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, 13 January 2020

Interview: Author Tony Riches

I've recently been thinking about why the Tudors remain so popular and I've come to the conclusion that it's simply because this period was like no other. A queen was succeeded by yet another queen, and a king executed two of his wives. Even without the break from Rome, this is all unprecedented stuff. However, away from the main players at court, there are still stories to be found and my guest today, Tony Riches, seems to have a knack of finding them.

AW: Welcome to the blog, Tony. Your Tudor Trilogy focuses on the early years, and those men who founded the dynasty. There is a certain 'romance' in the stories of Owen and Jasper Tudor, but do you find Henry VII a sympathetic character?

TR: Like Henry Tudor, I was born in the Welsh town of Pembroke, a connection which inspired my fascination with the Tudor dynasty. As part of my research I followed in Henry’s footsteps from
Fortresse de Largoet, Brittany
Pembroke to the exile in remote Brittany, then back to Mill Bay and on to the battle at Bosworth. (See my blog for details.) 

Statue of Henry VII at Pembroke Castle

This journey gave me a real sense of Henry’s early life and helped me take a fresh look at how he has been portrayed through the centuries. Far from being miserly, he spent a fortune on good living – although he never recovered from the death of his son Arthur, followed by the loss of his wife, Elizabeth of York.

This helped me understand his strange treatment of his remaining son and heir, and how Henry VIII turned out as he did. Henry VII’s legacy was that he ended what have become known as the Wars of the Roses, and secured peace with France and Spain, and should be remembered as a man who tried his best to be a good King of England.   

AW: You then took your novels in a slightly different direction and examined, in the Brandon Trilogy, the life of Henry VIII's sister, Mary, perhaps a less well-known member of that illustrious family. What drew you to her story?

Each of my books moved on one generation, so Mary Tudor’s story provided a perfect ‘sequel’ to my Tudor trilogy. I never understood why the television series The Tudors ‘merged’ Mary with her sister Margaret, when her story is so intriguing. I wanted to explore what it must have been like for Mary to become Queen of France, then to defy her brother and marry for love.

During my research I visited Mary’s home at Westhorpe and her tomb in Bury St Edmunds, where I saw a lock of her hair in the nearby museum. It was amazing to feel so close to her after studying every detail of her life for two years. 

AW: I bet it was. I love these tangible links to the past. 

AW: Charles Brandon - romantic hero? 

TR: Brandon was a chancer, always in debt and prepared to take great risks for advancement. I tried to show how the social standards of his time shaped his decisions. I believe he loved Mary Tudor, and struggled with his conscience during the downfall of Catherine of Aragon and the trial of Anne Boleyn.

His surviving letters reveal his loyalty and sometimes naivety. When Brandon died, Henry VIII said that in all their long friendship Charles Brandon had never knowingly betrayed a friend or taken advantage of an enemy. He is reported to have asked his council, ‘Is there any of you who can say as much?’   

AW: Admirable, but also, as you say, maybe naive. Your latest novel tells the story of Brandon's last wife, Katherine Willoughby. How easy was it to research her life; was it as well-documented as some of the other Tudor characters?

Katherine Willoughby was a complex and surprisingly modern woman, far ahead of her time. I started with the big question of how the daughter of a devout Catholic, Maria de Salinas, became a radical Protestant, which led me to explore her friendship with men like Hugh Latimer and William Cecil, as well as women like Anne Askew and Catherine Parr.

When I began my research, I had no idea that she knew every one of Henry VIII’s wives, as well as his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward. Her letters and the details of her exile when Mary became queen show real strength of character, and her story provided me with the perfect way to conclude the stories of the early Tudors.

AW: I suppose it must be remembered that Henry got through his last five wives quite quickly, but it's still a shock to hear of someone who knew them all. Would you consider writing any novels centred around Henry VIII himself and/or his wives, or do you prefer to write about those who lived their lives slightly away from centre-stage?

TR: I’ve enjoyed building a picture of Henry VIII as seen through the eyes of those who knew him, and am now doing the same with Elizabeth I in my new Elizabethan series. I think it would be quite a challenge to find a way of telling Henry’s story with much sympathy.

AW: I tend to agree! To move away from the Tudor period, if I may, one of your earlier novels is set in tenth-century Wales. Any plans to return to that time period with your writing?

TR: My book Queen Sacrifice was my first attempt at historical fiction and an interesting exercise, as the narrative follows every move in the famous queen sacrifice chess game. I have at least three more books to write about the Elizabethans, but there are plenty of fascinating stories from Welsh history I  would like to return to one day.

AW: Thanks so  much for chatting about your books Tony.

About the Author

Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, UK, with his wife and enjoys sailing in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s books, podcasts and audiobooks please visit his website www.tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter 

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