Interweaving Fact with Fiction: On Writing THE TUDOR SECRET
by C.W. Gortner
In my latest novel, THE TUDOR SECRET, Book One in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles, I set myself to a challenge that proved more daunting than I originally thought. Despite its shorter length, compared to my other novels THE LAST QUEEN and THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI, THE TUDOR SECRET is deceptively complex, interweaving three storylines—a factual one; a “What if?” one; and a fictionalized one. This was also the first time I decided to work with fictional characters interacting with historical ones, and these interactions were both unexpected and exciting.
My first storyline is factual, based on the tumultuous events surrounding John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and his familial conspiracy to replace Princess Mary Tudor in the succession following the untimely death of Mary’s brother, Edward VI. Though this event, known as the Succession Crisis of 1553, has often gotten short thrift in both biographical accounts of the lead players and in other Tudor-themed novels, I’ve always found it fascinating— a dramatic coup d’état staged by a powerful courtier, aimed at the Catholic heir to the throne, who was herself an embattled survivor of her father’s rupture with Rome. Northumberland had risen through the ranks to the pinnacle of success. In control of the realm after the execution of Edward’s uncle, he was resolved to protect his interests at any cost. Northumberland’s frantic race against time to secure the throne offers riveting contrast to Mary’s emergence from the shadows as the stalwart granddaughter of the famed warrior-queen, Isabella of Castile. Though many initially thought her cause hopeless, history proved differently.
My second storyline focuses on: “What if?” Though it’s established that Mary did in fact visit court to see her ailing brother several months before his demise, less is known about their sister, Elizabeth. Many believe Northumberland refused Elizabeth the same privilege, thus relegating her to her country manor, isolated from the events about to unfold. But my imagination was stirred by the idea of what if she’d ignored Northumberland’s refusal. Hindsight is everything when reconstructing historical events; we now know what Northumberland planned, yet what if Elizabeth, unaware of the extent of the duke’s plot, arrived unannounced in London, determined to see her brother? Rumors of Edward’s demise ran rampant and Elizabeth was known for being both headstrong and fiercely protective of Edward. The possibilities that opened before me as I envisioned this bold nineteen year-old princess descending upon Northumberland and his clan proved irresistible.
The last storyline is fictional. The idea for this series was to explore the birth of the grand era of Elizabethan espionage. I also wanted to envision this world through the eyes of an ordinary man, a foundling (as many were) who is brought to court to act as a squire. My lead character, Brendan, only seeks to persevere in his new post, perhaps even gain his freedom from servitude. Disdained by the noble family with whom he has spent his life, still mourning the death of the woman who cared for him, but also keen and observant, if ignorant of the treachery of the court, Brendan is the perfect vehicle for my story: a seemingly every-day youth who, unbeknownst to him, carries a secret that could overturn everything he believes in. His fateful meeting with Elizabeth as she seeks an answer to her brother’s disappearance throws these two characters into a labyrinth of deceit that will test their mettle and forge a lifelong alliance.
Lastly, THE TUDOR SECRET pays humble homage to my lifelong admiration of the spirited historical adventures of Alexander Dumas, Rafael Sabatini, Lawrence Schnoover, and the swashbuckling films of the 1950s. I hope you enjoy this foray into the underworld of the Tudors— a place where dukes battle princesses, betrayal is rife, and one man fights to save a future queen from destruction while unraveling the secret of his own mysterious past.
Thank you so much for spending this time with me. To learn more about me and my books, as well as access special features, please visit me at: http://www.cwgortner.com. Happy reading!