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Accuracy or Impact? A Philosophical Question for Tudor Lovers

Quote from Thomas Cranmer that captures the theme of this post (via – great site for stuff like this)

My tagline says that I deliver true takes on the Tudors and what it’s like to write about them. This is a “what it’s like to write about them” moment.

I am in the middle (two thirds to be exact…) of the first draft of The Path to Somerset, the story of Edward Seymour’s rise to power after Jane’s death – how he navigates Henry’s crazy years. The book uses two points of view – Edward’s and Stephen Gardiner’s. I originally wrote the scene where Henry learns that Catherine Howard has betrayed him – a really powerful moment – staying true to history: after Cranmer leaves the letter on Henry’s chair in the Chapel Royal on All Souls’ Day (click through here if you want the fuller story), Henry speaks about it to Cranmer alone.

My critique group insisted that it would be so much more powerful if readers could be in the room when Henry is confronted with these facts – they wanted to watch him pooh pooh the idea that his wife could have lived a dissolute life before marrying him (remember, one of his arguments to repudiate Anne of Cleves was that he could “feel by her breasts that she be no virgin” – that story here if you want it). And they were totally right. I’ve rewritten the scene so that Edward goes along (it works given the relationship I’ve given him with Cranmer and with Henry) and now it really pops. Especially the moment where Henry concedes that he won’t see Catherine until all the charges are proven false….It’s the right way to go.

But it’s historically wrong.

Now, I have to admit, I have manipulated full accuracy in the past: I placed Elizabeth Seymour at court when she wasn’t because I needed Jane to get out of her own head. So it is somewhat hypocritical to get careful about this now – though this feels different because it is an iconic moment. But it is different? If I explain the choice in an author’s note (something I forgot to do for Jane the Quene, so very sorry), does that fix it? I would love to hear from my readers, leave a comment and start the conversation!

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Published inWriting Life


  1. Every time we create dialogue or invent motives in historical fiction we are straying from known fact, regardless of how close we attempt to stick to it. I think that a change like this is quite acceptable, much more so than many instances of literary license I have seen taken. It could go in your author’s note, but I’m not sure even that is necessary. Maybe others feel more strongly about that.

  2. I think bringing readers into the scene takes precedence. But I’d probably mention it in the Historical Note so as to disarm all those potential scoffers who’d jump at it

  3. nmayer2015 nmayer2015

    One who writes historical fiction must take liberties with some facts in order to have a good story and not just history. One shouldn’t change a battle, a date of death, how one died ( unless there is a mystery as to whether the person was poisoned or died a natural death, for instance). or the years of a reign– all of which some authors have done. They have even changed the laws of the day for fictional purposes which I think removes the historical part from historical fiction. Whether Henry learns of the allegations when alone or with another doesn’t change the fact that the allegations were made. if his reaction is true to what we know then how he learned is of lesser importance.

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