Friday 10 January 2020

Join #HistoricalFiction author, Vivienne Brereton, as she explores what happens when History hits the small screen #Tudors #Vikings @VivienneBreret1

When History hits the small screen.

By Vivienne Brereton

Every history lover has been there. You’ve read your favourite historical novel on a certain period at least twice, every single reference book you can lay your hands on, earned yourself a PhD from the Armchair of History. And now…you’ve heard it’s coming to a TV opposite your very own armchair. You can’t wait. How exciting! Little tidbits are released every so often to whet your appetite so by the time the release date arrives, you’re positively drooling with anticipation. You might even have gathered some fellow Armchair Professors to watch the Big Event, providing them with sustenance to get them through the excitement. You sit down to watch, booing as the last car advert drags on, vowing never to sit in that hapless model ever again. Then the voice comes on saying XYZ is proud to present. Your heart swells to twice its normal size as the credits roll….

The Tudors - Season 1 - Opening Intro

In my case, the big wait was for The Tudors. How I’d anticipated the series for months, read every article, hoping that it would live up to all the hype. I’ll never forget the opening sequence of…an assassination of the English Ambassador in the Ducal Palace of Urbino in 1518. What?! Who? When? Where? The assassins were apparently agents of François I of France, and the victim Henry VIII’s uncle. I sat there for the first few minutes in a totally unfamiliar Tudor landscape, uncomprehending and confused. I’d been expecting a shot of a sexy young Henry (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) striding athletically around his court in tight yellow leather boots, barking orders at trembling courtiers while sending amorous glances in the direction of the simpering ladies of his long-suffering wife, Katherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy). So who was this unknown (dead) man lying on the floor of the Ducal Palace and how come I’d never heard of an assassination in all my years as an Armchair Historian? He certainly wasn’t Henry’s uncle, I knew that for sure.

Worse was to come. It was later reported that to keep it simpler for a worldwide audience (how patronising and insulting to overseas viewers), Henry’s two sisters, Margaret and Mary had morphed into one. Henry also had a daughter called Mary but that was considered far too difficult for some viewers to deal with. Roll of eyes. Margaret, his older sister, married the dashing King James IV of Scotland but didn’t make it to the final cut. From my own knowledge of Margaret, and how jealous of Mary she was, she wouldn’t have been happy about that. As a consolation prize, Margaret’s name was kept in the show but handed over to her far more beautiful younger sister, Mary, who was Henry’s favourite. This surviving sister, now newly renamed Margaret, romped into a forbidden marriage with Henry’s best friend, Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) which made for some very torrid scenes. The new Margaret (the former Mary who actually married the ageing King Louis XII of France) married a fictitious King of Portugal but held a candle for Charles Brandon. Looking at the utterly gorgeous Henry Cavill and knowing the charm of the womanizing Brandon, this was not a difficult stretch of the imagination.

By now, you get the picture, I’m sure. The point is does it matter if a series is wildly inaccurate and sexed up for ratings? For me, the answer is a definitive NO! The moment Jonathan Rhys Myers appeared on screen in all his swaggering glory and panther-like menace, he totally owned the part of Henry. As did Natalie Dormer as the alluring, mercurial, brilliant Anne Boleyn. What did it matter if Henry was six foot two and Jonathan five foot nine. Both men (like Brandon) were known for their exceptional good looks, worthy pin-ups of their time. Henry only having one sister could be overlooked (my apologies to Queen Margaret); Jonathan brought Henry to life in all his glory: a beautiful man, clever, sensitive, poetic but slightly cruel, sexy, arrogant, warlike, sporty. A king of kings. To add a little poignancy, in real life, Jonathan battled with his own demons after the death of his beloved mother in Ireland. I’ve long believed that the death of Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York, when he was a very impressionable ten probably altered his life forever and broke a part of him deep inside.

Natalie Dormer totally nailed Anne. I liked reading that the actress brought a lot of her own beliefs to her interpretation. This included Anne’s involvement in religious reforms. By giving the part to a talented actress with both brains and beauty who loved the period so much she was able to persuade head writer, creator, and executive producer, Michael Hirst to change his interpretation, I would say it was a very shrewd move indeed. An entire line-up of talented stars made the production shine including Sam Neill as Wolsey, Nick Dunning as Thomas Boleyn, James Fraine as Cromwell, and Joely Richardson as Catherine Parr.

Henry meets Ann Boleyn — The Tudors.

At times, I couldn’t help disapproving of the way Hirst seemed on an ego trip, rewriting history on a whim. It seemed a little dangerous considering many people take away the truth from a TV series. Poor old Margaret Tudor, fated to be erased from history five hundred years later, she would have had a right old fit of Tudor temper.

As a writer myself of a Tudor novel, I try and keep as close to the facts as I possibly can because I feel fact is stranger than fiction. That era needed no embellishment whatsoever! If I have to alter dates a little or invent a new twist for a more interesting plotline, I have no problem with that. My series, The House of the Red Duke is a blend of real and imaginary characters anyway, so my imagination is given free reign where necessary.

Vikings : Season 5 - Opening Credits / Intro

 After The Tudors, Michael Hirst moved on The Vikings. It would be interesting to hear the views of The Vikings superfans (of whom I know a fair few!). I mentioned The Tudors to Tony Riches, author of a wonderful series on the lives of the Tudors. He, too, had a problem with the Mary/Margaret combo and jokingly suggested they were trying to save money by only using one actress. I also asked Brook Allen, award-winning author of The Antonius Trilogy for her thoughts on Rome, another series I loved but always wondered about its authenticity. For obvious reasons, she was unhappy with the way they portrayed her beloved Mark Antony, even though James Purefoy did a good job with the script. If The Tudors and Jonathan Rhys-Myers captured the essence of Henry Tudor, she didn’t like the very dark portrayal of her hero, giving him a made-up fetish for licking women’s blood.

Thank you, Mary Anne for letting me come on and talk about The Tudors, one of my favourite topics in any form at all, even on a mug!

To make it up to Margaret Tudor and restore her to her rightful place in history, I would like to finish with an excerpt from Book One of The House of the Red Duke. A Phoenix Rising. Here she is in November, 1512, firmly back in the picture, with her handsome Stewart husband. James. He was a cultured man, a fine warrior, possibly the most educated monarch in Europe. And verra popular with the ladies. They’re in Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh. Margaret is in a foul mood, partly because of the worsening relations with her younger brother, Henry, in the kingdom below:

‘Why won’t my brother listen to you? Instead of trying to break the Treaty of Perpetual Peace between our two lands.’

Not liking the high colour in his wife’s cheeks, James reached out and placed his right hand on her stomach. ‘Calm yourself, hinny. Ye know it’s no’ good for ye to get so tetchy when the birthing chamber is no’ so far off.’

Snatching his hand away, Margaret glared at him. ‘Stop treating me as though I’m still a child. I’ll be twenty-three in nigh on a month.’

‘Forgive me. I was only thinking of the bairn.’

Margaret’s voice was bitter. ‘Of course you were. Of this one and the three others lying useless beneath the sod. Instead of in the nursery at Stirling Castle. Replacing your precious royal bastards.’

James was becoming fearful for his wife’s wellbeing. Unfortunately, Margaret spoke the truth; their only bairn to have survived so far was the wee one named for him. James had hoped for a good breeder like Margaret’s mother and maternal grandmother before her, but she seemed to be favouring her paternal grandmother who’d produced only one son at the tender age of thirteen, and then no more. This one was coming too soon after the April birth, not giving her sufficient time to recover.

Somehow he had to lead his heavily pregnant wife’s mind away from this dark place. ‘I was hoping to take ye to see my new Lion House before ye take to your chamber.’

Normally, Margaret’s dark blue eyes would have shone with excitement but today they were dull with exhaustion and discontent. ‘I don’t need to see it,’ she snapped. ‘I’m already kept from my sleep by the earth-vexing thing roaring. Not to mention the civet you’ve put with it to rob your poor wife of any peace.’

James inwardly sighed. By sweet Saint Ninian, five pregnancies in as many years were beginning to take their toll on the fresh-faced lass he’d lifted from his saddle nine years ago in the Castle courtyard below. Carrying her eagerly across the threshold to a life of hope and promise. The presence of healthy male bastards was proof enough that the blame for breeding sickly bairns lay with her. It made him feel guilty this pregnancy had added an extra chin and unappealing rolls of flesh across Margaret’s ribs. Best she didna know she looked more like a matron of thirty-five than a maid of twenty-three. Some women, like his own sweet Janet, strong and robust, were made to bear a man’s sons; such a woman rose from the birthing bed with all the ease of one awaking from a good night’s rest and stretching her arms in pleasure. For a fleeting moment, an image came to mind of a ravishing young girl (with hair as black as a mid-winter night, streaming down her back, past her tiny waist) who never rose from her birthing bed - before being swiftly banished again.

*                            *                          *

He decided that fulfilling Margaret’s wishes and treating her like an equal as she demanded would be the best course of action. He leant back in his chair and put his arms behind his head. ‘You’re right about your brother, Maggie. He might represent the Tudor rose as do ye but he’s a thorn in my flesh. Perhaps I should have entertained his toady, Wolsey, with more enthusiasm when he came up here four years ago, sent by the old King, your father. Afforded him the same courtesy I extended to the Earl of Surrey when ye and I were first wed. But Wolsey and I couldna see eye to eye, I’m afraid. He wouldna listen to my complaints and thought I was intent on pushing ahead with the “Auld Alliance”.’

‘If only Arthur hadn’t succumbed to the sickness. He was calm where Harry was wild. He would have listened to you. And to me.’

A Phoenix Rising

(The House of the Red Duke, #1)
By Vivienne Brereton

“If I have anything to do with it, we Howards will live forever.”
Thomas Howard Charismatic head of one of the most powerful Houses in Tudor England. An indomitable old man approaching eighty: soldier, courtier, politician, a ‘phoenix’ rising from the ashes. After a calamitous period of disgrace, the Howards, renowned for their good looks and charm, are once more riding high at the court of Henry VIII.

Set against the backdrop of the extraordinary 1520 ‘Field of Cloth of Gold’, it is a tale of ambition, love, and intrigue, with Thomas at the centre of this intricate tapestry

Will Thomas’s bold vow be fulfilled? Danger stalks the corridors of the royal courts of Europe. Uneasy lies the head beneath a crown. Every other ruler - a fickle bedfellow…or sworn enemy.

The action takes place in England, Scotland, and France. On either side of the Narrow Sea, four young lives are interwoven, partly unaware of each other, and certainly oblivious to what Dame Fortune has in store for them.

“Nicolas de La Barre laid his lute to one side, hardly bothering to stifle a yawn of boredom. Nevertheless, he couldn’t escape the fact he’d agreed to take on a new wife….”

Explosive family secrets are concealed behind the ancient walls of castles in three lands. But…

“There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”

The Coffee Pot Book Club
Highly Recommended
Read the full review HERE!

Pick up your copy of
A Phoenix Rising

Vivienne Brereton

I’ve always loved the Tudor period, from a very early age, have a degree in medieval history. I’ve lived in six different countries in my life and soaked up the history in each one. I now live in France which made writing about three different countries and cultures easier for me. I’ve always worked with words wherever I’ve lived: teaching, editing, writing. 

I’m married with three sons so plenty of scope for Nicolas and Tristan! Anne Boleyn was the only character I found slightly elusive. All the others were so vivid, I had no problem getting into their heads. Of the kings, James was my favourite and after all my reading I hope I did him justice. All were brilliant men. Renaissance men, so cultured. What would they make of ours today? Harry could easily pass for Henry’s naughty little brother. Not sure Charles would make the grade. 

Connect with Vivienne: Website • Blog • Goodreads


  1. Great post! I felt exactly the same about The Tudors - gobsmacked at the audacity of the changes to history but awed by the acting. JRM may not have looked the part (although he looked very well indeed) but he nailed Henry's character. Looking forward to reading your books.

  2. "PhD from the Armchair of History" I love that!

  3. Great post, Vivienne, and agree with Judith. Your list of historic license in the Tudors is frightening, but the acting was mesmerising. I particularly enjoyed Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn's characterisations. Ordered your book and looking forward to reading.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx