I asked Janet and Elizabeth to slug it out:
AW: Can you sum up in a sentence (or two) why you are drawn to the era?
ESJ: The era chose me. I’ve always loved researching my ancestors, and I was quite happily digging around in Medieval and Tudor times. And then I discovered the English Civil War diary of Lucy Hutchinson, daughter of Lucy St.John. I became hooked on the Stuarts and all that befell them.
AW: Following on from that, what drew you to your particular characters?
JW: Originally I chose the Seymours because they were central to the Tudor era – and therefore provide the ultimate vantage point from which to recount events. They also happen to have amazing stories of their own.
Jane Seymour was in the middle of Anne Boleyn’s fall – the seminal event of Henry’s reign; hers is a story about morality. Edward Seymour was front and center during the second triad of Henry’s wives; his story is about power. And Edward Tudor…the poor boy king who had to execute two uncles… his is a story of betrayal.
ESJ: The story of my family was intriguing – especially when I found the memoirs of the first early modern women diarist that directly spoke of my ancestress. Then to find that Lucy St.John lived in the Tower of London for 13 years, had a secret lover, and raised two children who fought on opposing sides of the Civil War was a story that had to be told. Add to that a wicked stepmother and a hateful sister who was the grandmother of THE Barbara Villiers, mistress to Charles II, and I knew I could keep myself – and readers – entertained for years.
My characters lived on the edge of court life. As I researched the lives of James I, Charles I and Charles II, as well as Oliver Cromwell and nobility and generals, these personalities came alive. Their experiences presented a parallel in so many struggles for power and political freedom we are experiencing today. Many times, in reading letters and diary entries, especially of the emerging women’s voices, the distance between the centuries disappeared.
AW: You both live some distance from your locations - does that present additional research challenges, and if so, how do you get round those?
For the time I need to read primary documents and accounts, I access digital records by the National Archives, and British-History Online, as well as the History of Parliament. I use their document ordering services for copies of original wills, letters and court hearings. And then the Bodleian has a wonderful online library. Oh, and the Calendar of State Papers…and on, and on down the rabbit holes!
AW: What would you say was the most far-reaching event of the Tudor/Stuart period, and why?
JW: Anne Boleyn’s refusal to become Henry’s mistress – one of the seminal events of the Early Modern Era. It was wild enough for a maid of honor to refuse a king, but that simple “no” toppled an entrenched power structure, leading to a new church, a new way of governing, and a new morality. It created the world as we know it.
ESJ: Probably the English Civil Wars, for the complete shift in transitioning power to the people and challenging the previous divine right to rule, initiating an open debate about personal and religious freedoms, limiting the power of the monarchy, creating liberty of the press, and forming the foundation for ideas that developed the American political and constitutional thought.
AW: In a sentence, (or two!) why is your period the best?
JW: I always go back to the stories – there are just so many of them, and more specifically so many that we all know. I see a parallel here with the Beatles: they put out so many songs, and almost any person you ask can actually sing along to more than forty of them (seriously – try it). What other period/band could you say that about?
ESJ: Fabulous clothes, brilliant thinking and the epic struggle between the Cavaliers ("Wrong but Wromantic") and Roundheads ( "Right but Repulsive") (thanks to 1066 and All That).
AW:Finally - and on a lighter note - who has the best costumes, and why?
JW: Tudors! They just feel more accessible: you can look at the pictures and understand all the elements that go into the outfits, the layers that create the looks. And you can actually imagine yourself wearing them as you go through life – which is hard to say that about the farthingales and ruffs that came later (admittedly even during the Elizabethan era). Plus, as a woman with short hair I adore the headgear – the gable hoods and French hoods! The thought of having to create elaborate “dos” every day just makes me roll my eyes…
ESJ: Really? Men in tights with codpieces, or a dashing Cavalier. Is there a competition?
Thank you so much Ladies! I shall remain totally impartial but I think you both stated your case really well.
Find out more about these wonderful authors: