24 March 2021

Special Guest Post by Judith Arnopp: The Inspiration behind A Matter of Conscience


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

"A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’

On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.

Henry VIII told me to do it – lol. I’ve been writing about Tudor women for more than a decade now. I’ve covered prominent figures like Anne Boleyn, Margaret Beaufort, and Mary Tudor but always, in the background there’s been the figure of Henry VIII. Henry is the key player in many of the books I’ve written. Even those set before he was king, he has made sure he gets more than a walk on part. Just as he didn’t like to be ignored in life, so he pestered me for his own book … not just a book, a trilogy. 

If he understood the mysteries of the modern keyboard, I swear he would have written it himself. Henry can be an uneasy companion, he is difficult to understand, has mood swings and changes of opinion, which makes him a tricky character to pin down. I’ve done my best to understand him and I think, looking at the events of his reign through the king’s eyes goes some way to explain the more mind-boggling aspects of the era.

The first question I had to answer was, could I maintain a male voice and perspective for an entire novel?  I’ve written short parts from a male perspective before, both historical and fictional characters. It was straightforward to write as Thomas Seymour in Intractable Heart, or Sir Walter Tyrell in The Forest Dwellers but we know so much more about Henry … or we think we do. The idea of writing a first-person narrative of Henry VIII was pretty mind boggling. He is such a huge figure, and people love to hate him. I see comments all the time on the theme describing Henry as a ‘monster,’ a ‘womaniser,’ or a ‘psychopath.’ 

We very rarely hear a good thing about him, nobody tries to empathise or understand. It was the same when I wrote about Mary in The Heretic Wind – she is also an anti-hero. This gave me confidence that if I could encourage a more objective view of ‘Bloody’ Mary, perhaps I could do the same for her father. In fact, once I stopped panicking it came quiet easily. N.B: My husband said I found his voice easy because I am also a selfish old despot – I may release him from chains later on, or I might just leave him there. I haven’t quite decided.

When I sat down to write A Matter of Conscience; Henry VIII. The Aragon Years, I didn’t want to make Henry squeaky clean and saintly. That would probably be impossible. I just wanted to probe and try to get inside his head. It is one thing taking an exterior view of a man like Henry, but events appear quite differently when seen from his perspective. 

His portraits reveal a strong man, a man in control but the fabulous clothes were as much a fiction as the Arthurian tales he so enjoyed. It is highly unlikely Henry dressed in such magnificence on a day-to-day basis, the portraits show him dressed in his court clothes - they were a statement of power. Henry might have been powerful, but he was also vulnerable, easily manipulated, and sentimental. When he ascended the throne, he expected his life would be perfect and when it turned out to be anything but, he couldn’t cope. The realisation that he was not a ‘perfect prince’ slowly eroded his promise. When he looked in his mirror, the man he saw was blemished, imperfect, flawed and he spent his life trying to hide from that fact.

After the death of his brother, Henry was given a short, sharp education on kingship. He was taught the essential importance of sons. The lesson was drummed into him. His primary duty was to beget an heir and other sons to reinforce the Tudor line. Henry knew first hand that heirs could die. Had his brother, Arthur, lived Henry would never have become king; had he not been around to replace Arthur the regime would have ended before it had begun.  

As soon as Henry and Catherine of Aragon were wed and crowned their quest for a son began. Up to this point Henry was unaccustomed to failure. He had known only success, had received only praise – the loss of their first child came as a great shock. The death of their infant son a short time later was devastating, the subsequent unsuccessful pregnancies or stillbirths shook him to the core. The only successful pregnancy resulted in Mary but in those days, a daughter was not enough to perpetuate the Tudor dynasty. Henry knew he had failed in his most important lesson. 

Nobody likes to think themselves a failure, but it must have been far more difficult for a man like Henry. Finding it impossible to blame himself, he laid the blame on Catherine, the wife he loved the longest.

Judith Arnopp

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About the Author

Judith Arnopp is the author of twelve books; three set in the Anglo-Saxon/early medieval period and nine set in and around the Tudor court. All books are available in Kindle and Paperback format, and The Beaufort Chronicle (three book series), The Kiss of the Concubine and A Song of Sixpence are on Audible. Find out more at Judith's website www.judithmarnopp.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JudithArnopp

5 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for hosting the king and I on your blog Tony xx

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  2. Picking up this book to see what talented author Judith Arnopp did to make Henry VIII seem less than a monster. Can never forgive him for his treatment of Catherine of Aragon.

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  3. Interested to see what talented author Judith Arnopp did to make Henry VIII seem less than a monster. I can never forgive him for treating Catherine of Aragon so poorly.

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  4. I have not yet finished this book, I have been slowly savoring it as I don't have another unread Arnopp novel to go to next. I thought perhaps this was the beginning of a series and am so excited to read it will be a triology! Wonder when the Second will be available to Grace our shelves (electronic pads)?

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  5. I am writing as fast as I can Candace - ha ha! Fingers crossed by the end of the year. Rozsa, I haven't changed any of Henry's actions but because it is written from his pov and he was very egocentric, the book concentrates more on his own feelings than on Catherine's. In this book he is a frustrated boy, angry and determined to get his own way. In the next book his desire for a son slowly disintegrates into obsession. Thank you so much for your comments. I hope you enjoy the book.

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