Mastodon The Writing Desk: Book Launch Guest Post: Henry VIII’s True Daughter: Catherine Carey, A Tudor Life, by Wendy J Dunn

19 November 2023

Book Launch Guest Post: Henry VIII’s True Daughter: Catherine Carey, A Tudor Life, by Wendy J Dunn

Available from Amazon UK
and for pre-order from Amazon US

The lives of Tudor women often offer faint but fascinating footnotes on the pages of history. The life of Catherine – or Katryn as her husband would one day pen her name – Carey, the daughter of Mary Boleyn and, as the weight of evidence suggests, Henry VIII,
is one of those footnotes.

I write this on the 19th of November in Melbourne, Australia. That means there are only eleven days left before I will celebrate the publication in the UK of Henry VIII’s True Daughter: Catherine Carey, A Tudor Life. True Daughter (my nickname fort this work) is my first full-length historical nonfiction book. It explores the life of Catherine Knollys, an immensely important Tudor woman. Catherine is someone I have had a long association with, after first giving her voice as a teenager in my second Anne Boleyn novel, The Light in the Labyrinth

The wonderful Tudor historian Dr Owen Emmerson wrote in the foreword of True Daughter, ‘…women in history, previously relegated to the margins, can, and must, be afforded scholarly attention.’ His words speak the truth. There is so much we do not know about herstory, the stories of women from our past. For writers of historical fiction like Tony Riches, myself, and countless others, this ‘not knowing’ offer us with welcomed gaps. 

They invite our imaginations to reconstruct the past. But for a work of nonfiction, these gaps invite and require detective work. Philippa Langley’s recent investigation in the fate of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ shows how much work this involves — and also how difficult it is to nail down absolute answers. I wrote in True Daughter how ‘history leaves us grappling with slippery speculations.’ [1] This is especially the case if the subject of your investigation was born into the female gender.

Take my Catherine Knollys, for example. History fails to record Catherine's achievements, focusing solely on her marriage to Francis Knollys. But Catherine was a woman of substance, a woman of power and intelligence, a woman who also wrote letters. How can we doubt that when we have letters written in reply to her, including the famous Cor Rotto (Latin for broken hearted) letter Elizabeth I wrote to Catherine on hearing about the Knollys’s plan to go into exile during the reign of Mary I. But, to my frustration, I could not find any writings by Catherine. 

I still wonder if this was because I remained stuck in Melbourne, Australia during long COVID lockdowns. While I counted my blessings for the internet's digital archives, it was painful not being able to search physical archives in British libraries – especially when I believe there must be letters from Catherine somewhere. She was the mother of a large family, with thirteen of her known fourteen babies growing into adulthood. Her descendants stretch far and wide around the globe and include many figures still remembered in history — like the fascinating Penelope Devereux, the subject of Tony Riches’ fine novel, Penelope — Tudor Baroness.

I have now started work on a second nonfiction work for Pen and Sword Books. If I can find the funds, I plan to go to England to research the archives at as many important British libraries as possible. Researching True Daughter reminded me of the importance of on the ground research. Breakthroughs can happen — like when someone discovered the letters of the daughter-in-law of Catherine Knolly archived under the name of another family member.

The reason I decided to write this second nonfiction work on another little-known Tudor woman is because I emerged from writing True Daughter feeling more committed than ever to reclaim these most forgotten stories about women from the past.
I recently wrote on Judith Arnopp’s blog, ‘Women are an equal part of humanity’s shared past. Yet, history describes the lives of so many women with such brevity that it also speaks of the reality of what it was to be born in the female gender. It results in erasure. If we do not restore the stories of women from the past to recorded history, then half our human story remains hidden in the dark’ [2].

In the past, I have written fiction to question ‘these societal narratives in an attempt to build a bridge of empathy that may lead to change’ [3]. My questioning now includes writing in the nonfiction form — and for the same reasons. To give voice to the silencing of the past only makes it clear how much women like Catherine Knollys contributed to their societies.

Reclaiming their stories is vital if we want history to tell us the complete story of the past.

 Wendy J Dunn 

Works Cited:

1. Dunn, W.J., Henry VIII’s True Daughter: Catherine Carey, A Tudor Life. 2023, Great Britain: Pen and Sword Books.
2. Dunn, W.J. Origins of True Daughter. 2023; Available from:
3. Dunn, W.J., The light in the labyrinth: young adult novel and exegesis. 2014, Swinburne University: Melbourne, Australia.

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About the Author

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian author, playwright and poet who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel. While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally. Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program. Find out more at her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyjdunn

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