It is my very great pleasure to welcome historical author, Lauren Johnson onto the blog today to talk about the inspirations behind her latest book.
So Great A Prince
The King is dead: long live the King. In 1509, Henry VII was succeeded by his son Henry VIII, second monarch of the house of Tudor. But this is not the familiar Tudor world of Protestantism and playwrights. Decades before the Reformation, ancient traditions persist: boy bishops, prayers for the dead, Corpus Christi pageants, the jewel-decked shrine at Canterbury. So Great a Prince offers a fascinating glimpse of a country and people that at first appear alien - in calendar and clothing, in counting the hours by bell toll - but which on closer examination are recognisably and understandably human.
Lauren Johnson Author’s Inspirations
For eight years now I’ve been occupying Henry VIII’s territory. In 2008 I started working for a live costumed interpretation company, based mainly at Hampton Court Palace. In my job I meet members of the public or education groups as a historical character, and engage them with storytelling, semi-improvised scenes with fellow interpreters or simply by answering questions. At the Palace I have almost always been a Tudor from Henry VIII’s Court, occasionally even one of his queens.
As time has gone on I have moved to the Tower of London and other heritage sites - and into other eras. I’ve interpreted everything from Saxon princesses to WW1 ‘clippies’. But there is no getting away from Henry VIII. He exerts a magnetic hold on our historical imagination.
What is interesting to me is that even after almost a decade of talking to the public about Henry VIII - in which time shows like The Tudors, Wolf Hall and The Other Boleyn Girl have only increased Tudormania - the same questions still come up. Why did Henry have all those wives? Why was he so desperate for a son? How did he go to the toilet? Wasn’t it a terrible time to be alive?
The Tudor world is simultaneously unimaginably distant from our own and somehow curiously relatable. As a recent article in the Guardian explained, the upper classes of Henry’s time are the first historical figures who look really human - are recognisably people just like us. When I first started researching for my latest book, about the first year of Henry VIII’s reign, I wanted to dive into that world and hold a mirror up to it. I wanted to take my reader and plunge them into the 360-degree Tudor age I had spent years learning about and sharing with visitors to the Palace. To show men and women whose faces are familiar to us, but at a point in their lives long before those paintings were made: an uncertain teenage Henry, taking his first steps onto the political stage; a vulnerable but fiercely determined Catherine of Aragon.
And I wanted to look beyond the King and Queen to show the breadth and diversity of their subjects - the people who really were just like you and me. Because there could only be one monarch at a time, but there were legions of workers: farmers and merchants, printers and apprentices, brewsters and silkwomen, sailors and lawyers… High, low and everyone inbetween. I wanted to honour the conversations I so frequently got into at the Palace with intrigued members of the public - the nitty gritty banalities of daily life that we take for granted today. What did people eat for breakfast? How did they travel? Why did they choose the clothes they wore? What did they learn at school? How did they fall in love, get married, have sex, die?
Ultimately my inspiration for So Great a Prince was people - the many strangers whose questioning of our shared past helped guide where my research should take me, and the fascinating, sometimes forgotten, men, women and children who lived five centuries ago.
Where can I buy this fabulous book?
About the author
Lauren Johnson is an author and historian living in London, England. So Great a Prince: England and the Accession of Henry VIII is her second book. Her first, The Arrow of Sherwood, is a historical fiction rooting the origin story of Robin Hood in the realities of the turbulent Twelfth Century.