Judith Arnopp has just released the first book in her new Henrician Chronicle – this one is A Matter of Conscience: The Aragon Years and she has been wonderful enough to talk to me about it. The book offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man made dangerous by his own impossible expectation. It looks amazing – here is the blurb:
On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.
On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Caterina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys. But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished.
Christendom mocks the virile prince. Caterina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter, and a baseborn son. He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Caterina refuses to step aside. As their relationship founders his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.
Janet Wertman: First, congratulations. This is your – thirteenth is it? – novel (I’m skipping over the collaborations!), most of which have dealt with the Tudor court. But most have been from the women’s points of view. How did you decide to give us a first-person Henry?
JA: Hi Janet, thank you so much. I can scarcely believe I’ve written so many books. The first three are set in the early medieval period but then the rest are late medieval/wars of the roses and Tudor. I’ve covered most of the women in Henry’s life: his mother, his grandmother, his wives and his daughter, Mary and I have always said I’d tackle Henry one day. I don’t know what made me decide to finally give it a go, but I am so glad I did.
I always write in the first person, and in order to do so I close my eyes and imagine myself in their shoes. I concentrate solely on the point of view of my character and view the story with tunnel vision. When I wrote The Beaufort Chronicles, I was surprised how easily I ‘became’ Margaret Beaufort and I am equally as surprised to find Henry so accessible. He is a huge mix of contradiction, self-importance, loud, very grand yet at the same time he is self-conscious, insecure, with a huge appetite for simple pleasures. Since we only look at things from his point of view, he is not an entirely reliable narrator, but in considering his possible opinions, I hope it helps explain some of his more questionable actions.
JW: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest thing is always making myself sit down and write. The weather was so lovely here in Wales last summer that I spent far too much time gardening or on the beach (which is a five-minute walk away). When the weather finally broke, I had to write furiously to catch up. Before I began to work on A Matter of Conscience, I was concerned I’d not be able to find Henry’s voice but it just came to me. When I am not writing, the plot is always turning in my head, so it is rather like living with Henry VIII – not always a pleasant proposition. In this book though he is young and is not yet the tortured man we all know and love. He might become more difficult to live with as I progress with books two and three.
JW: How do you research your subjects? Do you try to get it all done before you start writing, or do you prefer to research as you go?
I do both. When I first started out writing in the Tudor era research was much more intense. I’d visit the local university library, read widely, watch documentaries, study portraits, visit Tudor castles, but now I’ve been writing in the Tudor era for so long, I can relax a little bit. A Matter of Conscience, Henry VIII, the Aragon Years is my tenth Tudor novel, so I feel at home in Henry’s world. I still research of course but I tend to do it before I begin and as I move through the plot, I check dates and details and where people were at a particular time. Although I research as thoroughly as I can, I am careful not to let it show too much in the book. I must remember that Henry would have been so familiar with his environment he’d have been blind to most of it and totally ignorant of what went on behind the scenes. It is important to be aware of the inner workings of court, but I am careful not to tell Henry about it. I have a huge pile of reference books on my desk, and my favourite portrait of Henry by Joos Van Cleeve is close by. I find if the king is constantly watching, it is more difficult to sneak off to the garden.
I am also writing a non-fiction book on Tudor clothing. I am part of a reenactment group, The Fyne Company of Cambria and I make my own clothes and bits and pieces for the other members. I am by no means an expert, but the book stands as evidence that even with quite basic sewing skills, you can learn to dress like a Tudor. Researching for this book is so fascinating, I am often taken off along a completely different path, discovering beautiful fabrics, methods and interesting snippets of information. I’ve never written two books at a time before. It is my nature to finish one project before I begin another but there are so many people clamouring for Book Two of The Henrician Chronicle that I had little choice. I divide my writing time between the two and so far, it is going well. I write in the morning and in the afternoon I either sew or garden, depending on the weather. A couple of hours in the sewing room counts as research for both books. I am currently black working some cuffs for my Tudor shift. I am not the best embroiderer and Catherine of Aragon would probably make me unpick some of it, but it is getting better every day.
JW: What was your hardest scene to write?
In all my books the hardest scenes are when the babies die, and Henry and Catherine lose so many. I have found that in the main people have loads of sympathy for Catherine but very little for Henry yet there is nothing he wanted more than a healthy son and to see them die so young, or to perish in the womb must have been soul destroying for both parents. It is interesting to write his experience of such a sad aspect of his life. I think he’d have turned out differently if just one of his legitimate sons had survived. The lack of a male heir was damaging, not just to his hold on the crown but psychologically. It was a slur to his manhood. He was quite paranoid to begin with, and I am certain the idea of Christendom laughing at him behind their hands can only have increased it.
The story of Henry and Catherine is so incredibly sad. They came to the throne with every expectation of success, and I believe they were in love, but time was already against them and once Catherine approached the end of her fertile years, the idea of replacing her was inevitable. Henry underestimated Catherine’s pride and her determination to maintain their daughter, Mary’s status. I am torn between respect and understanding for Catherine and empathy for Henry’s desperate need for an heir.
JW: What is next?! Are you ready to share?
As I said earlier, I am currently working on Book two of The Henrician Chronicle, A Matter of Faith, which will cover the years of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. I began work on it almost as soon as A Matter of Conscience went off to the editor and it is going very well. I am hopeful it will be out around the beginning of 2022 if I get my finger out and exercise some discipline. I often hear it said that Henry VIII’s reign has been done to death but there are not many books written from Henry’s perspective, let alone using his voice. I am only aware of Margaret George’s book. The story of Henry’s reign is quite different when he tells it himself.
As to the Tudors being boring, I’ve been studying them for half my life and have never found them so, and it seems I am not alone. I gain new readers every day. There is always a fresh generation coming along to whom the Tudor era is fresh and exciting. The era offers everything, politics, religious turmoil, romance, intrigue, war, fabulous clothes and castles. It was the Renaissance – a new beginning; how can that ever be dull?
Fingers crossed, Book three will follow in 2023, covering Henry’s latter years and if I told you I am totally relaxed about living in close proximity with the king during his most unstable years, I’d be lying.
Intrigued? A Matter of Conscience is available through Amazon – and you can also find Judith through her webpage www.judithmarnopp.com or her blog http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.co.uk/ (or Instagram or Twitter…) – and you can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook!
If you like my posts, you’ll love my books! Jane the Quene and The Path to Somerset have finally been joined by The Boy King – now available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple, or even your local independent bookstore.!
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