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Tuesday 28 July 2020

Shining Light on Our Ladies : Part Two Judith Arnopp and her character Elizabeth of York

A series where my guests are female writers 
talking about their female characters
(and yes, I'll be doing the chaps next!)

(following on from Margaret Beaufort...)

Elizabeth of York
by Judith Arnopp

The characters in my books are historical figures from English history, mostly of the late medieval and Tudor period. They have all been written of before, many, many times but I enjoy adding my own version to the traditional view. Although I wouldn’t call myself a revisionist, I do like to find a different perspective. Instead of recording what they did, I like to consider why they did it. This is often difficult to judge from the outside; I like to hone in on the inner self and reveal the part of us that we often prefer to keep hidden from the world. This time I’d like to discuss Elizabeth of York.

The unexpected death of King Edward IV in 1483 threw the county back into civil war. Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of the king, fled with her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, and her siblings, into Sanctuary at Westminster. Her uncle, Richard of Gloucester, took his place as Lord Protector and her brother Edward was brought to London to await his coronation, as was tradition, in the royal apartments at the Tower.

Shortly afterward it emerged (whether true or not is another question) that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous due to a prior contract of marriage. All children of the union between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were pronounced illegitimate. As we all know, Gloucester was declared King Richard III and at some point between 1483 and 1485, Elizabeth’s brothers disappeared from the record. (That is not proof however that they disappeared from the Earth – there are any number of possible explanations).

Elizabeth, lately the leading princess of the realm, was now a royal bastard, living in exile from court in the squalor of sanctuary.

We don’t know what happened to her brothers and it is possible she was similarly ignorant of their fate. It has been suggested her mother knew the boys were safe because, after scurrying into the safety of Westminster in fear of her life, she suddenly handed her daughters into the care of the very man suspected of injuring her sons. It seems an extraordinary thing to do if she had any suspicion of Richard being involved in the disappearance of the boys.

At the new king’s invitation Elizabeth and her sisters returned to court to serve Richard’s queen, Anne Neville. They were treated with every courtesy. Queen Anne was ailing and clearly dying. It was at this time that rumours began to circulate of a relationship between Richard and his niece, Elizabeth. It is now impossible to be certain of the truth behind the allegation but at the time gossip was strong enough for Richard to publicly deny the accusation. Innocent or not, some scandal would have been attached to this, but she seems to have continued in a prominent position at court, serving the Queen until her death in March 1485.

In August, when Henry Tudor’s invasion was looming, Elizabeth and other children from the royal nursery, were sent north for safety.

Henry Tudor, the Lancastrian heir, to win support of the Yorkists had promised that, if he became king, he would marry Elizabeth of York and unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster, putting an end to the Wars of the Roses forever. He appears to have had few English followers. Most of his army was made up of mercenaries; his abilities as a military commander were untested. Yet he faced one of the most skilled soldiers of the age.  Elizabeth, in all likelihood would have been quietly confident of her uncle’s victory when he rode off to make battle with Henry at Bosworth. The news of Tudor’s victory and her imminent joining with a stranger, and her family’s enemy may have been difficult to hear.

After Richard III’s defeat Elizabeth of York was taken to the king’s mother’s house at Coldharbour to await the wedding. But Henry was slow to marry her, and slower to crown her. Some historians see this as a deliberate ploy but they were eventually married in January 1486. In September the same year Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, a son whom they named Arthur. No further children were born until two years after her coronation which took place in November 1487.

Henry Tudor’s reign was fraught with rebellion. Pretenders emerged throughout, most were swiftly dealt with but one in particular, Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be Elizabeth’s younger brother, Richard, harried the king for years. We will never know his real identity, although the king went to great lengths to provide him with a lowly one.

Elizabeth is always described as a dutiful wife and devoted mother. She took no part in ruling the country and there are no reports of her ever having spoken out of turn or ‘disappointing’ the king. Henry appears to have been a faithful husband, his later relationship with Katherine Gordon, wife of Warbeck, was possibly no more than friendship.

Although Prince Arthur was raised, as convention dictated, in his own vast household at Ludlow, Elizabeth took an active role in the upbringing of her younger children, teaching them their letters and overseeing their education.

When Arthur died suddenly in 1502, both Henry and Elizabeth were distraught, the king thrown into insecurity at having been left with just one male heir. Reports state that the king and queen comforted each other and, although there had been some hint of a possible estrangement between them, Elizabeth promised to give Henry another son.

She quickly fell pregnant and gave birth to a girl, Katherine, ten months later but succumbed to Puerperal fever and died on her birthday, 11th February 1503.

Elizabeth was a strong, stalwart woman, bound by duty to serve her country as best she could. Once he  had dealt with Warbeck, her union with Henry ended the battle between York and Lancaster, and the children she bore provided political unions between England and France, Scotland, Spain. Ultimately, she died doing her duty to England.

When a king gives his life for his country, on the battlefield defending it, or in his bed after a long and profitable rule, he becomes a hero, often, if he is on the right side, he is honoured throughout history.

Yet Elizabeth gave her life for England too. She married dutifully; quickly producing an heir, a spare, and several daughters to increase the king’s bargaining power. At the tragic loss of Arthur, England’s beloved heir, despite her age and the suggestion of medical problems, she took the most dangerous decision to try to give the king another heir.

She died in service of her king and country.

You can read more about Elizabeth of York and her family in A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York which is available in paperback, Kindle and Audible

Part One (yesterday)

About Judith Arnopp:
Judith lives on the coast of Wales in the UK with her husband John. She studied creative writing and Literature at university and went on to study for a master’s degree in medieval studies. She now combines those skills to craft historical novels, short stories and essays.

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Shining Light on our Ladies - Part One: Margaret Beaufort and her author Judith Arnopp

A series where my guests are female writers 
talking about their female characters
(and yes, I'll be doing the chaps next!)


Judith Arnopp talks about her character

Margaret Beaufort

Helen: the character that Judith has selected to 'shine a light on' is not fictional - as you will see below, Margaret Beaufort was a real person of history ... but ... the majority of us who write historical fiction take enormous pains to ensure we get the facts  as right as we can, but (most annoyingly) these people of the past did not write intimate, detailed diaries, so to produce an interesting and entertaining novel we have to fill in the (usually enormous) gaps with imagined fiction. So it is an argueable point: are historical figures in novels fictional characters? I'll leave you to ponder that thought... over to Judith:

The characters in my books are historical figures from English history, mostly of the late medieval and Tudor period. They have all been written of before, many, many times but I enjoy adding my own version to the traditional view. Although I wouldn’t call myself a revisionist, I do like to find a different perspective. Instead of recording what they did, I like to consider why they did it. This is often difficult to judge from the outside; I like to hone in on the inner self and reveal the part of us that we often prefer to keep hidden from the world.

By far my most challenging protagonist so far has been Margaret Beaufort. Margaret appears in many novels set around the Wars of the Roses and is usually depicted as a negative character, a schemer and plotter. She has even been cast as a potential murderer of the missing princes in the Tower although my research has thrown up nothing to suggest that was so. My novels that comprise The Beaufort Chronicles illustrate the events of the Wars of the Roses through Margaret’s eyes, and trace the changes in her character as she grows from a child of eight to a woman of mature years, the mother and grandmother of kings and queens.

Before I began writing I had to consider why Margaret has been depicted so negatively and this research brought me to her portraits. The only surviving representations of Margaret were taken in later life, after her son (Henry VII) won his crown. She presents a pious pose, in the attitude of prayer, or clutching a book, the symbol of great learning. I think this dour image may explain why she has not been the heroine of many novels but Margaret clearly wasn’t born old. Even old women have known youth and love. She was once young, records indicate she possessed a sense of humour, favoured red gowns, and had a great love of finery both in clothing and furnishings. Margaret’s resilience is astonishing. She puts me in mind of a beetle that can’t be crushed. Her journey from the child bride of Edmund Tudor to whom she bore a son at the age of thirteen, to the mother of the first Tudor king is really quite incredible.

At the beginning of the wars between Lancaster and York, Margaret and Henry were relatively insignificant members of the House of Lancaster. After Henry VI’s demise and the death of the Prince of Wales, Edward of Lancaster, Margaret and Henry were suddenly thrown into the spotlight. While Henry was exiled, Margaret began to fight her son’s battles – and she fought ceaselessly to that end for the rest of her life.

Under the reign of Edward IV she petitioned the king for her exiled son’s properties and titles to be restored. She was on the brink of obtaining this when Edward died suddenly in 1483 and England was cast once again into chaos. Margaret was at the centre of activities during Richard III’s acquisition of the crown, she served him loyally at first but at some point midway during his reign, she changed tack and began to plot with Elizabeth Woodville. Together they raised money and support for an army to bring Henry Tudor home. But, on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth Margaret had no idea what the outcome would be. Under house arrest she could only pray, her nerves in tatters as she waited to discover if her actions had resulted in triumph for the Tudors or in the death of her only son.

Most women, especially on the winning side, would be applauded for these actions, hailed as a heroine but Margaret is always seen rather differently. She has become the archetypal interfering mother-in-law, the cold-hearted pious busy-body, a critic of the etiquette of the royal court. To some extent these things are true but there was also another side. She was loyal, forgiving, careful of the welfare of her household, and a great benefactress of churches and colleges throughout the realm. I felt it appropriate that she be given the opportunity to present her own version of events.

Margaret prays a lot – most people did in the middle ages. She meditates. She likes to garden and is interested in healing, her stillroom is well supplied with remedies. She passed this habit on to her grandson, Henry VIII, who was terrified of contagion, and also liked to dose his household when they fell ill.

Margaret possessed a dry humour and I have embellished this in my books. She has a wicked wit, and when she chooses, she can make the most biting of replies. During her years of struggle she is often a victim but she plays the long game. She serves Elizabeth Woodville faithfully, gains her friendship, visits her in sanctuary and comes to know the royal children, including her future daughter-in-law, Elizabeth of York and the younger of the princes, Richard of Shrewsbury. After becoming involved in Buckingham’s rebellion her life was in King Richard’s hands but he chose leniency and placed her under house arrest, in the custody of her husband, Thomas Stanley. But she didn’t give up.  Margaret had absolute faith that God was on her side. When the time came for her to move against Richard III, she financed Henry, risking both her security and position. Without doubt, Margaret Beaufort is the most heroic women I have ever written about.

Her insecure environment sometimes makes her prickly, defensive and seemingly proud. In public she adopts a confidence that she doesn’t really feel. Each decision she makes, she makes blindly – the reader and I are privileged by hindsight and know she will triumph, but when I am writing, I have to remember Margaret was on a knife edge, in dangerous times and her life was often in peril. Throughout The Beaufort Chronicles Margaret is isolated, in conflict with the world but she is possessed of such courage and strength that she achieves all her desires. On reaching her goal however, she discovers that fate isn’t done with her just yet.

Because I write in the first person, I am in a sense, stepping into Margaret’s shoes and moving through the events of the Wars of the Roses. When I am writing I become Margaret. I don’t always stick to the traditional motivations because I am writing from the inside. Her relationships are varied. Her devotion to her son, from whom she is exiled for fourteen years until the day after Bosworth, is unswerving. Although she serves Edward IV’s queen her loyalty to Lancaster does not change but self-preservation is her only way forward. Records indicate that she and Elizabeth Woodville worked together in Henry’s cause and I have developed the relationship into a cautious friendship. She wants to trust Elizabeth but she is wary, never sure. Margaret finds it difficult to trust anyone which is not surprising when you consider her experience.

After Henry finally made good his promise to marry Elizabeth of York, Margaret’s relationship with her daughter-in-law develops over time into friendship and admiration. This may not have been the case had Elizabeth not been so compliant, for there is no doubt that Margaret liked to be in charge. She ordered how Henry’s court should be run, how the apartments should be furnished, how the children should be raised – and Elizabeth seems not to have minded too much, although there are a few instances when she rebelled, or stood her ground.

In my books it is Margaret’s innermost thoughts and opinions that flesh her character. For instance when she encounters someone or something she shares her private opinion with the reader, criticises manners, the style of dress, assesses each man’s loyalty to her son, their possible usefulness in her quest. In these books Margaret’s opinions are the only ones that are relevant because she is telling her own story. This way, Margaret’s experiences (hopefully) become the reader’s and her joys, happiness, fears and grief are immediate.

Her relationship with her four husbands took some consideration on my part. Margaret was first married as an infant to John de la Pole, the seven-year-old son of the Earl of Suffolk. After the Earl’s disgrace, the marriage was annulled and she was married instead to Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond who was in his mid-twenties. 

Her second marriage took place when she was just twelve or thirteen years old. Usually the marriage would not have been consummated but Edmund could not take possession of her lands until she bore a son. I could have taken the route of an unhappy forced union but there are no records of Margaret ever showing resentment toward Edmund; she spoke gently of him and in her will she asked to be interred with him at Grey Friars in Carmarthen but the request was ignored. Had she born him any ill will I don’t think she would have asked to be laid with him. I chose to develop the relationship. Edmund is her protector, her husband, the father figure she lacked, and Margaret forms a sort of teenage crush for a man her senior by around thirteen years. Some authors have chosen to demonise Edmund Tudor and turn him into a child abuser but it was the fifteenth century – a different world, we shouldn’t judge by modern day standards.

Her third husband, Henry Stafford, was her own choice. Not a love match but chosen for protection and to prevent her being married off politically. Although her son, Henry, remained in the custody of his uncle, Jasper Tudor, she and Stafford visited him several times in Wales and sent regular letters and gifts. Stafford died from wounds sustained at the Battle of Barnet where he fought for York. Their marriage seems to have been content, with a slight breach when he declined to fight for Lancaster but supported Edward IV. During this period I allowed Margaret to become stronger, more headstrong and determined to be accepted at the Yorkist court so she could win back her son’s lands.

Stafford’s death after the Battle of Barnet left her vulnerable and, once more at the mercy of fortune hunters, she made the tactical choice of allying herself with Thomas Stanley, a powerful baron, high in the king’s favour. This opened the way for Margaret at court and all that came after. There is very little about her relationship with Stanley but it seems they were tolerant of each other. They lived apart for much of the time but visited and remained on good terms.

I had some fun with this relationship. Margaret took control of my pen and showed a Thomas who was a bit of a likeable fool with an abrasive manner and little patient with the niceties of court. He reveals to Margaret a sensuous side of her nature she had previously ignored, a complexity that she wrestles to come to terms with. At the time of their marriage they needed each other, once Henry became king and Margaret was no longer in need of Stanley’s influence or protection, their relationship settles into one of irritated tolerance.

Each step Margaret takes along the path to her destiny is littered with difficulties. Even after her son has won his crown and she has the highest position at his court, she is still beset with doubt. She and Henry find it hard to trust – little wonder at the mire of treason and betrayal they have negotiated. Henry Tudor’s reign, particularly the early part, is beset with uprisings, pretenders to his throne, traitors in his court. Neither he nor his mother can rest easy. Every curtain conceals a dagger, and every closed door hides another plot against them.

At one point Henry finds some consolation. He has three sons to follow him and he has just secured the longed for alliance with Spain by marrying his heir to the Infanta, Catherine of Aragon. The Tudor dynasty is at last secure, their bloodline stretching endlessly ahead. But, one by one, the children begin to die.

Child mortality was commonplace in the middle ages but devastating nonetheless. Having already lost a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1495, tragedy struck again. First, sixteen month old baby Edmund died in 1500. The royal couple would scarcely have recovered when their pride and joy, the royal heir, Prince Arthur of Wales died at Ludlow in 1502. Henry and Elizabeth with just one son to follow them, immediately began to try for another. A daughter was born to Elizabeth in 1503 but tragically Elizabeth herself did not survive. She was taken ill a few days later and died suddenly, her newborn daughter followed soon after. Henry Tudor was left with just one son, his heir who was later crowned King Henry VIII.
The king died in 1509. Seemingly, at the age of sixty-six, Margaret’s reason for living had ended and she survived him by just two months.

Come Back Tomorrow for

About Judith Arnopp:
Judith lives on the coast of Wales in the UK with her husband John. She studied creative writing and Literature at university and went on to study for a master’s degree in medieval studies. She now combines those skills to craft historical novels, short stories and essays.

Buy links:

Full Guest List

Monday 20 July 2020

Shining Light On Our Ladies - Martha Plank and her author Susan Grossey

A series running for the next few weeks
where my guests are female writers 
talking about their female characters
(and yes, I'll be doing the chaps next!)

Susan Grossey 

and her character
Martha Plank

When I started writing the first of my Sam Plank novels, I did not know that it was going to be that: “the first of my Sam Plank novels”. In the first draft, the narrator was the banker at the heart of the story while Sam was just a bit player. And it was going to be a standalone book – I had no idea about a series. But one day I made a fateful decision: I realised that the story would be better told by the magistrates’ constable who arrested the banker. And by the time I finished that rewrite, I had fallen in love with my narrator and decided to write another few books simply so that I could spend more time with him. But I was only ever the second woman in his life, because standing alongside Sam Plank throughout the series has been his wife Martha. I realised quite quickly that Sam would need someone to confide in – not least to explain to the reader his thought processes as he sets about unravelling various financial crimes. And although he has a junior constable, William Wilson, for the work stuff, he needed someone more personal for his moments of introspection and uncertainty – and so Martha pushed her way into the spotlight. She would disagree stoutly with that description, but it felt that way to me: her increased presence in the books was inevitable. By the time we meet Sam and Martha in 1824, they have been married for nearly a quarter of a century. It is a childless marriage, which is a sadness to them both – and an important element of the plots of two of the books. They are perhaps closer than many couples (both then and now) but I am very careful not to make them a modern couple: Sam is the breadwinner and the decision-maker when it comes to their interaction with the outside world, but Martha is the still calmness at the centre of it all. 

So what can I tell you about Martha? She is the daughter of an innkeeper who drank the profits, which left her with a distrust of strong drink. She was illiterate until she met Sam, but now they enjoy reading together – and he is justly proud of his intelligent wife. She is a good cook (readers tell me that Sam refers to her pies perhaps more often than he should) and a compassionate person. She knows that the life of a constable is difficult and unpredictable and she provides Sam with encouragement when he needs it and criticism when he deserves it. She likes nothing better than a stroll through the exciting streets of London on the arm of her handsome husband, looking at the finery in the shop windows. And with just one question or observation, she can prise open Sam’s investigations and reveal the nub of the issue. 

At the start I intended her as a sounding-board for Sam but she quickly outgrew that limited role and now every time I tell readers that a new Sam Plank book is on the way, the cry goes up for “more Martha”! Perhaps I shall have to embark on a Martha Plank series… (And in case you’re wondering, no, that’s not a naked Martha on the cover of “Portraits Of Pretence”!) 

Connect with me: 

Twitter: @ConstablePlank 

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Monday 13 July 2020

Shining Light On Our Ladies - Kitty and her author Pauline Barclay

A new series running for the next few weeks
where my guests are female writers 
talking about their female characters
(and yes, I'll be doing the chaps next!)

Pauline Barclay 

A wealthy widow, I am a strong, independent woman with my own successful florist business. I know my own mind and I see myself as confident. Little daunts me or stops me doing what I really want to, so when I met the charismatic, Bertie Costain, I was more than taken aback as he swept me off my feet. Something I could never have imagined. This kind of behaviour, I believed, was reserved for those in romantic novels, not me, but there I was, besotted by this dapper man ten years my junior. 

Before I could draw breath, he proposed, and caught me up in his charm, I gladly accepted. We were married shortly after, and I readily moved into Bertie’s fabulous home in a fashionable suburb of London. Life was extravagant and Bertie knew no bounds on showering me with expensive gifts. We most certainly lived life in the fast lane.

It was a life many would dream about and it seemed I had it all. 
Or did I?

Was everything perfect or was I wearing rose tinted spectacles? I had no time to ponder as my world, not only began to crumble, but teetered on the precipice of destruction. My new husband, it seemed, held a secret, a secret that not only made his lifestyle exotic and privileged, but was the same source that was about to destroy it.

It all happened so fast I could hardly think straight. It took all my strength and much more, yet a deep resilience slowly pushed me forward and with determination, I eventually found a way back.

Pauline’s links…
Twitter @paulinembarclay
Instagram @paulinebarclay

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Monday 6 July 2020

Shining Light On Our Ladies - Miramonde de Oto and her author, Amy Maroney

A new series running for the next few weeks
where my guests are female writers 
talking about their female characters
(and yes, I'll be doing the chaps next!)

Today: Amy Maroney
Miramonde de Oto


Artist, healer...

Miramonde de Oto was a woman of many skills. Raised in a convent in the medieval Pyrenees, she learned healing remedies from the “mountain folk” and worked in the convent’s infirmary. In her childhood, Mira used bits of charcoal to draw on the marble step of an old well. Eventually she was tasked with copying and illuminating manuscripts in the convent’s library. In time she graduated to painting portraits, thanks to an exceptional art teacher. It wasn’t until catastrophe struck the convent that Mira would go on to use her talents in the wider world—and unlike most women artists of her time, she even got paid for it.

Elena de Arazas was a midwife and healer who lived a nomadic life in the medieval Pyrenees. Wounded by a childhood tragedy, she grew up to be a fiercely independent, outspoken, and courageous woman. An unerring sense of justice and deep loyalty to the few she trusted drove her to take enormous risks time and again—especially for Miramonde de Oto. 

The Girl from Oto is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

About Amy
Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. She's currently writing a new series set in the medieval Mediterranean. When she's not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, drawing, dancing, and reading.

Get a free prequel novella about Elena de Arazas and find Amy’s blog here:
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Next Guest
14th July
Pauline Barclay

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