Category Archives: Cultural Observers

The Sanctity of Character

adrienne_dillard_author_photoBy: Adrienne Dillard

Adrienne Dillard, author of Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey, is a graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with emphasis in History from Montana State University-Northern.

Adrienne has been an eager student of history for most of her life and has completed in-depth research on the American Revolutionary War time period in American History and the history and sinking of the Titanic. Her senior university capstone paper was on the discrepancies in passenger lists on the ill-fated liner and Adrienne was able to work with Philip Hind of Encyclopedia Titanica for much of her research on that subject.

Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey is her first published novel.

Interested in winning a copy of Adrienne’s book? Leave a comment in the comment section for a chance to be drawn and win a free copy!

Jane Rochford, the scheming and voyeuristic housewife, has made an appearance in almost every novel set in Tudor England. Vile and conniving, it was she alone that brought down those infamous Boleyns. Yet, in the same breath, those Boleyns were no victims themselves. Thomas loved to trade his daughters for royal favor and we know what a lascivious fop George was. Anne was the worst of all – in addition to all of her arrogant scheming, she found time to murder. And above all, no one could be worse than Bloody Mary.

The roles seem pretty clear for those that lived in Tudor England. Every Jungian archetype is fulfilled. We have a saint and a sinner; we have a hero and a villain; we have the good and we have the wicked. While these roles may make sense for characterization in any other fictional genre, they have grave consequences for the people represented in historical fiction. Jane, Anne, George and Mary were real people that cannot and should not be contained to these ideals and authors have a responsibility to avoid needlessly tarnishing their reputation.

Based on primary sources of the time, it seems very unlikely that Jane had much to do with the fall of George and Anne Boleyn. Very little seems to have come out of her interrogation and we haven’t any contemporary accounts proving that George and Jane’s marriage was anything but happy; at least happy enough for an arranged marriage. The idea that Anne and Jane despised each other seems to be made out of whole cloth. Never once does Anne mention her dislike for her sister-in-law and on at least one occasion, Jane risked her place at court to help Anne rid herself of a competitor for the King’s affection. The greatest misdeed that Jane can be accused of is the aid she provided to Katherine Howard in her clandestine affair with Thomas Culpeper. But in Jane’s defense, it would have been completely against convention to disobey an order from the queen and as we look deeper into the life of Henry’s fifth queen, it is not even certain that the affair was carried out in the way that it has been traditionally described. Katherine herself has often been painted as either a silly naïve girl or an outright wanton.

Anne seems to suffer from personality disorder. She is either the vile temptress who lures the king away from his rightful wife and plots the poisoning of his pitiful daughter or she is the heroine of the Reformation, a perfect saint among a pit of sinners. The truth of the matter is far more complex than that. Anne was ambitious, yet patient. She had high moral ideals, yet she could be vain. Anne had her sister banished from court, yet she took great care in the upbringing of her nephew and enjoyed a very close kinship with her brother. We know from contemporary accounts that she had quite a temper and had no problem expressing what was on her mind, but we can also rephrase that description to say that she was emotional and had a tendency to stick her foot in her mouth; both very human traits.

George Boleyn was, by all contemporary accounts, a brilliant poet and diplomat. The fact that he rose high so quickly and at such a young age, even before his sister was queen, speaks highly of his capabilities. Records indicate that he was well-liked by his peers and may have even been regarded as an unfortunate victim of his sister’s downfall. The idea that he was a libertine has no basis in fact, yet it seems to be the reputation that follows him the most.   George was far from perfect though, he was often arrogant and frivolous with his money. He was known to charm the ladies of the court and his humor was not always appreciated.

In Cor Rotto, I tried very hard to stay away from the molds that have formed over the years. There are no heroes or villains. Though Catherine is very kind and pragmatic she can also behave childishly and is often wracked with self-doubt and pity. Francis deals harsh judgment upon those who don’t conform to his moral ideals, but he is a loving husband and father. He is also loyal to his friends even when others would abandon them. In Queen Mary, we see that while deeply flawed and easily manipulated, she can show kindness and mercy. She is not entirely to blame for the horrors carried out under her reign.

It is my hope that readers will see the humanity that lies within each one of these complex individuals. Everyday life is certainly different than it was five centuries ago, but the complexity of the human spirit remains.


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Blurb from Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey

The dream was always the same … the scaffold before me. I stared on in horror as the sword sliced my aunt’s head from her swan-like neck. The executioner raised her severed head into the air by its long chestnut locks. The last thing I remembered before my world turned black was my own scream.

Fifteen year-old Catherine Carey has been dreaming the same dream for three years, since the bloody execution of her aunt Queen Anne Boleyn. Her only comfort is that she and her family are safe in Calais, away from the intrigues of Henry VIII’s court. But now Catherine has been chosen to serve Henry VIII’s new wife, Queen Anne of Cleves.

Just before she sets off for England, she learns the family secret: the true identity of her father, a man she considers to be a monster and a man she will shortly meet.


Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, and Bloggers, Artists, Cultural Observers, Historians, Memoirists, Poets

Staging Tudor History – A Review of “Bring Up the Bodies”

Denise at HeverBy Denise Hansen

Denise Hansen has an academic background in history and education and worked for 30 years with Parks Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is a self-confessed Tudor history fan with a special interest in Anne Boleyn.

Full disclosure here. My sole previous experience with the West End London Theatre world consisted of the viewing of “No Sex Please, We’re British” almost thirty years ago.  So I was bound to be impressed, especially when the subject of the play was of intense interest to me, a self-confessed Tudor history addict with a healthy obsession with Anne Boleyn.   I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) but a trip to London was in the offing this September, 2014.  I looked into buying tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies”, theatrical adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s prize-winning tales of Thomas Cromwell, Henry the VIII’s politically adept henchman who was instrumental in the fall of Anne Boleyn.  When I learned that the successful runs of both plays had been extended I couldn’t resist and booked an expensive  solo ticket to a Saturday evening performance of “Bring Up the Bodies” at the charming, Edwardian-era Aldwych Theatre.  I was not disappointed in the production and the play certainly did what good drama is supposed to do – told a story well, entertained the audience and evoked an emotional experience.  Plays which deal with historical content cannot avoid serving as  “history writ large” and Mike Poulton’s re-work of Mantel’s second book in the Cromwell trilogy successfully pares down hundreds of written pages into a riveting three hour production, without sacrificing too much of Mantel’s trademark witty dialogue.

The stage set was minimalist but effective, with quick, subtle scene changes and the looming presence of a carved cross. The somber grays and browns of the interior set designs were a good contrast with the rich hues of the Tudor costumes, including a memorable scarlet gown worn by Lydia Leonard’s Anne Boleyn.  I was impressed with the narrow strips of real fire which appeared at random times  in the stage floor to depict those ever-present Tudor fires, despite the fact that the effect is far from magically achieved, considering  today’s propane fireplaces.  Snow fluttered from a backlit sky which illuminated Katherine of Aragon’s January funeral and sitting actors swayed into oarsmen escorting Anne Boleyn on her last journey on the Thames.  Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas More appear as ghosts, realized figments of Cromwell’s powerful imagination.

The acting was quite wonderful and totally professional. Ben Miles (Thomas Cromwell) lacked the thuggish physicality of the man captured in Holbein’s portrait but he brought a chilling calmness to the role, conveying a snake-like skill in coercion. Nathaniel Parker’s mercurial Henry VIII was part love-sick buffoon, gregarious “bluff King Hal” and the raging lion once alluded to by Sir Thomas More. Jane Seymour was portrayed by Leah Brotherhead ably but I was distracted by her annoyingly high-pitched, whiny voice.  I was surprised to realize from the play program that several actors played multiple roles. For example Lucy Briers played both Katherine of Aragon and a scheming Lady Rochford.  The many characters which peppered Henry’s court were painted in broad strokes and we are given a rather foppish, earring-bedecked George Boleyn and an Eustace Chapuys with an accent that reminded me of something out of a Monty Python movie.  John Ramm played an effective Henry Norris, the oldest of the men accused of adultery with the Queen and one of Henry’s closest friends.

The first half of the play was darkly comic in places but the second was more serious and befittingly tragic. The term “Bring Up the Bodies” is a judicial expression used to summon up accused prisoners for trial but it was also suggested in a more literal sense with a grim scene showing the linen-wrapped, bloody corpses of the five men executed for adultery with the Queen. It expands from the novel with Cromwell’s matter-of-fact suggestions for identifying the headless bodies for burial through physical details that convey the intimacy of the Tudor Court – “Smeaton’s fingers will be worn from the playing of the lute”, “Norris has a scar from a jousting accident”. I was quite moved by that scene since all the executions are shown off-stage.

RSC program picBut what of Anne Boleyn – the character who I was most interested in?  Mantel is not gentle in her portrayal of Anne Boleyn in her novels and evokes what author Susan Bordo (“The Creation of Anne Boleyn”) refers to as the “default Anne” – a shrill, ambitious, viscously smart woman who will stop at nothing to maintain her position. Of course the Anne in “Bring Up the Bodies” is certainly not Anne at her best as she becomes increasingly desperate and isolated, like a cornered animal.  I did not expect a different Anne in the play and Lydia Leonard admitted that she wanted to honour Anne but says; “I personally feel more of a commitment to playing Hilary Mantel’s Anne Boleyn because that’s what going to make the whole story turn.” (RSC, “Bring Up the Bodies” Aldwych Theatre Program).  So we are given an Anne who strides more than walks, who shouts more than talks and who can only be described as unrelentingly haughty. She is however witty, articulate and fiercely intelligent. We occasionally see Cromwell’s wary acknowledgement of this. In fact, Anne was once his ally until the tides turned and Henry desired to be rid of her.  As in the books, the play is quilty of the “sin of omission” regarding Anne Boleyn, and all mention of her corroborated trial speech and anything else that painted her in a more favourable light is quite glaringly absent.   The question of her guilt is left ambiguous though and the play convincingly conveys the awful power of rumour and innuendo in a personality-driven court with so much at stake.  Cromwell’s successful coup was partially a product of luck and timing but the events were molded by a man who was a master of psychological manipulation.

The play does allow for sympathy for Anne. Her execution is not shown on-stage but viscerally rehearsed for Cromwell by the French executioner. There is one line uttered by Cromwell which really resonated.  He remarks on Anne Boleyn in the days just prior to her execution and it is an insightful statement of how far she has fallen – “She has lost her self. All we have to do is bury her.”  For me, that “self” is not the ruthless, scheming political animal of Mantel’s books and this play, but a multi-faceted, courageous woman who by this time had lost friends, family and the love of her King.


Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, and Bloggers, Artists, Cultural Observers, Historians, Memoirists, Poets