Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Questions and Answers on A Song of Sixpence

Judith Arnopp
As you might have heard my next Tudor novel A Song of Sixpence is due to be released very soon and the Kindle version is available for pre-order now. myBook.to/asongofsixpence   

It is my seventh novel and there seems to be more interest in this one, I have had lots of messages and emails asking about it. This could be the subject matter, or perhaps my other books are now being more widely read and I have earned myself some honest-to-goodness ‘fans.’  I’d like to think so.

So, to answer some of the questions that have been asked about A Song of Sixpence: You can read why I decided on this particular title in a piece I wrote about it for the English Historical Fiction Author's blog  here.

Perkin Warbeck
Do I believe Perkin Warbeck was really one of the lost princes?

A simple answer to this one. I don’t know. We will never know. The main reason I wrote A Song of Sixpence wasn’t to suggest that Warbeck was really Richard but to examine the effect his claim might have had on Elizabeth. In order to write convincingly I had to divest myself of my own personal belief and put myself in her shoes. 

Elizabeth seems to have been a very family-orientated woman, staying close to her sisters and mother, and having a direct involvement with the upbringing of her children. Richard was her younger brother, she would have nursed him, played with him, read to him and, if she really had no idea of what happened to them after they disappeared from the Tower, she would have worried, and grieved. To have him, or the possibility of him, suddenly return from the dead cannot have failed to impact upon her. Her own son, Arthur, was now heir to the throne in Richard’s place – if Warbeck truly was her brother she would have been facing a harsh choice; her conflict one of self-analysis – was she, first and foremost, a princess of York or a Tudor queen?

Is Elizabeth depicted as a witch in A Song of Sixpence?

Elizabeth of York
No. There is no evidence that Elizabeth or her mother believed themselves to be blessed with magical gifts, that is a fictional device used so often that the concept has permeated into our understanding of her. In A Song of Sixpence Elizabeth is just a girl in the middle of civil conflict. She is faced with some harsh choices, some unkind twists of fate. How she deals with them … I will leave for you to discover.

Henry was an awful man wasn’t he? How could Elizabeth stand to be married to him?

Henry Tudor
I don’t believe Henry was an awful man, or that his mother was an awful woman. I think they were two people in a very different world to ours, fighting for what they believed in. Henry made harsh decisions because he was king and that is what kings had to do. Elizabeth may have initially been reluctant to marry into the Lancastrian line but I don’t believe she had anything against Henry personally. The historical evidence points to the marriage being a happy one; there were certainly enough offspring to suggest that one aspect of it at least worked well. In my novel she has some conflict with Henry’s mother in the early years but I think anyone might resent a mother-in-law who had as much influence on their husband as Margaret had on Henry. There are no out and out villains in my book because I don’t believe in them. I think we are all made up of different degrees of light and shade and the interpretation of our actions depends on who is viewing us.

How did you find out you could write historical fiction? How did you get started?

Well, I have always written stories since I was a child and studied creative writing at university. Once I finished my master’s degree in Medieval studies in 2007 I had to find a way of making a living. I live in rural West Wales where jobs are few and since I don’t drive, travelling is out of the question. So I put my two skills together. I already had the beginnings of a novel so I sat down and finished it. Then I wrote another. My third was good enough to publish. I’d established my ‘voice’ and I was getting in my stride. Peaceweaver didn’t make much of an impact but I quickly followed it with The Forest Dwellers, and then The Song of Heledd. It wasn’t until I released The Winchester Goose, my first Tudor novel that I began to be noticed. Since it is about Henry VIII’s most popular queen, Anne Boleyn, The Kiss of the Concubine drew more readers and Intractable Heart a few more. I now have a steadily growing readership. Once they’ve found me people seem to buy the whole back catalogue and eagerly wait for the next book. This is still incredible to me. I am blessed to reach so many people and provide them with a few hours escape. I value my readers, new and old, immensely and owe them everything.

You seem to get right inside your character’s heads: how do you do that?

I am not sure. It just seems to happen.  I do an immense amount of research before I start writing so I know the character as well as I can, then I just slip into their shoes. I think writing in the first person helps, it makes their world more accessible and then I just move through it, imagining how it might have felt to be there.

Is A Song of Sixpence available in print form?

It will be very soon. I am just waiting for proof copies, then the book will be available on Amazon and other leading book stores.

What is your next book going to be about?

Margaret Beaufort
Well, after a short holiday from writing (no, never actually happens) I plan to do some more in-depth research on Margaret Beaufort. During the course of writing A Song of Sixpence I came to understand that Margaret wasn’t the termagant she is often depicted to be. It is tempting to see only an old pious lady but she was young once. She had a long, tough and ultimately successful life; she put whole-hearted effort into establishing her son on the throne. She may have had her faults but there is much to admire her for. You can read more about her life in a blog I wrote some time ago.

So, just to recap the kindle version of A Song of Sixpence is available to order NOW myBook.to/asongofsixpence  . The paperback will follow shortly.

Illustrations from Wikimediacommons.

For more information on my books please visit my webpage: www.juditharnopp.com
or my Amazon page: 


Thursday, 12 February 2015

The King, The Archbishop, and a Bear

Bishop Burnet, writing a century after the event, relates a bizarre incident that took place in Henry VIII’s reign during the aftermath of the six articles. The Six Articles was an act that set out quite clearly and reinforced six points of medieval doctrine which Protestants at that time had begun to undermine. The act also specified the punishments due to those who did not accept them and was known by many protestants as ‘the bloody whip with six strings.’ As a married man, Archbishop Cranmer must have taken particular exception to Article Three which stated that priests should not be allowed to marry.

He set down his objections quite strongly, making detailed notes, all backed up with citations from the bible and learned scholars, and it is believed he planned to present his findings to Henry.  His secretary, Ralph Morice, duly copied the notes into a small book and set off with it to Westminster.

The king, meanwhile, was attending a bear-baiting across the river at Southwark and, just as Ralph Morice and company were passing in a wherry, the bear broke loose from the pit and with the dogs in hot pursuit, leapt into the river and made straight for the boat. Bishop Burnet goes on to relate that;

‘Those that were in the boat leaped out and left the poor secretary alone there. But the bear got into the boat, with the dogs about her, and sank it. The secretary, apprehending his life was in danger, did not mind his book, which he lost in the water.’

You can just picture it, can't you? Dripping wet bear, soaked dogs, terrified clerk, wildly rocking boat?

When Morice reached the shore he saw his book floating and asked the bearward (who was not perhaps as ‘in charge’ of the bear as one might hope) to retrieve it for him. But before he could get hold of it, the book fell into the hands of a priest who, realising what the book contained, declared that whoever claimed it would be hanged.

Burnet says that, ‘This made the bearward more intractable for he was a spiteful papist and hated the archbishop, so no offers or entreaties could prevail on him to give it back.’
In no little panic Morice sought the immediate assistance of Cromwell who, on discovering the bearward about to hand the book over to Cranmer’s enemies, confiscated it, threatening him severely for meddling with the book of the privy councillor. Thus saving the life of the Archbishop.

This all sounds rather like a scene from  a farce, far too unlikely to be true. I cannot help but wonder what Henry made of the spectacle. I was so struck by the scene that I couldn't resist including it in The Winchester Goose, a short excerpt of which follows. Joanie Toogood, a prostitute from Southwark visits the bear-baiting where Henry VIII is watching with his new queen Katherine Howard.


“Come, come with us.'Twill be a lark.” Peter’s laughter pulls me back from me thoughts and I reluctantly let him lead me from the bear pit, knowing that he will want to use me later. Oh well, he has an ample purse and it may save me the chore of turning out for punters after dark.
As we near the river’s edge a great cry goes up from the crowd and we turn, craning our necks to see what all the fuss is. To our amazement, those gathered at the pit are scattering, men, women and childer fleeing, wide eyed, half laughing, half afraid, their great shrieks tearing the air while the tormented bear, who has broke free of his chains, comes lumbering after.
The dogs are still following, baying and yelping as they snatch at his bloodied fur with their lathered jaws. Women snatch their bairns into their arms and hide in doorways as in a great, snarling, madcap parade, they pass close to us. Peter the Costermonger gallantly pushes me behind him and I cling to his goose-turd green jerkin to peer over his shoulder, watching in astonishment as the bear lumbers past and casts itself, with a great splash, into the stinking river, the yelping dogs not hesitating to follow after.
With wild hoots of laughter the crowd rush to the bank where the sudden appearance of the bear and his savage train are causing a deal of trouble on the water.
 Several passing barges are thrown into disarray, rocking wildly in the murky waves. I see a man standing in the prow of an abandoned wherry, the other occupants having leapt into the water. With flailing arms they struggle for the shore. I nudge Peter in the ribs as the dripping bear clambers onto the side of the barge, over-tipping it, dragging it down so that it begins to fill with water, throwing the hapless cleric into the drink. The air around us is filled with screeching laughter.
Peter’s arm is tight about my waist and, with the sharp edge of the balustrade digging into my ribs and the sun warm upon my back, I open my mouth to bellow insults at the struggling man who, with his books and parchments floating rapidly downstream, cannot decide which is the greater danger, the bear or the water.
He is a sorry sight, his robes streaming water, his hat lost, his face turning blue with cold. The onlookers roar with merriment as he wades up the bank, sits on the mud and begins to empty his shoes of water. Then, on seeing the bearward preparing to lure his charge home, he gestures to his treasures that are threatening to sink beneath the waves. The fellow runs obligingly along the water’s edge to fish them out with his stave and dump them some way up the river bank.
The spectacle has raised my spirits and, in a better mood now, I follow Peter across the bridge. The hand on my waist may not be the one I long for, but Peter is a merry lad and will warm me for a while and help to keep a roof over my head.
I can be content with that for now.

You can buy a copy of The Winchester Goose by clicking Here if you are in the UK and Here if you are in the USA. Available at all Amazon sites.

Illustrations Wikimedia Commons: