I am happy to welcome to Outtakes author Judith Arnopp, whose most recent three books feature the Tudors. Here, she tells us why she didn’t write about them earlier and how she approaches them now. – Kim
By Judith Arnopp
The late medieval and Tudor period was always my first love. As a teenager, I cut my teeth on Jean Plaidy’s books about Henry VIII and his six wives. Later I moved away from them and began to enjoy the Plantagenet era and the transitional period between the reigns. It was many, many years later that I went to university and studied history properly. My courses there centred on Anglo-Saxon and the early medieval and, when I wrote my first serious novel, Peaceweaver, much of what I had learned came into play.
Peaceweaver didn’t take the world by storm and neither did The Forest Dwellers or The Song of Heledd, but they did win me some faithful followers. I was often asked if I had written any Tudor books. I hadn’t, and the reason I hadn’t was that people kept telling me readers were sick of the Tudors. They’d been done to death. The Tudors are everywhere; on the television, on T-shirts, tea pots, mugs, tea towels. I thought they’d become clichéd and dull, even a little silly.
Then, quite by chance I attended a workshop where I was asked to write an epistolary, a story in the form of letters, and for some reason, I hit on the idea of six imaginary letters written to Henry by his queens. The result was Dear Henry; Confessions of the Queens. I had no intention of publishing, carried out very little research, and it is entirely fictional. A friend, who thought it was marvellous, suggested I publish it, so I did.
I didn’t expect anyone to read it.
Some might say Dear Henry was a mistake as it was slated by historical purists but other less academic readers loved it, and I was swamped by e-mails asking for more, longer ‘stuff about the Tudors’. In many ways publishing Dear Henry was the best thing I did because it was the catalyst for my own ‘Tudor Period’ which has really kicked off my career.
The Winchester Goose is a direct result of Dear Henry and the reader response to it. But this time, I put in an awful lot of research and approached the Tudor court from an entirely unexpected perspective. The Winchester Goose won me some very nice reviews and my sales took a leap. My Facebook and e-mail were full of readers who loved it and wanted more. By then I was half way through writing The Kiss of the Concubine, a fresh and somewhat down to earth story of Anne Boleyn. I was really getting a taste of it, and again my sales increased and my fan base expanded further. I realised I couldn’t write this stuff fast enough.
The Tudors have a special place in our hearts. In Britain many people take them for granted, and I think that is why I mistakenly thought people were tired of them. In America – all over the world actually but particularly in the States – the reading public can’t get enough. The Amazon catalogue is full of novels set in the Tudor court so to make mine distinctive, I take a slightly different approach.
I am not interested in their fine clothes, their jewels, or strange diet. I am intrigued by their minds. I strip away their finery and reveal the naked human beneath. In my books, you won’t find a ‘monstrous’ Henry, dispassionately striking off heads; you will find a man crippled with doubt, demented by failure and needing to find love.
Anne Boleyn, probably a later copy of an image of about 1534, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons
In my carefully researched novel The Kiss of the Concubine, Anne Boleyn isn’t a scheming, ambitious, sexual predator, she is an ordinary girl who happens to fall in love with the king just at the moment he falls out of love with her. As the story progresses, she matures into an intelligent and pious woman whose concern for religious reformation is paramount.
The Winchester Goose is told from the perspective of Joanie Toogood, a prostitute from Southwark who is dragged into court intrigue by one of her customers, Francis Wareham; her story is juxtaposed against that of Katherine Howard, and we begin to see that women of all social classes were, to some extent, bought and soldin the Tudor marriage market.
My latest novel is Intractable Heart: The Story of Katheryn Parr. Henry’s last wife has been largely overlooked, often depicted as an older woman, a nursemaid to an ageing king. But quite surprisingly, on her death in 1548, she was just 36 years old.
Katheryn was probably the most intelligent of Henry’s wives; she was a published author, a keen supporter and prime mover in the reformation of the church. She stood as regent over England while Henry fought the French and reunited the royal children, bringing them all under the king’s roof for the first time. Her greatest influence was on Elizabeth who, after witnessing her stepmother’s unflinching management of the country, went on to rule England as queen, wielding extraordinary power in a man’s world.
Intractable Heart is presently available on Amazon Kindle and the paperback will follow as soon as possible. You can read an excerpt below, in which Katheryn is preparing for the death of the king.
27th January 1547
I wake suddenly in the early hours, certain that something is wrong. It is as if something has shifted, irreversibly altered, my sense of danger increases. Sliding from the bed, I tread carefully across the floor, making as little noise as I can to avoid waking my woman. Carefully I open the shutter and the moonlight floods into the room.
Katheryn Parr, circa 1545, attributed to William Scrots, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons
It floats benignly in the night sky, leavening the dark, painting the slumbering, snow-laced garden, a silvery blue. I shiver, hug myself and turn away. A jug of wine stands on the night table and I fill a cup, the liquid cool from the chilly nocturnal air. As I grope my way back to bed, my woman stirs and yawns, her long bare arms pale in the moonlight.
“Are you all right, Your Majesty? Can I get you anything?”
“Not unless you can bring me peace of mind.” It is a poor attempt at a joke. She stumbles from her truckle bed and helps me settle, tucking the sheets tightly around me.
“I am sure the king will recover, Your Majesty. He always has before.”
She is young; so young that she has never yet been wed, let alone known the trials of widowhood or the vulnerability of being a woman alone.
Obediently, I relax on the pillow and appease her with a hollow smile. “You get some sleep,” she says and, forgetting that she is here to do my bidding, I close my eyes.
Her bed creaks as she climbs back in. She turns over, thumps her pillow a few times and within moments is snoring again. Wide awake in the darkness, I listen to her laboured breathing and think of Henry’s passing. What will his death mean to me, and where will life take me next?
As soon as I am dressed in the morning I hurry along to Henry’s apartment but, once more they halt me at the door.
“I need to see my husband,” I demand with as much authority as I can muster. But I am met with a steely refusal. I press my lips together, suppressing my fury. “Then send Denny out. I will speak with him.”
After being kept waiting for too long the door opens a crack and Denny slips out. Reluctantly he pulls off his cap and makes a sketchy bow. I have always hated people who refuse to look me squarely in the eye.
“This is outrageous, Denny. I would speak to my husband. If he is likely to die then I want to say goodbye. Surely, I can just sit quietly and hold his hand?”
“He is too sick for visitors, Your Majesty. His physicians have advised against it.”
We draw aside as a troop of servants appear bearing trays of food, the King’s taster comes hurrying along behind.
I watch them disappear unchallenged in to the chamber.
“I see he is well enough to eat, so why is he too sick to see me?”
Denny inclines his head, infuriatingly calm in the face of my simmering rage. I bury the urge to slap him.
“The king must keep his strength up. I shall send for you the moment he asks to see you.”
“You will send for me the moment he wakes up.”
Denny closes his eyes and bows his head in silent agreement. I swallow the snub, turn on my heel and march back to my own apartments where, safe in the company of friends, I give way to a storm of weeping.
For three days I continue in a sort of void. My household continues much as usual but I am detached from it. I cannot join in with the dancing, nor laugh at the antics of the fools. I curl in the window seat with Homer and Rig, let my fingers travel through their warm coats and look out across the frigid garden. There is nowhere warm in the world, my very existence lacks comfort. I will find no warmth or safety in this world. Not without Henry.
Judith Arnopp’s greatest loves have always been writing and history, and she writes the sort of books she loves to read: historical settings with a strong female lead. Her work reaches a worldwide audience, and her following is steadily increasing. She lives on a smallholding in West Wales with her husband, John, their daughter’s elderly pony, and a naughty Jack Russell, Bryn.
For more about Judith and her fiction, visit her website, juditharnopp.com. Judith also writes about the Tudor period, both on her own blog, juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.co.uk, and at English Historical Fiction Authors. You can connect with Judith on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon UK and Amazon US.