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Writing about the Tudors by Judith Arnopp

Posted By on March 3, 2015

A Song of SixpenceThank you to historical novelist Judith Arnopp for stopping by The Anne Boleyn Files to share news of her latest book release and to tell us more about her writing. I loved Judith’s The Winchester Goose, so I’m looking forward to reading this one. Over to Judith…

I’ve read about the Tudors since I was a teenager – a long time ago. I started off with Jean Plaidy, then consumed anything else I could get my hands on. When I first began to write professionally I set my books in the medieval/ Anglo Saxon period which is another era that I enjoy. The books did reasonably well but readers kept asking if I’d written any Tudor books, so in the end I obliged. That is when my readership began to expand. I owe my career to the Tudors.

Although there are a huge amount of books set in the period, and many different types: romance, fiction, literary fiction, readers never seem to tire of them. There is always a new generation who are unfamiliar with the Tudors. Most of us, at some point in our lives, go through a stage of fascination with Henry and his wives.

There is just something about the Tudors, whether it is the costumes, the politics, or the romance, they are never boring. There are so many avenues to follow, and new perspectives to take up. I am not mad-keen on revisionist history which is in danger of making everyone out to be a saint but I am keen on looking on events from a new perspective. Instead of the victim, become the abuser. It is a brilliant way of burrowing into their mind.
You have only to look at the success of Wolf Hall and Mantel’s unique presentation of Cromwell to see how this works. Usually he is depicted as a grim self-serving monster, reaping, without compunction, the victims that come between him and his all-consuming ambition. Mantel’s genius is to show the Tudor world through his eyes.

There are no thoroughly evil people, even the hardest criminals among us justify our actions. Cromwell was doing a job, a dirty job that few others could have done. In the end he was consumed by his own ruthlessness, destroyed by his own laws. In the last screen of the BBC production of Wolf Hall, when he is embraced by the increasingly manic king Henry VIII, the realisation of his own eventual end is written clearly in Cromwell’s eyes. And, for the first time (possibly) in history, and in literature, we have sympathy for him. That is the beauty of perspective, the joy of approaching a well-known subject in a fresh manner. It opens our eyes.

Tudor history, well, all history I suppose, is full of people yet to be treated in this way. Historical fiction is replete with stock figures, cardboard ‘monsters’ and plastic ‘saints.’ My hope is that Mantel will help writers of historical fiction to see the benefits of viewing these thigns afresh. I don’t mean whitewashing, I mean trying to understand and perhaps empathise.

It is something I always try to do in my own writing. There are negative characters, we need those for the sake of the plot, but I always try to provide a reason for their behaviour. No one is born ‘bad’; life experiences form our characters, and we never see ourselves as monstrous. When you study a character in depth, you will, in most instances, find possible motives buried away somewhere; an event that has altered their path and reshaped their opinions.

There are few characters in my novel A Song of Sixpence who are traditionally treated negatively. Margaret Beaufort, for one, is usually an ageing, overly pious, sometimes neurotic termagant but there is nothing to suggest this in the record. She was very religious, most people were, but there is no suggestion that she was unhinged. Devoted to her son Henry, she worked tirelessly and determinedly to put him on the throne. There is nothing wrong with that, she should be praised for it. I am sure we’d all fight tooth and nail for our children. I have some suspicion she may have been an interfering mother-in-law, we’ve all experienced those, but why do we always suppose her intentions were negative. Maybe her motives were born of affection and concern. The historical record suggests that she and Elizabeth of York were close so, in my novel, it is a slow burner; they start off at odds but end up as friends.

Henry VIIAnd then there is Henry VII. Traditionally we see him as a miser, the thief of another man’s throne, but he couldn’t have been all bad. He lived in harsh times. He saw the throne as his right – we all fight for what we see as our rights, don’t we? Once he was king he did a good job – when he died the coffers were comfortably full; he put down all the pretenders to his crown, and made numerous advantageous alliances. He also left an heir, Henry VIII. There is very little more required of a ‘good’ king.

In my novel Henry is at first insecure, unsure of Elizabeth, and distrusting of his courtiers but in all likelihood, given what he’d witnessed of Richard III’s reign, he had good cause. He is quiet, calculating and wise. I’ve mixed negatives with a dollop of good intentions and, I hope, produced a more complex character to previous versions of Henry.

As for Elizabeth of York whose fictional representation is often rather meek, and sometimes cowed, I have tried to explore her character in even more depth. History presents her as a good queen, obedient and supportive of Henry VII. She took no part in the politics of Henry’s reign, but her charitable work is well recorded. She kept close to and cared for her sisters, and also had a direct hand in the upbringing and education of her younger children, keeping them close to her and teaching them their letters.

Prior to their marriage Henry and Elizabeth had fought on opposing teams. It is more than likely that there were some initial misgivings on both parts. A Song of Sixpence, written in the first person, provides insight into Elizabeth’s inner mind. She is determined to be a good queen, has ambition for her children, love for her country and fights to break down the barriers between her and Henry.

Elizabeth of YorkWhen Perkin Warbeck appears on the scene, claiming to be her brother, the younger of the two princes who disappeared from the Tower in 1483, her emotions are conflicted. She does not know if Warbeck’s claim is true. If he is indeed her brother, what will she do once Henry gets his hands on him? How will she stand by and watch her husband execute her brother? Yet, if he is her brother and he is victorious, she may have to witness him destroy her husband and steal the future of her sons. A complex situation with an unenviable mix of emotions.

A Song of Sixpence is my fourth Tudor novel but there are plenty more to come. For my next project I am contemplating a trilogy of Margaret Beaufort’s long and eventful life. Then there is Margaret Pole, Katherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour and ultimately … when I pluck up sufficient courage … there is Henry VIII himself. The scope is endless, the prospect exciting, and my time in Tudor England far from over. I hope you will join me there.

A Song of Sixpence is available now on Kindle and the paperback will follow shortly.

Book Details

In the years after Bosworth, a small boy is ripped from his rightful place as future king of England. Years later when he reappears to take back his throne, his sister Elizabeth, now Queen to the invading King, Henry Tudor, is torn between family loyalty and duty.

As the final struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster is played out, Elizabeth is torn by conflicting loyalty, terror and unexpected love.

Will Elizabeth support the man claiming to be her brother, or will she choose the king?
Set at the court of Henry VII A Song of Sixpence offers a new perspective on the early years of Tudor rule. Elizabeth of York, often viewed as a meek and uninspiring queen, emerges as a resilient woman whose strengths lay in endurance rather than resistance.

File Size: 2868 KB
Print Length: 348 pages
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00TUA5PTM

Available on Kindle from Amazon com – http://amzn.to/1AUOQQz, Amazon UK – http://amzn.to/1B50FSS and the other Amazon international sites.

For more information on Judith’s novels please visit:
Her webpage: www.juditharnopp.com
Her blog: http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.co.uk/
Her facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Historical-fiction-by-Judith-Arnopp-/124828370880823?fref=ts
Her Amazon page: http://author.to/JudithArnoppbooks

12 thoughts on “Writing about the Tudors by Judith Arnopp”

  1. Clare says:

    Sadly, in her rush to humanise Cromwell Mantel managed to dehumanise everybody else. It may be revisionist history, but I don’t think there is anything remotely clever in doing that.

    1. Ger says:

      I agree with you there Clare. I struggled with both books (actually I didn’t manage to complete either) and I watched the recent BBC dramatization but can’t say I really liked it. Your summation is spot on.

      1. Dawn 1st says:

        But hasn’t Anne, Henry, George etc been dehumanised all through history long before Mantel by novelists and historians alike, along with the odd contemporary?
        Anne the grasping six fingered witch, her father a bullying pimp, and her sister a slut at home and abroad…. and so on, the list of interpretation and reinvention of these people is very long. Cromwell himself has been done no favours through history either, so why would hers be seen as any different to all the others?

        I personally think the ability to create a story and write a book is clever, an achievement, from the lower end of the market to the excellent, it’s something I couldn’t do, or even know where to begin to be honest.

        I enjoyed your and Claire’s joint authorship on George Boleyn immensely.

  2. Hannele says:

    Hello Judith,

    I liked very much much your novel about Anne Boleyn, The kiss of concubine.

    Only the titlel and cover picture were misleading and because of them I nearly missed your book. Fortunately I heard of it from elsewhere.

    As for Henry VII being a good king simply by gathering a lot of money and siring a male heir – I do not really think it is enough.

    Henry VII killed Warwick and others for flimsy reasons – perhaps his son inherited his paranoia from his father? And did Elizabeth pamper her second son who grew up a narcissist and unable to love anybody but himself?

  3. historyreader85 says:

    Was looking forward to this and read it quickly. Sorry, but didn’t really see anything too new here. I thought Henry came off as quite cold and unlikeable as did his mother. The relationship doesn’t seem to progress too much. Henry never really loves or trusts Elizabeth and is never warm or loving to her, despite years of marriage and many children. I have read biographies and it is pretty clear the relationship became a close/mutually supportive one, the account of Arthur’s tragic death news is touching, how they both held back their own feelings to comfort the other, to me that is what a marriage/relationship is about. Henry really deteriorated after her death, both in character and in health. But fictions never seem to portray that. Henry and Margaret get such bad raps in novels today. I just read biographies if I want a less one dimensional view of the people involved.

  4. Anne Barnhill says:

    Thank you for an interesting article. As a writer of fiction myself, I agree we need to go deeper and see what really might have been, given the parameters of what we know of their personalities from primary sources. Sounds like a fascinating read and I will look forward to it! Best wishes!

  5. Diana Rubino says:

    Hello Judith,
    I just read your article on the Anne Boleyn Files site, and look forward to reading your books. I’m also a Tudorphile, and my first historical, The Jewels of Warwick, centered on Henry VIII and 2 fictional heroines.
    It must be gorgeous where you live; I love Wales!
    I’d be interested to host you on my blog anytime you’d like. Just Email me and we can set up a date.
    I noticed that you wrote:
    Margaret Beaufort whose campaign to put her son, Henry VIII, on the throne

    That should be Henry VII who is Margaret’s son.
    Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you! Diana

    1. Judith says:

      Authors can’t please everyone and it would be a dull world if we all liked the same thing.

      Oh dear, thanks for pointing that out Diana, I write about both kings so often my fingers get tangled but I should have noticed in the edits 🙂 You are right Wales is lovely, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I shall look out for your book, it sounds interesting. A blog sounds lovely too, thank you. I will be in touch soon.

      I will look for your work too Anne Barnhill – thank you for your comments.

  6. Hannele says:

    To Judith

    You wrote that that we all fight for our children.

    I do not believe most parents are so ambitious for their son than Margaret Beaufort. On the contrary, they would rather have him alive and in more modest position than to endanger his life to become a king.

    That is not to say that I do not understand that families like Yorks. Lancasters and Tudors who were taught from their childhood that it was their right and destiny to rule.

    But they were really nothing like “normal” parents.

  7. Dawn 1st says:

    You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but
    can’t please all of the people all of the time……..think that rings true with authors as much as it does to any politician, leader, Mums… 🙂
    Every one of you are ‘brave’ putting yourselves out there, waiting for the feed back… good, bad or indifferent on all your hard work, whether you write fact or fiction.

    I ‘cut my teeth’ on Ms. Plaidy books too, and last year I found two 1st editions, hardback with dust-covers in a charity shop, The Captive Queen of Scots, and The Spanish Bridegroom, have read them both before of course, but had to have them at £1.50 each!!
    Enjoyed your post, thank you.

  8. BanditQueen says:

    I have to agree with you, Judith, there are extremes of depiction in most drama and many historical novels, there are even some extremes in modern documentaries. Margaret Beautfort is one of my favourite historical persons, but she is much more complex than she is often shown. Of course in drama about Henry her son, by this time, Margaret was past her prime and mature. She was by this time also retiring and pius, but she was still active in the lives of her daughter in law and in her sons life. Henry depended on her and he also consulted her on a number of important policy decisions. Margaret was very young of course when she bore Henry, thirteen and she was a widow. She was not expected to survive the birth, but both mother and son did and were in danger ove the course of their lives. Margaret was courageous, she fought for her son as any mother would, but as a lioness whose cub is in peril and danger, and Henry was in his teens.

    Margaret is either shown as a religious zealot or as a woman who meddled, she was neither of these; yes she was pius, but she was also wordly and she knew how to work for her sons heritage and her own. She made marriages that helped to promote her claims and his, and which gained the land, wealth and protection that she needed for this. As a woman, she was also an heiress to one of the greatest families of the 15th century and it is from her that Henry got his claim to the throne. She had independent wealth but she also had both a brain for intrigue and one for wise counsel and how to use her alliances for the best. For example, after the death of Stafford, she married Stanley as she needed a Yorkist supporter again to further her son’s part. Stanley was the most powerful man in the country, had a private army of over 7000 men, and more land than the King. People feared the Stanleys, this was the match of a woman who had political savvy.

    Margaret did indeed fight tooth and nail for her son, but she was also seperated from him from the age of fourteen; she was devoted to him and he was everything to her. She saw him as the hope of the Lancastrian cause; the futue for peace and it was natural that she would work for his rights and inheritance. But she was also wise enough to learn from her early motherhood. Margaret advised Henry not to marry his daughters too young; she did not want Princess Margaret Tudor, her grandchild to marry the King of Scots and become pregnant too soon. Margaret Beautfort got the marriage delayed by a few years to prevent her grandchild being pregnant at thirteen as she had been. She also helped her daughter in law to conduct and instruct the education of her sons and her daughters in their formative years. Henry VIII later had a Book of Hours belonging to Margaret that she had given to Elizabeth. It has her name, recording of the birth of Henry and the name of Elizabeth in it, and Henry has also made a dedication within it. David Starkey sees a similar means of lettering and that this shows that his mother taught him to write.

    In Hilary Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell we see the depth of the man, that he was not merely a fixer and administrator with a ruthless streak, but a man that watched and learned from those around him, those who fell and those who survived. Cromwell could observe the political dangers at the court and negotiate them with skill and cunning. He may not have been someone who acted purely out of revenge as in the books but he was someone who took it all in as it were. He could work out the strengths and weaknesses of his opponants before moving to deal with them. He was not someone who stood by one singular code of morals if it meant that he could gain something by breaking his belief systems. He was not entirely corrupt, but he would use bribes to further the promotion of his supporters. He appears to have few friends in the drama; he depends on the King; he listens and he watches and he weighs everything before a decision. However, he could also miscalculate as with his moves to push his own foreign policy through an alliance with Chapyus. Here, clearly, he went too far and the King was not prepared to accept the demands that Mary is reinstated in the succession. Henry is angered and Cromwell is publically humiliated. But fate then intervenes and it is Anne and the Boleyns who are brought down via a combination of Cromwells crafty moves and questions, investigations, the kings demands that Anne goes and a series of circumstances that allow people to incriminate themselves. Many theories abound about the fall of Anne Boleyn and if Cromwell or Henry are to blame; but things are far more complex than that. Anne herself contributed to her own downfall, not by being guilty, but by taking courtly games too far and making too many of the wrong enemies. Cromwell may have planned the actions that led to her fall, but the puppet master is Henry and nothing could have happened without his say so or his consent or his instructions.

    Thomas Cromwell was a very crafty and clever man. He was useful, he was a fixer and he wanted what the king wanted; he wanted to make Henry rich and to get him his desire. He was not afraid to challenge the status quo, the old nobility and the old order; he did so slowly, but he made people afraid of him as well. Cromwell was ruthless; he did not care if people close to the King fell in his legislation attack on the Catholic church in England, he was not compassionate towards More or Fisher or anyone else; save a few women, including Katherine and Mary. Cromwell was not above selling his own beliefs if he could force someone into doing the political will of the King and to complie to those laws. He was not above even the judicial murder of an annointed Queen if it meant that he survived and they did not; but the evidence for his active plotting to bring Anne down is scant. He did have another side, one that helped the poor and the needy and the vulnerable; he helped widows and heis known to have helped, Mary Boleyn and Jane Boleyn after the death of their husbands and Thomas Boleyn. He also from time to time even attempted to help Princess Mary. He was a fixer and a good legal mind, a good administrator, Henry found him efficient; but he could also be ambitious and it was that which brought him down in the end. Dramatic portrayals of Cromwell have not always been good, but I think more recently we see a man of many sides; a henchman yes, but a human as well.

    I am looking forward to reading the new book by Judith as I have read and enjoyed a few others. I think that that Elizabeth of York would have been torn by the arrival of Perkin Warbeck and if she believed he was her brother then she could say nothing for it would put the future of her own children in jeapardy and the marriage that put her and Henry Tudor on the throne would have been for nothing. For someone to claim to be Richard of York, her younger brother; it must have been traumatic and dangerous. Elizabeth must have felt both joy at his survival the alleged attempt on his life in the Tower, but also aware of what that fact could mean for her, Henry and their heirs. It would put Richard as the true heir to the throne. The Wars of the Roses had been ended by her husband; Elizabeth must have feared a return to this time. Like Margaret Beautfort she also has to make life and death decisions that can affect the future and the safety of their children. I believe it was this realization that may have both led to some tension between the two queens and also may have allowed her mother and mother in law to become allies in the first place. The three women have similar lives; Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York both had to flee from invading armies and family infighting; Margaret too had to protect her son and herself. In the end motherhood led to a bond between them at different times and in the end it was that strength that allowed Elizabeth to accept that Warbeck may not be her true brother after all.

  9. Dawn 1st says:

    Thinking of extreme portrayals of a Tudor person, one of the most ‘reinventions’ if thats the right word, of a character of a Tudor person I have ever read was the one on by Ford Maddox Ford 1906,, about Catherine Howard, The 5th Queen, heavens…artistic licence had never been more freely used than it had in that trilogy, Catherine was unrecognisable to how we know her.
    Very ‘entertaining’, or should that be captivating by its creativity, there were NO boundaries, lol. This was also the case in those that surrounded her too.
    I think the Historical Accuracy stopped in this novel at; they were actual people, Henry VIII was King and Catherine was the 5th Queen. The rest pure invention and imagination of a literary mind.

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