Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest post by Derek Wilson, Author of The Queen and the Heretic

22 February 2018

Special Guest post by Derek Wilson, Author of The Queen and the Heretic

Available on Amazon UK

The dual biography of two remarkable women - Catherine Parr and Anne Askew. One was the last queen of a powerful monarch, the second a countrywoman from Lincolnshire. But they were joined together in their love for the new learning - and their adherence to Protestantism threatened both their lives. This book explores their lives, and the way of life for women from various social strata in Tudor England.

Question:   In terms of Tudor history what is the significance of the following:
                                    24, 3, 1.15, 0.5, 1.75, 3.5

Answer: they are (roughly – I’m no mathematician) the reigns, measured in years, of Henry VIII’s six queens. We can see, at a glance, that Catherine Parr (No.6) edges into second place. In terms of popularity with writers of novels and historical non-fiction she comes further down the list. Her story, it is commonly supposed, doesn’t lend itself to heart-in-the-mouth narration – no scandal, no romance, no sex! She was, wasn’t she, a dowdypants blue stocking; a caring biddy whose marital life was dedicated to nursemaiding a succession of sick or ageing husbands? In a word,
Beyond the fact that she was the wife who survived, she has no significance in the great Tudor scheme of things, has she? In a word,

OK, so, given that Queen Catherine, might be a valid subject for a biography, why couple her story with that of another contemporary woman, Anne Askew? And, anyway, who was she? Most fans of Henry VIII’s reign will have come across her as probably the most famous Protestant martyr of the early years of the Reformation. Her trials and tribulations merit a sad footnote in chronicles of the period. Nothing more, surely? In a word – well you get the message!

Good historical writing should do at least two things:

(a) It should take us beyond the headline stories of long-dead celebs. ‘History’ didn’t just happen in the tapestried halls, the scented bedchambers and the hunting parks of the top people. To discover the real lives of our ancestors we need to read their letters, burrow away in family and county archives, get some feel for the changing colours of the passing years, the beliefs, ideas and concerns that shaped relationships.

(b) It should sift for us the grains of significance from the chaff of the ephemeral (no matter how titillating old gossip may be). It should offer answers to the question, ‘Why does this matter now?’ We need to see the past through mental bifocals which give us a clear image of Hartley’s ‘other country’ while also enabling us to evaluate why it matters to us

This is what I’ve tried to do in The Queen and the Heretic, one of the most exciting projects I’ve tackled in several years of writing about the 16th century. I’ve taken the lives of two women from the middle shires and ‘middle class’ of England and shown how they followed very different paths which dramatically converged in a catastrophic series of events that saw one burned at the stake and the other almost beheaded (the final notch on Henry VIII’s bedpost). 

Their ups and downs through the 1520, 30s and 40s reveal in detail much of what it was like to live through that turbulent epoch. Moreover – and this is really exciting – we don’t have to go to third-party accounts to stitch the narrative together. We know what Catherine and Anne thought, felt, believed – because they tell us.

They wrote about their experiences and innermost feelings in letters, pamphlets and books. Those writings (absolutely unique in England of the period – women, even royal women, did not publish books) take us, I believe closer to the heart of a nation undergoing profound change, bitterly divided, plagued by rebellion and ruled by an unpredictable tyrant. This is an account of two true heroines – intelligent, passionate and courageous – whose stories long outlived them and became an encouragement and inspiration to later generations.

The Queen and the Heretic is not dry-as-dust history nor pink-frilled romance. I hope that anyone reading it will turn the last page thinking, ‘Yes, that’s what it must have been like.’

Derek Wilson

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About the Author

Derek Wilson has been writing historical fiction and non-fiction since the mid 1970s and is the author of 70+ books, as well as work for radio and television and innumerable newspaper and magazine articles. After graduating from Cambridge in History and Theology, he spent some years teaching and travelling abroad before settling to a freelance writing career. Steadily he built a large following for his books. He specialises in the Reformation and his more recent works include a series of Tudor crime thrillers - the Thomas Treviot tales - and an analysis of the relationship between religion, philosophy, occultism and science (Superstition and Science). However, his large output also includes studies of the Rothschild family, the Plantagenets, Peter the Great, Charlemagne and the history of circumnavigation. In fact, he writes about whatever interests him. For example, Magnificent Malevolence is a venture into fantasy fiction. No longer needing to chase success in the urban jungle, he enjoys a life of peaceful seclusion in Devon and is the patriarch of a family of three children and six grandchildren. You can find out more at Derek's website and follow him on Twitter @DerekAlanWilson 

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