Adrienne was kind enough to answer some questions about this novel, her writing process, and her other Tudor interests in this exclusive Tudor Enthusiast interview (thank you, Adrienne!). I hope my readers enjoy it as much as I did!
My first love was the Titanic and the Revolutionary War, so I was actually a bit late to the game on the Tudors. We got a brief overview on them in school of course, but I really started to dive in after taking my mom to see The Other Boleyn Girl in the theatre. Something about the movie just didn’t sit well with me, so I leapt down a rabbit hole of research and ended up falling in love with the time period. Thirteen years on and I haven’t looked back! There is still so much to discover.
2. I love that you chose Jane Boleyn as your subject for "The Raven's Widow", but I've never read a novel until now that was entirely centered on her story. What made you want to write from her point of view?
There were a number of reasons why I chose to focus on Jane. To begin with, I can’t resist being a contrarian, haha. I’m the person who always hates the thing that everyone loves and loves the things that everyone hates. As a consequence, challenging the accepted “lore” of Jane came pretty natural to me. Beyond that, I discovered very early on into my research on her that she had a lot in common with my mother. Both lost their husbands very tragically and both have dealt with similar psychological fallout from the event. Based upon some of the things I read about Jane, I began to subscribe to the notion that she – like my mother – suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the time, I had also recently been diagnosed with PTSD due to trauma during the birth of my son (we both nearly died in the process). When I realized the three of us shared this connection, I thought maybe telling Jane’s story would help me grapple with my own. And it did. It’s for that reason I have Jane’s signature tattooed on my wrist. I felt as though she was always with me as I journeyed down my own path of healing. When I look at my wrist, it reminds me that I am not alone.
3. On a similar note, it seems that Jane and George's relationship has always been portrayed in the same negative light. Why do you think that is, and did you feel strongly about changing that perspective with this novel?
I think people love a villain and Jane fit that bill perfectly for centuries. And if she was a villain, then why would she have a happy marriage? Villains are miserable and make everyone else miserable too, right? The fact that they never had children only helps push this misogynistic narrative along. It doesn’t help that George’s comments at his trial are so vague: “based on the evidence of this one woman,” he says. Well, that one woman could have been anyone (and likely was Lady Worcester or Lady Wingfield), and we all know that perfectly happy couples exist in the absence of children (be it by choice or by reproductive challenges). Over time, the facts have been twisted and misconstrued to the point that the idea of Jane being a scapegoat is a novelty. I felt (and still feel) very strongly about challenging this narrative because it persists in varied forms for women today. Women are demonized for having strong opinions, for taking up space, for refusing to conform to society’s expectations. We often shoulder the blame for things that men do. We are called gossips and nags and asked what we did wrong when marriages end or men stray. None of this is to say that George did any of those things, I don’t believe he did. But it is to say that the same accusations of Jane’s behavior in her marriage are still thrown at women today.
I think the blame is ultimately down to Henry VIII. Yes, Cromwell helped it along and did all the work behind the scenes. He even had a hand in bringing down nobles whom he felt were a threat to his interests. But as for Anne…that was all Henry. I believe Anne’s miscarriage cemented in Henry’s mind that he would never have a son by her, and Katherine of Aragon’s death gave him the chance to get out of the marriage without being forced to take back his first wife. He saw a window of opportunity and seized it. It didn’t help Anne’s case that she was one of those women I talked about in the last question: opinionated, headstrong, non-conformist. In many ways, she threatened Henry’s rule just by being herself (in Henry’s opinion at least!). Anne was absolutely innocent of the charges brought against her. Her only mistake lay in her inability to guard her tongue. There is no getting around the fact that she did “imagine the king’s death” in her ill-advised conversation with Henry Norris. But I don’t for one minute believe she would have been executed for her remark had she already given the king a son; had she been “obedient” in all other ways; had the king not already set his heart upon Jane Seymour.
5. Fast forward to Jane's time with Catherine Howard. What are your thoughts on this portion of her life, and in your opinion, did she make any mistakes as it related to Catherine and Thomas Culpeper?
Jane made plenty of mistakes during this time period, but it isn’t at all surprising given the experiences that brought her to this point. I think she found herself in an impossible situation and she was merely trying to do the best she could with what she had. After Cromwell’s death, she had no one looking out for her interests. Not that Cromwell did a great job of that, but he did help her when no one else (not even her father) would. Without him, who could she have gone to? It was just as dangerous to go to the king with accusations of his wife’s infidelities as it was to help her commit them. Remember that none of the nobles even wanted to be the one to tell Henry what was going on. They forced poor Cranmer to do it. There was no way Jane was tattling to the king. Beyond that, how was she to turn down Catherine in the first place? Regardless of whether “she knew better” or not. If you wanted to keep your place, you did what the queen asked. And who would have believed she would be executed alongside Catherine? None of Anne’s maids had been executed. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what she could have done differently and I’ve failed to come up with much in the way of alternatives. At the end of the day, Jane was alone, mentally and emotionally traumatized from prior events, and an extremely biddable person. She did what anyone might have done in her position.
6. I've heard theories that Jane 'faked' mental illness while imprisoned in the Tower of London, perhaps in the hopes that she would escape execution. What are your thoughts on this?
If I’m being honest, I pretty much immediately shut down when I hear theories like this. For anyone who has struggled with mental illness, those sorts of comments feel very dismissive and callous. Her responses to the interrogation she was subjected to in 1541 leaves no doubt in my mind that she was suffering. Looking back on her life – knowing this – I can see that there is a possibility she struggled with her mental health even in her early days. There is certainly a family history of it. Her grandfather suffered with bouts of madness. I don’t for one moment believe that any of it was faked.
Thank you! Research is very important to me. I probably spend more time doing that than actually writing the novel! I think the most interesting source was one that I was directed to by a historian who is working on a biography of Jane’s father, Lord Morley. She led me to the baptismal records for Henry Parker and Grace Newport (Jane’s brother and sister-in-law). Up until then, I had no idea that George was a godfather to their eldest daughter. Receiving such a high honor demonstrated how close George was to the Parker family and was the basis for my storyline depicting their friendship. Despite Lord Morley’s adherence to the old faith, his son was very much a reformist. In turn, his son (Morley’s grandson), was a Catholic recusant. It’s fascinating, really. Goes to show you can’t assume a historical person’s religious leanings based upon their family.
8. I'm very impressed by the many hats you seem to wear - mother, full-time employee, fiction author... Can you walk us through a day in your life, and tell us a bit about your writing routine?
Oh, thank you! It’s definitely not easy, but I manage to find a way to make it work. On any given day I usually wake up around 5:30 or 6 am to get ready for work. If I have my son, I drop him off at his grandmother’s on my way to the office. For the next eight hours, I spend my day at a financial firm – helping clients with paperwork, answering questions, processing tasks. It sounds a little odd, but the job definitely helps with my writing. It requires great attention to detail, the ability to focus while constantly shifting my attention, and enormous amounts of diligence and empathy. When I get off, I head home to make dinner. If it’s my night with the kiddo (I share 50/50 custody with his dad), I pick him up on my way and try to spend some time with him, playing games or reading – doing something fun. On the nights I am alone, I research or write…just depends on where I am in the process. In between, I somehow manage to get the housework done and try to hang out with friends or binge the latest on Netflix. It can be a bit hectic, especially as a single parent, but I have a lot of support and don’t mind being busy. Keeping my mind occupied has been a blessing as I tried to get through our various Covid lockdowns and grief from a pretty traumatic end to my marriage. Who knew Jane Seymour would get me through one of the toughest years of my life?
9. Are you always working on a new fiction project? Can you tell us about anything you're currently working on?
I finished my third novel earlier this year. It is a dual point of view story, featuring Jane Seymour and Margery Horsman. Since completing the first draft, I have been polishing it up and querying agents, sending it off to beta readers and planning marketing. I also have the next novel simmering in the back of my mind. This one was inspired by my sister and I’ve decided to write because of a promise I made her. It will be set during the Elizabethan period and feature an historical figure from one of my previous books.
10. Finally, if you could travel back to Tudor times, what's one event you'd like to witness in real time, and who's the one Tudor figure you'd most like to meet?
So many great events to choose from, but I think I would love to see Anne Boleyn’s trip to Calais because then I could see all the heroines from my books. And since I would see everyone but her in Calais, I would want to meet Catherine Carey. Plus she’s my favorite Tudor lady.
- Visit Adrienne's website
- Adrienne's social media: "Adrienne Dillard - Author" (Facebook); @ajdillard81 (Twitter and Instagram)
Many thanks to Adrienne again for taking the time to answer my questions and be featured on The Tudor Enthusiast!