When I look through the posts in the Tudor Facebook groups, as well as the novels covering the period, I am amazed how much of the content is about the royalty and the court. Just as today, the likelihood that we would have been titled nobles or even royals are extremely small, yet we are endlessly fascinated with the intrigue of the court and the behaviour of kings and queens.
We know the stories, such as how Anne Boleyn was so treasonously indiscreet with Henry Norris – “you look for dead men’s shoes; for if ought came to the King but good, you would look to have me.” Or how King Henry burst in on Anne of Cleves at Rochester disguised as Robin Hood, assuming that his natural kingliness would shine through, rather than appearing to be what he was – a lecherous and rather smelly old man.
Which leads me to the main point of this post – why is it that royalty and the court seems so all-pervasive in Tudor-era novels? Even in novels ostensibly set in the general population, the Court makes an appearance – in the Shardlake novels of C.J. Sansom, for example, we meet Cromwell and Katheryn Parr as well as the King himself, and in the Bruno novels of S.J. Parris we meet Philip Sidney, Francis Walsingham and Elizabeth I. Even my books fall into this trap – my second Lady Mary de Beauvais novel The Alchemist’s Arms, features Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester in support roles, while the third (currently in planning) will make Elizabeth one of the main characters.
I think that if any of us were to have been born and raised in the period of 1485 to 1603, the chances are we would have been part of the general population – yeomen, labourers, or maybe part of the emerging middle / merchant class – so we would never have got near the court and royalty. Which is perhaps what makes it so fascinating – with the benefit of historical hindsight, we can get close to people we would never have had a chance to meet if we lived in the time ourselves. We can be part of the intrigue and the machinations of courtly life, and see how the rich and powerful lived in this endlessly fascinating era.
That’s not to say that the ‘ordinary’ people weren’t equally fascinating – just read The Winchester Goose by Judith Arnopp to see what I mean. Such stories balance out the multitude of tales of kings, queens and courtiers with stories that immerse you in the everyday world of Tudor life. My soon-to-be-published YA novel, Mary Fox and the Broken Sword, is set mainly in the Essex countryside, so I think – I hope – I am contributing to the body of literature that features stories set in a more down-to-earth Tudor world, and avoids the temptation to bring Henry VIII charging in like the proverbial bull in the china shop.
But then the next Mary Fox book will be Mary Fox and the Tudor Prince… Ahh well…
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