"Here lies Robert Peckham, Englishman and Catholic, who, after England's break with the Church, left England because he could not live in his country without the Faith and, having come to Rome, died there because he could not live apart from his country."
Reggie Balfour quoted the epitaph of Sir Robert Peckham, found in the Roman church of San Gregorio Magno, in a letter to his friend Maurice Baring in 1899. Thirty years later, it inspired Baring to base a biographical novel around Peckham, an English aristocrat driven into reluctant, self-imposed exile by the Elizabethan settlement.
Baring did his research thoroughly, and Peckham came from an interesting family. His father was treasurer under Henry VIII and all of his children - Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth. His quiet dedication and undoubted loyalty and competence helped him weather the political and religious changes that followed each change of monarch. Robert's brother Henry was less successful, being executed for treason under Mary. To further spice up his narrative, Baring introduces a love pentangle involving Henry, Robert, his wife, the woman he should have married, and the man who married her. As the book itself seems to confess, this involves "further details, which to my mind, even if they were necessary, added nothing to what had already been said."