I’m speaking with Laura Andersen about her Boleyn Trilogy, which was completed on 15th July with the release of the final book, The Boleyn Reckoning. (My review of the book is here.) I’ve been reading historical fiction for more years than I care to remember, but this is the first time I’ve branched out into anything other than stories centering around actual historical figures and events. I picked up the first book because I was intrigued by the “what if?” premise; suppose Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a son who had lived to succeed him. I confess to some skepticism, but it wasn’t very long before I was sucked into the story and invested in the characters. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all three books and have found myself a new auto-buy author, and I’m delighted to welcome Laura to AAR.
Caz: For anyone who hasn’t read the earlier books (yet), would you set the scene for the opening of The Boleyn Reckoning for us?
Laura: Sure. As the book opens, William Tudor, son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, is through being patient. Recently recovered from smallpox, William is determined to defy his advisors, end his betrothal to the French Catholic princess, and make clear his intentions towards his childhood friend, Minuette. But she has married—in secret—the king’s friend, Dominic Courtenay and there is no way out short of disaster for all of them. As English ships and soldiers arm themselves against the threat of invasion from abroad, William marches to the drumbeat of his own desires rather than his country’s welfare—but though he commands armies and navies, he cannot command hearts. Wary of this changed royal brother, Elizabeth quietly assembles her own shadow court to protect England as best she can.
Caz: What attracted you to the idea of writing historical fiction set in an alternate time-line? And why that particular one?
Laura: In this case, the story came first: what if Anne Boleyn had not miscarried her son in January 1536? Obviously that story cannot be written in an actual timeline, so alternate history it was! Though much of the well-known alternate histories deal with larger-scale what-ifs (around, for example, the outcomes of WWII) I have always been attracted to the idea of how a small, personal event or tragedy, like a marriage or miscarriage, can alter the world. Because she was Queen of England—and a disputed queen at that—Anne didn’t have the luxury of keeping her griefs personal. The loss of that son was a political fact that, at the least, hurried her down the path to execution.
So what if that son’s birth had saved her life? What if Elizabeth had a full brother to come to the throne before her? What if Henry had a son who didn’t, like Edward VI, die at the age of fifteen but lived long enough to rule personally?
And always—from nearly the first moment I wondered about Anne’s lost son—the question: What if Elizabeth still became queen?
Because as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter how many alternate universe scenarios exist—in the end, I could not possibly envision any world in which Elizabeth Tudor was not Queen of England.
Caz: Of the four central characters in the trilogy, three are fictional – William (of course), Minuette and Dominic. Are Minuette and Dom based on historical figures or taken completely from your imagination?
Laura: They are completely mine. I did root Dominic’s bloodlines in several actual families (the Courtenays and the Boleyns) but the fictional nature of his ancestors goes back at least two generations in both cases. I like the freedom an entirely fictional character gives me, without having to take into account actual history (is that heretical for a historical novelist to admit?) Heretical or not, both Minuette and Dominic were the sort of characters who appeared—if not entirely made of whole cloth—at least recognizably themselves when they took up residence in my imagination.
Caz: I really loved the way the romance between Minuette and Dominic developed – especially in book two – but I couldn’t help sometimes wanting to scream at Minuette because of the way she had to act around Will! Give us some idea of the difficulties of her situation.
Laura: My initial framework for the story of Anne and Henry’s son was to play off his parents’ actually-doomed story and recreate it in a new generation. Thus was born Minuette as the object of Will’s affections. But the moment the story came to life was the moment Minuette tapped me on the shoulder as I visited the Tower of London and told me to get out of the way because the man she loved was staring down at her from a prison cell.
Well, I thought a little dizzily, kings don’t often end in prison cells.
No, Minuette whispered in my ear, it’s not the king. The tragedy is that I’m NOT in love with my king.
(When you read The Boleyn Reckoning, you may recognize that scene. It’s one of the few that have remained largely untouched since the first draft of the story written in 2004.)
Caz: Oh, yes – I know the exact scene you mean. So the romantic aspect of the story evolved as a kind of “love triangle”?
Laura: It’s not that I felt the need to incorporate a love triangle. It’s simply that this was the story. I’ve had comments from those who feel Minuette is manipulative and cruel to Will. Perhaps she is. Or perhaps, as I see her, it is entirely possible to love two men at the same time—if not quite in the same way, still so profoundly that either way you move you inflict great pain.
And I don’t see it as a triangle in the sense that Minuette is dithering between the two. Minuette never asked Will to fall in love with her. She does ask Dominic. She makes her stand early on. All that’s left is to protect Will and England in the aftermath. If Minuette is naïve in assuming for too long that she can get what she wants without cost, then she pays for that naiveté in spades. But all along, she is doing the best she knows how to do in the most delicate and dangerous of situations.
Caz: What you’ve said about Minuette being seen as manipulative is interesting. I confess, I never saw her that way; I thought she was a woman caught between a rock and a hard place, in much the same way as Anne Boleyn may have been.
Laura: Well, yes, there’s a parallel there. Much as our contemporary understanding of Henry is heavily weighted toward his last twenty years, our popular picture of Anne Boleyn is often weighted with a contemporary understanding of women’s choices. I’m not talking about historians and those who have studied the past rigorously–I’m talking about the average person who has heard of Anne Boleyn and wonders aloud, “Why did she get herself into such a ridiculous situation?” Why? Because Henry was a king who did not suffer rejection lightly. He routinely put his enemies to the sword. Like his father before him, Henry was methodical in removing the most distant threats to his crown. What might he have done, not only to Anne, but to her family if she categorically refused him once and for all? There is little doubt that Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn, pressured her to tread lightly in her relationship with the king. She was also the niece of the Duke of Norfolk, whose ambition was so great that, even after Anne’s death, he maneuvered another young kinswoman into marrying Henry–Katherine Howard met the same end as Anne before her.
I’m not saying I think Anne Boleyn is my long-lost soul sister. Frankly, I’m not sure we’d get along at all–I’m conflict-averse, never been a femme fatale, and I doubt I could keep up with her witty cleverness. But liking or not liking has nothing to do with the near-impossible situation she was put in. And I’m not certain women today, without a great deal of study and imagination, can fully grasp the limits of her position.
Caz: Which brings me to Will (Henry IX), the Boleyn King himself. He’s is a complex character, who starts out seeming to be refreshingly different from his father. Yet as the story progresses, you make it clear that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Was it always your intention to take him in that direction?
Laura: One thing to keep in mind is that our historical pictures of Henry VIII are heavily weighted to the last twenty years of his life. He began his serious pursuit of Anne Boleyn in 1527, when he was thirty-six years old, and matters only went downhill from there in terms of his reputation. Will is only seventeen when The Boleyn King opens—the age his father was when he took the throne. With Will, I wanted that sense of possibility, when one is young and wealthy and powerful and nothing seems out of reach. The Henry Tudor of the 1530s and 1540s was a different man in many ways than his early years and Will gives a glimpse of the charm and intelligence and wit for which Henry was known early on in his reign. In 1515, when Henry VIII was twenty-four, the Venetian ambassador described him as, “the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on . . . in every respect a most accomplished Prince.”
Did I always intend to take Will in the direction of his father? To a degree, yes. In the end, whether readers agree or not, that is how I read his character. And yet (slight spoilers here for the most sensitive), along with the fury and cruelty, Will is haunted by his faults. And that is why I love him.
Caz: I have to agree with you there. Even when he’s at his worst the reader – like his friends, I think – remembers the best of him, and his growing isolation really tugs at the heartstrings.
So now Will’s story is ended, and history is back on track with Elizabeth coming to the throne. What’s next for you?
Laura: I have just finished copyedits on the first book in a new trilogy coming from Ballantine next spring. The Tudor Legacy trilogy is set in 1580’s Elizabethan England and deals with a Queen Elizabeth who has married and given birth to an heir, but still must deal with Catholic assassins, dissenters at home and abroad, and the troublesome Mary, Queen of Scots.
Caz: Well I, for one, will certainly be looking out for that! Thanks for taking time out to chat with AAR, Laura.
Laura is generously giving away one set of the trilogy and three copies of The Boleyn Reckoning. Thanks for having me! To be entered in our drawing–international readers welcome!–please make a comment below.
Books mentioned in this piece are available for sale at Amazon and at other retailers.