We know these women already, as they are the subject of so many Tudor-related conversations. Henry VIII has an enduring reputation as a man obsessed with the pursuit of a male heir, as well as the disposal of women who no longer provided for his interests. We have our favorites and our least favorites of them, and it seems we just can't get enough of them! But have we heard all of their stories as they would tell them themselves? Amy's book claims on the back cover to tell the stories from the viewpoints of the women… an intriguing thought! What Tudor Enthusiast wouldn't want to read this book?
Enjoy the interview and leave a comment below this page explaining why this book looks interesting. Include your email address so I can contact you if you're the winner!
I was lucky to grow up within easy reach of lots of medieval and Tudor sites and my parents were keen to encourage my interest by taking me to visit museums, castles and other such places. I discovered the novels of Jean Plaidy and that inspired me to read non-fiction to find out what had really happened to these people; by the time I was fourteen, I’d read through the history shelf in my local library.
2. You seem to focus very much on women in your writing. What is it about women from this time period that makes them such a fascinating topic for you?
I think it is the parallels between their lives and ours today; there are so many differences but the points of similarity are strong enough to allow us to imagine what life would have been like for us, had we lived then. I’m particularly drawn to the female experiences of birth, marriage and sex, as rites of passage that connect women through the ages, as well as the representation of women in a male dominated culture. I love the ways they managed to carve out little pockets of femininity in a literal sense, by occupying certain indoor and outdoor spaces, and the ways they shaped their identity through difference. The women of the Tudor era were on the cusp of the new modern age; their lives were changing in dramatic and unpredictable ways and that means that many of them were tested, by men, the law, religion, or all three. It’s fascinating to see the clash of medieval values against the new ways of living, and how women resolved these issues.
It all depends on what your ultimate goal was. There’s no doubt that it was safer to be his mistress, as he had no reason to inflict the kinds of punishment on his lovers that he did with the wives who he perceived had transgressed. If you were in it for the money, the status, or for the desire to bear him a future heir, then to become his queen was the logical step, presuming you were in the right place at the right time. The position brought with it a whole swathe of other responsibilities though, and greater risk if a woman put a foot wrong. It would be a more prestigious, but far more dangerous game to play. For a young woman at his court, her ultimate aim would be to marry as well as possible and secure her family’s future, so I suspect they would consider it better to become Henry’s wife while hindsight might lead us to the opposite conclusion.
4. If you had to name the most interesting historical woman you've researched, who would it be and why?
That’s a tricky one. What constitutes interest; what makes someone interesting? I suppose it is subjective, I might name Cecily Neville as being intriguing, a woman whose life contains much unanswered mystery and whose closeness to other key figures of the era fascinates me. As the mother of the trio Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence and Richard III, her influence on them must have been significant and I would love to know more about it. However, I suppose the woman who keeps my interest the longest would have to be Anne Boleyn; the triangle of her, Henry and Catherine of Aragon still enthrals me the way it did when I was first reading about it almost thirty years ago. I suppose that is where my real interest lies in terms of researching Henry’s wives; the dynamic by which he transferred his affection from Catherine to Anne, and made her his Queen, which will always raise questions because it was so dramatic and had such a huge impact on the course of English history.
5. Was Henry VIII truly the womanizer and 'playboy' that many movies and books have made him out to be?
No, I think that takes it a bit far and over sensationalises his character, but there have been a good many movies and novels that are more entertaining for a little exaggeration. When it comes to the facts, he was probably a man of his times, in terms of his sexual appetites. He also enjoyed the company of women too, as from an early age he was brought up with his sisters at Eltham, while his elder brother Arthur was sent away to Ludlow. I suspect he was more of a “ladies’ man” than a “playboy,” falling sincerely in love several times, whilst maintaining the contemporary convention of pursuing other women for physical pleasure. Also, I think that we mustn’t overlook the position of power he was in; especially in his youth, he knew that he could have pretty much any woman he wanted. It must have been difficult for him to resist playing out his favourite chivalric fantasies in the knowledge that he held all the cards.
One thing I found really interesting is indirectly connected to Henry’s women. As a young man he surrounded himself by a group of dashing young rakes called the King’s minions: Buckingham, Exeter, Compton, Carew, Hastings and others. If anyone was well placed to know about his early love affairs, it was these intimate friends but by the late 1530s, most of them were dead, many having been executed by Henry. When I was exploring the idea of Henry’s privacy and the survival of rumours about his amours, it struck me that the minions had been effectively silenced, and I wondered what secrets they took to the grave.
7. Why do you think so many young readers and Tudor Enthusiasts are so intrigued by this time period?
I’ve spoken to a lot of people who say they feel a natural sympathy for the Tudor era, that the Henrician court feels somehow familiar, or compelling for them. I’m not arguing for past life experiences, but I do feel the Tudor court is entrenched in our culture to the extent that we absorb its stories and myths from an early age. There’s something about it that resonates with us and I wonder if it’s down to the survival of so much material from this time, so we know lots about it, but there’s also the endless fascination we have with stories of romance and passion. We read fairy stories as children, about knights and princesses, in castles and towers, then graduate to reading about the intrigues of this historical era, it’s a turbulent and exciting time that we can enjoy at one remove. The story of Henry’s wives has everything; love, drama, intrigue, betrayal; it’s just a cracking story.
8. I see you're writing a new biography on Anne Boleyn! How are you approaching Anne's story compared to the ways other biographers have written about her?
Anne’s story can be told in so many ways but what really fascinates me is the nature of her relationship with Henry and how the power was distributed. I was able to explore this in The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, and it really got me thinking about who took the initiative in the relationship and how much of a choice Anne really had. I want to explore those questions further and look at her character and education within the context of gender conventions of the time, and how her rise broke those rules and ultimately made her downfall possible. I don’t believe she was guilty, nor that Cromwell was pulling Henry’s strings: I think she died because Henry required her to, and I intend to trace their intimate relationship to see how it came to that point. I think there’s a real thirst out there for a long biography that follows Anne’s life in its entirety and takes a contextual but realistic approach to the sexual politics of their long years of their courtship.
9. Lastly, if you had been at the court of King Henry VIII, would you have been eager for his attention or attempting to keep your distance from him?
If I had been at Henry’s court I don’t suppose I would have been any different from the other women who lived close to him. There was a fine line to be walked between pleasing the King and advancing socially, and trying to attract his attention romantically but I guess it would have depended on him too; if he decided he wanted a woman, it would have been hard for her to refuse. If I was transported back now, blessed with hindsight, I might have made sure I was hidden away in some nunnery, plying my quill on an illuminated manuscript. Hopefully by the time of the Reformation, I’d be too old and wrinkly to catch his eye.
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