“Tea with Henry” is a different Tudor-based novel insofar as it explores a side of history left, for the most part, by the wayside. It has elements both of historical fiction and a creepy, don’t turn the lights out ghost story. The characters, some flesh and blood, others not, are people I would love to meet or love to flee depending on the situation.
As I wrote this novel, what started as an exercise in character development in a particular historical context became deeper and darker than the original somewhat fluffy concept. Amelia Wainwright, my main character, is a history professor. She’s the epitome of modern feminine cool. She’s smart and focused, but it’s more difficult for her to achieve success equivalent to her male counterparts. This is an issue faced in one way or another by most professional women I know, therefore I write this element from personal experience, albeit in a different profession than that of lawyer. She’s not a man hater, far from it. She’s certainly no sexual ingenue either. In fact she has issues with not getting involved with her graduate students from time-to-time and she is an unabashed bohemian. In short, she’s a healthy, modern, educated protagonist who happens to love the Tudors.
I had to throw a good lawyer character in the mix also. Irene Goddard is Amelia’s best friend and a striving big law attorney who pretty much hates what she does – again speaking from the perspective of an attorney with 25 years of experience under my belt. Irene is recently divorced from a womanizing partner at the firm, but glad to be rid of what she calls her “parentals’ great expectation”. The man was a prig, plain and simple. She envies Amelia’s wilder tendencies but seeks to both control Amelia’s behavior to preserve Amelia’s career, yet live somewhat vicariously through her friend. Yes, Irene has some great secrets of her own, though, so she’s a strong female character as well.
My editor challenged me to make Irene less of a goofy sidekick and give her substance. This took a lot of thought because when I looked at the story again, Irene came off as one-dimensional and more concerned about bagels and chocolate. She wasn’t a three-dimensional character, someone a reader could see in his or her friends and family. Granted, bagels and chocolate are fine things, chocolate with sea salt for me, dark, thank you, with maybe a little caramel…dang it, I digress again. Sorry. As they say in Nebraska, Irene needed fixed.
This, in turn, led me to examine my Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII characters for flatness and caricature in equal measure for different reasons. It took many rewrites since Marcy first sent me her edits to get it right. I discovered that I had lapsed into perpetuating some of the stereotypes associated with these two historical figures and it bothered me. I had to lose the academic and infuse the characters with humanity.
I started with Anne. As I crafted her interactions with Amelia, I was forced to account for her ambition while she lived. She was no saint nor was she a witch or sorceress. She was, however, adept at using her intelligence, looks, and manner to get what she wanted. When she was unsuccessful, she was hell on wheels. Further, I explored whether that ambition carried over into the modern day and propels her into Amelia’s world, an inevitability argument. I don’t want to give a lot away, but the result was surprising for two reasons: First, in the afterlife, Anne’s character is disturbing because she brings the ruthlessness of striving in Henry’s court into the modern day. She’s packing a .45-calibre blast of paranormal ammo to aim at whomever gets in her way. Second, evil can come as much from force of personality as it can from committing heinous acts.
Then there’s Henry. Henry did not start out as a tyrant. In fact, he was much more interested in the arts – painting, music- and sports than ruling a kingdom in turmoil. He delegated so much business to his councilors that Wolsey and Cromwell, in effect, ruled the day-to-day business of the Crown. At some point in his tumultuous romance arena, this artistic side of him had to play a huge role. I had no trouble creating a more sympathetic character whose evil is grounded in the fact that he knows he can do as he pleases and chooses to exercise that ability for selfish purposes such as divorcing Catherine of Aragon and establishing the Anglican religion; as well as beheading two wives. Henry was paranoid. He watched his father struggle to maintain his grip on the Crown, a claim that was tenuous at best. Henry VIII had reason to worry. With no male heir and wives seeming to go off the rails at times, he basically lost it. Who do you trust? His response: nobody, trust no one.
Evil in this regard is the insidious reality forced on the Tudor characters during their respective lifetimes. Anne always struck me as a woman ahead of her time and who refused to live within the social constraints the Tudor Court had imposed. Maintaining tact and discretion was not her strong point in other words. Henry was forced to constantly look over his shoulder and anticipate that everyone would betray him. In essence, he created his own reality to a good degree, and a paranoid one at that. Imagine living day-to-day under those circumstances. I know I couldn’t do it.
It’s difficult for us in the modern day to relate to concepts such as dower and curtesy (the bride price to be paid for a “beneficial” marriage between two families), noblesse oblige, courtly love, and the plain act of accepting the monarch’s word and deeds without question. We, theoretically at least, have the ability to question government and remove leaders we deem incompetent through the process of impeachment. You couldn’t so much as utter the thought of believing a monarch was about to die. To do so during the Tudor times (all monarchs, not just Henry) would mean a certain death. After all, Henry executed Sir Thomas More simply because Thomas refused to support Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. To us, that is an act of evil. Yet to the Tudors, it represented the status quo ante.
I think that’s why “The Tudors” was so successful as a series. It focused not on historical accuracy, but on the emotions of the characters and how the time period stifled and blighted the essences of each and every person in Henry’s universe. It could not be otherwise. “Tea with Henry” delves deep into how what we consider to be evil today punches a hole straight from the Renaissance Tudor court into the modern world. The question is, who will survive and how?