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.
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!