In 2007 Judith Arnopp graduated from the University of Wales, Lampeter with a BA in English Literature and a Masters in Medieval Studies; she now combines those skills to write historical novels.
Her early books; Peaceweaver, The Forest Dwellers and The Song of Heledd concentrated on the Anglo- Saxon/ medieval period but in 2010 she published a short pamphlet of ‘Tudor’ stories entitled, Dear Henry: Confessions of the Queens. Some people loathed it but many loved it and she received endless requests for full length ‘Tudor’ novels.
For a while Judith buried herself once more in study, refreshing her already extensive knowledge of the period. The result was The Winchester Goose, the story of a prostitute from Southwark called Joanie Toogood whose harsh existence is contrasted with that of Henry’s fourth and fifth wives, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. The Winchester Goose is a multi-narrative illustrating Tudor life from several, very different perspectives; a prostitute, a Spy, and a Lady-in-Waiting at the royal court.
Judith’s next book The Kiss of the Concubine details the life of Anne Boleyn, told in the first person- present tense, the story takes you to the very heart of England’s most talked about queen. She is currently working on a third Tudor novel Intractable Heart, the tale of Henry’s sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr.
Judith also blogs about the Tudor period, both on her own blog-page and on the English Historical Fiction Author’s website. Her work reaches a world-wide audience and her following is steadily increasing.
As a self-published author Judith maintains direct control of her work and avoids the hassle involved with agents and publishers. Self-publishing speeds up the process but accuracy and attention to detail is paramount. Her small team is made up of three proof readers, an editor, and a cover designer all of whom work with Judith toward a finished product that is as polished as they can get it, but still they seek ultimate perfection.
Stephanie: Hello Judith! Welcome to Layered Pages and thank you for chatting with me today…I think it is fantastic you have been writing stories that take place during the Tudor era. My interest lie in that area currently and your latest book, “Intractable Heart” looks fantastic! Please tell me about your story?
Judith: I have tried to imagine how it might have felt to be a woman married to Henry VIII. With five of Henry’s ex-wives before her, Katheryn must have been all too aware of what becoming queen might entail yet she faced it bravely. She put aside her own desire to marry Thomas Seymour and instead married an ageing, cantankerous and dangerous man. She injected all her energies into becoming a good wife to Henry and a good Queen Consort for England and I think she did amazingly well. I wanted to illustrate that. I am not really interested in the rich trappings, the glitz and glamour of being royal; I like to strip that all away and reveal the person beneath, her thoughts, feelings, and desires. I hope I have managed that with Intractable Heart.
Stephanie: Next to Katherine of Aragon, Katheryn Parr is one of my favorites of Henry VIII wives. What are some of the misconceptions people have about her?
Judith: While I was writing The Kiss of the Concubine I couldn’t help but be drawn into reading about the other wives. Of course, I knew about Katheryn Parr from my student days and was surprised to discover she wasn’t the placid nursemaid type figure that she’d been depicted. The woman I read about at school entirely lacked the vitality of everyone’s favourite queen, Anne Boleyn, but the deeper I looked into Katheryn’s life, the more I liked her.
She was much younger than I’d thought, only thirty six when she died. She was also a strong woman and Henry respected her enough to set her up as regent over England when he went to war with France. Katheryn also was the first English queen to become a published writer; she wrote two books on religion and the church and was a strong supporter of the reformation. The title Intractable Heart is a phrase taken from her book Lamentations of a Sinner. Another aspect of her character that really stands out for me was her ability to ‘manage’ Henry.
Stephanie: As your story opens, Katheryn and her step children are held hostage at Snape Castle. What are some of the hardships she had to endure during her confinement?
Judith: To be perfectly frank, we don’t really know very much about it. History tells us there was a siege at Snape while she and her step-children were in residence but few written details of it remain. I had to research other recorded instances to learn of the deprivations and suffering of siege warfare. There were many instances of violence but we don’t know that anything like that occurred at Snape. That is my invention, as a writer of fiction I have to include some fictionalised events to enrich the story and to illustrate character development. In this case I was creating an answer to some of the mysteries of Margaret Neville’s life. As a girl she was betrothed to Ralph Bigod whose father, Francis, was hung in the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace. She was never betrothed again, or married and she died quite young of an unspecified illness. I came up with my own fictional ideas as to why that might have been.
Stephanie: Treachery ran rabid in the Tudor court, what is the one thing that made Katheryn different from the other queens?
Judith: Her intelligence I think, although I don’t mean to say that the other wives were thick. I alluded earlier to Katheryn’s ability to ‘manage’ Henry, and she was the only queen to wriggle out of arrest and possible execution. A warrant was written out and signed by Henry but she got wind of it and managed to see the king before the arrest could be made. She seems to have sweet-talked her way out of it, and when Wriothesley and the guard came to take her to the Tower, Henry sent them about their business and her life was spared. I think Katheryn had the ability to keep her emotions in check and maintain a cool head in a heated situation.
Stephanie: Many have different opinions on Thomas Seymour. Whether they like him or not. What are your personal opinions of the kind of man he was?
Judith: I have a soft spot for Thomas, it probably shows. I think, as far as I can ascertain, Seymour wasn’t as bad as he was painted. After his execution there was such a public outcry that the council had to issue defamatory statements to convince the people that his death was deserved. So anything written after his death needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
I think he probably had a good dose of ‘second son syndrome’ and was jealous of his brother’s power. He was so determined to get that which he didn’t have, that he failed to appreciate what he did possess. Lord High Admiral is not something to be scoffed at and he had manors and lands a plenty. It seems he was never satisfied and continually strove to climb higher and become ever richer and more powerful.
Whether he loved Katheryn or not is open to debate. He mourned her death and went a little crazy afterwards. His alleged relationship with Elizabeth is no worse than that of any other extra marital affair. I think we have to be careful not to judge him by modern day standards and remember that it wasn’t child abuse; Elizabeth was of marriageable age. His crime was messing with a royal princess; she was too close to the throne. I tend to agree with Elizabeth’s summing up of Thomas Seymour: ‘a man of great wit and very little judgment’, if indeed, she ever actually said that.
Stephanie: Katheryn’s work was published and she very devout in her faith. Is her work available today to the public? And what can we learn from her?
Judith: I know some of it is available because I have a copy of Brandon G. Withrow’s book, Katherine Parr: a guided tour of the life and thoughts of a reformation queen. It has excerpts and some insightful notes on her beliefs. Most of it is pretty dry reading but I think it is quite revealing of her opinions and the inner workings of her mind. If nothing else, reading her book (or skimming if I am honest) did provide an excellent and very personal title for my novel.
Stephanie:What was Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth’s relationship with Katheryn really like? I hear so many different opinions.
Judith: Well, we can never be entirely sure but I think it was very good. All Henry’s children spoke well of Katheryn and illustrated love and a consideration that there was no need to express if they hadn’t wished to. There were many letters and gifts exchanged, all of which illustrate a strong bond. There was a cooling off between Katheryn and Mary due to religion and the speed with which she remarried after the king’s death but they were reconciled later. With Elizabeth in particular, especially if the reports of her and Thomas Seymour are true, she seems to have been particularly close. We don’t know what was said in private but after Elizabeth was sent away from Chelsea they continued to communicate regularly, there doesn’t seem to have been a major breach. In my opinion this again shows she was a strong woman, able to rise above such things, or perhaps able to understand that Elizabeth was young and vulnerable. It seems to be Thomas that she was not able to wholly forgive.
She educated Henry’s children, finding eminent tutors for Edward who leaned to toward Lutherism. She tried to get Mary change her traditional methods of worship but didn’t push her. She also took Henry’s niece and Seymour’s ward, Jane Grey, under her wing. But, most interestingly of all, Elizabeth was with Katheryn during the regency and it may have been the queen who showed the young Elizabeth that women could rule alone in a world of men. Something which would stand her in very good stead.
Stephanie: What were some of the influences Katheryn had over Henry that his other wives didn’t?
Judith: She read to Henry, and soothed him when his leg was playing up; that much is true although she would never had changed his dressing or put salve on his wound as I have read in some novels. I think her ability to take his mind from his problems was her greatest influence over him.
She was also very clever. When her life was on the line, instead of weeping and wailing or tearing out her hair, she outwitted him. Accused of trying to instruct the king, she argued that on the contrary she had been trying to take his mind off his painful ulcer. The next time Henry tried to trick her into argument she claimed that, as a woman, she was in no position to argue theological topics with someone so obviously her intellectual superior. Very shrewd move.
Also, instead of resenting his children, she embraced them and showed him that, actually, the family he already had was made up of three rather brilliant people. Her influence on them was much greater than she is given credit for. In their later years they may have displayed what we see today as tendencies toward megalomania but they were monarchs, and Tudor monarchs at that. We shouldn’t judge them.
Stephanie: What is up next for you?
Judith: A holiday I hope. Even just a home break from work for a short time. I hadn’t intended to begin writing Intractable Heart until this summer but when our house sale fell through in the middle of last year, I was so miserable I buried myself in work without a proper rest after publishing The Kiss of the Concubine. I am due a lovely long luxurious break but I am sure while I am taking it I will be plotting. I have thought about Elizabeth of York and the Perkin Warbeck affair …but time will tell.
Stephanie: How has your career as a self-publishing author been and what advice could you give to others who are thinking of taking this choice in how they publish their work?
Judith: It has been hard work but it certainly got easier once I stopped looking for agents and publishers. I had an agent for a while but they all want to change you into a commercial entity. I don’t want to be a puppet; I don’t write to make huge sums of money, I just want to make a living doing the thing I love to do for the people who love my work. I like to keep it real. For me, by far the hardest thing is the marketing. I am naturally very shy and to push my work under people’s noses and make them read it is the most difficult thing ever.
Stephanie: Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?
Judith: Read an independent author, even if it is only once a month. Give them a chance. Read the free sample on Amazon before you buy it, what is there to lose? Maybe start off with trying one of mine. J
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Judith: Amazon is the best place to start, or direct from the FeedaRead website. Since I have a great regard for trees my books are print-on-demand and also available on Kindle (for a much lower price.)
Stephanie: Thank you, Judith! It has been a pleasure chatting with you today.
Judith: Thank you for having me, Stephanie, I hope we can do it again soon.
Amazon links to, “Intractable Heart.”
Judith Arnopp’s published work includes:
The Forest Dwellers
The Song of Heledd
The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII
The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn
Dear Henry: Confessions of the Queens
A Tapestry of Time