Songs for Unsung Heroes
By Samantha Wilcoxson
When I started writing about Elizabeth of York in 2013, I had no plans to become the author who writes about less popular historical figures of the early Tudor era. However, as my series progressed, I found myself more and more intrigued by the less sensational, quieter playmakers of a time period well-known for its drama. It is a privilege to be one of the voices calling readers to rethink what they believe about people like Queen Mary (a woman you will never hear me calling ‘Bloody Mary’).
Elizabeth of York may not be maligned by history, but she is largely left in the background. I decided to write about her because I thought her story was too significant, too unique to always be left to a secondary character. In Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, Elizabeth has her chance to take center stage, and the reader has the opportunity to consider what it would be like to chose between loyalty to one’s own house versus becoming the mother of a new dynasty. What did Elizabeth really think of her uncle, Richard III? Did she believe he killed her brothers? Of course, I couldn’t answer these questions with certainty, but exploring possibilities brought Elizabeth’s side of the story into the open where she deserves to be.
|Elizabeth of York.|
While writing about Elizabeth of York, her cousin Margaret Pole started coming frequently to mind. Known primarily for being an elderly woman sent to a horrifying execution by Henry VIII, Margaret had a much greater story to tell, a story that is missed when we focus solely on Henry and his gaggle of wives. Margaret was the daughter of one executed York prince (George of Clarence) and sister to another (Edward of Warwick). She raised children with noble blood under the reign of a king who was suspicious of anyone who might challenge him. One of her closest friends was Katherine of Aragon. A more compelling protagonist would be difficult to find, but somehow Margaret’s was not. So, I wrote it, in Faithful Traitor.
At that point, I thought I was done with Tudors. I began researching early Plantagenets, only to have an early reader of Faithful Traitor ask if I was writing about Princess Mary next. I had no intention of carrying on with the story of the young girl who had thought of Margaret Pole as her second mother. I had never considered her an unsung hero. Surely, there was plenty written from Mary’s point-of-view.
Except there wasn’t, and Queen of Martyrs was born. I was so shocked to discover that England’s first queen was usually considered a footnote in her sister’s story that I took on the project with a particular passion that had not quite struck me with the first two books. Every time I found evidence of Mary’s grace, mercy, and generosity, I was further inspired to share her story and counter the ‘Bloody Mary’ myth. Hers was an emotional journey that I would have missed out on if it hadn’t been for that innocent inquiry into what I was writing next.
By the time I had finished this trilogy – and was certain it was complete this time – I decided to give readers a peek into some of the secondary characters through companion novellas. I had done Margaret Beaufort something of a disservice in Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen where she is seen exclusively through the eyes of her daughter-in-law, so I decided that the first novella would take a more sympathetic look at Margaret Beaufort and what events might have taken her to the place she finds herself by the time my Elizabeth knew her. The Last Lancastrian takes a look at a young Margaret, struggling through the Wars of the Roses and wanting little more than to secure her son’s future.
Elizabeth Woodville had not appeared much better through the eyes of her daughter, so she was my next project. I enjoyed writing some of the same scenes from the older Elizabeth’s point-of-view, making the story more complete. At times when her daughter thought she was being cruel and unloving, this mother was struggling with impossible decisions and circumstances. It was fulfilling to give greater depth to this tragic figure in Once a Queen.
For my final novella, I wanted to write about Reginald Pole, but would my readers connect with a protagonist who was not only not a woman, but who was also not living in England? As Margaret Pole’s son and Queen Mary’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Reginald was uniquely intriguing, but would the same readers who loved Elizabeth of York be interested in her Catholic Cardinal nephew? I didn’t know, but I couldn’t resist writing his story anyway. This man, whose mother and brother were both executed, largely because of things Reginald himself had written, had a story I was sure people would love. Considered a potential spouse for Princess Mary and almost made Pope in 1550, Reginald Pole truly was a Prince of York.
So, what unsung heroes are coming up next? I am currently researching Isabel de Warenne, who I hope will be the first in a series of early Plantagenet women including Maud de Braose and Isabella of Angoulême. Isabel was married to King Stephen’s son and then Henry II’s half-brother, so she had a first-row seat to the Anarchy and birth of the Plantagenet dynasty. If you are reading this and wondering who she was, that’s alright. I’m going to tell you, and I hope you love her story.
The Plantagenet Embers series
The Plantagenet Embers series explores the lives of the York remnant during the early Tudor era. Whether left in the background or maligned in the intervening centuries, the personal stories of these people help us appreciate their humanity and the difficult choices they were forced to make. Full length novels include the stories of Elizabeth of York, Margaret Pole, and Queen Mary I. The companion novellas take deeper looks at Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville, and Reginald Pole. Learn aspects of the Tudors' story that you haven't heard before with these intimately told tales.
Writer of historical fiction and sufferer of wanderlust, Samantha enjoys exploring the lives of historical figures through both research and visiting historic places. Certain that no person is ever purely good or evil, she strives to reveal the deep emotions and motivations of those she writes about, enabling readers to connect with historical figures in a unique way. Samantha is an American writer with British roots and proud mother of three amazing teenagers. She can frequently be found lakeside with a book in one hand and glass of wine in the other.
Connect with Samantha: Blog • Facebook • Twitter • Amazon Author Page.
A great post, Samantha. I agree that sometimes the figures in the background turn out to be more interesting. I'm particularly looking forward to reading Queen of Martyrs, I think much of what we think we know about her is down to the propaganda of her successor's (Elizabeth I) regime.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Penny! I would love to know what you think of 'my Mary.' :)Delete
Samantha, what a fascinating post. I agree with you that some of those less filmic figures often have amazing stories of their own that we miss out on in the concentration on the larger than life people like Henry 8. One of the things that has always made me think Mary wasn't a monster is that it would have been so easy to have Elizabeth killed and yet she didn't. And she was very reluctant to kill Jane Grey as well. Definitely not a bloodthirsty witch, by any means.ReplyDelete
Exactly, Anna! Mary was really a joy to research and write about.Delete