I’m thrilled to welcome Judith Arnopp to my blog this Monday. Judith is a Facebook friend of mine and I appeared on her blog last spring. It’s an honour to have her here on mine. She’s the author of seven historical novels. The titles include: A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck; Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr; The Kiss of the Concubine: a Story of Anne Boleyn; The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII; The Song of Heledd; The Forest Dwellers; Peaceweaver
It’s a formidable list and I’m full of admiration for her. I read The Winchester Goose and absolutely loved it.
Welcome, Judith! Please tell us about your writing.
Writing historical fiction is never easy. Every event, every recorded instance has another story behind it, another perspective, or another possible explanation. Researching the past is like being in a tall building with a hundred windows, each showing a different aspect of the invents, or an alternative route I can take. I spend a long time choosing. None of the books I’ve written have been easy but so far my current wip is proving the most difficult.
The Beaufort Chronicle is the life of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Set during the Wars of the Roses, I have to deal with the conflict itself, the fluctuating mind set of a host of characters – each with their own agenda. I take into consideration the chopping and changing of sides, the confusing upheaval of what was ultimately a family at war. Then I need to understand the constantly evolving politics and try to come up with a story that is fresh, offering something new and a little different from the usual representations.
In the past I have dealt with some big historical figures, William Rufus, Harold II, Henry VIII’s queens, Henry himself, and his mother Elizabeth of York. This time his grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, is my most formidable task yet. It is as if she is looking over my shoulder, waiting for me to get it wrong. She was an intimidating woman. She won’t hesitate to rap me over the knuckles if she doesn’t like the way I paint her.
In the part I am writing now Margaret is just thirteen years old and about to give birth to Henry Tudor, later to become Henry VII. Recently widowed, heavily pregnant, and surrounded by the pressures of imminent civil war, she has turned for protection to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor. She is frightened, of both the pending birth and her future. She has no idea if she or her child will survive. Medieval women were usually detached from their children and, although Margaret and Henry were parted for much of his youth, she was devoted to him and fought tirelessly for his cause. But at this point, I have to remember she couldn’t see the future, she is just a child in a draughty fortress, about to face childbirth, or possibly death.
Margaret was married to Edmund Tudor when she was twelve years old and he was twenty four. The immediate consummation of the marriage sounds outrageous to our ears but they were living in a different world. It was usual to wait until the bride was fourteen to consummate the marriage but when Margaret fell pregnant while still only twelve, there were only a few contemporary murmurings against his decision. There was no undue outrage, no hue and cry as there would be today.
Edmund Tudor, half-brother to Henry VI, was ambitious, and Margaret’s immense estates and properties would not be his until she bore him a child. That was the purpose of their marriage, to strengthen her relationship with the king, and to further expand Edmund’s wealth. There is even some suggestion that, using Margaret’s claim, Henry IV might name Edmund heir. Love and romance had no place in medieval marriage. Power was everything and Margaret would have been raised to understand that.
The closest she came to commenting on her marriage to Edmund came much later, when her granddaughter and namesake, Margaret Tudor, was joined at a young age to James IV of Scotland. Margaret Beaufort insisted that consummation of the marriage would be postponed until young Margaret was older.
These days we mostly pamper and protect our children (or think we do) and to us, Margaret’s position seems unbearable; it raises our hackles and makes us want to yell ‘rape and ignominy!’ But Margaret never said a bad word against Edmund. Because he was ambitious and greedy doesn’t necessarily mean he was cruel. There is nothing to say he didn’t treat her as gently as he could and I have found nothing in the contemporary accounts to suggest rape, or unwillingness on her part. I am not in any way condoning the act but most criticism of the union seems to appear later, and I feel we may be judging the past by our own parameters.
Although she went on to marry twice more, Margaret expressed a wish to be buried with Edmund at Carmarthen. Her wishes were ignored and she lies close to her son at Westminster. But her request to be interred with her first husband, Edmund Tudor, suggests to me that she respected him, or at least understood, or accepted his reasons for his actions; perhaps she even formed an attachment, a sort of adolescent crush.
Henry Tudor, whom Margaret gave birth to in January at Pembroke Castle, was an only child. It is believed that damage to her immature body made it impossible for her to conceive again; or perhaps the act itself was made so repugnant she avoided sex. She married twice more but in later life, although married, she took a vow of chastity.
The absence of written proof of her feelings offers scope for the writer of fiction. Margaret’s story is a great one, she was a woman of great courage. Initially a pawn in a man’s game Margaret quickly took control of her life, fighting tirelessly for her son’s rights. Once he was on the throne she took her place as his advisor, his staunchest supporter and ultimately, barring the king, she emerged as the most powerful person in England.
As I stand in my many windowed tower and decide from which angle to approach Margaret Beaufort, I am certain that whichever route I choose, the journey won’t be a dull one.
I’m sure it won’t be either. Margaret Beaufort is a historical character who fascinates me, and I’m looking forward to reading your novel. I’ve got A Song of Sixpence on my Kindle and will be starting it soon.