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Friday, June 29, 2012



When I am asked what my favorite historical period is, I have to give the extremely unoriginal answer of “Tudor England.” What’s not to like? It’s full of larger-than-life characters—Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, Elizabeth I—and a host of fascinating supporting characters, with an endless supply of plots for a historical novelist.

Her Highness, the Traitor is the first novel I’ve written set in Tudor England, and it was also the easiest to research, thanks to the sheer volume of material available on the Internet. I rely heavily on primary sources (contemporary letters, wills, chronicles, Acts of Parliament, royal decrees, and so forth) in writing my novels, and most of the ones I needed were readily available online. Without ever having to leave the house or even to change out of my bathrobe, I found such items as the last wills of both my heroines, letters written by the various people in my novels, the scaffold speeches of my more unfortunate characters, and a list of the food consumed by the imprisoned Duchess of Somerset. I found a description of the remains of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and a photograph of the carving his imprisoned son did in the Tower of London.

I also rely on secondary sources—modern biographies, histories, and journal articles—in doing my research too, of course. The references in these sources lead me to further sources, and often back to the primary sources I mentioned above. Because so much has been published about the Tudors, the trick is sometimes to learn when to stop researching and start writing! Even after I start writing, however, I never quit researching entirely, but remain alert for any new publication which relates to my novel.

When writing Her Highness, the Traitor, my ongoing research gave me an unpleasant surprise—the wedding date of one of my characters. I had read that the date was 1555, but a look at an inquisition postmortem—a proceeding where it was determined what lands a deceased person had held at the time of this death—made me realize that the date more likely was 1554. Unfortunately, at this point my book was in the revision stage, and the ending had been drafted with the 1555 date. After discussion with some of my fellow history buffs and some teeth-gnashing, I finally revised the last couple of chapters of my book to accommodate the 1554 date.

Research can turn up some pleasant surprises too, however. Early in writing my novel, I came across a letter written by Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland. The letter was so moving, I knew that I had to give Jane a prominent part in the novel. She and Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, ended up narrating the book in alternating chapters. I think Jane’s intrusion made for a better novel, although perhaps Frances, who had to end up sharing the spotlight with a Dudley, wouldn’t agree!


Catherine Lee said...

As a librarian, I love to read about the research process that author's employ....And you're right that sometimes the challenge is to say "enough already" with the research and get on to the writing.

Ingeborg said...

When we read books we really don't think about all the research that an author does. It takes a lot of work.