Wednesday 23 March 2022

Join #HistoricalFiction author, Vivienne Brereton, as she explores the difficulty with names in the Tudor period #amwriting #Tudors @VivienneBreret1


A Phoenix Rising

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

Publication Date: 8th July 2019
Publisher: Yuletide Press 
Page Length:  374 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

The Howards have it all! Wealth, power, brains and beauty. Not to mention, physical prowess, charm in abundance, and the favour of a king. But then the unthinkable happens. They lose everything overnight. In a catastrophic reversal of fortune. How?

1485. Bosworth Field. Loyally backing a Yorkist king over a Tudor usurper (who wins the day) costs the family very dear. The head of the Howards is killed alongside his king, while his disgraced son is flung into the Tower for three long years.

Meet Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. Proud father of three strong sons, two beautiful daughters, and grandfather to two of Henry VIII’s future wives. Soldier. Statesman. Courtier. Keeper of secrets hidden behind castle walls. Heady places of intrigue and lovers’ trysts.

Once freed, Thomas vows to regain his position at the prosperous court of Henry VII, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. And restore the Howard family, formerly one of the most powerful in England, to its former glory.

“If I have anything to do with it, we Howards will live forever.”

The magnificent royal courts of Europe provide a sensual backdrop for innocent first love and passionate love affairs, alongside arranged noble marriages. Meanwhile, hidden danger, revenge, and ruthless ambition stalk the candlelit corridors.

Be dazzled by the dancing, drama and display in Tudor England, Stewart Scotland, Valois France, and The Habsburg Empire. Feast in the great halls and enjoy the delicious fare. (Recipes included!) Many names will be familiar: Katherine of Aragon, Thomas Wolsey, Anne and Mary Boleyn, Charles Brandon and Thomas More. Some less so: Louis XII and François de Valois of France.

Plans are equally likely to be drawn up for a bloody war, as for an extraordinary event such as the fabled 1520 Field of Cloth of Gold.

1509. After their calamitous period of disgrace, the Howards are once more riding high at the glittering court of a young Henry VIII due to Thomas’s intelligence and perseverance, and the part played by his middle son, Edward, a royal favourite known for his pleasing appearance, swagger and daring.
Thomas’s travels take him down to Cornwall, up to Scotland, and across the Narrow Sea separating England from France. Mystery swirls around the lives of four young people: Tristan, Cecily, Valentine, and Nicolas.

But there are no secrets that time does not reveal….

A Tudor Rose by any other name…
 By Vivienne Brereton

The advice for writers, especially those writing historical fiction, is to choose the first names of your characters with care, making sure that they are of their era, and not another. And not to use the same name twice. This works well but what happens when your novel is a blend of fact and fiction, as is the case with ‘The House of the Red Duke’. I needed to choose fictitious names hailing from England, Scotland, and France which caused no problem and was quite fun. However, things became tricky when I was writing about real characters from the early Tudor period. As Chris Laning points out in his excellent article on names in Elizabethan England, the Tudor name pool was exceedingly small compared to the one we use today to name our children.

Picking the names of saints as suitable choices back then perhaps corresponds to the recent official permitted register of names that used to exist in many countries today. I experienced it first-hand when I had a baby in Germany before the rules were relaxed, happy that being British meant I was exempt from the official book of German names. Just as well because a glance at another mother’s book soon showed me that both my new son’s names were forbidden! It is no surprise to find an Apple, a Saint, or a Harper in our modern world, but in the Tudor era, there were probably only about 30 to 40 first names in circulation. There were almost no middle names, a tradition which was spreading slowly in countries across the so-called Narrow Sea, but did not reach English speaking countries until as late as the nineteenth century. So sadly no Henry Junior or Annie-B ( Boleyn) to make my life easier.

In my case, in the first part of my novel, I was left with two Henries and three Thomases, with no real way of distinguishing between them. More on that later, but first here is a glimpse at what the 1519 name chart might have looked like compared to today. As you can see, neither the 2019 American boys or girls lists give much of a nod to the Tudors, apart from James, for the boys, and Emma (in the Tudor top 50) and Isabella for the girls. The UK have Charles, James and Henry covered (albeit in shortened forms), as well as George. Arthur has made it into the Top Ten. In Tudor times, Henry VII’s first-born son, Prince Arthur was deliberately named to link him in people’s minds with both the legend and Wales. The UK girls have the solitary Isabella carrying the green and white Tudor mantle.

US Boys 2019
US Girls 2019
UK Boys 2019
UK Girls 2019
Tudor England Boys 1519
Tudor England Girls 1519











I have to thank Amy Licence for the Tudor list, and although I have written 1519 because it dovetails so nicely with our own time, and with the time of my book, as Amy points out, the same names “continued to be murmured over the baptismal font” throughout the Tudor era, in a different order in the list, and with different spellings, depending on the parish clerk.

If you think about it, two of Henry VIII’s wives were called Anne, three Catherine, and one Jane. That’s not a great deal of variety. You can imagine a whispered Tudor conversation out of reach of potentially treacherous ears. “Do you mean Anne who lost her head? Or Anne who lost her crown? Katherine who lost her crown, Catherine who lost her head or Katherine who managed to survive?” Thank goodness for different spellings.

In my novel, we have Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas, Anne’s uncle, Thomas, and Anne’s grandfather, Thomas. Coming a close second after England’s patron saint, George, Thomas Becket, a martyr-saint, was very popular and gave his name to (far too?) many a Thomas.

So, how did the Tudors choose their names? And why?

In his book, ‘Names and Naming Patterns in England, 1538-1700’, Scott Smith-Bannister examined the baptism records of forty parishes, spread right across England. He discovered that the popularity of names could be affected by geographical region and social status. Not only did baby names follow family tradition by using the father or grandfather’s name, a grandmother, aunt or uncle, but in an age of high mother and infant mortality, the same name was often re-used. Over the Narrow Sea in France, Guillaume Gouffier, Admiral of France (who also makes an appearance in the novel), was so enamoured of his monarch François I that he named all three of his sons, François. How confusing would that be in a household? “It wasn’t me, Mum. It was François!”

An interesting point here is that I included Alison Weir’s Thomas Boleyn as the heir to the Boleyn inheritance, “whose grave in Penshurst Church, Kent, is marked by a cross and the date 1520.” It made sense to me that an ambitious man like Thomas Boleyn, or “Bullayne” as she calls him (again the free choice of spelling) would want to continue the tradition of naming his first born son after him. So Thomas (called Tom) is in my novel, along with his younger brother, George.

According to Scott Smith-Bannister, names of godparents were also favourites to be chosen: two women and a man if you were a girl; and two men and a woman if you were a boy. It helped if the godparent in question was higher in status, rich and famous. Elton or Melania anyone?
If you were named after someone, you would be called ‘namesakes’.

A brief word on Tudor surnames.

Adams. Andrews. Child. Gascoigne. Grey. Spicer etc; Far more of those than first names, of course. The interesting thing about surnames is that they were not quite as fixed as first names. So, for the lucky few, for example, you might inherit a castle and a title, and you would change your surname accordingly. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth I’s favourite, was born a Sutton, but became Dudley after being gifted the Dudley lands.

You might be known by your local village or profession such as Baker. If there were several villagers with the same name, you might be distinguished by your appearance or place. John Little, Lame John or John Chester. My surname, Brereton, is an old Cheshire, Staffordshire or West Yorkshire name. It is also a civil parish in Cheshire. And with a surname like that, a famous ancestor of mine might well have been William Brereton, executed in May, 1536 by Henry VIII for supposed ‘adultery’ with Anne Boleyn. Honestly, those Tudors….

Finally… So how did I solve my own problem with three Thomases and two Henries in Part One of my book? Namely, Henries VII and VIII; and Thomases, Howard, Wolsey and More. 

Henry VII

Henry VIII

Thomas Wolsey.

Thomas More.

A friend of mine read an early draft and unsurprisingly found the repetition rather confusing – hence the advice to use different names in any book on how to write historical fiction. Although I’d already shortened Thomas to Tom in the case of More and Wolsey, I saw it wasn’t enough. It came in handy that the central character, Thomas Howard, a grand old man of nearly eighty, didn’t suffer fools (or those who stood in his way) gladly so I came up with the idea of his using rather unkind nicknames. From then on, Henry VII who’d had Thomas thrown in the Tower (after Bosworth Field) became ‘Goose’. As for Henry VIII’s loyal servant, Thomas Wolsey, he was the upstart who definitely put Thomas Howard’s long nose out of joint when he “first slithered into the service” of Henry VIII. He became ‘Snake’, and I only hope it has made all my Thomases and Henries easier to follow. It certainly simplified matters for me.
This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimied subscription.

Born between historic Winchester and Southampton in the UK, I have been passionate about the Tudors for as long as I can remember. This led to a degree in Medieval History at university, and the growing desire to write a novel.

However, life took over somewhat and only after stays, short and long, in six countries I called home did I finally settle down to finish my novel.

Words have always played an important part in my life, whether it’s been writing, editing, teaching English, or just picking up a good book. In preparation for my Tudor series, I did an enormous amount of research. I also visited most of the places in the novel, seeing it as an opportunity to step back in time, and use all six senses to reproduce life as it really was back then.

Having three sons came in very handy when I had to write about squabbles between Nicolas and Tristan. Not so handy when I took my boys to Hampton Court and one of them got lost in the maze! I also used the men in my life as guinea pigs for my Tudor cookery attempts (recipes included) with varying degrees of protest (abuse)!

Seeing ‘A Phoenix Rising’, the first book in the series ‘The House of the Red Duke’ in print for the first time was a moment of great joy for me. I hope anyone reading it will enjoy the end result as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Connect with Vivienne: WebsiteBlog •  TwitterGoodreads


  1. I have never thought about how confusing it must have been with everyone having the same name!

  2. I love this book so much - especially the Tudor recipes.

    1. I really loved this book too - and the recipes!!!

  3. A great read; need to try the recipes.

  4. I love the new cover, Vivienne.

  5. I have added this book to my to-read list. I am always on the look out for books in the Tudor era.

    1. You are in for a treat. It is such a great book.


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