The Wise Woman

Part of Other Historical Novels



This is a haunting story of a woman’s desire in a time of turbulence. Alys joins the nunnery to escape hardship and poverty but finds herself thrown back into the outside world when Henry VIII’s wreckers destroy her sanctuary.

With nothing to support her but her looks, her magic and her own instinctive cunning, Alys has to tread a perilous path between the faith of her childhood and her own female power. When she falls in love with Hugo, the feudal lord and another woman’s husband, she dips into witchcraft to defeat her rival and to win her lover, but finds – as her cynical old foster-mother had advised – that magic makes a poor servant but a dominant master.

Since heresy against the new church means the stake, and witchcraft the rope, Alys’s danger is mortal. A woman’s powers are no longer safe to use!

Behind the book

Released in 1992

A book in which I released some of my thoughts and fears about magic and superstition, this remains a powerful book for me. It was set in County Durham and Morach's cottage was my home for three years. I frightened myself in the writing of it so much that I could only write during daylight hours. But I think it is more than a scary book – I think it is also a consideration of how a woman is to be, and who should be her mentors.

Book opens in 1535

Henry VIII has reformed the Church of England, breaking away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Keen to reinforce his position as the new head of the Church and to take advantage of the wealth of the Catholic Church, Henry began the Dissolution – the raiding and wrecking of all of the Catholic convents and monasteries in England. In this time of religious tensions and instability, belief in witchcraft and the supernatural began to spread throughout the country, causing increasing concern. As a result, King Henry decides to introduce an Act of Parliament making witchcraft punishable by death – and making England a much more dangerous place for a young woman without wealth or family.



Publishers Weekly

"intense, absorbing ... Gregory adeptly manipulates hair-raising horror and mounting suspense, brilliantly evoking the period's turbulent atmosphere."

Full Review


"Scary and shocking"


"So riveting you can't put it down. A page-turner with titillating twists that make for a hair-raising climax."

Andrea Newman, Sunday Express

"Compulsively readable."

Sunday Times

"Gregory’s principal feat in this elaborate novel is the irrefutable artistry with which she lends her prose a constant sense of history … Success results from the tense, almost shocking contrast between serious issues – religious doctrine, political integrity, social dynamics – and flights of erotic fancy."