Today, I’m delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp to the blog with a guest post about her historical research.
A Matter of Conscience is once more set during the reign of the Tudors, a period about which I know you’ve written extensively. Do you feel comfortable in the Tudor era and can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical landscape and people of Tudor England to life?
I feel very comfortable in the Tudor era, or at least in the Tudor world I have created, peopled with characters from history. Since we can never visit the past, no author can ever be 100% certain they have got it right so I don’t worry too much, if I can convince my reader, I am happy.
I’ve enjoyed the Tudor period since I was a young girl, some forty-five years or more. As a teenager I read all I could get my hands on, both fiction and non-fiction, and later when I went to university as a mature student, I learned the importance of thorough research. At the time, I never dreamed I’d ever write a book, let alone be published. A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years is my thirteenth novel set in the Tudor era, so I know the setting quite well by now.
When I wrote my first Tudor books, The Winchester Goose and The Kiss of the Concubine: the story of Anne Boleyn, I needed to research from the ground up. I examined the living conditions, the law, clothes, historical figures, customs, buildings, and court etiquette. I probably did far more research than necessary, but I wanted to get it right. I spent ages researching and still rely quite heavily on the essays and notes I made then. There is an extensive university library in Lampeter, close to where I lived at the time, and I used that a lot but now I have moved farther away, I can no longer do so. Luckily, the basics are in my head, so I only need to double check the things I am unsure of. Who was where at what time? Birth dates, death dates, things like that, or palaces or castles I’ve not researched before.
When I wrote The Beaufort Chronicle, I became so wrapped up investigating Margaret Beaufort’s many homes, I fell behind with the rest of my work schedule and had to scramble for the deadline.
As for contemporary sources, they are much easier to get hold of than they used to be. When I first began to write I had to order them via the university library and sometimes it took weeks to get into my hands. British History Online is invaluable for documents and I recently discovered another online resource called Academia that is also proving useful.
I have many key reference books in my own library, and I can’t resist historical biographies. There are a few good historians that I trust to have researched properly and as soon as they release a new book, it goes on my pile.
Each time I begin a new project, I tell myself I will be tidier and more organised but before I am half-way through, the usual chaos has resumed. I make heaps of notes that I often cannot interpret afterwards, which often means I need to look up some things again. I seem to get there in the end though. There is always a pile of books by my favourite historians on my desk for dipping in and out of for reference and another pile I read from cover to cover. For this novel I’ve relied on biographies by Tracy Borman, Alison Weir, Eric Ives, Suzannah Lipscomb, Elizabeth Norton. I think I have all Amy Licence’s books now and her new one, 1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold was published in timely fashion just as I began work on A Matter of Conscience, and I greatly enjoyed it.
I also listen to Claire Ridgeway on You Tube while I am sewing in my craft room. She knows all there is to know about Anne Boleyn. There are scenes in nearly all my books of women sewing or embroidering, I can empathise with their sore fingers.
I find it best to absorb a wide variety of opinions and perspectives and then mull it all over and make my own conclusion. But not all the information ends up in the finished book because too much fact in a novel can be dull. I write first person narrative so I don’t tend to over describe the everyday objects they use simply because my character would not have found them extraordinary. My books centre on the psyche, or what I imagine might have been.
When writing in Henry’s voice I must be sure to know only what Henry knew and forget what comes after and the events that occurred behind his back. I live in each moment with Henry, as he lived it. A Matter of Conscience takes place during his childhood, adolescence, and marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so I found Henry quite an easy companion. He might, however, prove harder to live with in Book Two, which will follow shortly.
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
I use the Tudor timeline as a skeleton so always have a print out of that to hand. Also, my Who’s Who in Tudor England is invaluable for reference. Looking at the pile on my desk at his moment, I’d say I rely on Amy Licence’s books the most. I find her very accessible, concise, and most importantly, accurate. Elizabeth Norton is another name that appears often on my shelves.
But my research isn’t all books or written sources, there are also portraits and again, thanks to technology, there is no real need to visit museums and galleries to do this. I build Pinterest boards with interesting Tudor faces and costumes which helps immensely, not just with my fiction but with my non-fiction writing and actual historical sewing too. I visit castles and monastic buildings, palaces, and manor houses. I’m not a great fan of the sites that add waxworks and reconstructed ‘rooms’. I prefer to let my imagination do the work. I am lucky to live in Wales where we have so many castles. I am a founder member of a Tudor re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and we love to dress up in our lovely gowns and ‘swish’ about the castles. All our events were cancelled last year, for obvious reasons and we haven’t booked any this year but are waiting to see what unfolds. We will be so glad when Covid19 restrictions end and we are able to visit them again.
Thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog. It has been lovely.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. I can relate to much of it – I am very untidy as well, and never reference anything correctly so always have to find it again.
So, here’s the blurb for the new book. It sounds fantastic. I’ve always been drawn to this particular episode in the Tudor saga.
‘A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’
On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.
On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Catalina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys.
But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished.
Christendom mocks the virile prince. Catalina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter, and a baseborn son.
He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Catalina refuses to step aside.
As their relationship founders, his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.
A Matter of Conscience: the Aragon Years offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man made dangerous by his own impossible expectation
Meet the Author
A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies.
She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women but more recently is writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.
Her novels include:
A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years
The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England
Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace
The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle
The Beaufort Woman: Book two of The Beaufort Chronicle
The King’s Mother: Book three of The Beaufort Chronicle
The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry VIII
A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers
Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and makes historical garments both for the group and others. She is not professionally trained but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic looking, if not strictly HA, clothing. You can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.
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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for A Matter of Conscience.