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Should Historical Fiction Have a Warning Label?

Posted By on March 11, 2011

As many of you know, I love historical fiction, there’s no better way to spend a cold winter’s night, in my eyes, than cuddled up on the sofa with a glass of red wine in one hand and an historical novel in the other.

A work of historical fiction combines my two great loves – history and literature – but I also have a problem with it, I find myself wondering if an historical novelist needs to take responsibility for what they have written and for how a potential reader will use it. For example, I have heard of people taking shortcuts with projects on Anne Boleyn by reading “The Other Boleyn Girl” and that is rather worrying when you consider that, at the end of the day, it is a work of historical FICTION and contains many, many inaccuracies and goes against the grain of what many historians today believe about Anne Boleyn.

The world of historical fiction is a quagmire. On the one hand, why shouldn’t historical fiction authors be allowed to write whatever they want? It is fiction afterall and why shouldn’t they be free to be inspired? But, on the other hand, they are also writing about real people and real events, so don’t they have some responsibility to stick to the facts, rather than muddy the waters? Hmmm…, it’s a tricky one and I’ve handled the question before in my article on “The Other Boleyn Girl”. It makes you wonder if historical fiction authors should always include a section where they explain what is fact and what is fiction or at least a warning or disclaimer that explains that the book is inspired by history but is a work of fiction.

Anyway, here are some thoughts from one Anne Boleyn Files visitor, Clare:-

The Trouble with Historical Fiction

by Clare

I am not a great fan of historical fiction, and this is coming from someone who has tried to write it herself. I couldn’t do so, mainly because I’m not a particularly good writer. Having said that, I did try to stay true to characterisation as much as possible. Admittedly I portrayed Catherine Howard as being a bit thick, which may be fair comment bearing in mind the mess she got herself into. I also portrayed Thomas Boleyn as being a hard disciplinarian, which I really don’t know was the case, and which I regret doing. The problem with historical fiction is there there is obviously an element of truth to it because it’s about the lives of real people, but what’s fact and what’s fiction? That’s the difficulty for the lay person.

All this brings me to what I actually dislike about historical fiction. It’s not so much the inaccuracies or the difficulty in differentiating fact from fiction. It is more about how the characters are portrayed.

Claire has already written in detail about ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and the inaccuracies contained in it. I disliked the book intensely, but I could just about stomach the inaccuracies, because irrespective of Gregory’s insistence that she’s a historian, I could accept it as what it said on the cover, i.e. ‘fiction’, and because I at least knew something about the era I realised early in the book that it was complete and utter rubbish. It was the portrayal of Anne which I couldn’t stomach. Anne was a deeply religious woman, and to depict her as unremittingly unpleasant, and as a woman capable of murder and incest, seemed to me a monstrous betrayal of the woman Anne really was. Anne is also depicted as stealing Mary’s son. Although that is obviously incorrect, it wasn’t the inaccuracy which annoyed me as much as the depiction of Anne as someone who would do such a thing.

Likewise, the film version portrayed George Boleyn as a weakling who died on the scaffold as a coward. Again, it’s not so much that this is untrue as the fact that George’s incredible bravery was reduced to him screaming and having to be physically held down on the scaffold. It’s the insult to the man which I find so distasteful.

That brings me on to The Tudors. Most people enjoy the programme for the entertainment value despite the inaccuracies, which is fine, but it isn’t the inaccuracies which make my blood boil. I can put up with Princess Margaret marrying the King of Portugal. I can even handle Henry Fitzroy dying at the age of four, despite the fact he was actually at Anne Boleyn’s execution. OK, I have to grit my teeth a bit, but so what? But then there is the depiction of Wolsey committing suicide. Again, it’s not the fact that he didn’t actually do so which I find disturbing, it’s the fact that such a religious man was portrayed as someone who would even contemplate suicide.

As for the depiction of Catherine Howard urinating in terror on the scaffold, that has to be an all time low. By the eye-witness accounts she was indeed terrified, but she died with real dignity as befitted someone of her status. It was a matter of honour for people facing execution to die with dignity, and she would, and should, have been proud of her last moments. To reduce that bravery and dignity, as The Tudors did, seems to me to be the ultimate betrayal of the poor girl who had already been betrayed in life by almost everyone she knew.

Then there is my personal horror at the way ‘The Tudors chose to portray George Boleyn. I think it is probably the worse portrayal of a human being in historical fiction. The inaccuracy of portraying him as bi-sexual I can forgive, but again it’s the depiction of a man, whose religious views meant he saw buggery as an offence against God, as being a man who would even consider it – that I object to. Even if he had been so inclined, and there is no evidence to suggest he was, there is very little chance he would risk his immortal soul by indulging in a same sex relationship. But bi-sexuality is nothing compared to being portrayed as a rapist and wife abuser. It’s fine to say it’s not accurate, but it’s not fine to portray a real human being, who died tragically, in that light. And if we say it is acceptable then what does that say about our morality?

We live in a century where our sense of right and wrong and our attitudes towards sex are completely different to sixteenth century personalities. Yet by projecting our moral viewpoint on to them are we actually doing them a great disservice? For example, homosexuality is now perfectly acceptable, and I’m in no way suggesting it isn’t, but to George Boleyn it was not only unacceptable, it was also an affront to God. George would be spinning in his grave at the various depictions of him in recent works of fiction, and are we honestly saying that’s OK?

If Anne had been portrayed as guilty of the crimes levelled against her, or if she had been portrayed as a lesbian having an affair with one of her ladies-in-waiting, would The Tudors have been as popular? Probably not, certainly with Anne fans. It’s a matter of subjectivity rather than objectivity.

And for those who cry out, ‘yes, but it’s only fiction’, remember that to the majority of people who read or watch it, they will never look inside a history book. To them, their knowledge of this incredible era will always be tainted by fiction. I think the ‘it’s only fiction’ argument may hold weight regarding historical inaccuracies, but can any of us, hand on heart, say it’s right to allow real people from history to be morally destroyed for the sake of entertainment.

Conclusion

Thanks, Clare, for writing that piece, it really did make me stop and think. As someone who gets a few emails every week from people who have been ‘led astray’ by taking historical fiction as fact, I can see that there is a problem, what’s really difficult is knowing where the responsibility lies – with the reader or with the author/director? Why should an author stifle their creativity simply because a reader might inadvertently believe what they write? It really is a difficult subject but I believe it could be solved by an author taking the time to explain their story a bit more.

What do you think?

Also see “Anne Boleyn and The Other Boleyn Girl” and What Are the Responsibilities–and Rights–of the Historical Novelist? over on The History Police Facebook page.

72 thoughts on “Should Historical Fiction Have a Warning Label?”

  1. Lindsey Nicholls says:

    The work of historical fiction that has damaged Anne Boleyn the most was, without doubt, “The Other Boleyn Girl”.

    However, the irony is that Gregory based her novel on the work of Professor Retha Warnicke’s biography of Anne Boleyn, a “scholarly work”.

    Warnicke was the one with the theory that George Boleyn was a homosexual and Gregory based her fictional book on Warnicke’s beliefs.

    1. Claire says:

      I think Retha Warnicke really tried to distance herself from TOBG when it came out. Warnicke was putting her theories forward, just as Bernard does in his latest book, but I don’t think she ever says that she is 100 sure of things, whereas PG, in her notes, says that her novel is based on the facts and that Anne was a murderess and was capable of committing incest – very different.

  2. Windy Stroud says:

    I have read “The Other Boleyn Girl” and watched all seasons of the “Tudors” I understood that they were both fiction , but they were entertaining none the less. However what would you suggest I read to get a “True” factual glimpse of that era? I love reading about this and escaping to another time , and think maybe it’s time to get the facts.

    1. Millie says:

      Joanna Denny’s biography of Anne Boleyn is a fantastic book. David Starkey’s book about the six wives and Alison Weir’s book about the wives are also good. Those are the three I’ve read, and Joanna Denny’s is by far my favorite.

      1. Courtney says:

        Claire…what would you say about Eric Ives book, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn? That is the book I am reading now.

        1. Ilda says:

          Me too! 🙂

  3. Daniela says:

    Well I have to say that before the Tudors the only thing I knew bout Henry VIII was, that he had several wives and he had killed off some… but as they say “You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends, to get to the heart of the story, you have to back to the beginning!”
    Since watching the Tudors (to which I found because Johnny played the lead role) I have gotten a huge interest in that era.
    Despite watching the sometimes inaccurate sequences in the series and even having to admit, that I read “The other Boleyn Girl” by Philippa Gregory I have lately also bought some true historian’s books on Anne and Katherine Howard, which are very interesting.

    I mean if people buy some fictional books, they should be aware that it is fiction (most bookshops are sorted by genres anyway and Philippa Gregory is defo found in the fiction section.) Unless they go to the History section and buy some real deal books on the charakters. I mean my mum watches these docu soaps and always gets totally drawn into stories, gettin mad about people in it despite knowing it is all made up. I watch it sometimes aswell, but still know it is not real and all made up. So I think it differs with everyone’s point of view

    For me just the series was never enough, I kept reading up stuff on wikipedia (although it is written but non-historians and basically everyone can edit things on it) and bought these books to gain more of an inside view.

    I think it also comes down to how people take on these things and facts, if they take things as real facts or if they are aware of some inaccuracies. I can live with knowing that some things were made up. Anyway there’s some great informative website called something like theanneboleynfiles.com to fill in the gaps of my knowledge and where I can resort to (-;

    Keep up the good work folks! *thumbsup*

  4. empressmaud says:

    I completely agree with all of this. I don’t mind when an author plays with history for the sake of the novel, as long as they admit it. Authors like Sharon Kay Penham are wonderful about explaining in their afterword everything that was true and false. I immensely respect someone who will put the effort into the research to come up with an accurate portrayal of the person. What really chaps my hide about Phillipa Gregory is that she will find the most obscure rumor about someone and immediately print it as established fact. This is rampant in all of her books, not just The Other Boleyn Girl. As a friend of mine put it, it’s historical in the sense that there is a country called England, which had a king named Henry, who married a woman named Anne who had a brother and a sister. Frankly it is sickening to watch someone parade around the lecture circuit insisting that they are an “expert” on Tudor history when they are clearly making things up to fit “their view”!

  5. Christine says:

    Thank you, Clare and Claire! Really interesting thoughts; I have to confess that I don’t read fiction any more (lack of time, and it’s a completely different world); I prefer films and British detective series on TV for entertainment. As regards the warning label, I’d say that this should rather be on non-fiction books. It’s there where readers are quite helpless against misrepresentation of facts and sources. So perhaps it should be: DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU READ HERE.

    If really interested, you will read widely and recognize at some point that there are as many versions of the past as there are historians; and most people will anyway believe what they want to believe … I must also say that Schiller’s Don Carlos and Wallenstein surpass any history books by far, and I will never forget what Alexandre Dumas gave me with his kings and cardinals when I was a child.

  6. Melissa Marie Wells says:

    Clare makes some really great points. Especially in what she said about George Boleyn and the movie version of “The Other Boleyn Girl”. I was under the impression that George was more brave on the Scaffold myself and stared out at the crowd and his accusers as if to tell them all to go hell. Was that not the case?

    On another note, I had never thought of it before in this way but after reading your article, I do think that there should be an exert in a Historical Fiction book specifically stating that a lot of the events were conjured up by the author. Some author’s already devote some of their Author’s Note to this but usually it’s only a sentence or two. No, they need to be specific as to what was the actual fictional parts of the book and what were the actual facts. Every time I read an historical novel I find myself wondering what were the facts and what were the author’s imagination, so this would definitely be a great idea for authors and publishers to include in their books…

    1. Carolyn says:

      Regarding George Boleyn, he actually made a bold, stirring speech that moved many in the crowd. He died very bravely. There is no evidence of him being bisexual or sexually cruel at all. He was an admired man, considered a bit of a lady’s man – maybe the male version of Anne’s sexual allure? In my opinion, PG has dragged his name through the mud based on a hunch someone had about an obscure line in a poem.

      1. Carolyn says:

        Also in TOBG, PG portrays Anne on the scaffold sniveling and crying when she also died very bravely, with dignity and composure.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I do enjoy reading historical fiction, as many of us I’m sure do, and know that it’s just that…fiction. In fact, I got a text from my mom the other day as she is reading my copy of Alison Weir’s Lady Elizabeth…the text read “Did Anne Boleyn really have a sixth finger?”….I thought it was pretty funny, but also think that this article raises a good point about historical fiction and what people may start to believe. My first introduction into the Tudor time period was actually picking up a copy of The Other Boleyn Girl in the book aisle of a store. It caught my attention because it was the movie poster cover and it said “best seller” on it–and of course I loved the clothes pictured on the cover! I have always loved history–even majored in it in college (and plan to try to get my Masters in it–particularly a focus on British History if possible…but that’s another story!). I was gripped by the detail in the story that Phillipa provided (such as the way things looked or smelled) and while I didn’t know that it was about actual people at the time or actual events…or made up events–I still could not put it down. I attribute it, while it may not be the best representation of history, to my obsession with the Tudor time period actually. My husband (then just a boyfriend) looked up the characters and found out that they were real people. It was then that I started my research about Anne, Mary, George, Henry…etc. And it’s because of this that I found out the truth behind everything. You have to take historical fiction with a grain of salt. You can’t go in believing everything. I firmly believe though, that if people took the time to read historical fiction and then research a few things afterwards, then maybe they would find out the truth as well. I kind of see it as “spreading the word” about history. Perhaps if the author even mentioned something such as “For more information…” and then included maybe basic research topics or factual points that dealt with the book topic–maybe people would learn more about history and more about the true characters in the book. I don’t think it discredits the authors (or directors/writers) when they make up things that aren’t true about history…after all…they are trying to sell something. Is it right for them to make money off false advertising of a historical subject? Probably not…but writing is what they enjoy, but definitely including something for people to go off of after reading something is what I would suggest and honestly may make people more interested in the authors other books as well! For someone like me of course, it’d make me want to go out and research more and I wouldn’t think less of the author for doing that–after all, 3/4 of my book list is made up of books that I’ve seen in the cited sources sections because I want to know more. Of course there are those people that are just reading to read…but like I said, maybe putting a little exerpt in there about “read more here”—people would be more inclined to research the truth. Everyone should be encouraged to read and learn more about history…I’m a big advocate for that! Especially with kids these days not enjoying history…it’s all about what you make of it and how you make it interesting for people! It doesn’t have to be fiction…after all the story of Henry VIII kind of plays out like a soap opera at points–and it’s the truth!! How much more interesting can you get!??! 🙂

  8. Susan Farmer says:

    I’m sharing this on Facebook. Preach it. I flat refuse to watch the Tudors.

    1. julie b. says:

      i agree, not interested.

      1. Fiz says:

        Nor me.If they couldn’t even pick a Henry with red-blond hair, what else were they going to mess up!

        1. Sarah says:

          What worries me about programmes like The Tudors(I’m another non-watcher) and books like TOBG, is that people who know nothing about the period will think it’s true. I didn’t think TOBG was that bad, but I’ve got a history degree – I know where PG went wrong and who to read for a more complex explanation. A lot of people won’t – they’ll take away the “knowledge” that Anne was an adulteress and a poisoner who committed incest and repeat it as fact. I agree wit the poster who said there ought to be some sort of disclaimer on historical fiction.

  9. MarkM says:

    Great article! Definitely something to think about. I’m torn between wanting to be able to see the things I’ve read about come to life in a fun story, and wanting no hint of fiction. The thing that drives me crazy is why change things that have no impact on how entertaining the story is?? Would getting Henry’s sister’s marriage? Would it the truth really have made the show less entertaining??

  10. Belle says:

    I think historical fiction is a fantastic thing because it sparks people’s interest into reading/researching the real people behind the story. That’s what most of the people I know do while they’re reading a historical fiction novel or after they’ve read it. They find they want more information on the real people and all of them know that the fiction is just that fiction. I personally love historical fiction and think it brings that era perfectly to life, while the characters may not be portrayed exactly like they were in real life, the essence of the story, scenery, costumes, foods, customs etc usually are.

    I think that’s the beauty of combining these things, instead of reading a dull non-fiction novel, written like a history book, they can read historical fiction then further research on-line or buy biographies that are written in a non-drab way.

  11. Rose says:

    I love historical fiction; it makes up most of my reading material. I mostly agree with Clare, though; it’s not right to potray dead, probably innocent people as things that they were not. At the same time, however, I find myself thinking that it IS fiction, after all.
    So basically, if you ask me, I think that the writers’ should take into account what they are writting about REAL people, who lived and breathed, and even then write a few short paragraphs at the begining of their novel, explaining to a reader with a lesser knowledge of history that fiction means fiction.

    1. Carolyn says:

      I’ve read many works of historical fiction that do just that, and I have no problem with them. It can even spark my interest in a time period, as when I read a historical romance set during the time of the Visigoth’s sack of Rome. I found the historical notes (several pages) fascinating and am now really interested in the various branches of the Goths, where they came from, where they ended up. The Visigoths ended up in the south of France and the Iberian Peninsula and their Visigothic Code of Law influenced judicial systems throughout Europe. See:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visigothic_Code

      All that from a properly annotated historical romance! It CAN be done correctly and it’s just irresponsible and lazy not to, IMO.

  12. Esther Sorkin says:

    IMO, the real damage is when writers like Ms. Gregory pass off their historical fiction as “fact”, and pretend to be experts. Nothing is wrong with the genre itself. Sometimes, it is not easy to determine how accurate a novel or a play may be; for example, the scholarly research done by Kendall and the scholarly research done by Weir yields different opinions on the historical accuracy of Shakespeare’s “Richard III”.Also, we will see people from the Tudor era differently because we see them with modern eyes. To modern eyes, for example, the treatment Anne and Henry meted out to Mary for her “sin” of honoring and defending her mother could cast doubt on their religious claims … because, to modern eyes, people who truly wished to follow G-d’s Word would have treated her much differently.

    1. Louise says:

      There is a huge deviation in what people consider ‘the word of God’. Hitler was religious yet he did’nt have a problem in exterminating six million people for their religion. Fifty years later we again had mass extermination in Yugoslovia. And whatever we say about Henry and Mary committing murder in the name of religion, on 11th September 2001 ten times more people died in the name of religion than died in the reigns of Henry and Mary put together. I don’t really think we can look back and think ourselves superior. We are only superior in our ability to kill with greater efficiency.
      As far as Henry and Anne are concerned they needed Mary to acknowledge their marriage, and Elizabeth’s legitimacy because in cannon law Mary was still heir whatever Henry may have wanted. To Anne it was a question of protecting her daughter’s inheritence, which is probably more understandable than some acts committed nowadays by certain religious people.

      1. Esther Sorkin says:

        While many do claim religious justification for cruelty now, as they did in Tudor times, I think the idea that the two can exist simultaneously is not as common as it used to be. For example, many Moslems have condemned 9/11, and pointed out that the principles of Islam do not condone such crimes, and, it is precisely because of Hitler’s murders that many do not consider him religious. Similarly, that Henry and Anne were cruel to Mary … out of sound personal and/or political motives … is something easily interpreted as showing that religion carried less weight with them than other concerns.

        1. Banditqueen says:

          There is a great deal of difference between being religious people who are fanatics and people who truly believe in God and have faith. The ancient Romans were religious. Christianity is nothing to do with religion. It is about faith and a personal relationship in God, most so called religious people have politically motivated ideas, not a relationship with God that helps them to understand their fellow human beings.

  13. Bella says:

    Maybe Philippa Gregorys’ ‘historical novels’ should come with a disclaimer like they have at the end of movies: … and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental

  14. Conor Byrne says:

    To be honest, Philippa Gregory is a NOVELIST, which we should all remember, and I must say she is allowed her own opinions to freely express it in her work, it’s fiction.

    What severely irritates me is that, in my AS Tudor History class, just about 90% of the class believe ‘TOBG’ and ‘The Tudors’ are completely 100% true. It’s ridiculous. The only reason they seemed to have taken Tudor History at A Level is because they enjoyed the film of TOBG, which is completely awful in my opinion, and they believe Anne was guilty of those terrible crimes, and on top of it, was a nasty, downright selfish, manipulating woman to boot. If they bothered to read proper historical works on these people, and actually formed their own opinions, it’d be much more tolerable, but really, people need to stop believing it’s realistic.

    The Tudors is entertaining, but it’s just as bad. Not only do the clothes they wear in the show – Katherine Howard, for instance, flitting about with no French hood or even 1540s dress on – showcase how completely glamourised and fictionised it actually is, but what annoys me is how manipulated and obviously contrived it is. Is it really so hard to have Katherine executed before Jane? Is it so hard for Joan Bulmer to LOOK like a Tudor woman, instead of having a modern bob and showing practically all her hair? Is it so hard for them to keep it accurate – Katherine probably never mentioned Culpepper in her execution speech.

    It’s entertaining, YES, but it’s not really very realistic at all. I think people should move away from these and instead look at more accurate interpretations. For one thing, I think Jean Plaidy’s novels – if rather romanticised – are much more historically accurate, and there are other adaptions of the Tudor dynasty in television which are more realistic – I think ‘Henry VIII’ (2003) was quite enjoyable, and ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ is always a classic.

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Conor,
      I’ll answer properly another time as I’m typing this in on my phone, but Philippa Gregory calls herself an historian these days and her notes in TOBG say that it is based on fact, that Anne committed at least one murder and that she and George probably committed incest. Stating that your book is based on fact and then saying all that makes the reader believe it is more than a novel.

      1. Fiz says:

        Well she shouldn’t then! Do the rest of her books make her an expert about everything else she’s written about, then? Such as black magic, gardening etc. I hated TOBG and stopped reading her thereafter.

  15. Michelle says:

    I suppose it’s a case of “buyer beware”. When you pick up that novel remember it’s a work of fiction. I was shocked when I read that the Other Boleyn Girl was based on fact. Really??!! Then PG should spend more time on her research and less time on hearsay and imagination if she plans to inform her readers that it’s fact she’s writing, but, I guess it sold the book. Great for her, but not great for those unfortunate enough to buy into the fantasy!

    I enjoy good historical novels as well as science fiction and fantasy novels. I do try to keep it foremost in my brain that I’m reading fiction and not fact. The sad reality is that most people will believe the lie before the even consider believing the truth. Anne Boleyn being a witch, a murderess and other unsavory things is much more entertaining than realizing she was a woman of strong morals and a victim of bad press.

    Thanks for another thought provoking article!

    Michelle

  16. Hilary says:

    Historical fiction is fiction, which is why it’s fun to read. I like to read the fiction, then go back and do the research.

    The good thing that came out of the Tudors is people started to get interested in the era, which means more people to talk about it with! Also, it got people interested in Catherine Howard, which is a queen some people look over with Anne of Cleves.

  17. Bassania says:

    Philippa Gregory’s books are sold in the fiction section of most bookstores, it stands to reason that people who read her books should be aware that a lot of it is FICTIONAL, with very few facts thrown in almost as an after thought.

    Personally I don’t really know how she can call herself an historian because most people who spend life researching are aware that you should use more than one source of information. she is an author however, it perfectly within her rights to change history for the purposes of selling novels, they are meant to entertain, so who really cares if they contain a few uhh, innaccuracies. Besides its always fun when someone tries to prove their point by quoting her books, the looks on their faces when their shut down is classic

    I do howver think that it is the responsibility of the historic novelists to represent the past as true as they possibly can because many who read their books take them at face value and make up their minds about historic figures which can be a huge injustice.

    but those are just my thoughts

  18. lisaannejane says:

    I really enjoy reading historical fiction. One of my favorite authors, Celleen McCullough, wrote a whole series of books about the end of the Roman Republic. She tells you when she deliberately changed the order of events or if she changed names as with Caesar’s account of his war in the area which would not be France. She uses her skills as a doctor to give her opinions on the cause of Julius Caesar’s seizures. The series is so long because she mentions so many people who were prominent at the time and just how complicate this period of history was. I was so intrigued that I bought 3 more books about the subject and was amazed by all the differing views. I also learned to know the importance of using original sources but also knowing who wrote them, what was their personal bias, and how was their account viewed at the time it was written. I suppose an author must have some room for creating characters where there is little information or even conflicting information. What I liked about these books was that even figures who are not popular in Roman records, such as Cleopatra, are not viewed as one dimensional and she also used other sources about Cleopatra to get a better understanding of hew world and why she acted the way she did. Phillipa Greggory could learn a lot from her. No one is seen in the worst possible way based on some rumors or gossip of the time. She really did a lot of research and kept in mind the accuracy or biases of the original sources used.

  19. lisaannejane says:

    Oops! I should have said the area that is now France. Galla Comanca as it was recorded in Roman times. The Gauls were the tribes that Julius Casear fought in his time there as as the person in charge of that area of Roman territory.

  20. Louise (Clare) says:

    Hello everyone,
    I would just like to clarify what I have written above. Although I’m personally not keen on it, I don’t have a problem overall with historical fiction because as Carolyn quite rightly says, it can be done well and responsibly. I don’t even have a massive problem with the inaccuracies because I can grit my teeth and tell myself it’s only fiction.
    It’s the characterisation I have an issue with when real people are morally destroyed for the sake of entertainment. Most of the above comments are about The Other Boleyn Girl, which did such damage to Anne. Although I appreciate Claire’s point that Gregory holds herself out as an historian while The Tudors doesn’t pretend to be anything other than fiction, I think the Tudors is just as guilty of damaging real people’s reputations by it’s characterisation of them, and fiction or not, my point was whether that should be acceptable, irrespective of the popularity of the programme. I know a lot of people who comment on this site have been motivated to do so by watching The Tudors, and that’s great. But for every one of you there are thousands who just take the programme at face value. Doesn’t that actually damage the history which we all love so much?
    I’m sorry if I sound preachy (Claire is much better at this sort of thing than me). If I am offending anybody with all this then I am sorry, because it’s certainly not my intention.

    1. Carolyn says:

      I understand, and agree. I think there should be giant disclaimers before they thoroughly trash an actual historical person. The only problem with that is that there are varying ideas about what is true about certain people, even among true historians. People like PG will use that ‘loophole’ to write whatever she thinks is sensational, and therefore more likely to sell. It’s wrong, but I don’t know what can be done about it.

  21. Rob says:

    What a super article, Clare. It is hard to disagree with anything you have mentioned here regarding the appalling exploitation of famous names from history. And once a writer of fiction begins to actually tamper with the truth, it becomes indefensible. But there is always a counter argument, of course. If historical fiction is to avoid becoming stereotyped and predictable, it must have the freedom to take risks – so that authors can be inventive and to speculate on lots of ‘what might have beens.’ They need to fill in the gaps left by the historians, in other words – and to perhaps even locate some meaningful causes behind the effects that the historians have discovered. ‘Why did he or she do that?’ ‘Just what could have motivated them?’ ‘What if …?’
    Writers of historical fiction have the freedom to do this, and it is a valuable contribution when they get it right. Where the line should be drawn between using poetic licence and simply peddling cynical titillation is the most difficult question of all. There are lots of shades in-between. But no matter how many liberties writers of fiction take (and as you rightly say, some have taken some pretty gigantic ones) I do not think that they need to start placing lots of warnings and apologies in their work, explaining why they did this or that. The authors just need to embrace integrity, and then to simply get on with it – trying to do their best for their characters and for themselves in the process.
    What I am really trying to say is that if you stifle the inaccuracies, you will inevitably also stifle the creative originality of decent historical fiction, as well. So, no matter how distasteful it might be, we really just have to put up with the former if we are going to enjoy the latter. The truth is always the truth. It will always sit at the centre of scholarship and of good historical fiction, too. And it will always survive the stuff that sometimes tries to sneak in by the back door to impersonate it.

    1. Carolyn says:

      I disagree that writers can’t take intuitive leaps or explore what-ifs without also telling their readers where they’ve gone off the beaten path, so to speak. Especially with books. It doesn’t make me less likely to read a book if the author explains where they’ve diverged from historical sources, inserted fictional characters and events, compressed timelines or combined events for dramatic purposes. If I enjoyed the book, I’m more likely to be impressed with an author who can weave all that together seamlessly, and seek out more of their work. JMO, of course.

      1. Louise says:

        I agree with you , Carolyn, although I question the need to morally destroy a persons charcter for the sake of entertainment in the first place, with or without a disclaimer. It does seem fundimentally immoral to me.
        In any event, the truth is often far more dramatic than the fiction. I’m thinking particularly of Catherine Howard on the scaffold in The Tudors. Wouldn’t it have been far more poignant to have portrayed the truth, namely a terrified young woman dying with dignity? Now that would have made people cry!
        I would be interested to know whether anyone thinks as I do, namely that fiction can become damaging to history because it eventually begins to seep into our psyche. The way Thomas Boleyn has been depicted in history for many years is now treated as fact. With each piece of fiction his character becomes more and more corrupt, with little actual evidence to suggest that was the case. I think that’s because each successive writer has fed off the one before them. It’s the same with George. His charcter is becoming more and more unpleasant because every fiction author has fed off the one before them. The problem with that is that by constantly been depicted that way in fiction, credence is gradually given to the fictional myth. I hope that makes sense?
        In other words, because fiction is self perpetuating, it can distort fact.

  22. Louise says:

    I forgot to mention that the post below this one, regarding Joanna Carrick’s new play, sounds fascinating. From what she said in the interview it sounds as if she has portrayed her characters with the sensitivity and respect which they deserve. Good for her, because I would like to see it! Does that make me a hypocrite? Oh well.

  23. Fiz says:

    I am reading Jeanne Kalogridis’ “The Devil’s Queen”, which is an excellent novel, but I do hope she’s playing fast and loose with the truth, because if it is true, it doesn’t bear thinking about!

  24. Rachel says:

    I enjoy historical fiction and The Tudors. My issue with the Other Boleyn Girl and other Philippa Gregory books is that she promotes her books as absolute history. The way she speaks about her “research” is that she is the only one telling the truth and all other historians are liars. Sure there are things that I take umbrage at with other historians, but I think that Philippa Gregory is just crazy. I don’t always need a warning that there are fictional parts of a book about history. But I admire the writers who either do impressive amounts of research to keep things in the realm of history and actually have a bibliography at the end. Or they come out and say, certain parts of this aren’t true.

  25. Ralphine says:

    Reading TOBG made me crazy!!!!!! Watching the movie made me laugh. I would love to tear the book to shreds but I have to take a deep breath. The reason it made me so crazy is because I’ve been reading about the Tudors for more years that I care to think about. True there are some books out there that make those “in the know” want to cringe but at least people are reading about the Tudors. My hope is that they will read more accurate books and discover sites such as this and become educated.
    Having taken my deep breath I can now say however that it does make me very angry indeed that “authors” are getting paid for such drivel. However in the tabloid sensational life in which we live there will always be crap to e devoured.

  26. Anyanka says:

    TOBG is the only book I never wanted to return to the library without lots of corrections.

    1. Anyanka says:

      That should have read

      ever wanted to return without lots of corrections.

  27. Charlie says:

    “But, on the other hand, they are also writing about real people and real events, so don’t they have some responsibility to stick to the facts, rather than muddy the waters?”

    That sums up my thoughts exactly. I think it’s unfair to portray people differently. It is disrespectful to them and can lead to misunderstanding. I also agree with Clare’s article that we shouldn’t impose our views nowadays on history. We may find it difficult to understand why people did things but bringing in our own thoughts doesn’t help us understand them any more than if we didn’t do it and it only causes more confusion and distorts facts.

    1. Charlie says:

      However I should probably say that when fictional elements are used that explore possibilities, and are identified by the author as such, then I don’t mind that. Such as Alison Weir having Elizabeth give birth, it is something that could have been possible and she (Weir) explains why she did it.

  28. Courtney says:

    I have to say that I love historical fiction & I hate it! I did not know a lot about Anne and Tudor history when I watched the film based on The Other Boleyn Girl…and like it was said in one of the comments above…some people would just take it for fact and move on…luckily, I am a history buff and looked up the facts myself. When I had finished, I was livid! How could they depict Anne in that light?? I understand that she wasn’t completely innocent and most definitely had her faults & flaws but really? Think about how many people have watched the movie or read the book and didn’t do any more research…As far as the Tudors goes…yes there were a ton of inaccuracies but do not think it is fair to not give it a chance because JRM doesn’t have strawberry blond hair as said in another comment…there is far more important inaccuracies in it than hair colour, but it did not enrage me the way that TOBG did. The thing I loved about the show was Natalie Dormer as Anne…I think she has given her memory more justice than in any other film/TV series I have seen. What I love about historical fiction in film is the fact that they give these important figures (whom we will never really know the full truth about..or how they talked & thought) they give them a little humanity.

  29. Claire says:

    Let’s get away from TOBG for a moment, what about The Tudors?

    As Clare says, there are some awful misrepresentations in it, things that would have the people concerned spinning in their grave and a whole generation of people may now think that Wolsey committed suicide, that George Boleyn raped his wife and was bi-sexual, that Catherine Howard went to her death yelling “I die a queen but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper” etc. etc.
    Is this ok because “The Tudors” does not present itself as fact or as a documentary?

    1. julie b. says:

      The problem with fiction, I think, is that it just puts a “thought” in someone’s mind and that is enough sometimes to be believed, especially if the person does not know true facts. I agree with many of statements here, that, the history and the “real” stories are interesting enough, ya know???
      Thanks Claire!!!!

  30. Valerie says:

    I think that The Tudors is great entertainment, I love it because since I started watching it I have had this insatiable curiosity to find out the truth behind it! Having said that though, I know that there are people who will watch it and not look beyond what’s on the screen, which is really sad. There are certain things about it which annoy me, I don’t like how the Boleyns are portrayed and Katherine Howard must have done more than just giggle her way through her short life. There are other things that I love about it. I think Anne’s execution was portrayed in a very poignant way, everything about that episode, from the music to the final scenes is very moving. I love the way as well that it portrays Mary Tudor in a really positive way, which has intrigued me, there is definitely more to her than the myth that most people are force fed in history class!

  31. Valerie says:

    Just to clarify above point – I mean the ‘Bloody Mary’ thing which was pretty much the first thing I remember learning about her at school. I know that people did die horrifically during her reign, it’s just great to see her being portrayed as a real person!

  32. Rian says:

    I discovered The Tudors a year ago and when i was done watching the third season i was absolutely enthralled in that time period. However, unlike a lot of people i took the story as fiction and i knew that there were many inaccuracies, so i began doing research on the people and times of that era. I think The Tudors is a marvelous show no matter what is true and not because i know it was fiction and i took the time out to research the people. I’m still researching! LOL.

    Although, i’m not too sure about the disclaimer idea about historical fiction novels. A lot of people don’t read that type of stuff in books, so i don’t know what kind of impact that would have. My older sister doesn’t read those extras in books, so i’m sure many others don’t.

    My biggest qualm about people not knowing the correct history starts with education and history courses provided in schools. From what i learned in school about the Tudor era and Henry VIII is such hogwash. I was taught that Henry was a fat, old man who had eight wives and killed every single one of them because none of them could produce a son. That’s American education for you. What the education system needs to do is stop repeating the same old thing and start actually teaching students about major events and important people in history no matter where it was. I mean no one can tell me that Henry VIII didn’t have a huge impact on history or Anne Boleyn or Elizabeth I. I definitely think the biggest problems lie within the education system when it comes to history.

  33. Rob says:

    Without in any sense wishing to be an advocate of the Tudors TV series or anything like that, could I just say that there is a danger in all this of forgetting that historical fiction is a branch of literature – it belongs to the arts, in other words. And art does not have to conform to any individual or group’s notion of good taste or propriety. That is not the purpose of art – not even bad art. Art is not there to obey rules, in fact it is often at its best when it breaks the rules and is shocking and disturbing. The fact that this kind of debate rouses a bit of passion is great. I happen to agree with both sides because it is really impossible to resolve one way or another. And I am as appalled as anyone when I see real people from history exploited for financial gain or cheap thrills. But art, good bad or indifferent, has to continue to be dynamic and self-confident and NEVER apologetic of its liberties.

    1. Louise says:

      I’m really sorry, Rob, but as you will probably guess, I can’t agree. I know it’s literature, but it’s not really total fiction though because it deals with real people, and therefore shouldn’t it conform for the sake of integrity? Art can’t be used as a justification for slander, because if that were the case then the planet would collapse into complete moral decline. If ‘art’ in the form a literature presented a fictional portrayal the President of the US as a wife abuser he would sue. So to portray long dead people in that way seems a litle bit cowardly because the author knows they can get away with it.

      1. Rob says:

        Hi Louise!
        Yes, I do agree. It is cowardly. And it is reprehensible. But at the end of the day, it’s rather similar to the free speech argument. We may not agree with those who preach hatred, for example, but we have to defend their right to free speech. Similarly we might not approve of people who invent silly things about real historical figures, but if we censor their efforts we risk losing any kind of innovation or ‘grit’ to our historical fiction. We cannot introduce some kind of rule book to prevent this sort of thing, no matter how much it hurts – otherwise we will finish up with a kind of hybrid between David Starkey and Mills & Boon. And on that rather bizarre thought, I think I’d better shut up. But I do understand where you are coming from, and really I’m only playing Devil’s Advocate here.

        1. Louise says:

          Hello Rob,
          Thanks for that. Yes, I suppose I can accept your free speech argument (even if it is through gritted teeth!)
          I’m thinking of writing a novel. In mine Anne has 27 fingers and a black pointy hat which yells GRIFFINDOR every time she puts it on. It’ll be a best seller!!!
          Take care, Louise (Clare)

        2. Rob says:

          Louise (Clare),
          Hey, that’s a good plot. Definitely got potential, and a TV tie-in maybe and … Oh wait – just checked. It’s already been done before.

  34. Cranky says:

    For people who are annoyed with the Tudors, this has probably been mentioned here a million times but to make it a million and one here goes. The BBC did two series in the 70’s, one – “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” starring Keith Michell as Henry and two – “Elizabeth R” starring young Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth. Great stuff, and pretty true to history.

    The Tudors is a lot of fun though, it’s sort of the Harlequin Romance bodice ripper type version of history for tv and Jonathan Rhys Meyers – oh my goodness – yum. I really liked the job the actresses did with portraying the first two wives – Maria Doyle Kennedy (Katherine) and Natalie Dormer (Anne). They were wonderful.

    The two BBC series are really well done dramas – sort of like the Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall version for the tv. You know some of the dialogue must be made up but it is all stuff the historical characters might have said.

  35. MaggieR says:

    I agree with Rob. Read fiction, *knowing* it’s fiction, and then read biographies and histories to get the facts, and theories.

    However, as a bisexual woman, I can say that I wouldn’t mind reading that Anne is bisexual in a novel. I can see where others would not like it, but I would. A disclaimer would probably be a good thing, though, for the people who might believe she really *was* bisexual (and that is something that we cannot prove, one way or another). 🙂

    I had some problems with the article, but overall it was a good one.

  36. Anyanka says:

    And book covers.
    There are some publishers how think historical fiction equals Tudor ficton and the cover has a lady in generic Tudor costume.

    And when you read the synopis, it’s based in Stuart times or the War of the Roses.

  37. hamletta says:

    I think Clare has a good point about fiction going so far it’s tantamount to libel. TOBG is especially egregious, but there were a few moments in The Tudors that raised my eyebrows. Having Thomas Boleyn behind the poisoning of Thomas More and the bishops made me jump back: I knew he was a pimp, but a murderer?

    Speaking of More, having him look all mopey over burning Lutheran tracts with no mention of his participation in the burning of human beings made this Lutheran roll her eyes. Of course, the high-pitched squeal that would otherwise have emanated from the Catholic League here in the US would have been far more irritating.

    As to George Boleyn, I agree the wife-raping scene was horrid and pointless and utterly without basis. I disagree about the bisexuality, though. It has a bit of “truthiness” about it, in that respected historians have put forth the argument. It’s kind of a lame argument, but still.

    Whether such a religious man could have done something he himself considered an abomination, have you read the news over the last few years? Plenty of men known for preaching about the abomination of homosexuality have been found with toy boys. It’s hypocritical, but also human. So I disagree on the slanderousness of that aspect.

    On the other side, I’m reading “Wolf Hall” right now, and I’m about in love with Thomas Cromwell, who I’ve always thought was the Devil himself. The book also portrays Saint Thomas More as just this side of the Marquis de Sade. It’s a good thing that rat bastard Bill Donohue from the Catholic League don’t read no books, because the shrieks would shatter all the glass in North America!

    1. empressmaud says:

      I so agree with you about Wolf Hall – I fell in love with Thomas Cromwell in the book too.

  38. Kaitlyn says:

    Thank you. I agree. The inaccuracies I can certainly deal with. It happens all the time and I understand that what’s modified is merely for entertainment. Yes, fine, okay. I can live with that, as well.

    I read ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and must say that I was very unhappy with the way Anne was portrayed, as well. She was extremely unpleasant throughout the novel and was portrayed in a horrible light. I was also disappointed in the portrayal of George. It is not commonly believed or accepted that he really was a homosexual. Therefore, I find it rather irritating that there are many portrayals of him as such. I also have problems with him being seen as a wife beater and rapist. I don’t believe Anne would have had that much affection for him if he had really been as horrible as that.

    You were correct in what you stated about Anne being a religious woman. She was extremely devout. There is no doubt about that. Although many might see her as a “home wrecker” of sorts, or as a “harlot” she rather behaved herself. Remember she refused to be Henry’s mistress for nearly six years. The supposed rumors of her lover’s I believe are merely just that: rumors. I believe her to have been an overall good, Christian woman.

    Yes, she made mistakes. We all do. I don’t agree with her ‘stealing’ Henry away from Katherine. I believe Katherine was his lawfully, wedded wife before the divorce. However, I also believe Anne was his lawful wife. I do not believe Anne Boleyn was a whore, by any means. She was simply a woman who was ambitious and clever. Anne was pushed by her father, as was her sister. I do not blame her. She was a strong, independent woman living in a man’s world.

    I think it is disgusting to have her portrayed as a whore, murderess, adulteress, and incestual. It is an insult to the woman herself. Although I do not wish to victimize this strong, fiery woman, I believe I have to. She was wronged against, as I believe all of the wives were. ‘Twas not their faults they could not please a king who changed his mind ever so much about people. Nor was it any fault of theirs that they could not provide a male heir. Women were much put upon then and I am happy to be a woman living in the world I do now, where I am more respected and have my rights.

    To suggest that Anne was so conniving is terribly wrong. The woman was wronged enough during her lifetime. Let’s not bully the woman in her eternal rest.

    R.I.P. Mistress Anne Boleyn

    *On a somewhat random note*
    I liked how Cromwell was portrayed in ‘The Tudors’, for the most part. James Frain is an amazing actor and I thought Natalie Dormer made a wonderful, very believable Anne. She was fantastic. It was almost like Anne Boleyn herself had stepped onto the set and was telling the world her story. I do not know if Cromwell as as cruel as people saw him or not. I read the book ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel on Cromwell. He was ambitious, as well, and ruthless at times, too. However, you have to remember that back then it was you, or them. I am not saying he should have helped have Anne condemned, or anyone else for that matter. But, he was, afterall, a servant to the king. If anyone is the monster in this it’s Henry himself.

  39. Kaitlyn says:

    Thank you. I agree. The inaccuracies I can certainly deal with. It happens all the time and I understand that what’s modified is merely for entertainment. Yes, fine, okay. I can live with that, as well.

    I read ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and must say that I was very unhappy with the way Anne was portrayed, as well. She was extremely unpleasant throughout the novel and was portrayed in a horrible light. I was also disappointed in the portrayal of George. It is not commonly believed or accepted that he really was a homosexual. Therefore, I find it rather irritating that there are many portrayals of him as such. I also have problems with him being seen as a wife beater and rapist. I don’t believe Anne would have had that much affection for him if he had really been as horrible as that.

    You were correct in what you stated about Anne being a religious woman. She was extremely devout. There is no doubt about that. Although many might see her as a “home wrecker” of sorts, or as a “harlot” she rather behaved herself. Remember she refused to be Henry’s mistress for nearly six years. The supposed rumors of her lover’s I believe are merely just that: rumors. I believe her to have been an overall good, Christian woman.

    Yes, she made mistakes. We all do. I don’t agree with her ‘stealing’ Henry away from Katherine. I believe Katherine was his lawfully, wedded wife before the divorce. However, I also believe Anne was his lawful wife. I do not believe Anne Boleyn was a whore, by any means. She was simply a woman who was ambitious and clever. Anne was pushed by her father, as was her sister. I do not blame her. She was a strong, independent woman living in a man’s world.

    I think it is disgusting to have her portrayed as a whore, murderess, adulteress, and incestual. It is an insult to the woman herself. Although I do not wish to victimize this strong, fiery woman, I believe I have to. She was wronged against, as I believe all of the wives were. ‘Twas not their faults they could not please a king who changed his mind ever so much about people. Nor was it any fault of theirs that they could not provide a male heir. Women were much put upon then and I am happy to be a woman living in the world I do now, where I am more respected and have my rights.

    To suggest that Anne was so conniving is terribly wrong. The woman was wronged enough during her lifetime. Let’s not bully the woman in her eternal rest.

    R.I.P. Mistress Anne Boleyn

    *On a somewhat random note*
    I liked how Cromwell was portrayed in ‘The Tudors’, for the most part. James Frain is an amazing actor and I thought Natalie Dormer made a wonderful, very believable Anne. She was fantastic. It was almost like Anne Boleyn herself had stepped onto the set and was telling the world her story. I do not know if Cromwell as cruel as people saw him or not. I read the book ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel on Cromwell. He was ambitious, as well, and ruthless at times, too. However, you have to remember that back then it was you, or them. I am not saying he should have helped have Anne condemned, or anyone else for that matter. But, he was, afterall, a servant to the king. If anyone is the monster in this it’s Henry himself.

  40. Karen says:

    One of the wonderful things about Alison Weir’s historical novels is that she tells you at the end of her books if she embellished or used creative license.

  41. Adrienne says:

    I agree that novelists should state that they took some liberties with the story and I would hope most people would remember that when reading. But I love the Tudors (and I love being a smarty pants and correcting people on the history, haha) and I really love PG’s books. They are entertaining and it’s fun to imagine what those conversations and personal relationships could have been like. It’s kind of like brain candy. The one comment I do have about the portrayal of George is that we tend to put our morals onto those people. Back in those days, people thought nothing of a husband being cruel or abusive to his wife, so even though there may be no historical evidence to say he was either of those things it doesn’t mean he wasn’t. It’s possible that in that time period, it wouldn’t be noteworthy. Unfortunately, there are only so many things that we have evidence of, we don’t know of every incident, every conversation, every day life. So I try to not judge The Tudors portrayal that much.

  42. Catherine says:

    I do agree that The Other Boleyn Girl has historical inaccuracies, possibly false accusations and many other things but it is still an entertaining and quite good book…

  43. Adriane says:

    I absolutly agree that works of historical fiction should have some disclaimer and take responsibility for being just what it is a work of fiction. Some may hate me for this but I did enjoy The Other Boleyn Girl and I know many won’t hate me for saying The Tudors was brilliant. But I knew they were works of historical fiction with The Other Boleyn Girl(TOBG) being almost that entirely. I will give credit to TOBG for sparking my interest into the Tudor dynasty and especially Anne Boleyn. I began reading and researching those involved in this time period and am now the proud owner of quite an extensive library of Tudor literature. I have had alot of extensive conversations with those who have watched TOBG and The Tudors and have helped them seperate the fact from the fiction. I by far don’t know everything but I do know a little more than the average Joe which I am sure I have that in common with most of you that follow The Anne Boleyn Files. While I think a good historical fiction will spark an interest in historical figures I feel those reading or watching the material should be made aware that there are inaccuracies. With these disclaimers more people may be lead to do alittle of their own research and learn more about those portrayed. I sure hope it would save my ears the pain of hearing “Anne deserved it she was a munipulating woman who bumped uglies with her brother”…ohh just typing it makes me cringe!!!!!!

  44. Anne says:

    I have been fascinated by Anne Boleyn ever since I discovered as a young child on a trip to the Tower that I was born on the same date she was executed – albeit with over 400 years in between. I have lost count of the books I have read about her, Philipa Gregory, Alison Weir, Robin Maxwell, Jean Plaidy, Antonia Fraser, Eric Ives etc., and as many films and TV productions as I have been able to get my hands on, and have never had a problem with distinguishing between fact and fiction. I have had to smile at the number of posts that berate Gregory for trying to pass fiction as fact – it can be very difficult to launch a new book that deals with a subject already well covered. Gregory achieved her aim admirably; with so many people talking about it, it rapidly became a best seller, and has ensured that any other book she has written doesn’t remain on the shelves for too long.
    There are countless examples of fiction being portrayed as fact – the film Braveheart is a prime example – if we were to take them all off the shelves there would be nothing left to read or watch. I don’t think we should worry unduly about people being misled by authors such as Gregory, after all their books are at least persuading people to read about Anne Boleyn; and those who are interested will look for more information for themselves. I for one am more than happy to have fact and fiction side by side on my bookcase.

  45. Anne Barnhill says:

    Wow, I can’t believe I’m getting in on this discussion so late but, here it is! As a writer of historical fiction, I find all these opinions fascinating. Here’s what I try to do:
    I read as much nonfiction (research) as possible and keep reading it while writing the book. I stick as close to what we know to be true as possible. I may change the age of a character if it serves the plot to do so–I recenly completed a novel about Lady Mary Shelton who served Elizabeth I and made her four years younger because I thought that a 4 year old orphan would be even more sympathetic than an 8 year old. I will definitely lay out the facts at the end of the second book. I fear it’s too late to tell the facts for AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN, but if I get the chance to do so, I will. For me, writing historical fiction is the chance to bring these fascinating people to life once more, staying as close to their characters as we know. Of course, every human being is infinitley layered and filled with more than any novelist could ever capture. But I try to put the human feelings back into the facts–the motivations of the characters. I hope I do them justice. Thanks for all this informaition–very helpful and insightful.

  46. Banditqueen says:

    I don’t believe that it is necessary to give a warning to people about fiction as far as accuracy is concerned, as the fact that it says fiction should give people a clue that the book is not factual, but written to entertain, will be inaccurate in parts and the author has an agenda to bring their ideas to life. The information is there to tell a story. If someone is too thick that they cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction as many reviews of historical biographies show, that is their problem. No warning is needed, just education, introduction to sources and open debate.

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