I was so excited to have the chance to interview Elizabeth Fremantle author of Queen’s Gambit which explores the life of Henry VIII’s sixth and final queen, Katherine Parr. I have always been fascinated with this period of history so I jumped at the opportunity to read Queen’s Gambit which I thoroughly enjoyed, as have many others who have read this. You can check out my review here.
Welcome to The Happy Booker, Elizabeth!
1. I see that you are writing a trilogy about the Tudors, when did your fascination with the Tudors begin?
Ever since I read the novels of Jean Plaidy as a child – she was the Philippa Gregory of her day and brought the Tudor world, and particularly the lives of women, to life so vividly I was utterly captivated and have remained so. I’m drawn to periods of great change in history and the sixteenth century was such a time with the religious upheavals of the Reformation heralding a seismic cultural and social shift that would reverberate down the centuries.
2. What made you decide to start with Katherine Parr?
I felt that of all Henry VIII’s wives Katherine Parr had been the most overlooked. Her reputation was of a dull nurse-maidy character; I wanted to demonstrate that this was not the case and that, far from dull, she was a vibrant and intelligent women. She was an author, was married four times, ruled England as Regent for a while, survived marriage to a notorious tyrant and out-foxed her enemies – how could I resist?
3. What do you think about Henry Tudor as a man or as a king?
It’s very difficult to escape the image of Henry VIII as a one-dimensional monster and there has been so much speculation about his personality and illnesses that it is hard to come to a true opinion. He was a complex man at the helm of England in the wake of a period of great instability who was determined to establish the dynasty his father started at all costs. But those costs were great and demonstrated his capacity for ruthlessness. I have often wondered how he would have been remembered had he not broken with Rome and set aside Catherine of Aragon – as a minor king of England who left his throne to a woman, probably. I doubt we’d be writing novels about him.
4. Do you think Katherine Parr would have survived had Henry lived longer?
Katherine Parr was a woman of great intelligence with a highly developed instinct for survival, so yes I think so. Henry too was aging and perhaps wondering about how he would be remembered and also how he would account for his actions when he finally met his maker. I believe Katherine was clever enough to understand this.
5. What is one of the most surprising facts you discovered while researching the Tudors?
There are so many, but one particularly gruesome fact I learned was that the punishment for poisoning was to be boiled alive.
6. What is one Tudor-esque place you have or would want to visit?
One of my favorite houses to visit is Penshurst Place, in Kent. It was requisitioned by Henry VIII after he executed its owner, the Duke of Buckingham, in 1521 and walking through the doors is like going back in time. It is open to the public but doesn’t have the feeling of a museum and somehow feels untouched by the modern age. In the Elizabethan era Penshurst was home to the Sidneys, a great literary family who appear in my third novel.
7. If you could go back in time and talk to one person from the Tudor era, who would it be and what would you want to know?
There are a few questions I would have liked to ask: to Catherine of Aragon – did she consummate her marriage to Arthur Tudor; to Anne Boleyn – was she guilty of any of the crimes she was accused of; to Elizabeth I – did she or didn’t she, with both Thomas Seymour and Robert Dudley, I would also like to ask Henry VIII if he regretted the break with Rome – oh and I would like to find out about the true fate of Dudley’s wife Amy Robsart. Whether any of them would tell the truth is another question.
8. Were there any personalities that you found it difficult to connect with or to write?
The most challenging character to bring to life was undoubtedly Henry VIII. To escape the preconceptions I have mentioned above was difficult but I hope I have depicted him as more nuanced that the tyrannical despot that is so familiar.
9. Name 5 guests, alive or dead, you would want have at your fantasy celebrity dinner party.
Every time I answer this question I say something different. May I have six, because I’d like to dine with all of Henry’s wives; imagine what they’d all have to say to each other?
10. What's next, tell us about the upcoming books in this trilogy!
The next novel SISTERS OF TREASON – a heartrending tale of love, politics and tragedy – is out in 2014 and tells the story of the two sisters of nine-day queen, Lady Jane Grey. These girls were born dangerously close to the throne at a time of great instability and it is court painter Levina Teerlinc who helps them negotiate the treacherous terrain of Mary Tudor’s court, but when Elizabeth comes to the throne things become increasingly difficult for the Grey girls.
Presently I am working on the third book in the trilogy, which focuses on the life of Penelope Devereaux the sister of Elizabeth’s favorite, the Earl of Essex, described as a ‘fair woman with a black soul’. It is set in the high Elizabethan period, the world of Shakespeare, Donne and Drake, when new discoveries and innovations changed English culture forever. The beauty who inspired Philip Sidney’s sonnet cycle, Astrophil and Stella, Penelope was a woman who sang from her own song-sheet, defied convention and was no stranger to scandal.
About QUEEN'S GAMBIT
Publication Date: August 6, 2013
Simon & Schuster
Goodreads | Amazon | Audible
Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the Continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth—Katherine must wed Henry and become his sixth queen.
Katherine has to employ all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her, including her stepdaughter, Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. With the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position, Katherine’s survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.
View the Official Book Trailer: http://videos.simonandschuster.com/video/2472116122001
About the Author
Elizabeth Fremantle holds a first class degree in English and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck College London. She has contributed as a fashion editor to various publications including Vogue, Elle and The Sunday Times. QUEEN'S GAMBIT is her debut novel and is the first in a Tudor trilogy. The second novel, SISTERS OF TREASON, will be released in 2014. She lives in London.
For more about Elizabeth and her future projects see www.elizabethfremantle.com.
Praise for Queen’s Gambit
"This is a superbly written novel... Fremantle is surely a major new voice in historical fiction and this book is the answer to the question about what Hilary Mantel fans should read while waiting for the final part of her trilogy." - The Bookseller
“Wildly entertaining…lively, gamey, gripped with tension…one of the best historical novels I’ve read.” - Liz Smith
"Elizabeth Fremantle's rich narrative breathes vibrant life into Henry VIII's most intriguing, intelligent and least known wife, Katherine Parr." - Anne Easter Smith author of A Rose for the Crown and Royal Mistress
"Queen's Gambit is an earthy, vivid portrait of Tudor England seen through the eyes of Henry VIII's last wife Katherine Parr and her loyal maid servant. Elizabeth Fremantle has added a richly written and engrossing novel to the endlessly fascinating story of the Tudors." - Stephanie Cowell author of Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet
"Queen's Gambit is a lovely, sensual, subtle read, telling the story of Katherine Parr with both rich imagination and scrupulous attention to factual detail. After reading this historical novel, you truly comprehend what it would mean to be the sixth wife of a dangerous man wielding absolute power. Katherine is no selfless nurse here, nor religious fanatic, but a complex and compelling person who both men and women were drawn to. This is a very impressive novel." - Nancy Bilyeau author of The Crown
“Beautifully written and finely observed, this suspenseful tale of Henry the Eighth's last wife expertly conveys all the dangerous intensity and passion of the Tudor court." - Rachel Hore, author of A Place of Secrets
"With a painter’s eye for detail, Fremantle brings the dazzling, dangerous Tudor court to life and sheds an intriguing new light on Katherine Parr, one of history’s great survivors. An enthralling tale of power and passion, loyalty and betrayal." - Elizabeth Wilhide, author of Ashenden
"Fremantle...navigates Tudor terrain with aplomb." - Publishers Weekly
"Sins, secrets and guilt dominate the landscape of British writer Fremantle’s debut...[her] emphasis is on intrigue, character portraits and the texture of mid-16th-century life. Solid and sympathetic." - Kirkus Reviews
“Intrigue, romance, and treachery abound in Fremantle’s debut novel . . . . This compulsively readable fictional biography of the ultimate survivor is infused with the type of meticulous attention to historical detailing that discerning fans of Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory have come to expect in the Tudor canon.” – Booklist