Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why I Love the Tudors by Karen Harper

I have so many reasons I am an Tudormaniac that I’m not sure I can explain them all, but let me start with the obvious. For years, their lives have been my bread and butter. They are my favorite (almost my only) topic for my historical novels and a historical mystery series. Books I’ve written about them (with Elizabeth Tudor always involved) include THE FIRST BOLEYN, a book about Mary Boleyn written 20 years before Philippa Gregory’s THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL. (And with a very different take on the Boleyns.) I’ve also authored the nine-book The Queen Elizabeth I Mystery Series with Elizabeth as the amateur sleuth. Her Grace has also appeared at different stages of her life in Mistress Shakespeare; a novel I just completed, The Irish Princess; and she’s a key figure in my current release, The Queen’s Governess. In short, Elizabeth Tudor is my favorite historical figure with her totally dysfunctional family right beside her.

How did I catch Tudormania? Perhaps because I had an English pen pal in sixth through eighth grade and she used to send me photos of her (then) young Queen Elizabeth II. Perhaps because I fell in love with England on my first trip there thirty-six years ago and have since visited many Tudor sites again and again. Maybe because I studied and taught Brit Lit for years and did my Masters Thesis on one of Shakespeare’s plays. But I think it is mainly because when I read biographies of the royal Tudor women (or the writings by Gloriana herself,) I see amazingly admirable and powerful women, especially Henry’s wives and daughters, who stood strong and fought back against male dominance in that era. It is also the fascination of seeing how “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In THE QUEEN’S GOVERNESS, the heroine is Katherine (Kat) Champernowne Ashley, a woman who began in rural obscurity but managed to obtain a fine education and learned the hard way to survive the dangers of the Tudor court, first to save herself, then, as governess, to rear and protect her young charge, Elizabeth. Kat has a wonderful love story of her own and one of the few good marriages Elizabeth observed close up.

Anne Boleyn, to whom Kat was a confidant, was beheaded when Elizabeth was only three, so her governess also became what we would call her foster mother. (The book begins with Kat being forced to witness Anne’s beheading.) In the novel, Elizabeth says, “Anne Boleyn gave me life, but Kat Ashley gave me love.”

By the way, Thomas Cromwell, the subject of Hilary Mantel’s WOLF HALL, the 2009 Man Booker Prize, is a key figure in my novel. Cromwell, one of many fascinating Tudor personalities, brought Kat to court; she wrote to him more than once asking for funds to clothe the then bastardized Elizabeth. I was excited to see that Mantel also admires Cromwell, although, of course, he suffered from that “absolute power corrupts” disease, a problem we’ve seen with some of today’s political leaders, entertainment and sport figures.

I also love the Tudors because they are just so over-the-top. Six wives? (“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”) The “Defender of the Faith” throws that faith out of his country? A Virgin Queen, a woman ruling without a man and yet one of the greatest rulers the world has ever known? Deceit, divorce, and bloody death on a grand scale? All that is Tudor through and through and yet it also sounds ripped from today’s headlines.

As a writer of not only historical novels but contemporary suspense books, the truth about my Tudormania is that I don’t choose my settings and characters as much as they choose me. I can’t explain this appeal; it happens to me in my contemporary novels too, where I often set books in the two sites I know and love best (after Tudor England,) South Florida and Ohio Amish country. Please visit my website to see what I mean.

The exciting thing about Kat Ashley is that, as far as I can tell, no one has previously written a story from her point of view, and Kat has a lot to say about the Tudors. As do I, I hope, in future I-love-the-Tudor-novels.


Karen Harper is the author of several historical fiction books, among them Mistress Shakespeare, The Last Boleyn or even The Queen Elizabeth I Mystery series. Her new book, The Queen's Governess will be released today (21th January). You can visit Karen Harper's website and learn all about it!


  1. There is an undeniable fascination with the Tudors, and I am so glad to see that your latest books is focussed away from all the usual suspects, and on Kat Ashley. I have read a few of your Tudor mysteries and I enjoyed them a lot.

    Thanks for your post Karen!

  2. I think "over the top" really is the best way to describe them, Karen! Kat Ashley should be an interesting read...she was certainly one of Elizabeth's closest confidantes from the time she was a little girl.

    Bravo on selecting someone that hasn't already been well-covered in fiction.

  3. Looking forward to reading your latest novel, Karen, and to hearing more about The Irish Princess, too! I especially enjoy Tudor-era fiction about lesser-known characters.