There are a number of puzzling facts about teen Elizabeth Tudor’s relationship with her charismatic stepfather Sir Thomas Seymour. In his second year as Elizabeth’s new stepfather, he was arrested for a score of misdeeds, including behaving inappropriately with her. A number of people were put in prison and many more were questioned, including Elizabeth herself, who was put under a sort of house arrest. The resulting 652 pages of “confessions” are an amazing historical record of 16th-century Tudor England. (See links below.)
One detail I’ve not been able to come to any satisfying conclusion about is this account in the “confession” of Elizabeth’s governess Kat Ashley:
At Hanworth, the queen told Mrs. Ashley that the Lord Admiral looked in at the gallery window and saw Princess Elizabeth cast her arms about a man’s neck. The which hearing, Mrs. Ashley asked Princess Elizabeth, who denied it weeping, and bade ask all her women. They all denied it. And Mrs. Ashley knew it could not be so, for there came no man but Grindle, Princess Elizabeth’s schoolmaster.
Kat Ashley goes on to say that she thought that Dowager Queen Kateryn Parr had made up this story so that Kat would keep a closer eye on her 15-year-old charge. This doesn’t seem plausible to me. If Kateryn Parr was making this up, she could have said that someone else had seen Elizabeth; why involve her husband?
Might Thomas Seymore have made up this story, told his wife that he’d seen their stepdaughter in the arms of a man? The only motivation I can think of is that he had in fact embraced Elizabeth and was nervous that they might have been seen, creating an “It wasn’t me!” defence by throwing Elizabeth under the bus. Cad that he was, this is possible — cover a crime with a crime — but would that have been to his advantage? Elizabeth would have known it was a fib. Thomas Semour was impulsive by nature and not always savvy in his often shady dealings, but this seems too shabby even for him.
Also: might it have been true? Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth was constantly in the company of attendants and it would not have been at all in character for her to embrace a man. That her schoolmaster was entirely out of suspicion is, if anything, charming, giving a rare impression of what the distinguished Cambridge scholar might have been like.
For my novel, I’ve taken a fictional path — created whole-cloth, but not historically impossible — by creating a scene where Elizabeth is accosted by her stepbrother. John Neville, the Queen’s stepson by her second marriage, was a troubled youth who was later charged with rape and murder.
I write historical fiction, but I like it to be as close as possible to the known facts. I’m not entirely comfortable creating a fictional account of this episode, so I keep coming back to this breadcrumb of a clue: What really happened? What was going on? If only we could know.
A Collection of State Papers: relating to Affairs In the Reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth: From the year 1542 to 1570, edited by Samuel Haynes, available online at https://tinyurl.com/HaynesStatePapers, pages 99-100. I’ve reworded this quote for clarity.
The post above was first posted on Substack, where I can be found at https://tinyurl.com/SandraSubstackNews. I’m enjoying Substack quite a lot, both as a reader and writer. I recommend it! Please subscribe there if you wish to catch all my musings.
The image at top: “Unknown man,” recently identified as possibly Thomas Seymour, a sketch by Hans Holbein the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
For a lock-it-down quiet pandemic life, my husband and I have been moving around quite a bit. In November, we closed down our rural house in Ontario in anticipation of going to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico for the winter. We’d last seen our house there over two years before when we returned to Ontario unexpectedly for medical reasons. And then Covid, of course, and the world closed down.
Fast forward to last November. En route to San Miguel, we stayed in Kingston, Ontario, not far from where our daughter and her family live. Our son and his wife came up from New York State with their baby, and a wonderful family time was had by all. We’d all self-tested negative before getting together, and so could hug freely and without worry, making for a very special holiday season.
Richard and I were due to fly south on January 7, but did an abrupt swerve because of the Omicron surge, heading back to our house up north. I’d hardly even settled when I went by ambulance to a local hospital to be operated on for a burst appendix. Yes, quite a surprise!
My operation was a little over two weeks ago. I’m feeling more and more myself, and so have ventured down to my “bunker” — the lovely little room off our basement that’s my writing space.
This is how I found it:
It felt like time travel. What had I been working on? What was I researching? And why?
Obviously it had to do with Elizabethan England and my increasingly tangled Young Adult biographical novel about teen-aged Elizabeth Tudor, the future Queen Elizabeth I.
Princess Elizabeth, artist unknown.
I’ve been going through the usual periods of despair known to all writers, alternating with periods of optimism, swinging from one to the other and back again. The last few days have been hopeful — I’m back at work, and that makes all the difference.
The image at top is Moon2 by Netherland artist Rob de Vries (Rookuzz on Flickr). I like how this image evokes feelings of being both lost and found. What I take to be a broom is a special touch. I subscribe to Every Day Poems, which sends out a poem every morning together with an image, usually a photo. Of late, they’ve been showing the work of this artist, and it immediately grabbed me. De Vries very kindly gave me permission to use his images here. He’s described as a photo-realist artist, but I like his abstract work best, which I gather is photo-based. I’d love to know more about his process.
I’ve come to understand that if I don’t spend at least some time early morning with my WIP (with mug of coffee), it’s quite likely not to happen at all that day. I have a “Cup ‘o Work” habit first thing—usually in bed, and always with my laptop and a hot mug of half decaf/half caffeinated coffee. (It used to be full-on decaf, but this year has been stressful and I’ve fallen back on old bad habits.) It’s often an hour, and sometimes as much as two.
I have this luxury now, of time, and the means to spend it as I wish. So then why do the days seem so squished, and why do I most often look back on the day’s hours with guilt and regret.
Here’s what can eat up time:
Figuring out &$%^*@ passwords!
Trying to figure out why I’m not getting text messages on my iPhone, but do on my laptop? Or some such tearing-hair-out-by-the-roots puzzle!
Why do some emails show up in illegible code, and others pristine and beautiful?
Computer freeze-up. (Is everything I touch today going to malfunction?)
Doom scrolling. This could be a function of quarantine lonliness, I think, a longing for connection. An hour can go by in a snap. Every now and then it’s rewarding—i.e. the woman who tweeted reading Josephine B. after having it by her bedside for over 20 years—but 99% of the time it’s only depressing because it doesn’t fulfil the need.
Household chores I’m happy to do, often listening to an excellent podcast or book on tape. I space them out as movement breaks from my computer.
But the other thing that eats up my time is my self-inflicted perfectionism. Even now, as I’m typing these words, I wonder if I’m going to allow myself to “send.”
For one thing, I pride myself on the visual that I attach to a post. How to make that fast and easy? It’s not coming up with a beautiful image that’s hard: what’s hard is coming up with the perfect image. And then there’s the matter of attribution, which I feel is ethically important, but that can take time.
So, okay: from now on I won’t give attribution but invite those of you who yearn to know to use the delightful tineye.com to discover the artist.
And maybe my sentences won’t be perfect, either. Can I live with that, in exchange for expression?
We shall see.
But I won’t leave without telling you of a wonderful podcast I discovered today: Dan Blank’s The Creative Shift. I’d tell you more but a password is required. (Insert grinding teeth.) As is, time for bed … and a good book or three.
My love to you all. Really and truly. And especially to the reader who posted to Twitter.
It has been so long since I posted here I couldn’t figure out how to do it. My last post was at the end of October of last year, so close to six months ago. It feels more like a year to me, in part because of our molassas-slow new reality.
I’m having what I consider a non-productive day: I’ve not written or edited a word. Resistance rules!
I’m fond of the French word flâneur, meaning an idle person who strolls about without object, who putters around, in other words.
Paul Gavarni, Le Flâneur, 1842
I’m especially fond of the verb form flâner, which means to stroll. Flânerie is the act of strolling, and that’s the kind of day I’m having. Distracted, easily side-tracked by shiny objects, unofficially off-track.
Or is it?
One of the things I came upon this morning were the animated portraits I made some time ago through My Heritage. It’s meant to allow people to animate photos of family members (which I found just a little creepy), but enchants me when used to animate historical portraits.
For example, based on a close-up clip from this portrait of Princess Elizabeth …
ATTRIBUTED TO WILLIAM SCROTS, Elizabeth I when a Princess c.1546
… I made this charming animation:
Needless to say, I then had to make animations of most of my cast of characters.
A word of caution however
“Flaneuring” (our household verb) can also lead to overwhelm. In rediscovering these animations, I found I had computer folders of desktop contents five layers deep. It’s like an archeological dig.
I recently read an article by the elusive Ryan Holiday, a professional book researcher. He made one very important point—at least to me. He said that the first step in researching is to acquire a research library which will include books that you will likely never read. He calls it an anti-library.
We all have books and papers that we haven’t read yet. Instead of feeling guilty, you should see them as an opportunity: know they’re available to you if you ever need them.
This is exactly what I do: buy too many books, print out too many articles, and read only a fraction of them. So now I’m going to stop feeling guilty about it.
Two of six shelves for the WIP. Note the white tag in the lower left. It reads: “Sun Court books at the back.” In other words, I’ve run out of shelf space.
One of my rules as a reader is to read one book mentioned in or cited in every book that I read.
I often scour footnotes for references to books the author has relied on. Lately, I’ve acquired two books in this way and they have proved to be invaluable.
I have a number of works by this wonderful historian, but this is the book that made me gasp. It’s full of the floorplans of Tudor palaces at that time, and amazing details as well. In no time flat, I began to mark it up.
A research trick I use: for a print book I own, if the “search me” feature is available on Amazon, I will add it to a list. Say I’m looking for events in 1553: I’ll search for that year in the Amazon link of the book—note that it has to be the print edition—and this will give me the pages to go to in my copy of the book. It’s an instant index to the type of thing that would never show up in an official index.
The novel I’m writing now is set in mid-16th century England. During this time period episodes of black plague and the quickly lethal “sweating sickness” came and went. With each epidemic, enormous numbers of people died.
Long ago, when I started to research, these events were simply blips on a timeline. With the advent of our Covid-19 world, such facts became far more vivid to me. I hadn’t understood the fear and heightened state of caution epidemics caused.
A 16th-century story to set the stage: a man and woman in a village in England lost children to the plague. Another child was born, and when plague returned to their town, they sealed shut the windows and doors of their home. Thanks to their precautions, their child survived: his name was William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” (and “Macbeth,” and “Antony and Cleopatra”) during plague years when the London theatres closed down. (The rule was that once the death toll went over 30, playhouses had to close.) In short, he was out of work and had time on his hands.
“King Lear” is one of his bleakest plays, written while living in a bleak time:
The mood in the city must have been ghastly – deserted streets and closed shops, dogs running free, carers carrying three-foot staffs painted red so everyone else kept their distance, church bells tolling endlessly for funerals … (The Guardian, March 22, 2020)
Plague also changed the nature of the plays he wrote. Plague killed off men in their 30s, so the demographic of both his actors and audience changed.
Although A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe is not, in fact, a contemporary account—Defoe was a master of what I would call fact-based fiction—it is thought to have been well-researched. I was struck, reading it, how well-organized England was in combating epidemics. For example, if infected, people were prevented from leaving their homes. One needed a certificate of health in order to travel. Interesting!
Certainly, it is reminiscent of what we are going though today:
City authorities are sane and composed concerning the spreading plague, and distribute the Orders of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London. These set up rules and guidelines for the arrangement of searchers and inspectors and guardians to monitor the houses, for the quieting down of contaminated houses, and for the closing down of occasions in which enormous gatherings of individuals would assemble.
Here’s a truly contemporary word of caution from 1665:
This poem by U.S. poet Daniel Halpern was published—astonishingly—seven years ago in Poetry Magazine. (Likewise astonishingly, he doesn’t remember writing it.)
There are fewer introductions
In plague years,
Hands held back, jocularity
No longer bellicose,
Even among men.
Breathing’s generally wary,
Labored, as they say, when
The end is at hand.
But this is the everyday intake
Of the imperceptible life force,
Willed now, slow —
Well, just cautious
In inhabited air.
As for ongoing dialogue,
No longer an exuberant plosive
To make a point,
But a new squirrelling of air space,
A new sense of boundary.
Genghis Khan said the hand
Is the first thing one man gives
To another. Not in this war.
A gesture of limited distance
Now suffices, a nod,
A minor smile or a hand
Not in search of its counterpart,
Just a warning within
The acknowledgement to stand back.
Each beautiful stranger a barbarian
Breathing on the other side of the gate.