROBBIE BURBAGE – Player apprentice to his father, Richard Burbage.



QUEEN ELIZABETH – Elderly ‘Virgin Queen,’ who refuses to name her successor, iron-willed ruler for forty-two years, defender of Protestant England against Europe’s Catholic empires and the Roman Pope, bulwark at home against Protestant–Catholic civil war.

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS – Beheaded in the Tower of London thirteen years ago. Queen of Scotland since an infant, Queen of France by marriage, cousin of Queen Elizabeth through her grandmother Margaret Tudor. Cherished in memory by England’s ostracized Catholics.

JAMES VI – King of Scotland, Queen Mary’s son, who converted to Protestantism and who Catholics hope and Protestants fear will convert back if he inherits or captures Elizabeth’s throne.



LORD ESSEX – Famous young hero, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, groomed by the Queen to serve England, Master of the Horse, Privy Counsellor, victor at Cadiz, general of an English Army that failed to subdue Irish rebels. Returns to London out of Her Majesty’s favor, but still loved by the people.

LORD SOUTHAMPTON – Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, Essex acolyte, Will Shakespeare’s patron.

THE COUNTESS OF SOUTHAMPTON – Mary Wriothesley, mother of the earl. Newly entitled, upon his marriage, the Dowager Countess.



SIR ROBERT CECIL – Secretary of State (traditionally titled Queen’s Clerk), Elizabeth’s advisor, confidant, master of her spies, and enemy of Lord Essex. Cecil’s father was Lord High Treasurer William Cecil, the Queen’s principal secretary for much of her reign, founder of Her Majesty’s spy service.

FRANCIS BACON – Queen’s Counsel Extraordinary, lawyer, scientist, scholar, and brother of Essex’s spy master, Anthony Bacon.

SIR RICHARD TOPCLIFFE – Priest hunter, Tower of London interrogator, known to ‘scrape’ the Catholic conscience on the torture rack.

SIR WALTER RALEIGH – Spanish Armada hero, sea explorer, courtier, projector of New World expeditions, and a poet, once an Essex rival for the Queen’s goodwill, now in the earl’s retinue.

SIR FERDINANDO GORGES – The Queen’s commander of Plymouth, Raleigh’s cousin, powerful courtier, dubbed a knight by Essex.

WALT GRINNER – Warder at the Clink prison; former headsman.

THE HANGMAN – Executioner at the Tyburn Tree.

ANTHONIE KINGSTON and CYRUS CAREW – Armed gentlemen, Sir Robert Cecil’s personal guard.

LADY ANN BACON – Lively translator from the Latin of the Apology in Defense of the Church of England, commissioned to persuade Catholics to conform to Queen Elizabeth’s new English Church. Anthony and Francis Bacon’s mother.



ANTHONY BACON – The Earl of Essex’s master of a vast net of English and European spies, intelligencers, conspirators, and beagles.

ARTHUR GREGORY – Skilled seal-cracker.

NILES ROPER – Landlord of the Queen’s Hart Tavern, veteran, reluctant interceptor of conspirators’ letters.

LYLE LEET – Secret messenger.

PETER and JOHN – Thames wherry men.




FRANCES MOWERY – The dowager countess’s lady-in-waiting and gatekeeper.

NED – Buttery door halberd man.

STEVEN – Butler, lover of Will’s plays.

NELL and SUSAN – Girls at the back door.


RETAINERS – Tutors, painters, clergymen, music teachers, and poets.




MARY ARDEN SHAKESPEARE – Will’s mother, beloved youngest daughter of an illiterate farmer who persuaded a distant cousin of gentle birth to teach her to read and write.

JOHN SHAKESPEARE – Will’s father, glover, public servant, ‘new man’ of business.

ANNE HATHAWAY – Will’s wife who manages the family and the household during his long absences.

HAMNET – Will and Anne’s only son, who died four years ago, age eleven.

JUDITH and SUSANNA – Their daughters.



BEN JONSON – Player for hire, bellicose army veteran, playmaker and poet, jailed for duels, brawls, and seditious writing.

FATHER VALENTE – Outlawed Jesuit priest.

MRS BROAD – Landlady of Ben’s writing garret, stalwart in a pinch.

ISOBEL – Child laundry maid befriended and converted to the Catholic faith fifteen years ago by imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots.

GILES the Swabber and JAKE, BOATSWAIN, GUNNER, GUNNER’S MATE, and the MASTER – Mariners in the ship Eliza.