Hay Festival 2013: Blame Henry VIII for public fascination with royal family
Henry VIII is responsible for the public and the media’s fascination with the private lives of the royal family, especially the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, according to a leading historical novelist. Alison Weir, one of the bestselling female historians in Britain, said that the marriage failures of Henry VIII taught us to be legitimately fascinated by the sex lives of royalty.
Alison said that the marriage failures of Henry VIII taught us to be legitimately fascinated by the sex lives of royalty.
(By Harry Wallop, and Gaby Wood)
02 Jun 2013
Alison Weir, one of the bestselling female historians in Britain, said that the marriage failures of Henry VIII taught us to be legitimately fascinated by the sex lives of royalty.
“It is part of a tradition. It is in the national consciousness that we are concerned. As soon as they [the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge] got married, we started speculating about a baby. We are jumping back on a traditional bandwagon of being fascinated about royal marriage and reproduction. It is very invasive, but it is proper. The interest in royalty’s sex lives and marriages was legitimate because they produced heirs to the throne”.
Her comments came after the historical novelist Hilary Mantel attracted criticism for saying the duchess was perceived in the media as a “shop-window mannequin”, whose only purpose was to breed.
Ms Weir, who has written a series of history books as well as novels set in the Tudor period, was speaking at the Telegraph Hay Festival.
(Please note that I also deplored the intrusion of the foreign media in taking photographs of a scantily-clad Duchess of Cambridge. I do not wish to be seen as endorsing this intrusion, or Hilary Mantel's remarks about the Duchess.)
9th May: Henry VIII: The King and His Court (published 2001) is currently number 6 in the New York Times e-book bestseller lists!
From 13th to 26th May eBooks By sainsbury's are offering Alison's fiction backlist - Innocent Traitor, The Lady Elizabeth and The Captive Queen, plus four non-fiction titles - at £2.99 each.
19th February: Alison Weir was approached to write an article for The Daily Telegraph on Hilary Mantel's comments on the Duchess of Cambridge. It is based on Mantel's lecture, not news coverage. You can read it online at:
Following the announcement that the bones discovered in Leicester are indeed Richard III's remains, Alison appeared on Radio 4's PM Programme with Steven Berkoff, to discuss the implications of the announcement. You can listen to the programme here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qdtq4. It's the last item.
Alison's new article on Richard III and the Princes in the Tower can be read on the Books pages, under The Princes in the Tower (Read More). Alison's view on current developments is as follows:
"While the finding of his remains is an incredible achievement, it's time to distance ourselves from the outpouring of ill-informed sentiment over Richard III, and look objectively at what the historical sources tell us. There is compelling circumstantial evidence that he ordered the murder of the Princes in the Tower, and incontrovertible hard evidence that he committed acts of tyranny. He was not popular. Any support he had was eroded by rumours that he had done away with the Princes, for which cause he lost the hearts of his subjects. He should be buried at York, where he wished to be buried, with dignity, and without fanfare. He intended to remarry, so it is doubtful that he would have been laid to rest beside his wife, Anne Neville, in Westminster Abbey. According him the honour of a state funeral would amount to official endorsement of the revisionist view of him, and that would deeply concern many serious historians. Let us press instead for a new examination of the bones thought to be those of the Princes in Westminster Abbey."
Alison is delighted to have been asked to write the Foreward to The Tudor Child, a stunning new book by Jane Huggett and Ninya Mikhaila, edited by Jane Malcolm Davies. Those who have read The Tudor Tailor will know that they have a treat in store! The Tudor Child is another feast of fascinating information and wonderful pictures, a stunning combination of original research and practical application.It stands as a major source book for historians and costume designers alike, and hopefully will be enormously influential. I could not recommend it highly enough.
ALISON SPOKE ABOUT HENRY VIII ON ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA'S 'OVERNIGHTS' PROGRAMME AT 5.20pm ON 10 DECEMBER 2012. ALISON IS DELIGHTED TO BE SUPPORTING 'HENRY VIII: THE MUSICAL'
ALISON WISHES TO EXPRESS HER SADNESS AT THE PASSING OF PROFESSOR ERIC IVES.
"He was one of our greatest Tudor historians. I feel privileged to have known him, and to have benefitted from his wisdom and knowledge. I send my deepest condolences to his family." The picture above was taken in May at the Boleyn festival at Blickling Hall, and shows Alison and Eric with Emma Fuery, one of the Tudor Roses.
HAVE RICHARD III'S REMAINS BEEN FOUND?
Already there has been much speculation about the identity of the bones discovered in Leicester! Alison eagerly awaits the outcome of the DNA tests, but feels there is no point in commenting further at this stage.
ALISON HAS IDENTIFIED AN UNKNOWN PORTRAIT OF KATHERINE PARR
Her findings on the above portrait were revealed in a presentation during the Katherine Parr Quincentenary Festival at Sudeley Castle in May. You can read about it in the Books section here, under The Six Wives of Henry VIII/Read More.
Alison has answered Ten Terrifying Questions for the Booktopia Blog. You can read her answers at
THE BOLEYN FESTIVAL AT BLICKLING HALL
Alison writes: "I am trying to come down to earth after a wonderful four days. I've enjoyed having the benefit of so much brilliant scholarship - dinner with Professor Eric Ives was a particular treat - and meeting so many friendly and interesting people. There was a great buzz to this festival, and I'd like to express my thanks to the lovely staff at Blickling Hall and the organiser, Carole Richmond, for everything they did to make me so welcome. There were so many highlights: hosting the literary tea with Sarah Gristwood, Suzannah Dunn and Harriet Castor; listening to Neil Storey's engrossing ghost talk; admiring Molly Housego's unparalleled Tudor costume - what an amazing Anne Boleyn she makes; watching her disappear down the blackness of the drive at midnight on 19th May; meeting David Loades, one of our greatest historians, and receiving his new book, Mary Rose; hearing Nicola Shulman's ground-breaking revelations about Thomas Wyatt; meeting Natalie Grueninger and Sarah Morris and hearing about their forthcoming book on Anne Boleyn; meeting Lauren Mackay, an expert on the Boleyn men, who is working on a biography of Chapuys; reading Anne Boleyn's scaffold speech during choral evensong in Norwich Cathedral, and attending prayers for Anne in Blickling Church. It's been an unforgettable experience, and I felt privileged to have been there."
Another version of the 'MARY BOLEYN' portrait has been brought to Alison's notice. Please go to the Books pages for more information!
ALISON WEIR 'S NEXT HISTORY BOOK WILL BE A LIFE OF ELIZABETH OF YORK, THE FIRST TUDOR QUEEN, WIFE TO HENRY VII AND MOTHER OF HENRY VIII
In this book, Alison returns to the period spanning the Wars of the Roses and the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII, filling the gap in her histories between The Princes in the Tower and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. In it, she will tell the poignant, suspenseful and sometimes tragic story of Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the Yorkist King Edward IV (reigned 1461-1483), and sister of the Princes in the Tower, a lady whose life was inextricably caught up in the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses and the establishing of the usurping Tudor dynasty.
Elizabeth of York was a princess of prime historical importance. After enjoying a glittering childhood at the brilliant court of Edward IV, she was declared a bastard on the usurpation of her uncle, Richard III, in 1483. Notwithstanding that, she soon came to be regarded by Richard's opponents as the true heiress of the royal House of York, and the exiled Lancastrian pretender, Henry Tudor, vowed to conquer England and wed her. But her uncle, Richard III, also wanted to marry her, and she may have plotted against him when he rejected her.
Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and became the first sovereign of the royal House of Tudor. In 1486, he married Elizabeth. Their marriage was a successful one, and Elizabeth became greatly beloved by the people of England. She bore Henry seven children, including the future Henry VIII, before dying in childbed in 1503 on her thirty-seventh birthday. She is said to have been kept in subjection by Henry VII, yet there is evidence that their marriage was happy. Contemporaries, including Sir Thomas More, had nothing but good to say of Elizabeth.
Alison writes: "The idea for this book grew not only out of my extensive research on Elizabeth of York (the sources for her life are rich), but also from research for an unpublished book entitled The Last Plantagenets, which explores how the Tudors systematically eliminated their dynastic rivals, most of whom were Elizabeth's close relatives. What was it like to be the wife of the King who brought them to ruin? How did she view the pretenders who threatened Henry VII's throne by claiming to be her murdered brothers? And what influence did she exert upon her famous son, Henry VIII, who was much affected by her early death? Elizabeth lived in colourful but dangerous times, and her Yorkist blood and her claim to be the rightful ruler of England might have made her a serious threat to the Tudor dynasty, but for the fact that she was a woman and therefore never considered a contender for the throne. Yet she was inescapably caught up in the high politics and intrigues of the age, and the ruthless power struggles for the crown - and survived them all."
MARY BOLEYN IN PAPERBACK
The U.S. paperback of Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings (right) was published on 4th September 2012. The U.K. paperback (left) was published on 20th September. (For a synopsis, see below.)
Alison Weir's article about Mary Boleyn appeared in the 24th November edition of The Daily Telegraph. The correct text of this article will appear on this website soon.
Alison was a guest on Sky Arts' "THE BOOK SHOW" with Mariella Frostrupp at 8pm on 24th November. Also appearing were Ken Livingstone and Benjamin Zephaniah.
Alison Weir was among the guests on B.B.C. Radio 4's "START THE WEEK" with Andrew Marr on Monday, 14th November. Also appearing were Peter Englund, Boris Johnson and Norman Davies.
Alison's ghost story, The Anniversary, is included in The Best Little Book Club in Town, a paperback anthology of short stories published by Orion Books in association with Woman and Home magazine. For every copy sold, £1 goes to Breast Cancer Care.
U.S. RADIO INTERVIEWS
**On 12th October, Alison Weir discussed MARY BOLEYN on National Public Radio's "TALK OF THE NATION". Here is a link to the segment: http://www.npr.org/2011/10/12/141276812/mary-the-great-and-infamous-other-boleyn
**On 13th October, Alison was interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio's programme, "TO THE BEST OF OUR KNOWLEDGE". Here is a link to the interview: http://ttbook.org/book/alison-weir-mary-boleyn-was-she-failure
MARY BOLEYN: 'THE GREAT AND INFAMOUS WHORE' was published in the U.S.A. on 4th October and in the U.K. on 6th October.
In this book, the first full-scale, in-depth biography of Henry VIII's famous mistress, Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne, his second queen, Alison Weir explodes much of the mythology that surrounds Mary Boleyn and uncovers the truth about one of the most misunderstood figures of the Tudor age. Her extensive, forensic research has facilitated a new portrayal, in which she recounts that:
* Mary, as the elder of the Boleyn sisters, was soon overshadowed by the more accomplished Anne.
* Mary's mother may have deserved her dubious reputation.
* Mary had two other brothers, besides George Boleyn, who probably lived almost into adulthood.
* Mary was more beautiful than Anne, but there is no authentic portrait.
* Contrary to popular belief, Mary did not gain a notorious reputation at the French court.
* Mary probably spent ten years of her life living abroad.
* Mary was never officially employed in Katherine of Aragon's household.
* Mary's first husband, William Carey, was not an insignificant and complacent nobody, as is often claimed, but an important man - a cousin of the King whom he physically resembled - whose star was rising fast at the English court.
* Henry VIII forced Mary to become his mistress, and there is evidence to suggest when their affair began.
* Mary's affair with Henry did not cause a scandal, and his queen, Katherine of Aragon, did not know about it.
* The paternity of Mary's two children can now be established, thanks to new and overlooked evidence. One was almost certainly fathered by Henry VIII.
* Mary was entirely undeserving of her reputation as a great and infamous whore, or the calumny that was later heaped upon her.
Watch out for Alison's article revealing more about Mary, which will appear in the Daily Telegraph in the firat week in October.
Discover Alison's favourite books about royal mistresses at http://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/619.Alison_Weir?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Oct_newsletter&utm_content=weir
LISTENING BOOKS MINI LIBRARY INITIATIVE
Listening Books provide audiobooks for people who find it difficult to read due to illness or disability through an online and postal service. They are launching a brand new project this September and Alison Weir wishes to lend her support to it, as they have many of her books in their library. Through this new project, they are expanding their service to offer audiobook mini libraries to hospices throughout the U.K.. The mini libraries are completely free of charge to the hospices, and comprise a fantastic range of fiction and non-fiction titles by bestselling authors and the biggest names in the publishing world. Listening Books are creating a web page about their hospice project, so anyone who is interested in supporting it can find out more at http://www.listening-books.org.uk/hospice-project.aspx.
ALISON'S VISIT TO THE ISLE OF MAN, DECEMBER 2010
Alison visited the Isle of Man for an event in support of the Isle of Man Fund for the Blind. Listen to Alison's interview with Geraldine Jamison (above right) at http://www.manxradio.com/blog.aspx?id=49543&blogid=14864.
The report below is from the Isle of Man Examiner, 21st December 2010.
'THE BOOK SHOW' ON SKY ARTS
Alison was filmed in her library at home, where she works, for 'The Write Place' feature for The Book Show on Sky Arts, which was broadcast on 18th November 2010. You can read a transcript below.
Historian Alison Weir reveals secrets of her writing process and ornaments and pictures that provide inspiration...
'I’m sitting in my house in Carshalton in Surrey; it’s a lovely peaceful place in which to work. It’s wonderful to have a room like this, as for the first time I have all my books in one place. This is my history library, all the books are filed around the room in chronological order and most of them are history books about the British monarchy. Reference books are by my desk, behind there are art books, costume books, records – I’m a collector of rock music and memorabilia - and DVDs and videos. This is not just a library, it's a family room, and I have to say there is a lot of competition for using it.
Around the room are many pictures and ornaments, nearly all of them have some sentimental or historical significance for me. For example, statues of the six wives of Henry VIII: people might think they’re rather twee, but I think they’re lovely. Pictures of my children are all around; there's a portrait of my mother at 19, and the six wives of Henry VIII on Royal Doulton plates. The relief of Richard III up there reminds me of a lovely outing to Middleham Castle in Yorkshire, I’m passionately interested in that particular period; I wrote a book on the Princes in the Tower. Everywhere I look in this room there’s probably a story behind every object.
I’ve been doing historical projects for many years now, this is the first (see photo above) and it is one I am often asked about. It is a biography of Anne Boleyn and it was written when I was 15; some of it is based on original sources. It was all written by hand; some pictures are now falling out - that’s one of the old fourpenny postcards from the National Portrait Gallery. There’s an appendix with a letter said to be from Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII, and from Anne to Wolsey. I even did an index. But it's certainly not suitable for publication!
I work rather differently now from the way I used to. My book Katherine Swynford came out in 2007 and these two lever arch files are the research for it. There are reams and reams all under date headings, so it’s roughly researched into draft and that used to be normal for any book that I wrote. Sarah Gristwood, a very good historian friend of mine said to me, ‘Why do you do your books that way? I do my books in a different way. I write a skeleton outline of the story on a word processor and add in research, and build it that way.’ And since then that’s the way I do my history books.
When I’m writing, I’m gone, I’m absolutely lost in it. The world disappears and I live it, I’m there and I’m involved in it; I’m on a journey with my subject and it’s literally going into the unknown.’
**BOOK NEWS: FORTHCOMING BOOKS**
THE MEDIEVAL QUEENS OF ENGLAND
Alison has been commissioned by Jonathan Cape and Ballantine to write two more non-fiction books: Elizabeth of York (2013) and a major work telling the epic story of England's Medieval Queens, from Matilda of Flanders to Anne Neville (2015).
Alison has also been commissioned by Hutchinson and Ballantine to write The Virgin Queen (2014), a sequel to The Lady Elizabeth, the working synopsis of which is as follows:
THE VIRGIN QUEEN
Their affair was the scandal of Europe. From the time of her accession in 1558, the young Elizabeth I – already reinventing herself as the Virgin Queen – and her dashing but married Master of Horse, Lord Robert Dudley, cast caution to the winds in pursuing their passion for each other. Many believed them to be lovers in the fullest sense, and Elizabeth soon became aware of proliferating rumours that she was no virgin at all, and that she had secretly borne Lord Robert children.
The young Queen was also aware that she was regarded by most of Christendom as a bastard, a heretic and a usurper, and knew her hold on her throne to be desperately insecure. She was conscious that she was a female ruler in a male-dominated age that regarded women as inferior beings and valued them chiefly for their domestic virtues. But Elizabeth, while appearing seriously to entertain the diplomatic advances of many a foreign prince bent on making her his wife, had no personal inclination to marry, bear children or render herself subservient to any man. Indeed, the prospect of marriage was anathema to her: she had compelling and deep psychological reasons for wishing to avoid it. It was the game of love that was the breath of life to her, the thrill of the chase, the lure of forbidden fruit. Given her precarious situation, she was knowingly playing a dangerous game with Lord Robert Dudley, a game she realised – almost too late - might ultimately cost her her crown.
For Robert was the son and grandson of traitors, and his growing intimacy with Elizabeth made him deeply unpopular: he was distrusted by her more sober ministers – notably William Cecil - and resented by her courtiers. All thought him inordinately ambitious and unscrupulous to boot. The affair between Dudley and the Queen quickly gave rise to rampant speculation throughout Christendom that they were determined to marry and were plotting the removal of Robert's sick wife, Amy. There was universal shock when, in 1560, Amy was found dead, lying at the foot of a staircase with her neck broken.
In telling the captivating, tempestuous, often humorous and ultimately poignant story of this most extraordinary love affair, I will be continuing the tale that began in my earlier novel, The Lady Elizabeth, which covers the period from Elizabeth`s infancy until her accession to the throne, bert`s, and delving into the various mysteries that surround her relationship with Dudley.
The chief of these is, did they or didn`t they? Rivers of ink have been spilt in determining the answer to this question, and as a historian, I have my own strong views about it – not necessarily those that prevail in The Lady Elizabeth! The other crucial issue is, of course, the fate of Amy Robsart, and this novel will offer a dramatised version of my own theory. It will be a book packed with all the colour and pageantry of the Tudor court, with intrigues, sex, plots, mysteries and tragedies. Above all, I want to focus on the psychological aspects of Elizabeth`s long affair with Dudley and the dynamics that enabled it to last for so long.
SAVE GLOUCESTER LIBRARIES!
Alison is currently supporting a group that is desperately trying to save Gloucestershire Library service from severe cuts. Many of the county's libraries in impoverished areas face closure. Other authors, including Joanna Trollope, and councillors are lending their support. If you would like to add yours, for this very worthwhile cause, please visit http://foclibrary.wordpress.com.
Alison supports local libraries!!
She says: "Libraries are wonderful places. They are the gateway not only to learning but also to endless hours of pleasurable discovery and exciting ventures into other worlds. Whem I was a teenager at the City of London School for Girls, I spent every available minute in the school's excellent library, absorbed in historical research. (I should add - or perhaps I shouldn't - that I was often meant to be doing something else at the time!) In my leisure time, I would ferret away for hours in my local reference libraries and was forever borrowing huge piles of books. Nowadays, my children are amused to hear how their eccentric mother spent her youth. 'You spent the Sixties in a library??' my daughter asks, laughing. But it was wonderful, every minute of it. Because, for me, libraries opened the door to the past. And the last laugh is mine, because all those years of research and detective work led to my becoming a published author and historian.
"Queen Elizabeth's motto was carpe diem - seize the day. We all have the privilege of access to libraries, many with state-of-the-art facilities. My advice to you is to use them, and use them well, because not only will you assuredly reap the benefits in the future, but you will also be helping to preserve our libraries for future generations."
4TH MARCH 2010, WORLD BOOK DAY
Alison's Quick Reads book, Traitors of the Tower, was published, and in the morning she did an event with adult learners at Foyles in the Westfield Centre, Shepherd's Bush, which was attended by H.R.H. The Duchess of Cornwall. In the afternoon, Alison attended a reception hosted by Sarah Brown at 10 Downing Street, for those involved in Quick Reads and other literacy initiatives.
INTERVIEWS WITH ALISON
Alison recorded several interviews at the National Gallery about Paul Delaroche's depiction of the execution of Lady Jane Grey. You may have seen her talking about the picture on BBC 4 and BBC Worldwide news, and you can catch up with her interview on Woman's Hour at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/01/2010_08_tue.shtml
ALISON WEIR ON THE BOOK SHOW (SKY ARTS)
Alison formally opened the restored Elizabethan Smythe Barn at Westenhanger Castle in Kent, and would like to bring this little-known gem of a castle to the notice of anyone with an interest in Rosamund de Clifford, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and the Jamestown settlement in Virginia, USA. It is open to the public on Tiesdays, and is well worth a visit. For further information, go to www.westenhangercastle.co.uk and www.kentcastle.co.uk.
WOMAN AND HOME
Alison has published one of her ghost stories, Anniversary, in the August edition of Woman and Home. You can read it on the Miscellany page.
AN EXCITING DISCOVERY!
In the June 2008 issue of BBC History Magazine, you can read how Alison Weir and Tracy Borman discovered an unknown portrait of Elizabeth I as princess, a rare find indeed!
The full text of Alison Weir's original paper on this portrait can be read on the Read More... page linked to Children of England in the new Books pages.