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Why I Pulled My Tudor Historical Novel from Publication by Lissa Bryan

Posted By on January 17, 2018

As more historical research is done, historical characters are being rehabilitated and long-believed myths are being challenged and even banished, which is a wonderful thing. However, sometimes, the rehabilitation of one person can lead to another suffering, as has been the case with Anne Boleyn and Jane Boleyn. But things are changing. We had the publication of Julia Foxe’s biography of Jane Boleyn, the George Boleyn biography Clare Cherry and I published and more recently we’ve had the wonderful novel The Raven’s Widow by Adrienne Dillard, all sympathetic to Jane – hurrah!

A few weeks ago, I noticed on social media that Lissa Bryan was withdrawing her Anne Boleyn novel Under These Restless Skies from the market and when I read why I not only wanted to applaud her, I wanted her to share her story with others. So, Lissa has written this article for us. Over to Lissa…

It was a tough decision, but one my conscience wouldn’t let me avoid. I’d wronged someone. It didn’t matter that she’d been dead for five hundred years. Nor did it matter that I was one of a long line of writers to vilify her.
I had to rectify this. I had to make it right.

Back in 2013, I published Under These Restless Skies, a novel about the reign of Anne Boleyn and her downfall. I wanted to sweep away the cobwebs of myth that had obscured Anne’s story; instead I ended up adding to them. I was so concerned with getting Anne’s story right – portraying her fairly and accurately according to the extant records – that I ended up treating another historical person with the same cruel slanders Anne’s memory had endured.

I spent over a year working on the novel, mostly because I’m the pedantic sort. If I was writing a dinner scene, I wanted to make sure every food on the table was something commonly served. Originally, it had sixty pages of notes at the end, mentioning every place I’d made slight deviations from the historical record. My publisher asked my editor to approach me for a gentle chat, and I reluctantly pared it down to a few pages of what I thought were the most important notes.

In one of those notes, I mentioned that the way I’d portrayed Jane Parker, Lady Rochford, as the scheming, vindictive person who’d caused Anne’s downfall had started to fall out of favour. But that was putting it mildly.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned more about Jane, and I saw that I had maligned an innocent woman, attributing a malice to her that the historical record doesn’t show. I’d made her the architect of Anne’s demise and that’s just not true.

The more I learned, the more what I’d done weighed on me. I was able to update my Tudor history blog with more accurate information as it came my way, but not the book. I stopped promoting it. I didn’t want to do interviews about it any longer.

I made a promise to myself that I’d someday make this right. I didn’t know how I’d possibly do this, because my publisher held the rights for it for many years to come, but I promised I’d fix it.

To my shock, my publisher announced it was closing. The rights to my books reverted to me in October. I could now make good on my vow.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. The simplest choice would simply be not to republish it at all, but let it drop into quiet obscurity. But I knew I had to do it. Re-writing the book would be a challenge, but hey, we writers thrive on those sorts of challenges. I offered to replace any paperbacks people wanted to mail to me; that’s going to be expensive, but I think it’s the right thing to do.

I don’t know how long it will take, because I’ve never done anything like this, but the book will be back and it will portray Jane Parker as she was according to the historical record.

Thank you, Lissa, I think it’s a wonderful thing you’re doing. Do please keep us updated!

26 thoughts on “Why I Pulled My Tudor Historical Novel from Publication by Lissa Bryan”

  1. Conor Byrne says:

    Jane Rochford is such a fascinating historical character because we know so little about her. Like Richard III and Anne Boleyn, she is an enigma and has been represented both positively and negatively in films, literature and television. The historical evidence indicates that she was well born, attractive, and suggests that she enjoyed a good relationship with Anne Boleyn. Julia Fox argues that Anne may even have preferred Jane’s company to that of her sister Mary Boleyn. We will never know the truth of Jane’s relationship with her husband George Boleyn, but she interceded for him in the Tower. She did not provide damning evidence of incest, as earlier historians believed; we will never know what she may have reported when she was interrogated. All of Anne’s ladies were interrogated in the spring of 1536, including Jane; I believe that she reported that Anne had confided in her about Henry’s impotence, but we know nothing further than that.

    It was most likely Jane’s involvement in Katherine Howard’s affairs that led to her being made a scapegoat for the downfall of the Boleyns. Her exact involvement in Katherine’s liaisons is open to debate, but the interrogations suggest that she at the very least encouraged Katherine and helped her to find suitable rooms in which to meet Culpeper. I don’t believe that she was merely a passive bystander or an unwilling accomplice, I believe that she was eagerly and enthusiastically involved and she supervised Katherine as a chaperone, standing by her and Culpeper at the top of the stairs while the court was on summer progress. She was the messenger between Katherine and Culpeper. Eventually, of course, the queen instructed Jane to tell Culpeper that she would not meet him again, and when Culpeper responded negatively, Katherine dismissed him as a ‘little sweet fool’.

    Jane underwent a mental breakdown in the Tower, but she died bravely and admirably on the scaffold, confessing the justice of her sentence. She did not confess to accusing George and Anne of incest, as a later tradition reported. I believe that she was an inveterate gossip and a court intriguer, but she was not a malicious or depraved jealous wife. Such a view of her belongs to fiction, including several historical novels and the BBC television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

    It is a brave thing to do Lissa, and I wish you luck with your revisions of the novel. It is a positive thing that Jane is receiving a fairer press in recent years.

    1. Christine says:

      I agree that Jane and Anne are always being portrayed as not getting on, and that the former out of jealousy told Cromwell or his interrogators that her husband had committed incest with his sister, that her marriage was unhappy and she was neglected, over the centuries tales get woven and writers of historical fiction possibly to add a dash of drama like to give Jane this appearance of a wronged and vengeful wife, and as Conor says there is also the tale that she confessed on the scaffold to bringing the false accusation against them both, but again this is a myth she made a dutiful speech and died bravely, there was no confession, she was from a well connected family and could well have been happy with her husband George, and there is evidence she got on well with Anne, they both conspired to send one of Henrys mistresses from the court which ended in Jane being escorted to the tower, some have said Jane blamed Anne for this and resented her, but it’s only conjecture, there are no sources that say she blamed Anne for anything, besides it was she who made her family the most powerful one at court, which meant that Jane shared in that glory, and she did plea for her husband after he was arrested, writing him a warm considerate letter and if she had hated him she would not have done that at all, it is highly likely that she was the victim of bullying like all of Annes household were and she was frightened into saying something she did not mean to, it still happens today, that she said something about the King being impotent is highly likely under duress, her and Anne having a little girly chat over a few too many glasses of wine and the truth comes out, and of course she mentions it to George maybe giggling about it, but it came out in court and George being as reckless as his sister, and no doubt enraged about the hypocrisy of the trial read out the charge to a stunned courtroom, he sealed his own fate in an instant, but I don’t believe she was the one who mentioned them indulging in the most unnatural sin of all between two members of the same family – incest, that was something Cromwell dreamed up, as history has shown there is no evidence that it came from Janes mouth, Conor mentions her part in the downfall of Catherine Howard, it could be her behaviour over that was responsible for the blackening of her name, she probably was a gossip many women are, however it’s very hard to determine whether she enjoyed being involved with Catherines midnight trysts with the not very admirable Culpeper, she knew how dangerous it was for a queen to meet with another man not her husband, and alone and at night! Whatever was Jane doing? Catherine could be very imperious and no doubt put Jane in an impossible position and when the truth came out they both pointed the finger at the other, I don’t think Jane was a bad woman or Catherine either, she was young and had been led astray in her youth, with Jane it’s very difficult she is an enigma and maybe one day hopefully we will learn more about her.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        I completely agree. Jane’s character seems to get more and more maligned and more and more exaggerated with every television drama. In the Tudors she was a gossip and willing informer when asked about her husband and the Queen. She actually does agree that he slept with Anne, was also shown as a passionate reformer, when she was a traditional Catholic and supporter of Mary, she was raped by George and couldn’t wait to expose him as a sexual deviant and adulterous with his sister. The Other Boleyn Girl took it further, as did the infamous Wolfe Hall, she is the ally of Thomas Cromwell, a little sneak and she informs on Anne about her alleged love affairs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

        Jane and George were childless and so that is traditionally equated with being unhappy. I am childless and I assure everyone I am not unhappy so when I read this in books, forums and so on, I really don’t get it. Most people from any gentry family had their marriage arranged by their parents, who wanted as good a match as possible. The couple were not normally forced, however, as consent was vital to make a marriage valid. No doubt some encouragement was made and children had a duty to obey their parents. George Boleyn and Jane Parker would know each other and probably met a few times after their betrothal and their marriage was attended by the King and Queen Anne. We don’t know much more than this but there is certainly, as Conor says no evidence of the couple being unhappy.

        We get some glimpses of Jane and her sister in law when they confide in each other about some personal marriage problems, because George was spending too much time at court and Jane obviously missed him. Shen she came to speak to Anne and ask her help, that she wished she had the same attention Henry gave Anne, but Anne is meant to have complained that Henry had a problem in bed. This doesn’t prove that there was a long-term problem, but every marriage has rocky points and if George was required at late meetings, then it is understandable that his wife might feel a bit neglected. Anne’s remarks may or may not have been true but there is no evidence that Jane betrayed her confidence and was the source of the embarrassment used at George and Anne’s trial. I agree, Jane may well have been a natural gossip and words reached the wrong ears.

        Jane was restored to a lady in waiting and served the next three Queens, which led to her being the most senior lady in the service of Katherine Howard. Conor is correct, her role in the nocturnal activities of the young Queen is highly debatable. She was certainly made a scapegoat by both Culpepper and Katherine and there are a lot of questions about whose idea the whole thing was. If Katherine initiated the meetings then Jane was in a difficult position. Her duty was to both obey her mistress but also to discourage this risky and ill advised behaviour. However, she was active, seeking out the places to meet and bringing Culpepper to her, acting as chaperone, possibly to preserve her charges honour, which led to her own downfall. Her motivation is a mystery, but I doubt she had anything but a wish to do her duty. Katherine could be hard to say no to, so her reasons may have simply obedience. Yes, she should have gone to the King and stopped it, but that would make things worse. She certainly wasn’t plotting with the Duke of Norfolk as in the Private Life of Henry Viii and may not have approved of these meetings. As a result, however, she has gone down as a plotter and schemer and the cause of the fall of two Queens and none of this is based on particularly strong evidence.

        I haven’t heard of this book before, but have visited the Blogg of the same name and would like to congratulate Lissa on her desire to set the record straight and her very brave stance on withdrawal of her book until it has been rewritten. I would like to wish her luck on her new project. I will look forward to reading it once it is on sale. Another Tudor Lady restored to her true place in history. Good luck.

        1. Christine says:

          Yes I no many childless couples and they are very happy together, sometimes they both decide not to have children and that’s their choice, sometimes a medical condition is the fault but it’s daft the way people presume they think a couples unhappy just because there’s no kids, a lot of couple are working full time with careers and are just happy with their pets, and some women are just not maternal, I’m sure if lady Jane Rochford were to read some of the stories that have been circulated about her over the years she would fall about falling along with Anne, well done to Lissa on her decision to withdrew her book and amend it.

    2. Lissa Bryan says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Conor. It means a lot to me, especially coming from someone I deeply respect as a historian.

  2. Ana Gomez says:

    The thruth about someone ! Especially powerful personalities ,much in view at a determined time in history …….very difficult to really know their motives their real feelings .If it is difficult to really know someone today …..more so so many years ago !

  3. Michael Wright says:

    I love Lissa’s reasoning behind this. I wish more authors of historical novels were as conscientious as she about what they wrote.

  4. Very interesting and respectful comment by conor and I can’t wait for the rewrite. I’ve wondered about the relationship between Jane and Anne and was hoping it wasn’t bad as it’s been portrayed in writing and the Tudor series

  5. Christine says:

    I meant fall about laughing with Anne.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      They would be bemused for certain.

  6. Sonetka says:

    Very interesting post, and I’m looking forward to reading both incarnations of the book! It takes a lot of dedication to correct something of that magnitude. Don’t be hard on yourself, though — I understand you don’t want to perpetuate a false story, but we can only work with the information available, and fortunately everyone involved in the story is well beyond being offended (or if they aren’t, they’ve probably long since passed out from shock at some of the things they’ve been shown doing in other stories!)

  7. Pamm Whittaker says:

    Hello Lissa! I have to say I admire you for doing this. The care you take to make details authentic appeals to me. I’m one of those annoying people who hated “The Tudors” because .. well, Jonathan Rhys Meyers wasn’t Henry! Damian Lewis on the other hand.. Wolf Hall 🙂

    Anyway, I want to thank you for what you’ve done and I cannot wait to read it and other books you write!

  8. Iforgotmynameagain says:

    I love this. So many people just tout false “facts” about historical figures and never even address it when they’re called out (@ all the youtubers making “Bloody Mary” vids and Marilyn Monroe conspiracies.) The fact that Lissa did it without prompting is very admirable.

  9. CATHERINE HACKERT says:

    And here I thought that integrity was dead! Congrats on your decision. I will buy the revised book when it is available!

  10. Elizabeth Mannox says:

    Congratulations Lissa! You’ve shown yourself to be more passionate about the truth than making money, something that is very rare today. Many thanks from someone who gave up watching The Tudors after the first 30 minutes because the distortion of events and characters drove me absolutely crazy. There are many in history who are surrounded by mystery – their personalities, their motives or personal details but I’d rather read a book that gives an even handed account when there are very few facts. I’ll certainly be dipping into my pocket to buy the re-write. Best wishes for the revised book.

    1. Maureen Roland says:

      Elizabeth, I had the same reaction to The Tudors. A kindred spirit!!

  11. Sue says:

    Well done, Lissa, for your professionalism. It’s not always possible to do this, but glad you had the opportunity and took it!

    Jonathan Rhys Myers – I only know him as the Irish team leader in Bend It Like Beckham. But yes, rather too dashing for Henry. 😉

  12. Lissa Bryan says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and encouragement!

  13. Sarah says:

    Yes, bravo Lissa.
    I’ve often wondered about Jane’s behaviour enabling the affair between Catherine and Culpepper. It seems so ironic, knowing as she did from personal experience how Henry would react to hearing of his wife’s infedelity. I wonder if it was a calculated risk on behalf of her mistress in order that she might become pregnant. Catherine had been married to Henry for some time and there was no sign of pregnancy. No queen could be entirely safe with Henry until she produced a male heir (or the spare in Catherine’s case). Didn’t the tudors believe that a woman’s orgasm was important for conception? If so, maybe Jane thought that Catherine had a higher chance of conception with a vigorous young man that she had a crush on than with an old, obese and smelly man. What do other people think?

    1. Conor Byrne says:

      There is no evidence that Katherine and Culpeper had a physical relationship. Both denied committed adultery, although Culpeper at least admitted that he had wanted to. Katherine eventually tired of him after a handful of meetings and instructed Jane Rochford not to let Culpeper meet with her again. Hardly the behaviour of a besotted or obsessed girl. None of Katherine’s attendants believed that the two had had sex, apart from Jane. But it is possible that Jane was providing the answers her interrogators wished to hear; this was a common practice in sixteenth-century treason interrogations, where evidence was routinely fictionalised. I would be highly sceptical of accepting her claim when there is no corroborating evidence. And Katherine’s letter to Culpeper in the summer of 1541 is not necessarily a ‘love letter’ as historians have traditionally asserted. Her tone in it is placatory, it merely documents her desire that Culpeper would keep his promise to her, it is not sexual or even loving in tone. It seems astonishing that historians have argued that the two were lovers based on a handful of meetings, a letter that contains no messages of love and the sworn declarations of both Katherine and Culpeper that they had not had a physical affair but had merely talked in the presence of Jane Rochford, who acted as chaperone.

    2. Banditqueen says:

      What?

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Jane helped Katherine to become pregnant by another man? What! Nobody was that stupid, surely and that really would be risking her neck as well as the Queens. Yes, Jane should not have become involved, knew it was not a great idea, but as Conor says she was always present, even if she did fall asleep, on occasion as the couple talked and maybe held hands all night. She was being a protective chaperone, not procuring a lover so as Katherine could deliberately commit adultery and conceive another man’s kid. She may have been aware that her role was dangerous, even encouraged Katherine, but she was also doing as she was bid by the Queen. Katherine had a fancy for Culpepper, probably more as a friend than lover, but Jane was trusted to keep this a secret and act with discretion. Her experience must have rebelled against these meetings, but it has to be asked, did she have free will in this matter? Her oath to the Queen is to obey her as is her oath to the King, so she was caught in an impossible situation and Katherine was no mild mannered sedate girl with no voice, or an empty headed bimbo, but could be hard to please or say no to. Katherine was also recorded as having a bit of a nasty streak, being a bit spoilt if she didn’t get her own way. I am not certain I would want to be in Jane’s position. Yes, if Katherine went beyond the boundaries allowed for a Queen, then she was guilty of misprison of treason, but again, what choice did she have and was she again a scapegoat? Her role and motivation is controversial and some of the information comes from the testimony of Katherine and Culpepper, who blamed each other and Jane and vice versa, not from independent, verifiable witnesses and sources. One thing I am certain off is that Jane Rochford didn’t conspire to find Katherine a suitable lover with whom she could have a sexual relationship and conceive a child. Actually, there is very little evidence that, beyond some disappointment early on, that Henry was even concerned that Katherine had not yet had a child. He probably still hoped she would. That certainly would have strengthened her as Queen, but what if it became obvious that the child could not possibly be the Kings? That would seal her fate as a traiteress. Even Katherine must have worked that one out. There is no direct evidence for a sexual relationship between Katherine and Culpepper, even if her nightly visits were suggestive of such behaviour. Thus, Jane can be exonerated as someone who tried to protect Katherine and even prevent her going further or Culpepper acting without honour by being present with them. They were in her chamber or the Queens but Jane stayed close. She had little choice but to obey Katherine and she has been unfairly maligned.

        1. Sarah Purcell says:

          Yes, fair enough. I honestly had no intention of maligning anyone, just trying to find answers to Jane’s puzzling behaviour. Thank you to Conor Byrne and Banditqueen for taking the time to answer my hypothesis. I obviously put two and two together and made five.

        2. Banditqueen says:

          Hello Sarah, I am sorry if I made you feel you were maligning Jane Rochford, my comment was not intended to read as if aimed at yourself. I was referring to the way she has been maligned by drama and many writers like Philippa Gregory. I hope I didn’t upset you. If I did, I apologise.

  14. Sarah Purcell says:

    Hi Banditqueen – No – I wasn’t upset, but thank you for your concern. I feel the same way about Philippa Gregory, and I hate the way people can be so judgmental about people from the past whose motives we will never understand unless new historical evidence turns up. The only reason I put forward my idea was to learn. Once again – thank you for taking the time to reply.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      You are very welcome. A pleasure to be of help.

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