Book Cover: The Death of Procris by Paolo Veronese

Bright and musically gifted, Juan Hidalgo grows up in the Madrid of the early sixteen-hundreds. Employed as a harpist in the court of King Philip IV, he is soon writing his own music and sharing in the life of the court. The King confounds his expectations by being a charming and helpful man, and a fellow musician. When Juan makes a happy marriage both his family life and career seem to be falling into place. His wife rewards him with a son.

The King is amazed when he witnesses Juan’s escape from death while saving another. Soon to be engaged by the Inquisition, Juan agrees, in a crucial test of loyalty, to act as a clandestine agent for his king. Yet new risks await him in Rome where he has to succeed or Spain will collapse into bankruptcy.

In Italy, new ambitions form. On the verge of achieving them, his family life is blighted by a cruel fate. How will he deal with death and insanity? At once tragic and uplifting, Gordon Thomas has penned a rich portrait of art and society when Spain is in upheaval. He lets an intimate member tell of his life and loves.

Extract from the book:

No one dared to do it before, not in front of the King. But you never knew with Marfisa. The performance was rolling along sweetly. That is, until the scene in which Arethusa bathes in a river. Acting the part, Marfisa appeared on stage in a loose petticoat, carrying her bow and with her quiver slung across her shoulder. She placed her bow and arrows to one side and sat on the floor, as if to descend into the river. She moved her arms pretending to wash herself. Then Alpheus appeared. She rose from the floor and faced the audience. ‘You have seen me bathing!’ she shouted. As Alpheus stopped to reply, she eased her petticoat off her shoulders and let it drop delicately to the floor.
To the amazement of everyone, Marfisa stood totally naked. A shocked gasp filled the theatre: nakedness on stage is a criminal offence. Then the audience became a cacophony of loud and rapid talking…

Download the 1st chapter of the Harpist of Madrid (PDF)

“ The novel lingers in the mind long after the last chapter is devoured ”
Angela McGarry

Characters in the book

Many of the characters in the Harpist of Madrid are based on real people who lived in the 17th Century. Here are the background details of these people and the roles they play in the book.

Juan Hidalgo

Juan Hidalgo, the famous Spanish composer, harpist and inventor is the lead character in the novel. The king engages him to play in his court. But this is just the beginning…read more>


King Philip IV

Juan proves himself to Philip IV, the king who invites him to become a ‘special agent’, in effect a spy. Because Juan is only a harpist in the king’s court and not one of the nobility, the king feels he can speak in intimate terms to Juan. What does the king reveal that so drastically surprises Juan? What does Juan do with this newly found knowledge?


Diego Velázquez

the famous painter is a friend and colleague of Juan who is stunned to discover that Velázquez is also a spy for the king. The plan for the mission to Rome is based on information Velázquez provides, after his second visit there. Does the mission succeed? What is the price?…read more>


Don Mateo Romero

the king’s master huntsman. At first awkward and unhelpful but soon cooperative, Don Mateo arranges lessons in boar hunting for a nervous Juan who must become competent before he can join the king’s hunt. Surprises are in store, not least for Don Mateo.


Francisca Paula de Abaunza

By chance, Juan meets this beautiful, if enigmatic woman while Velázquez is painting her portrait. Juan is overwhelmed by her. Who is this ‘ordinary woman’ whom Diego invites to his studio? Is she already committed to another? Juan must investigate.

‘A beautifully realised historical novel’
R. Vernon

Book Details

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  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Olympia Publishers (30 Nov. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848971540
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848971547
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm

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A wonderful historical novel. The characters spring to life.
writer, Arleen Alleman