posted on June 25, 2019 by Pamela Mingle


It was a dark and stormy night.

No, not really. It was full daylight, but so dreary it might as well have been night. Having just arrived in England, my husband and I boarded a train to Derby so I could visit Tutbury Castle. I was horribly sick with a sinus infection and hadn’t slept on the flight at all. As the train juddered, rattled, and picked up speed, someone’s suitcase came loose from the storage area, went airborne, and hit me in the head. It was the last straw, and I burst into tears.

It’s amazing that I got anything at all out of that Tutbury visit, yet seven years later it became the genesis of my new book, Game of Spies. The castle is situated on a hill in a bleak and isolated spot in Staffordshire. Mary Queen of Scots stayed there at various times during her years of imprisonment in England, and it’s said that she hated it because it was cold, damp, and depressing. Tutbury is mostly in ruins now, which is understandable since it was first occupied during the Stone Age. There’s a gatehouse (John of Gaunt’s Gate), an upper and lower bailey, and the remains of a curtain wall, chapel, and two massive towers. Mary and her ladies lodged in a separate residence, which no longer exists. You can see where it was situated, however.

Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire, England

Setting has often inspired me, and Tutbury was no exception. Although Mary isn’t the heroine of Game of Spies, she plays an important role in the story. She was a proud, aristocratic woman, accustomed to luxury, confined to this cold, forbidding place. As I strolled around, my imagination took flight. What if she was surrounded by egotistical and controlling people? What if her ladies-in-waiting were at each other’s’ throats all the time? What if Mary was so desperate, she would have done anything to escape? Finally, what might happen if a young, naive woman became part of her circle, and a bold and handsome man was sent there to spy on Mary? You can see the possibilities!

Isabel Tait and Gavin Cade meet at Tutbury. They fall in love there, in the poisonous atmosphere created by Mary’s ladies and the treasonous men bent on using her to overthrow Queen Elizabeth. The odds seem to be against any romance between them…but odds can be overcome.

Later in the story, Mary’s entire entourage moves to Sheffield Castle for Christmas. It no longer exists, even in ruins, so I had to rely on sparse accounts of it, as well as general descriptions of castles. It’s at Sheffield that a certain incident forces Isabel and Gavin to flee for their lives. They find refuge in Skipton Castle, which has been beautifully restored in its north Yorkshire location. My husband, conveniently on a walking trip in England, brought home photos and a booklet, very helpful in describing Isabel and Gavin’s brief stay—a stay that turns out to be devastating to their relationship.

In the end, they come full circle, ending up at the unwelcoming Tutbury, where Isabel will need to summon all her courage to survive and Gavin all his wits to help ensure that she does.

What castle have you visited or would like to visit? One person who comments will win a signed, print copy of GAME OF SPIES! Comment on or before 7/4 to be entered.


Pamela Mingle

Pamela Mingle

Pamela Mingle found her third career as a writer after many years as a teacher and reference librarian. Her love of historical romance was nurtured by Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and her novels have all been set either in the Elizabethan or Regency periods. Many long walks in England, Scotland, and Wales have given her a strong sense of place around which to build her stories. Game of Spies, her newest book, follows Mistress Spy, both part of the Spies in Love series.

16 thoughts on “THREE CASTLES”

  1. Mary McCoy says:

    Bunratty Castle in Ireland, Eilean Donan castle in Scotland and Dover Castle in England are my top picks, but there are so many I wish to see.!

    1. I’m not familiar with the castles you named, but I hope you get to see them one day!

  2. Pamela Denius Gillam says:

    Not many castles here in the United States unless you count the grand gilded age homes of the 19th C robber barons, Biltmore, for example. There are a few oddities like the Piatt castles here in Ohio. Go North to Toronto, ON you have Casa Loma, a full-fledged castle with towers!. I’d love to travel to Europe to see some Old World ruins and modern mansions! Someday. Thanks so much for describing Tilbury Ruins so that I could feel the charged atmosphere of the Elizabethan era.

    1. Hi Pamela–You’re right, we have few structures in the U.S. that would actually qualify as castles in the true sense of the word. I hope you’ll get to Europe one of these days!

  3. Judy Johnsen says:

    Sheffield Castle intrigues me. I live in California and have visited Hearst Castle many times. So much fun to see how the very wealthy lived and now understand that for about $1,000 a person you can actually swim in the outdoor pool for a couple of hours

    1. I guess the Hearst structure is called a castle, isn’t it? I’ve never been. Sheffield, unfortunately, no longer exists–not even ruins.

  4. Reyna Chambers says:

    Castles in general are not a topic I am familiar with but I do like history a lot and I hope to visit plenty castles in Britain. Mostly, I wish to see Glamis Castle! Although there probably isn’t a real connection to Macbeth, I still fancy the idea. Macbeth is definitely one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and it would be so fun to imagine a scene playing at Glamis Castle. Not to mention seeing the wood sculpture of the Weird Sisters!

    1. Pam Mingle says:

      I didn’t even know a real Gloms Castle existed! And how fun to see a statue of the Weird Sisters. I hope you get you wish.

  5. Tamara Hauser says:

    I would love to visit Blarney castle and tour Ireland.

    1. Pam Mingle says:

      I’ve been to Ireland a few times, but haven’t seen it. I hope someday you’ll get to go!

  6. Reyna Chambers says:

    I am a huge fan of Macbeth, so I would love to visit Glamis Castle in Scotland. Although there probably isn’t a real connection to the story, I know many people feel that there might be. Imagining a scene from Macbeth playing out there would be so fun! Also, I’d love to see the wooden sculpture of the Weird Sisters on the new Macbeth trail!

  7. Reyna Chambers says:

    Ahh! I’m very sorry for posting again! I thought my other comment got deleted! Pardon me.

  8. Chasity says:

    I would love to visit Edinburgh castle in Scotland and visit in Ireland and Wales!!

    1. Pam Mingle says:

      Chasity, I do hope you get to go. I loved Edinburgh Castle. I didn’t know this before we went, but the Scottish War Memorial is there. It was a very beautiful, sacred place.

  9. Maryanne F says:

    Ecinburgh Castle was amazing, especially the ancient psrts. And of course the Tower of London is one of my favorite plces in the whole world! On my visit this past December, I was thrilled to discover they’ve opened up so much more to the public! One of my favorite things was finding a room where Henry VII had raised the ceiling…and you could tell becausevthere was a distinct line of soot that ended where the old ceiling had been and cleaner stone above it.

Leave a Reply to Pamela Mingle Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest from our Blog

How Tabletop Gaming Can Help Your Writing

Based on my love of fantasy, my ability to quote many popular fandoms and my frequent trips to pop culture conventions, it would seem pretty likely that I’ve been playing tabletop games for a long time. Unfortunately, they weren’t sold to me the right way until many years later. As I understood them, you gathered… Read More

Read More