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The Lady Elizabeth (2008)



SUNDAY TIMES HARDBACK BESTSELLER - 8 WEEKS IN THE TOP TEN


 

 
 


"This exciting novel ... thakes us into a very plausible and frightening 16th-century world... Can Elizabeth survive? This Tudor thriller is so exciting that you find yourself amazed that she did." (The Daily Express)

"For readers who enjoy history with suspense thrown in, Weir delivers a neat package. She is able to take complicated subjects, sort them out but stay true to historical fact. It's a dynamite combination." (Tampa Tribune)

"A dramatic, dishy alternative to a traditional biography of one of history’s best-known, yet most enigmatic figures." (Salon)

"The history here is never soft. Accurate yet affecting, it is the structure upon which Weir lays her novel, the means by which she tells the story of a child grown into a young woman, a woman determined to be queen." (Nashville Scene)

"Weir imbues her second novel with the same passion for detail as Innocent Traitor. The author has crafted an intriguing protagonist." (www.curledupwithagoodbook.com)

“A compelling, even irresistible, read.” (Booklist - starred review)

“Intrigue and maneuverings. Scandal. Schemers and innocents put to death. [This] history of Tudor England is an engrossing story . . . . Weir marries conjecture with what is known about the life of Elizabeth I from childhood to coronation, and it makes for ripping good reading.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

“History buffs will enjoy this entertaining look into the rarely explored early life of one of England’s most fascinating characters.” (Publishers
Weekly
)

“A gripping fictional portrait.” (Salon)

“Intrigue and maneuverings. Scandal. Schemers and innocents put to death. [This] history of Tudor England is an engrossing story. . . . Weir marries conjecture with what is known about the life of Elizabeth I from childhood to coronation, and it makes for ripping good reading.”
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)




   
 

Top left: Original jacket photograph, next to the photoshopped version. Top right: Rejected U.K. jacket.
Bottom left: U.K. paperback jacket concept, with the final design on the right. The hardback jacket was shot in Sutton House, Hackney, London, using the samer model as for the Innocent Traitor shoot; the paperback jacket was shot in the Great Hall of Hampton Court Palace, with a different model.

 

Above: Rejected U.S. large-print edition jackets.


A ROYAL SCANDAL
The History behind the Novel



(L-R: Elizabeth, Thomas Seymour and Katherine Parr)
 
The execution of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, in May 1536 was to have a profound impact on many people, not the least of them her two-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who was disinherited and declared a bastard. But others profited vastly by Anne’s fall, notably the Seymour brothers, Edward and Thomas, whose sister Jane married the King ten days after her predecessor’s head fell. Jane died in 1537 giving Henry VIII his longed-for son, Edward, but the Seymours, as uncles to the future king, were now firmly in power. When Henry himself passed away in January 1547, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, became Lord Protector of England, ruling for the nine-year-old Edward VI, and Sir Thomas Seymour was sidelined.
    On the day of the old King's funeral, Edward Seymour created himself Duke of Somerset. Possibly to compensate his brother Thomas for being excluded from the regency Council, he elevated him to the peerage as Baron Seymour of Sudeley Castle  and confirmed him in his post as Lord High Admiral for life. Lord Seymour was then about forty years old, good looking, charming, and very popular. His contemporary and Edward VI's biographer, Sir John Hayward, described him as 'fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately and in voice magnificent' - but 'somewhat empty in matter'.
    Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, had fallen for Seymour’s looks and dashing personality before her marriage to the King, and she and Seymour had discussed marriage at that time. But Henry put paid to that, and during her years as queen Katherine seems resolutely to have put Seymour out of her mind.
  Seymour found it galling to be denied what he considered to be his rightful place on the regency Council; he was the King's uncle; he had also served his country both as a diplomat and on the high seas, and he was determined to secure a place on the Council and ultimately supplant his brother, of whom he was deeply jealous. To do that, he needed power and he needed money, and the best way to gain both was by an influential marriage. He did not immediately renew his suit to Katherine Parr: she was, after all, only the late King's widow, and completely lacking in influence in a court from which she was about to depart. Real power would come with a marriage to one of the King's sisters, who had both been restored to the line of succession; such a move might, in time, bring Seymour a crown.
  The elder of the two, the Lady Mary, was a staunch Catholic, so he passed her over. That left the thirteen-year-old Lady Elizabeth, twenty-seven years his junior. She had a proud and disdainful manner which sometimes eclipsed the beauty of her red-gold hair and the flashing eyes she had inherited from her mother, yet she also had Anne Boleyn's capacity for flirtation and her attraction for men, and the Admiral thought her eminently desirable. In February 1547 he began courting her, declaring his affection in flattering letters, and begging to know 'whether I am to be the most happy or the most miserable of men'.
  Elizabeth did not reply at once, having a shrewd idea of what lay behind Seymour’s letters. All the same, it was flattering for a young girl to be the object of attention from such a handsome and sought-after man. Yet Elizabeth was not just any young girl; she was a king’s daughter, second in the line of succession to the throne, and she had to have the Council's permission if she wished to marry. It was unlikely to be granted in this case. Wisely she turned down Seymour's proposal, saying that 'neither my age nor my inclination allows me to think of marriage', and that she needed at least two years to get over the loss of her father before contemplating it. But she added: ‘Permit me, my Lord Admiral, to tell you frankly that, though I decline the happiness of becoming your wife, I shall never cease to interest myself in all that can crown your merit with glory, and shall ever feel the greatest pleasure in being your servant and good friend.’
  Seymour now turned his attentions once more to Katherine Parr, who was still strongly attracted to him. Their courtship had, of necessity, to be conducted in secret in case the Council found out and forbade its continuance. Katherine was officially mourning Henry VIII, and could not with honour contemplate remarriage in the near future, yet so happy was she at this latest turn of events that when, that March, Seymour proposed marriage, she gladly accepted. She insisted that a suitable period of mourning must elapse before the wedding could take place, but he overruled her, urging her to marry him in secret at once. And at that, sensible, virtuous, Katherine Parr seized what she saw as her last chance of love and happiness; she was not, at nearly thirty-five, so young that she could afford to waste time. Seymour was delighted; if he could not aspire to a crown, he would at least be rich, and – as the husband of the first lady at court - accorded precedence over nearly everyone else.
  But it was unlikely that the Council would approve of his marriage to the Dowager
Queen. Henry VIII had been dead for only six weeks. So Seymour covertly asked permission of the young King, who did not hesitate to signify his approval and consent, being fond of both his stepmother and his uncle. Katherine was still officially in mourning for the late King when she married Thomas Seymour some time before the end of April 1547. The Lord Protector ‘was much offended' at the news, and the matter was debated at great length by the Privy Council, who argued that, if the Queen was already pregnant, 'a great doubt' would exist as to 'whether the child born should have been accounted the late King's or her husband’s, whereby a marvellous danger might have ensued to the quiet of the realm'. Seymour was summoned to account for his actions, but the marriage had been lawfully solemnised before witnesses and consummated. It was, anyway, late May: King Henry had been dead for four months, and his widow showed no signs of pregnancy. Somerset was therefore prepared to overlook the small risk to the succession occasioned by their marriage. All the same, he made his displeasure clear.
  Not long afterwards Katherine welcomed her stepdaughter Elizabeth into the household at Chelsea. She had no idea that her husband had once schemed to marry Elizabeth, still less that he had seen her as an infinitely more desirable prize than a dowager queen. It seems never to have occurred to her that this slight young girl would hold any attraction for the Admiral. But Elizabeth was evidently fascinated by the handsome 'stepfather' who welcomed her with undisguised affection to her new abode, and within months he had made it clear to her that he found her both stimulating and desirable.
  So wrapped up was the Queen in her personal happiness, that she apparently failed to notice what was soon going on under her very nose. She did not realise that while she was at her prayers each morning and afternoon, her husband would always be elsewhere, nor did she suspect anything when Elizabeth began making excuses to be absent. The Admiral would openly romp with Elizabeth in front of her attendants, so that no one would think anything of it, and when he and the Queen stayed with Elizabeth at Seymour Place in London in the spring of 1548, he came to Elizabeth's bedchamber one morning, wearing only his night-gown and slippers, and burst in, though she was in bed. Her lady-in-waiting, Mrs Katherine Astley, was present, and thought it 'an unseemly sight to see a man so little dressed in a maiden's chamber'. Mrs Astley made her feelings very clear to the Admiral, which angered him, but he did at least go away on that occasion. What really disturbed Mrs Astley, according to her later deposition to the Privy Council, was that he only stayed if Elizabeth was in bed; if he found her up and dressed, he would just look in at the gallery door, then leave.
  Seymour was irritated by Mrs Astley's attitude, but it only served to make him all the more determined to have what he wanted. Elizabeth was at a highly impressionable age, and very flattered that the dashing Admiral's attentions were focused upon her. The morning visits continued, to Mrs Astley's dismay. The Admiral would go into Elizabeth's bedchamber and tickle her as she lay in her bed, clad only in her night-gown. Once he tried to kiss her, but Mrs Astley ordered him out 'for shame'. However, he was back the next morning, and most mornings thereafter. What was more, Elizabeth did not rebuff him. Soon, matters had reached the stage where the Admiral would bid her good morning, ask how she did, and smack her on the back or buttocks with great familiarity. Then he would go to the maids' room and flirt with them.
  The Queen seemed to see nothing wrong in all this. She may still have regarded her stepdaughter as a child. She raised no protest when she heard that the Admiral would pull apart Elizabeth's bed- curtains and 'make as though he would come at her', causing her to shrink back giggling into the bed to avoid being tickled. The Admiral said it was harmless, and the Queen believed him. Mrs Astley, however, was not so sure; and she was concerned about her charge's reputation. One day, when the Admiral chased Elizabeth out from behind the bed-curtains where she had hidden with her maids, the lady-in-waiting spoke to him, and said there had been complaints about his behaviour and that 'my lady was evil spoken of', presumably among the servants. The Admiral answered that he would report to the Lord Protector 'how I am slandered,' but Mrs Astley insisted she herself must always be present whenever he entered Elizabeth's bedchamber, and made certain from then on that she was.
  Early in March 1548 Katherine Parr discovered that she was at long last to have a child. Both she and the Admiral were delighted. At thirty-six she was, by the standards of her time, well into middle age and rather old to be having a first child. Nevertheless, she seems to have enjoyed good health throughout most of her pregnancy.
  The romps continued. Sometimes the Queen even joined in. At Anne Boleyn's old manor of Hanworth that spring, Katherine accompanied her husband to Elizabeth's room on two occasions and joined in the tickling. While still at Hanworth, the Admiral chased Elizabeth through the gardens; when he caught her, he took shears and cut her black mourning gown into strips, while the Queen, laughing, held her still. After Elizabeth fled indoors, Mrs Astley asked in horror what had happened to her. Elizabeth would only reply that 'it could not be helped'.
  Her infatuation with the Admiral was becoming quite obvious. A concerned Seymour, to divert suspicion from himself, told Katherine he had recently seen Elizabeth, through a gallery window, 'with her arms round a man's neck'. The Queen was shocked, and sent for Mrs Astley, who advised Katherine to question the girl herself. She did so, but Elizabeth burst into tears and denied that such a thing had ever happened, begging her stepmother to ask all her women if it were true. She had little opportunity for such things, as she was hardly ever alone, and the only men who came into contact with her, apart from servants, were her elderly schoolmaster and the Admiral.
  The Queen's suspicions were aroused. If Elizabeth was telling the truth, her husband must be lying. Suddenly everything made sense: the morning romps, Elizabeth's behaviour, Mrs Astley's tight-lipped disapproval. Katherine did not think that the affair had proceeded beyond a mere romp, but she realised that her husband was in pursuit of Elizabeth, and knew that he was the kind of man who would seduce her if the opportunity presented itself. It was therefore imperative that she take some action to protect the girl, who was, after all, under her roof and in her charge.
  The Queen sent for Mrs Astley and confided her suspicions to her, telling her to 'take more heed, and be as it were in watch betwixt the Lady Elizabeth and the Admiral'. Mrs Astley was relieved that Katherine was now in command of the situation, and to know she did not suspect it to have progressed very far. Later that day she told Sir Thomas Parry, who was in charge of Elizabeth's financial affairs, that 'the Admiral had loved the Princess too well, and had done so a good while', but his bluff was about to be called. Parry, too, promised to be watchful.
  When, in April, Katherine came upon her husband and Elizabeth together – in what circumstances we do not know - her happiness was shattered. In May, mindful of her duty to protect her stepdaughter, she sent Elizabeth to live with Mrs Astley’s sister and her husband, Sir Anthony Denny, at Cheshunt. Elizabeth was deeply upset. She told Mrs Ashley that she had 'loved the Admiral too well', and that the Queen was jealous of them both. Before her departure, she had one last painful interview with Katherine, who is supposed to have said, 'God has given you great qualities. Cultivate them always, and labour to improve them, for I believe you are destined by Heaven to be Queen of England.'
  When she arrived at Cheshunt, Elizabeth was told by Mrs Astley that the Admiral would have married her, if he had had the chance, rather than the Queen. Elizabeth asked how she knew that, whereupon Mrs Astley told her 'she knew it well, both by herself and others'. Before very long, it was common knowledge, and caused further grief to Queen Katherine; what was worse, however, were the rumours that were beginning to spread regarding Elizabeth's relationship with the Admiral. There were tales of illicit meetings, criminal intercourse, even of a child born in great secrecy. Such tales, most of them fabrications, probably originated in servants' gossip at Chelsea. It would be another year, however, before the government took them seriously and the storm broke.
  Not long after her arrival at Cheston, Elizabeth fell sick and took to her bed, which was to provoke some of the rumours; however, she was up and about by July. In the meantime, she had received a letter from the Admiral, taking the blame for what had happened upon himself, and swearing to testify to her innocence if necessary. No words of love adorned his letter or her reply, in which she wrote, 'You need not to send an excuse to me', and ended 'I pray you to make my humble commendations to the Queen's Highness.' Telling the Admiral she was committing 'you and your affairs into God's hand', she effectively informed him that all familiarity between them must cease; and while his wife lived Seymour took her at her word. Elizabeth saw now that she had not only caused terrible hurt to the Queen, but had also risked her reputation and her place in the succession. Never again would she be so foolish.
  After Elizabeth's departure, Katherine made an effort to rebuild her shaken marriage. Thanks to her determination, relations between her and Seymour improved, assisted by the Queen's advancing pregnancy and the shared pleasure of anticipating the birth of their child. The Admiral wanted his son born in his castle at Sudeley, and on 13 June 1548 they set off for Gloucestershire.  There the Queen received a letter arrived from Elizabeth, 'giving thanks for the manifold kindnesses received at your Highness's hand at my departure' and saying how 'truly I was replete with sorrow to depart from your Highness' and that I weighed it deeply when you said you would warn me of all evilnesses that you should hear of me; for if your Grace had not a good opinion of me, you would not have offered friendship to me that way at all, meaning the contrary’. There was more, in the same appealing and penitential vein, and the letter was signed 'Your Highness's humble daughter, Elizabeth'. It was undoubtedly a plea for forgiveness. Katherine wrote a warm reply, assuring her stepdaughter of her friendship. The Admiral wrote also, at his wife's request.
  Elizabeth replied on 31 July, saying Katherine's letter was 'most joyful to me'. She rejoiced to learn of Katherine's otherwise excellent health and enjoyment of life in the country, and was grateful to the Admiral for undertaking to let her know from time to time 'how his busy child doth; if I were at his birth, no doubt I would see him beaten, for the trouble he hath put you to!' And with the passing on of good wishes for 'a lucky deliverance' from Mrs Ashley and others, Elizabeth ended her letter, 'giving your Highness most humble thanks for your commendations'.
  Katherine’s child was born on 30 August 1548 at Sudeley Castle. It turned out to be no 'little knave', but a daughter, who was afterwards christened Mary, in honour of her stepsister, the Lady Mary. Hours after the birth Katherine was laid low with puerperal fever, that scourge of medieval and Tudor childbeds, and remained delirious for almost a week. With each passing day, it became more obvious that she was not going to recover. In her delirium, she spoke of her anguish over her husband's faithlessness and betrayal, which was to trouble her to the end, and which she no longer had the strength or wit to conceal. The Admiral hastened to reassure her, saying, 'Why, sweetheart! I would you no hurt!' To which Katherine replied, with heavy irony, 'No, my lord, I think so. But you have given me many shrewd
taunts.' She died on 7 September 1548.
  The Admiral was genuinely grieved at her passing. His servant Edward informed the Lady Elizabeth that 'my lord is a heavy man for the loss of the Queen his wife', but if the Admiral had hoped to find her willing to console him, he was quickly to be disappointed for there was no reply from her. At length, he returned to the world of men and affairs, and early in 1549 joined the English army at Musselburgh to do battle against the Scots. Yet not even his valorous performance in combat could dispel the whispers about his lack of scruples, nor the rumour, spread by Thomas Parry, 'that he had treated the late Queen cruelly, dishonestly, and jealously'.
  As time passed his grief faded. He returned to court, taking the first of many ill- considered steps that would, in 1549, lead him to the block for having schemed to gain control of the young Edward VI. His arrest – after he broke into the royal apartments and shot the King’s dog - was cataclysmic for the fifteen-year-old Elizabeth, for in its quest for incriminating evidence the Council subjected her to a series of rigorous interrogations, its aim being to prove that she had consented unlawfully to marry Seymour. She held her ground skilfully, refusing to admit anything, and only faltering when the depositions of Mrs Astley and Thomas Parry, obtained under duress in the Tower, were laid before her. But in the end the Council realised that there was insufficient evidence to arrest Elizabeth. When, in March 1549, news was brought to her of Seymour’s execution, she held her nerve, merely observing, 'This day died a man of much wit, and very little judgement.'
  In this affair Thomas Seymour comes across as a sixteenth-century Erroll Flynn, a two dimensional caricature of a swashbuckling adventurer, a portrayal that obscures the real man, the role he played, his intentions and the real extent of his influence. Elizabeth’s own feelings and responses are even more difficult to gauge, and details of the affair are fragmentary, resting chiefly on the depositions of Astley and Parry. We are dealing with the whole question of stories here, not just modern readings of this sorry tale, but sixteenth-century interpretations of what actually happened. And what actually happened may not have been the same thing.
  Katherine Astley’s own role in it is a disturbing one. Why did she allow the romps to go on for so long before protesting? Why did she urge her royal charge towards marriage with the Admiral, a step that could have proved fatal for both Elizabeth and Seymour, since it was high treason to marry a princess of the blood without the King’s – in this case, the Council’s – consent? Was Astley herself more than a little in love with Seymour? She paid dearly for her rashness with a terrifying sojourn in the Tower, but Elizabeth remained close to her and promoted her to be head of her Privy Chamber when she became queen in 1558.
  It is in the interrogations of Elizabeth that we see the brilliant mind of the future Queen at work for the first time, that formidable intellect that enabled her to outwit all her accusers and emerge from the scandal with her reputation ultimately intact. Did she bear Seymour a child, as rumour had it? Was she the young girl who was secretly delivered by a midwife who was taken blindfolded to a great house? It seems more likely that she preserved the maidenhead that was later to be so integral to the cult of the Virgin Queen.
  Above all, what impact did the Seymour scandal have on the adolescent mind of a girl whose mother and stepmother (Katherine Howard) had died on the block for committing adultery? In modern terms, Seymour’s behaviour was nothing less than child abuse, although in the sixteenth century girls could marry and cohabit at twelve, so it would not then have been regarded as such. But it is inconceivable that the affair did not inflict irreparable damage to Elizabeth’s psychological and sexual development, and it may be that it was because of Seymour’s bloody end, even more than those of her mother and stepmother, that Elizabeth came to hate the idea of marriage for reasons she would not ‘confess to her twin soul’. 
 


INTERVIEW WITH ALISON WEIR, U.S.A., 2008



1. In choosing to focus on the early years of Elizabeth’s life in The Lady Elizabeth, have you found fertile ground that explains the complicated queen who has so fascinated historians?
Yes, this is obviously the period that shaped Elizabeth, and which holds the most clues to her emotional development and her future greatness.

2. The young Elizabeth is exceptionally intelligent and precocious. How did those qualities attract your attention as you researched this extraordinary woman’s life?
I was constantly astonished at her mental dexterity and formidable intelligence. A lot of people find it hard to credit that she was so precocious at a young age, but I can assure you that the evidence for it exists.

3. Daughter of Henry VIII and the beheaded Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth cuts her teeth on power. In the early years, when Henry is still alive and when Edward becomes king, how would you describe Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship? Do their differences become more obvious as each comes closer to her destiny?
Prevented by her bastardy and her father`s political machinations from marrying and having children, Mary lavishes her frustrated maternal instincts on her much-younger sister, of whom she is very fond. But as Elizabeth leaves childhood behind and begins to display the flirtatious characteristics of her mother, Anne Boleyn, and embraces the Protestant faith, Mary becomes more wary of her. Any friendship between these daughters of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, who are divided by the crucial issue of faith, is inevitably doomed.

4. From childhood, Elizabeth is defiant about marriage. What is the source of this instinctive resistance? Does an ever-changing procession of step-mothers influence the child?
No one knows for certain what the source of her reluctance was. There were probably a number of factors. An awareness of her mother`s fate, Katherine Howard`s execution, the divorces and matrimonial controversies within her own family, the deaths of two stepmothers in childbed, and her sister Mary I`s disastrous union with Philip of Spain all probably contributed.

5. Knowing little of her mother, Elizabeth is deeply attached to Henry VIII, her sister Mary and brother, Edward. How does a need for motherly affection draw Elizabeth to Kat, her governess, and the newly-widowed Queen Katherine Parr, Henry’s sixth wife?
In my novel, Elizabeth is drawn to Kat despite herself, for she initially resents Kat as an interloper after the withdrawal of her first governess, Lady Bryan, who has been more of a mother to her than Anne Boleyn ever was. But she is drawn to Kat not so much for Kat`s maternal qualities as for her sense of fun and her warm and garrulous nature.

6. Secure in Katherine’s household, Elizabeth experiences the first real passion of her young life for Thomas Seymour, an attachment fraught with danger and betrayal. Does Katherine’s husband, the handsome Seymour, truly care for the young girl and does she love him as she believes? Who is guiltier for Elizabeth’s flirtatious relationship with Seymour, Kat, the enabling governess, or the devious Seymour?
You`ll have to read the book and decide for yourself if Seymour truly cares for Elizabeth, and if what she feels for him is love! I would say that Seymour himself bears the chief responsibility for his relationship with Elizabeth, but that Kat is to a lesser degree to blame by encouraging it in its later stages.

7. When Seymour pursues Elizabeth after Katherine’s death in childbirth, the queen-to-be finds herself at the center of controversy. How do the intentions of men such as Seymour, and others who later fancy her as wife, cause dangerous complications for Elizabeth during her brother’s reign and that of the Catholic Mary?
Elizabeth is heir to the throne after Edward and Mary, and by law she must obtain the Council`s consent before she marries, as must any man wishing to marry her. It would be high treason for her to marry without that consent, and punishable by death. As for seduction… It can`t get more dangerous than that!

8. Religious dissent plagues England after Henry’s death. How do differing religious factions bring disharmony to the country with each new reign? Is not religion at the core of every attempt to overthrow one monarch for another?
Religious factions dominated court politics in the latter years of Henry VIII`s reign, after he had broken with Rome and declared himself Head of the Church of England. Henry`s church was Catholic. He burned Protestants for heresy and Catholics for allegiance to the Pope. When Edward VI succeeded him in 1547, the country became officially Protestant, and it was in an attempt to keep it that way that Edward`s advisers set up Lady Jane Grey as queen on Edward`s death in 1553. But Mary, the rightful heir, triumphed, and under her England reverted officially to Roman Catholicism. Mary alienated her subjects by burning three hundred Protestant martyrs, so there was general rejoicing when Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 and established the Protestant Anglican Church.

9. It seemed to me that Elizabeth’s sojourn at Queen Katherine’s and the nearly disastrous relationship with Thomas Seymour is a seminal point in Elizabeth’s development, balancing ambition with her heart’s impulses. How significant is this period in determining the course of Elizabeth’s life? How does Seymour’s death affect Elizabeth?
I should have said that the Seymour episode contributed crucially to Elizabeth`s resolve never to marry. It`s intriguing to find that most of the men with whom she became involved later were dark and dashing, even a little dangerous, like Seymour. She kept a tight rein on her emotions on hearing of his death, so we have no way of knowing how deeply it affected her.

10. The bookish, fanatically reformist, young Lady Jane Grey is a victim of the same overreaching ambitions of others that plagues Elizabeth. But Jane eventually loses her head. What does this vile act through Mary’s orders tell Elizabeth about the precariousness of her own situation?
Elizabeth now has every reason to believe that she will meet the same fate. And Mary`s decision to execute Jane was not so much as vile but rather forced by her advisers. In a way, she was as much a victim of circumstances as Jane was.

11. How significant is William Cecil in Elizabeth’s life? How does he serve her cause even before she is crowned?
He was to be her chief counsellor and political adviser for over thirty years. Prior to her accession, he worked covertly for her benefit, much as he is shown doing in the novel. She was always to value his wise advice.

12. Over the years, Elizabeth establishes a tentative peace with Mary. Yet religion always interferes with the fragile peace they maintain. How do Mary’s fears about Elizabeth, fueled by her advisors and Philip of Spain, continually put Elizabeth in danger of being sent to the Tower or worse?
Mary is so suspicious of Elizabeth`s motives, and so determined that her sister will not succeed her and turn England Protestant that she is always ready to believe the worst of her. And with her advisers dripping vitriol in her ear, Elizabeth`s fate is constantly hanging in the balance.

13. The considerable tension between Henry’s daughters is based on more than religious differences. What are the other issues that plague Mary and Elizabeth? Is each daughter not remarkably like her mother, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, respectively?
Yes, the daughters are very like their mothers, and the knowledge that Anne Boleyn broke up Mary`s mother`s marriage and was a vicious enemy to Katherine and Mary lies between Mary and Elizabeth like a dividing sword. Mary also fears that Elizabeth is not her father`s child, but the bastard of one of Anne Boleyn`s alleged lovers. And Mary is jealous of Elizabeth because she is so much younger and attractive to men.

14. After the interminable investigation about Thomas Seymour and Mary’s constant fears of plots fomented by her sister, Kat is removed from Elizabeth’s household; Elizabeth seems to be more frequently plagued by various ailments and debilitating headaches. Does this pattern of illness continue throughout her life?
No, it was chiefly evident in her early years, exacerbated no doubt by the insecurities in her life; it is likely too that some of these ailments were purely diplomatic!

15. Queen Mary: “You are my heir and it is unthinkable that my heir should be of the reformed faith.” How does this statement define Mary’s unwillingness to pass the crown to Elizabeth after her death? What must Elizabeth do to convince her sister?
Mary craves Elizabeth`s undertaking that she will maintain the Catholic religion in England, but Elizabeth is prepared only to go so far as to swear to uphold the true faith. Mary is aware that she is being deliberately ambiguous, but she knows too that Elizabeth will concede nothing further. The tide is turning and England is looking to its rising star.

16. The fanaticism of the Inquisition is visited on Spain and then imported to England through Philip of Spain. What does Mary’s marriage to Philip and the Inquisition portend for those in England who embrace the reformed faith?
The Inquisition was never introduced into England, although there were fears that it would be as a result of Mary`s marriage to Philip. It was Mary, not Philip, who revived the heresy laws, and Mary who drove the persecution. Knowing that he was blamed for the burnings, Philip did his best to stop them. Many people were concerned that this marriage would turn England into a mere satellite of Spain. When Mary lost Calais after becoming embroiled in Philip`s war, it became clear just how disastrous this marriage had been for England.

17. Philip of Spain, Mary’s husband, sets his sights on a potential marriage with Elizabeth after his wife’s demise. How do such betrayals serve to undermine the relationship between the sisters? In the end, are they not equally alone in their dreams and their fears?
Mary fears almost from the first that Philip will be attracted to Elizabeth, not only as a woman, but as a future queen, and that does nothing to improve relations between the sisters. Mary certainly ended up very much alone, her dreams in ruins. Elizabeth`s isolation ended with Mary`s death, and her dreams were shared by many of her new subjects.

18. In The Lady Elizabeth, you discuss a very controversial episode in Elizabeth’s past, one that has been the source of much speculation over the years. Without giving anything away, can you tell us how you feel about this topic, as an historian as well as a novelist?
I`ve made a decision not to discuss this aspect – I want people to read the book! What I will say is that I have written a detailed Author`s Note (which is at the end of the book), supporting what I have written. As a historian, I would not be going down this path!

19. In your role as novelist, what was the most challenging aspect of writing The Lady Elizabeth? The most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect was writing the controversial passages and wondering if they would sound credible. The most rewarding aspect, of course, was getting to know Elizabeth herself all over again, with the luxury of imagining what it would be like to be her.

20. Will you follow up this novel with more about the magnificent Elizabeth? Will that be the topic of your next novel? If not, can you give us an idea of what your new novel will be about?
I am at present discussing subjects for further novels with my publishers. I cannot say any more than that at present!




Tales of Kings and Queens
Article from Living (The Source), Madison Ct., May 2008
By Susan Talpey

Four centuries may have passed since Queen Elizabeth I ruled England, but her story is timeless. The daughter of the infamous Henry VllI and Anne Boleyn (the second of Henry's six wives, who was eventually beheaded), the Virgin Queen was the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty, capping a turbulent historical period.
   While this world of kings and queens may be an age ago and a world away, from recent films Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The Other Boleyn Girl to the HBO series, The Tudors, their stories live on in history and popular culture.
   Acclaimed British historian Alison Weir penned several lauded biographies about the Tudors before turning her hand to historical fiction. Last year Weir released Innocent Traitor, a fictional account of Lady Jane Grey, England's nine-day queen, and in April added The Lady Elizabeth to her collection. On her U.S. tour that includes a lecture at the Smithsonian Institute, Weir visits Madison on Thursday, June 5.
   In an exclusive Living interview, Weir spoke about the great queen and her upcoming visit to the shoreline.
  
ST: As a historian, you've devoted much of your work to the Tudor family. After all these centuries, why do you think people are still interested in these historical figures?

AW: These are larger than life, vigorous characters who lived very colorful lives. A king with six wives, who beheaded two; a virgin queen who ruled for 45 years in a male-dominated society; the young Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days and beheaded at 17 - you can't make this stuff up. It's a novelist's dream. It's also the first period for which we have extensive sources for the private lives of the royal family; and the first period for which we have portraits of many of these people, so we have a visual history.

ST: After writing histories of many of these famous characters, what compelled you to write historical fiction? And what do you enjoy about it?

AW: It came about by accident. In the late '90s I was researching a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine and decided to write a novel for fun. What appealed was the opportunity to take the history, flesh it out, and fill in the missing fragments. I chose Lady Jane Grey because hers was a short and very dramatic life. Writing fiction began as a hobby and now I find myself a novelist as well. I like the idea of getting inside the character's head. After decades of researching and writing about these people, I feel I know them - and this is a fun way to flesh out their lives. As historians, we're not at liberty to invent any part of the story, but as novelists we can indulge in flights of fancy.

ST: Elizabeth I has been portrayed many times in television and film. What did you hope to add to the existing image of Elizabeth?

AW: All my work, not just historical but fictional too, is about getting closer to the truth. I wanted to show who Elizabeth truly was, based on all the sources at my disposal, and to tell her true story.

ST: Unlike many popular portrayals you spend time exploring Elizabeth's life as a child. Do you think this has an impact on how we consider an historical figure?

AW: Absolutely. If we can understand events and the people that shaped their personality and their character, and what hang-ups they grew up with, we can understand who they are.

ST: The Lady Elizabeth also explores an interesting connection between a young Elizabeth and her executed mother Anne Boleyn. Do you think that's sometimes forgotten?

AW: Most historians examine it, but perhaps not to the extent they should. It's often explored in a post-Freudian way. Most historians see her mother's death as a reason for Elizabeth's decision not to marry. I think it's one factor - certainly it was shocking for her to know that her father ordered her mother to be beheaded.

ST: Both of your novels have strong female protagonists during a time when a woman's function was to marry and bear heirs. Is that why you chose to write these histories from their viewpoint?

AW: I chose Lady Jane Grey because her reign was such a dramatic episode in history. While many historians are sympathetic to her, she was also very feisty, and that's sometimes ignored. It was fascinating to write about this rebellious and even fanatical teenager - to revisit that time with a fictional thread. For these women, this is the way life was. They understood their situation and most accepted it. Certainly, for modern women, the sharp contrast to their own lives is shocking - not just that it was a woman's place to obey her husband, but that a child had to be completely subservient to its parents.

ST: In Innocent Traitor, elderly Lady Seymour says to young Lady Jane Grey, "These are dreadful times we live in. All change for change's sake." Do you think that in the scheme of history it was a hard time to live?

AW: It was from a religious point of view, especially if you were in high places and held different views to those above you - your very life was at stake. That's what so fascinating about Elizabeth and the young Jane Grey - they held true to their Protestant beliefs at the risk of death. During Mary Tudor's reign, Elizabeth would not fully embrace the Catholic religion, and Jane Grey would have been spared her life if she'd converted, but even at the age of 17, she would not.

ST: With your extensive knowledge of this period and its leading characters, how much of The Lady Elizabeth is history and how much is fiction?

AW: It's mostly history and what is fiction I've detailed in my author's note. Many of the conversations, with Mrs Astley, Queen Mary and the ambassadors all took place. Writing fiction allowed me the liberty of compressing them into one scene, instead of showing them happening over time. I looked at rumours that Elizabeth became pregnant and, with the freedom of fiction, asked myself, what if it really hap-pened? Might she afterwards have invented herself as the Protestant Virgin Queen? That's the exciting thing about fiction.

ST: You've been credited with bringing history to life in your work Is this important to you?

AW: Very. I've been passionate about history since I was a teenager and these characters and this history are alive for me. I want to convey that passion to others and get readers excited about history. It's a real buzz for me.

ST: You're visiting Madison on June 5 as part of your U.S. tour for The Lady Elizabeth. Is it a different experience, sharing the history of your own country with a foreign audience?

AW: Slightly and that's exciting. I've been fortunate to find that there's a great interest here in this period of British history, as evidenced by the popularity of films of this time, the television series, The Tudors, etc. I've had great crowds at my events and have met wonderful readers. It's very gratifying, very warming.

ST: What project are you working on now?

AW: It's a non-fiction book called The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn. It's exciting because it'll be the first complete book dedicated to the subject. There's a lot that happened during the fall of Anne Boleyn that hasn't been written about, lots of details that   haven't been explored - and it's in the details that we learn true history.



INTERVIEW WITH ALISON WEIR, U.S.A., 2008




1. In an interview marking the publication of your first novel, Innocent Traitor, about the life and death of Lady Jane Grey, you mentioned that you'd been writing historical novels "for fun" since the 1960s, then putting them away in the drawer to concentrate on your straight historical work. Did your current novel, The Lady Elizabeth, have its origins as one of these novels? And if so, is this a source from which you'll continue to draw?
No, the suggestion for this novel came from my British editor, and I`m indebted to him for it, as it`s a subject that had enormous instant appeal for me. But there are quite a few other novels hidden away in my drawer - some of them unfinished, a few about Anne Boleyn, and several more crying out to be rewritten! I`m working on one in my spare time (which is a slow process, as I have so little spare time), and it`s like nothing I`ve ever done before. I think it`s important for a writer and historian like myself to have extra-mural projects that are just for me, because history was a hugely enjoyable hobby for many years before I got into print, and I want it to remain that, as well as a profession.

2. In an Author's Note to The Lady Elizabeth, you write: "I am not, as an historian, saying that it could have happened; but as a novelist, I enjoy the heady freedom to ask: What if it had?" Can you expand a bit on this "heady freedom" and on the working dynamic or tension between Alison Weir the novelist and Alison Weir the historian?
There is no tension, aside from the historian in me being determined to stick to the facts as faithfully as possible in my novels. Yes, it is incredibly liberating to be able to fill in the gaps in our knowledge and get inside the heads of historical characters, and it`s also gripping to have the freedom to construct a tale from fragments of gossip or romantic legends, which a historian should be wary of doing; but at the same time, what you come up with as a novelist must be credible and convincing within the context of the known facts and the cultural, social and moral ethos of the period. It`s therefore an advantage to be a historian and to have studied the subject in depth.

3. The Lady Elizabeth traces the life of England's most famous queen from her childhood to the moment of her ascension to the throne following the death of her half-sister, Mary. Not to put the cart before the horse, but will you be carrying your fictional biography of Elizabeth forward? Can we expect a sequel?
Yes, but not immediately, as I will be writing two other novels first.

4. I know that in Tudor times, children were often considered to be, and treated as, miniature adults. But the young Elizabeth as you portray her really seems to have been more than just the product of her social environment—there is a remarkable adult perspicacity to her insights and judgments from a very young age.
That is historically true. Elizabeth was indeed formidably intelligent and highly precocious. We know that through her early letters (one of which is quoted, in slightly modernised English, in the novel) and her recorded utterances. There was little concept then of childhood as a separate phase of development: children were to be civilised as soon as possible so as to be able to take their place early on in the adult world. This makes sense when you remember that life-expectancy was shorter (around thirty for women, 63 for men), infant mortality was high, and girls could be married and cohabit at twelve, boys at fourteen, while boys could fight in battle as young as age eleven. And children were schooled early on to have an awareness of religion, morality and death. When people question the precocity of these Tudor princesses, I often quote the example of Anne, the three-year-old daughter of Charles I, who, on her deathbed in 1640, prayed unprompted, `Lighten mine eyes, O Lord, lest I sleep the sleep of death.` It was an entirely different mindset from today, but children are like sponges: whatever you fill them with, they will soak up.

5. How would you compare Elizabeth with your previous subject, Lady Jane? In some respects they seem very similar, yet it's difficult to imagine Elizabeth was ever as naïve or blind to political realities as her younger cousin.
When I began writing The Lady Elizabeth, I feared I was in some peril of writing a very similar book to Innocent Traitor, because Elizabeth Tudor and Jane Grey were young Tudor princesses, both dangerously near in blood to the throne, both had difficult childhoods and devoted nurses, both were incredibly intelligent and clever, being the products of a forward-thinking Renaissance education, and both converts to the Protestant faith in an age of religious dogmatism in which heretics were burned at the stake. And they were both feisty red-heads! Yet their characters were so dissimilar, and their ambitions too. Elizabeth wanted power and to be the star of the court; Jane was a scholar who wanted to be left in peace with her books, and the prospect of queenship was repellent to her. Elizabeth was a survivor, Jane wasn`t. And the courses – and outcomes - of their lives were very different. They were surrounded and influenced by different characters. Elizabeth, bastard status apart, was essentially a princess, Jane a private gentlewoman. And yes, Elizabeth was far less naïve than Jane, and had a far more astute grasp of Tudor realpolitik.

6. Tell us a bit about your technique of using original quotations, modified for the contemporary ear, as much as possible in dialogue. What is the source of the quotes that you use? How rich in primary-source material is the historical record of the Tudor era?
The sources of the quotes I use are far too numerous to mention! I can do no better than refer you to the extensive bibliographies in my non-fiction books, notably Children of England. The Tudor period is incredibly rich in source material, and for the first time there is a wealth of evidence for the private lives of royalty. So I have based many quotes, and often whole conversations, on the contemporary record, although I have modified the language in places so that it fits seamlessly into a modern text. I`ve been working with Tudor sources for more decades than I care to remember, so I am very familiar with spoken and written idioms, to the extent that I have adapted speech from many sources for my novels, sometimes out of context.

7. In Innocent Traitor, you wrote from the first-person perspective of Lady Jane. Now, for The Lady Elizabeth, you've switched to a third-person perspective. Why?
My publishers wanted me to! But I have found that it is quite possible to write from a character`s viewpoint in the third person, and that the third person allows for greater flexibility.

8. Your portrayal of Elizabeth's relationship with the ambitious rogue Thomas Seymour seems likely to stir controversy. How could her governess, Kat Astley, have allowed the situation to go on for so long? And finally, was this the strongest influence on her determination to remain unmarried?
I don`t want to give away too much here, but suffice it to say that most of what happened between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour is a matter of historical record, as is Kat Astley`s involvement, about which I have my own theory, which is explained and justified in the Author`s Note at the end of the book, as is the controversial aspect of my story, which is also based on (rather more dubious) contemporary sources. Elizabeth had resolved never to marry long before this episode, but I am sure that her experience with Seymour went a long way to cement that resolve.

9. One thing that episode underscores is the imbalance between male and female power at that time, even for a young girl of Elizabeth's lofty status.
It doesn`t come across that way to me. As the law stood, it was high treason for any man to marry Elizabeth, and for her to enter into such a marriage, without the Council`s consent. That, to me, is the issue that underscores the Seymour episode.

10. Why did Elizabeth come to embrace the Protestant faith so strongly when her half-sister, Mary, was such a devout Catholic?
Elizabeth had been brought up and educated by religious reformers, and was influenced by them and by her stepmother Katherine Parr, while Mary (who was much older) had been educated under the auspices of her mother, the devoutly Catholic Katherine of Aragon, who had instilled in her a deep devotion to the old faith. I am convinced that, having had such a desperately unhappy life after her father, Henry VIII, repudiated her mother, Mary clung to the faith of her childhood not only because of her religious convictions but also because it represented the old ways in which she had been brought up, and the security she had known as a child. Elizabeth`s mother, Anne Boleyn, had been a champion of reform and religious tolerance, and that may have had a bearing on her own views.

11. Surrounded by fanatical believers of one faith or another, Elizabeth as you portray her seems surprisingly modern in her recognition that religious belief should ideally be a private matter . . . even though circumstances compelled her to behave otherwise.
Yes, she was remarkably enlightened for her day, which is why I admire her so much. I have used her own words to illustrate her religious views. She really did say, as queen, that she would not make windows into men`s souls, and that `there is only one Jesus Christ; the rest is a dispute over trifles`. I have used these and other insights to inform her developing opinions in the novel.

12. What is the true story behind Queen Mary's pregnancy? It seems like such a bizarre episode.
The story is just as I tell it in the book. Mary did have a phantom pregnancy, and it was not until eleven months had passed and the gas in her abdomen began to dissipate that she was forced to accept the fact. When I researched this episode for Children of England, I referred the matter to a senior gynaecologist, who confirmed that it was indeed a phantom pregnancy, and that a woman can long for a child so much that she can deceive her body into producing all the signs of pregnancy. It`s a condition that is virtually never seen these days because of the advent of early ultrasound scanning.

13. One of the most enigmatic and tragic figures in your novel, as in the history itself, is Elizabeth's half-brother, Edward. What is your take on him? What kind of king would he have made had he not died so young?
My take on Edward is that he was a little boy who had grown up in splendid isolation because he was the precious, longed-for heir to England, and that consequently he was cold, devoid of emotion, unduly precocious, conscious of his position and the need to emulate his father Henry VIII, and priggishly fervent in the reformed faith. Had he lived, I am convinced that he would have been as fanatical a Protestant as Mary Tudor was a Catholic, and that he would have been another autocratic king like his father.

14. As in Innocent Traitor, you continue to portray Henry VIII with unusual sympathy. For all his excesses and cruelties, he seems himself a victim, caught in a snare that was by no means entirely of his own making.
Yes, I do see Henry VIII to some extent as a victim of fortune; it was the frustrations and disappointments in his life that made him what he was. His quest for a son was a political imperative, his quest for love in a fruitful marriage a personal one. Of course, much of the novel is written from Henry`s point of view, and Elizabeth`s, so it is bound to be sympathetic, although I have tried to convey to readers that there is a darker thread to the story than these subjective aspects might convey. However, popular misconceptions about Henry VIII are still widespread, and it seems to be my life`s mission to debunk the caricature of modern myth without detracting from the less lovable aspects of this King!

15. Is there any possibility that Elizabeth was not really his daughter, as was rumoured at the time?
No. Henry himself never questioned it, nor was the issue ever raised at the time of Anne Boleyn`s imprisonment and trial, when it could have been used against her to advantage. Many people commented on Elizabeth`s likeness in character to Henry, observing that it was plain to see whose daughter she was, and you only have to compare their portraits, and facial profiles, to see the familial similarity.

16. What, in your opinion, is the best, most accurate film portrayal of Elizabeth? Not just in terms of historical accuracy, but in capturing the essence of her personality and character.
Without a doubt, Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R (BBC, 1971). Her consummate skill as an actress conveys the many complex facets of Elizabeth`s character. Moreover, the series is well researched and the script based on original sources. After that, Helen Mirren, who is a fine actress. You can forget the rest!

17. What about the Showtime series The Tudors? How would you grade it for historical accuracy?
I have to confess that I enjoyed it, purely as a drama, and there were some aspects that were very creditably done, such as the recreations of the Tudor palaces (in particular the temporary palace built for the Field of Cloth of Gold), shifts in foreign alliances, and the tortuous negotiations in respect of the `Great Matter`. I think that Jonathan Rhys-Meyers gave a fine performance as Henry VIII, but why on earth couldn`t they have made more effort to have him looking like Henry, or ageing commensurately? Sam Neill was good as Wolsey (apart from the startling scene in which he commits suicide – it`s odd, but I`ve never read about that in any history book) and Jeremy Northam was a believable Thomas More. The actress playing Katherine of Aragon was excellent (although once again we have a Katherine with dark hair – don`t film-makers ever look at portraits?) and Natalie Dormer portrayed a very convincing Anne Boleyn. But there were many laughable - and unforgiveable – errors, far too numerous to mention here (although I must cite the confused portrayal of Henry VIII`s sister Mary), and there wasn`t a single female costume that was right for the period, while the men`s costume was generally thirty to forty years too late. Given the budget, surely they could have made a little more effort to get it all right?

18. In an interview, you mentioned that you were writing a novel about Katherine Howard. Is that still in the works?
No, sadly Philippa Gregory got there first with The Boleyn Inheritance, hence The Lady Elizabeth. But I don`t rule it out for the future, in fact it`s my ambition to write a series of novels on Henry VIII`s wives, novels that are based on the extensive research that I have done over so many years. But for the present, the market is too crowded, so that project has had to be shelved. One day, I hope, I`ll be able to write those books.


INTERVIEW WITH ALISON WEIR, U.S.A., 2008




The British royal family, especially the Tudor dynasty, has been an obsession for you since you were a teenager. Do you ever see yourself writing about anything else?
Possibly. I am interested in European royalty, the supernatural, books on modern relationships, rock music…!

The Tudor family has always fascinated people, but there seems to be even more interest in them these days—films, TV shows, etc. What is it about them, and Elizabeth in particular, that we find so fascinating?
It`s a colourful, dramatic period with vivid, charismatic personalities, a wealth of source material and a unique visual record. Elizabeth is fascinating because she was a clever, feisty woman who overcame insuperable difficulties and triumphed in a male-dominated age.

You’ve voiced some objections to the historical accuracy of recent film portrayals of the Tudor era. What's your own standard for fictionalizing history? How much liberty can you take as a novelist?
Very little. If I write something controversial, it has been based on original sources, and I will justify what I have done in an author`s note. But I think that, because some people never make that leap from novels or films to history books, novelists and film makers who aim to portray historical characters and events have a duty to keep to the facts where they exist, and to use imagination only where it is credible within the context of those known facts.

What was, for you, the most poignant part of Elizabeth's childhood?
The loss of her mother, Anne Boleyn, when Elizabeth was not quite three.

Was there a turning point in Elizabeth’s early life that made her the leader she became?
Her interrogation after the Thomas Seymour affair, and her awareness that she must use her wits to survive was probably that pivotal moment.

What are the key elements of her character that made her an effective leader?
Her sense of timing, her caution, her diplomatic skills, her showmanship, her ability to choose wise counsellors and her awareness of the need to keep the love of her people.

Do women face the same problems as leaders today that Elizabeth faced?
No, they live in a world in which it is largely taken for granted that women have the right to wield power, and that their sex is not a disadvantage.

Now that you have a new "second" career as a successful novelist, which do you prefer writing — fiction or history?
I enjoy both enormously. I feel very privileged to be publishing both kinds of books.

Two time-travel questions: If you could MEET one figure from history, who would it be? If you could BE one figure from history, who would you be?
I should love to meet Anne Boleyn – I`d have so many questions to ask her! But there is no one I should like to be – when you know the end of people`s stories, you see the sadness in finished lives, and it often seems to outweigh the happiness.

You'll start a U.S. tour later this month—anything you're particularly looking forward to? Are you planning to visit Graceland while you’re in Memphis? Could be the start of a new career writing about American royalty...
I do hope to visit Graceland, and the Gone With The Wind Museum in Atlanta. I`m very excited about the tour.

We’ve heard that this novel is the first of a trilogy. Is that correct?
No. But there may well be a sequel!



THE CHILD WHO WOULD BE QUEEN
From Nashville Scene, May 2008:




Britain's premier popular historian imagines Elizabeth I's scandalous coming of age

With The Lady Elizabeth (Ballantine, 496 pp, $25) Alison Weir takes on, yet again, the story of England's first Queen Elizabeth. This time, howev­er, unlike the biography she published in 1998, she's enriching her tale with fiction. American readers may be excused for believing that Weir's characterization of the young Elizabeth's formidable intelligence is one of the fictional elements in this book. But in fact, the future Queen was demonstrably a precocious child, as Weir, the author of 10 books of non-fiction about English royals, well knows.
   Writing history and writing historical fiction are not the same thing, however. When her story questions the virginity of England's famous Virgin Queen, Weir the novelist is taking dramatic license,  raising doubts  that  Weir the historian does not share. As she writes in an author's note, "We can never know for certain what happens in a person's private life. There were rumours and there were legends, and upon them I have based the highly controversial aspect of this novel, Elizabeth's pregnancy. I am not, as a historian, saying that it could have happened; but as a novelist, I enjoy the heady freedom to ask: What if it had?"
   This literary freedom is something Weir certainly does exercise - for nearly 500 pages, in fact. Opening the book with 3-year-old Elizabeth - unaware that her mother, Anne Boleyn, has  been  stripped  of her  title, accused of treason and subsequently beheaded - Weir continues onward at a pace that is not so much leisurely as  highly  detailed (Anne  Boleyn had a sixth finger) and thoroughly imagined (it's not until a third of the way through the book that Elizabeth reaches the age of 13).
   Weir takes the point of view of an omniscient narrator and employs dialogue stylized for the period. She attempts to give the reader a complete portrait of the times, showing Elizabeth spending most of her days in the care  of her governess, Kat, visiting her father at court only occasion­ally, and quickly learn­ing that she, too, would like to be king one day. At the age of 4, "she had already decided that, when she grew up, she was going to do whatever she pleased and not let anyone order her about."
  But as Elizabeth ages, so too does the court intrigue, and political manoeuverings increase in degree and complication. Brought to bear on her childhood declarations that she will never marry are newfound sexual stirrings. Her father dies, the throne passes to her younger brother, and the jockeying for power among the late king's advisers begins anew. Religion intrudes, and questions about the importance of duty over desire are raised. The his­tory here is never soft. Accurate yet affecting, it is the structure upon which Weir lays her novel, the means by which she tells the story of a child grown into a youig woman, a woman determined to be queen.




INTERVIEW FOR 'WOMAN AND HOME', U.K., 2009



Is your writing affected by the seasons? Does your mood change seasonally and if so, how does this affect both what you write about and how much you write?
No.
 
How do you get started on a new novel? Where do you get your inspiration?
I`m always inspired by subjects I want to live with for months or years of my life. There are so many of them. I do psyche myself up to begin a new novel. With history books, there is one way to write them: you start at A and finish at B. But with fiction, there are many different ways to write a book, and you could give your work to twenty fiction editors who might all have different opinions! I always discuss my proposed structure with my publishers beforehand, but it`s still nerve-racking getting started. Once I`ve done it, though, I`m away, and there`s no stopping me!
 
Do you write a full synopsis first or do you just write and see where it takes you?
I just write and see where it takes me. I learned that from my favourite historical novelist, Norah Lofts.
 
Has your plot ever changed once you started writing?
Yes. If I can see a way to add in a sub-plot, or to embellish the story, I`ll go for it.
 
Where and when do you write?
I write in my library at home. I work from 2pm to 6pm, break for dinner, then write until 9pm. Then I work on other projects.
 
How long does a novel take to write?
In its original form, my first novel, Innocent Traitor, took two months to write, and a month to rewrite, The Lady Elizabeth took me about six months. These were subjects I had previously researched. If I had to do the research as well, it would take me longer.
 
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
With fiction, show rather than tell the story.
 
How do you know when a story isn’t working?
When you get bored writing it. If you`re bored, the reader will be too. That`s the point at which you delete and adopt another approach. It rarely happens, because I know the story in advance.
 
Which is more important, plot or character?
That`s a difficult one. I would say the plot, but I`m the first to get irritated if the characters are only adjuncts to move along the plot, as the characters are, in effect, the plot. So really, both, equally.
 
Who inspired you to write?
Anya Seton, Norah Lofts and Hilda Lewis were all great writers of historical novels who inspired me to write. I still have novels I wrote as a teenager after reading their wonderful books, and they are still my favourite historical novelists. For me, no one writing in that genre today can beat them.
 
Do you ever base your characters on yourself or people you know?
Yes. I was Mrs Ellen, the mother figure in Innocent Traitor! When I wrote that originally, my daughter was the same age as Lady Jane Grey, so I could really empathise with Mrs Ellen`s feelings. I`m now writing a novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and one or two characters are based on people I`ve known, but I`m not saying who, and I doubt they would recognise themselves!
 
What would you do (career-wise) if you couldn’t write?
I`d run a small private school for children with special needs, something I did a few years back.
 
Whose opinions do you value the most? Who gets to read your new novels first?
I really value the opinions of my editors, my many author friends and my family. I sometimes send my books in draft to author friends for an opinion, and they get advance copies too. I always hold my breath when waiting for my editors to read a new book! I never take their good opinions for granted.
 
How do you get a book published? How do you find an agent?
Consult The Writers` Year Book.
 
Are there any writing courses or groups you’d recommend, and do you think they’re worthwhile?
I`m sure they are worthwhile. I`ve done some work with Sutton Writers` Circle in Surrey, and they give great encouragement to budding authors, and facilitate creativity.
 
Is there anything else you feel our readers and budding writers should know?
If you want to be a writer, my advice is never give up!




MISCELLANY

The sequel to this book, The Marriage Game (originally titled The Phoenix and the Bear), is due to be published in June 2014. 

As a historian, I believe that Elizabeth I was the Virgin Queen she claimed to be, but this is a novel, and in a long author's note at the end I have explained why I depicted Elizabeth's seduction and its consequences. The `what if` aspect of history is always fascinating, and there is some (slender) contemporary evidence on which to base this theory - had there not been, I would not have developed this storyline. In reality I feel that the examination Elizabeth underwent in her forties is pretty conclusive. I anticipated that this aspect of the book would be controversial! I  hope one day to publish a book examining the 'virginity question'.