Drawing Anglo-Saxon and Viking Treasure: Guest Post by Gilli Allan

To tie in with the release of the gorgeous new cover for Buried Treasure, I'm delighted to hand the blog over to author Gilli Allan: ...

Monday, 21 October 2019

Tudors Vs Stuarts, with Elizabeth St John & Janet Wertman

Well here's a bit of fun. I've read two each of the novels by these brilliant authors and can highly recommend them all. But here's the burning question: Which are best, Tudors or Stuarts?

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?

JW: As a reader and writer, I am captivated by the stories. Huge reversals – people soaring high then brought low and (usually) executed (Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, Cromwell, Norfolk, Margaret Pole, both Seymour brothers, Northumberland, Essex….) And symmetry in the smallest details and the biggest arcs: Catherine of Aragon spent seven years waiting for Henry to make her his bride, then seven years waiting for him to fall out of love with Anne Boleyn; Anne Boleyn used the promise of a son from a God-approved marriage to unseat Catherine, then was unseated herself by Jane Seymour using the same playbook; Henry falsely accused one wife of adultery, then had her cousin actually do the deed; Thomas Cromwell turned the attainder procedure into an easy way to bring down pretty much anyone – then was felled himself by that same method. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

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?

JW: Thank heavens for the internet! There are so many primary resources available – state papers through British History Online, chronicles and histories, letter collections – not to mention the other wildly cool stuff out there (Ordinances of the Royal Household, Cobbett’s State Trials, The Good Housewife’s Jewel, Privy Purses expenses, Anne Askew’s examinations…I keep a list of my favorites and send it to people when they subscribe to my blog). My latest obsession is The Private Life of an Elizabethan Lady: The Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby (1599-1605).

Still, there are some serious limitations to these resources – they don’t really give the true feel of the place. Like when characters were inside a castle, looking out, what did they see? That’s not the kind of thing you can get from photos – photographers aim at the castles, not away. For that, I am profoundly grateful for the trips I have taken to England and Scotland, visiting castles and churches, walking the streets and the countryside, looking out over the Solent and sniffing the sea air….Those details make all the difference.

ESJ: I’m really fortunate that my family lives in England, and I have the opportunity to spend a lot of my time there. So, whether researching the archives at Lydiard House, the setting for my stories, or exploring locations such as the Tower of London or Nottingham Castle, I always combine research with family time. Fortunately, they are all as equally historically obsessed as I am, so they never need a reason to pile in the car and go “St.John-hunting”, explore a castle ruin or crawl around on their hands and knees deciphering ancient gravestones. 

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:


  1. Thanks for hosting the fight of the centuries, Annie :-D. Janet, it was fun sparring with you. Love your answers - especially agree about Anne Boleyn's role in creating a whole new world.

    1. Thanks so much Elizabeth - you and Janet stated your cases very well and it's easy to see why you both enjoy writing books set in your chosen periods. Your love of the subject shone through your answers. Thanks for being such delightful and enthusiastic guests.

  2. Yes, Anne Boleyn saying NO -- and having the gumption to stick to it for a few years -- changed the world. But I have to come down on the side of the Stuarts because the English had to say NO en masse for one hundred years to make her more Calvinistic vision stick and change the world from the rule of absolute Roman Catholic-like monarchs to the beginnings of democratic government. The contribution of so many Stuart philosophers to the US Constitution -- and the Constitutions of countries around the world today -- was immeasurable. Their music, their theater, the invention of ballet and opera ... we perform Stuart-era works today (it was Stuart printing presses churning out Shakespeare). Plus the invention of the Diary -- who was the Pepys of the Tudors? It's taken 300 plus years to implement the vision of the Levellers -- their ideas created the most successful nations on earth today. Such sweeping changes are almost impossible to put into novels since we love to think about mistresses and highwaymen. But I have to argue that the Stuarts had more mistresses and highwaymen and villains like Captain Blood -- plus in the open male favorites. Something for everyone on steroids in the 17th century.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Sally. As it happens, I've just been working with an author who's written a piece on the achievements of the Stuart era. It will be published on the EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) blog on Monday 28th Oct, so look out for that - I think you'll find it interesting. You can find the EHFA blog if you copy and past this link: https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/

  3. Thank you, Annie! This was a blast! It got away from me in the excitement over the inaugural TudorCon (um, the Stuarts don't have a StuartCon...just sayin'...). I am proud to say that my talk convinced many people to not hate the Seymours quite so much! ;)

    1. Thanks Janet - yes, that was bad timing; but it looks like TudorCon was a roaring success and you're right, where is the StuartCon??!!