Patricia Bernstein

Winner of American Book Fest Fiction Award

American Fiction Award Winner 2023

I have just been notified that I have won first place in the American Book Fest in the category of Religious Fiction. My novel A Noble Cunning was also a finalist in the categories of Historical Fiction, Inspirational Fiction and Literary Fiction.

I am delighted and also somewhat surprised. My novel A Noble Cunning is based on the true story of a persecuted Catholic noblewoman, Winifred Maxwell, who, in 1716, rescued her husband from the Tower of London the night before his scheduled execution with the help of her women friends.

Skeptical Heroine

The novel is certainly “religious” in that it is about the oppression of Catholics for over 200 years in Great Britain.  But my fictional version of Winifred Maxwell, Bethan Glentaggart, though without question a Catholic, is something of a skeptic with regard to religion. She feels closest to her faith in her devotion to Mary because she believes Mary understands the sufferings of women.

A Noble Cunning is not preachy in any way with regard to religion, but more intended to inspire other women to dare and live boldly—and to praise the strength of sisterhood. No one in the early 18th century in England would have believed that it was remotely possible for a woman to outsmart all the warders at the Tower and spirit her husband away right under their noses. She would have been advised simply to purchase her black “widow’s weeds” and prepare to grieve.

Wretched Tower of London

Anna Maria Radclyffe did lose her 26-year old husband, James Radclyffe, Earl of Derentwater, to the executioner’s blade, the same day that Bethan’s husband would have been executed if he had remained in the Tower. Poor Anna Maria was actually allowed to live with her condemned husband in the Tower for some months before his death and probably conceived their youngest child Mary there. She later embroidered a linen sheet with human hair (possibly her and James’ hair twisted together) with these sad words:

“The sheet OFF my dear dear Lord’s Bed in the Wretched Tower of London February 1716. Ann C of Darwent=Waters+”

“Bethan,” (Winifred Maxwell) avoided all of this misery by accomplishing an amazing feat that had never been done before and was never done afterward! After a lifetime of being persecuted because she was a Catholic, she was absolutely determined that the government of Great Britain would not be allowed to murder her husband. And she had the intelligence and skill to find a way to save him.

American Book Fest full results.

American Fiction Award Finalist 2023
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Nonfiction titles available through Texas A & M University Press.