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Autumn, 1541. Following the uncovering of a plot against his throne in Yorkshire, King Henry VIII has set out on a spectacular Progress to the North to overawe his rebellious subjects there. Accompanied by a thousand soldiers, the cream of the nobility, and his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, the king is to attend an extravagant submission of the local gentry at York.
Already in the city are lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant, Jack Barak. As well as assisting with the legal work of processing petitions to the king, Shardlake has reluctantly undertaken a special mission: to ensure the welfare of an important but dangerous conspirator being returned to London for interrogation.
But the murder of a local glazier involves Shardlake in deeper mysteries, connected not only to the prisoner in York Castle but to the royal family itself. As the king and the Great Progress arrive in the city, Barak stumbles upon a terrifying secret, and a chain of events unfolds that will lead Shardlake to the most terrifying fate a subject of Henry VIII can fear: his own imprisonment in the Tower of London.