Sunday, 20 March 2016

Saxon Stories and Tudor Tales - Judith Arnopp Casts Light ...

Today I'm delighted to welcome as my guest, author Judith Arnopp

I asked her: 
You've written a number of books set just before and during the Tudor period, but you've also written about the early medieval period and even the 7thc. Do you have a favourite period of history, and where do your stories come from? 
I love all history but tend to be drawn most to the medieval and Tudor periods, probably because I studied those areas at university and feel more at home there. When I wrote my first novel, PeaceweaverI mistakenly thought that the world had enough ‘Tudor’ novels so I aimed at the much earlier period of 1066.

The Forest Dwellers is set just after the Conquest and The Song of Heledd even earlier in the 7th century. I enjoyed writing these early novels and they were very well received but I had so many requests for ‘something Tudor’ that I decided to oblige and wrote The Winchester Goose as an experiment. This book is set at the time of Henry VIII, half of the novel taking place at court and the other half across the river in Southwark, the haunt of thieves and prostitutes. The Winchester Goose is a bit of a romp but the protagonist, prostitute Joanie Toogood, makes some very sharp observations and draws parallels between her life and that of her so-called betters at court.

A huge amount of research went into this book as it was the first I’d written about the seedier side of Tudor life. It was very popular, remaining in the best-selling historical list for some time and it is still my best-selling book, closely followed by The Kiss of the Concubine

Anne Boleyn sells books but that isn’t why I wrote it; there are loads of novels about her, some good but mostly not-so-good. I wanted to tear away the labels that have been applied to her, provide her with a voice, and try to present her as she might have been. In my novel she isn’t a witch or a whore, or a schemer, she is a victim but one who knows her own mind and isn’t afraid of speaking out. My Anne is a girl in the wrong place at the wrong time, in love with the wrong man. 

After I wrote The Kiss of the Concubine,
I became intrigued with the characters from the Tudor period, relishing in discovering the intimate lives of Katheryn Parr in Intractable Heart, and Elizabeth of York in A Song of Sixpence. Along the way I have come to understand, if not like, Henry VIII a little bit more. I can see he wasn’t the evil monster of popular legend but a complex, deeply flawed human being. Of all the Tudor minds his has to be the most messed up and that is intriguing prospect for any writer. One day, when I am brave enough, I might tackle a first person account of his life. 

Is it a coincidence that so many of your stories feature Wales and/or Welsh people? Wales and Welsh people have more influence on English history than we realise. I don’t think I made a conscious decision to inject any ‘Welshness’ into my work; it just happened that way. The first half of Peaceweaver is set in Wales only because Eadgyth’s first marriage was to Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. Although he was the first ruler of all Wales he was never named king. Eadgyth was married to him as a ‘Peaceweaver’ between Gruffydd and her father, Aelfgar, Earl of Mercia. The records of Eadgyth’s life in Wales are pretty much non-existent but I was able to trace her experience through the movements of Gruffydd. It was fun weaving her story from the few facts we have and describing the backdrop of Wales is always a joy. There are so many unspoiled areas around here; the mountains and lakes, the rocky coastline are on my doorstep so it is easy for me to describe her surroundings and illustrate a very different life to the one she would have known as a girl in East Anglia.

The Song of Heledd is taken from an ancient Welsh poem Canu Heledd which roughly translates as The Song of Heledd. The poem survives only in fragments; we have the beginning and the end but no middle so although we know Heledd is mourning for the loss of her dynasty and feels responsible for their slaughter, we don’t know what she did to cause the tragedy. I just had to use my imagination to fill the gaps. The characters, Cynddylan, Cadafael, Oswiu and Penda and the conflicts between them are all historically recorded. I had to amalgamate the poem and the historical record as if they were giant jigsaw – I’ve always liked puzzles. But, to answer the question, I don’t think I set out to write about Wales, it just crops up, even in the Tudor novels. I was surprised during my research for The Beaufort Bride that Margaret spent the first years of her marriage to Edmund Tudor in Wales. They lived for the first months at Caldicot Castle, Lamphey Palace, and Carmarthen, and her son, Henry Tudor, was raised at Pembroke and Raglan Castle but I certainly didn’t pick Margaret because it meant I could write about Wales, maybe she picked me. 

A quick look at Wikipedia tells us that Margaret Beaufort was married 3 times by the age of 14. Surely even in this period, this was unusual? 
Yes, three husbands before you are 15 is not to be recommended. Her first marriage was to the son of the Duke of Suffolk when she was about six and he was eight years old. Obviously, it was not a proper marriage as we understand it but more of a deal between her mother and the Duke to try to boost his failing influence with Henry VI. Margaret was a considerable heiress and cousin to the king and as such was highly marriageable. When the Duke fell into disgrace and was horribly assassinated by his enemies, her marriage to John was annulled and shortly afterwards Margaret was married to her guardian, Edmund Tudor, who was the king’s half-brother. Again, this was a match that took place because of the benefits Margaret’s wealth and properties would bring. 

The arms of Edmund Tudor - image Wiki/Sodacan

Edmund Tudor has had some bad press because of the early consummation of the marriage but I think we have to look at it in the context of the period. Tudor would not have gained possession of Margaret’s properties until she produced a child. Although it wasn’t ‘normal’ for consummation to take place at such a young age it wasn’t met with undue outrage just a few tuts, not at all like such a thing would be received today. Edmund died protecting the king’s properties at Carmarthen when his wife was about six months pregnant and Margaret gave birth to Henry Tudor (later to become Henry VII) at Pembroke castle. She was just fourteen and the birth caused her so much physical damage that she was never able to conceive again. Surprisingly she doesn’t seem to have held any resentment toward Edmund and one source even says she asked to be buried with him on her death; a request that was ignored. A barren woman is not usually marriageable but she was a rich widow with a close relationship to the king and in those unstable times she was vulnerable. Margaret seems to have taken matters into her own hands and with the aid of her brother in law, Jasper Tudor, quickly betrothed herself to Harry Stafford, a younger son of the Duke of Buckingham.

The union was probably more to do with self-preservation than anything else. Buckingham offered the protection she required, and her wealth provided a boost for the younger son of a great man. This marriage seems to have been a happy one; they spent much time together hunting and visiting her son Henry in Wales, and paying visits to the court. Margaret was married and content but as the Wars of the Roses continued and the unstable Henry VI was supplanted by Edward of York, that security did not last. Margaret pretended loyalty to York but never forgot the rich royal blood that ran through her son’s veins and refused to relinquish her dreams. When Stafford died from wounds inflicted at the Battle of Barnet Margaret was widowed again but, never one to rest on her laurels, she formed a marital alliance with Thomas Stanley who, as most people know, together with his brother William Stanley, delivered Henry Tudor’s victory over Richard the third at Bosworth. 

Perhaps the most recent memory of Margaret would be, for British TV viewers, in the BBC dramatisation of The White Queen. Is 'your' Margaret the same character? If not, how does she differ?
My Margaret is very different to the woman in The White Queen. In my opinion strong, single minded women are too often portrayed as a little unhinged. Determination in a man would never be written that way. History shows us that Margaret, the real Margaret, was awesome. She had just one son and, in her eyes, that son was the proper heir to the throne. Margaret did not rest until she saw the crown placed upon his head. In a male this would be seen as heroism but in The White Queen and other fiction, Margaret is bordering on lunacy. Because a woman is pious does not mean she is a religious nut; piety was a valued thing in medieval England. I appreciate that a novel needs drama but I see no reason to defame a historical figure who is already immensely interesting. 
So, when we first meet Margaret in The Beaufort Bride, she is a child forced into an adult world. I try to give voice to her innermost emotions as she tries to make sense of marriage and her new environment. She never sees herself as a victim, she looks for ways to overcome adversity and while her experiences in Wales could have destroyed her, instead they make her stronger. In Book Two, The Beaufort Woman, Margaret is faced with adversity; she needs all her wits to survive the Yorkist rule. Throughout Edward IV’s reign, while outwardly loyal to the new king, she holds on to her dream, her loyalty to Lancaster, and her dedication to her son. In the run up to Bosworth all her hard won skills come into play as she gathers herself in readiness to make her move. In Book Three, The King’s Mother, she comes into her own; independent, strong, benevolent and respected by all. I have found nothing during my research to suggest Margaret was mentally unsound or fanatically religious. Her devotion to her God was matched only by her commitment to her son. The historical record shows a proud, loyal and steadfast woman and that is the woman I hope you will discover in my books.

What else should people know about your new release?
Book one: The Beaufort Bride is available on Kindle now and the paperback will follow very shortly. To be among the first to know when it is due to be launched please join my facebook page Historical Fiction by Judith Arnopp where you will also find links to blogs and items of historical interest. 

Early days, maybe, given that you've only just released The Beaufort Bride, but do you know what your next project will be? 
I am already well into writing the second in the trilogy, The Beaufort Woman, which covers the turbulence of Edward IV’s reign, her relationship with the Yorkist king and Queen Elizabeth Woodville during her years of Margaret’s separation from Henry. The book concludes at the decisive battle at Bosworth and Henry’s dramatic crowning on the battlefield. 

Thank you, Judith, for talking to me about your writing. Judith can be found:
Buy The Beaufort Bride On Kindle Here
And buy her other Books Here


  1. Thank you so much for hosting me Annie, it was a real pleasure.

  2. Thanks Judith - it was a delight to interview you :)

  3. My TBR pile is growing. I've developed a fascination with Welsh history and I'll have to check out Peaceweaver.

  4. Hi Cryssa, I think you'll like Eadgyth, at least by the last chapter anyway, she is a bit of a handful early on :)

  5. Fab reading and photos. Wonderful.

  6. Thanks for your comment Jane - I had a great time putting this together, not only talking to Judith about her writing, but also squeezing in all her lovely book covers :)