Alison Weir and Me, by Anne Clinard Barnhill
Although Ms.Weir has no way of knowing this, she has been quite an important part of my life. It all started with THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII, which I bought years ago. I’d been secretly fascinated by the king and his many wives ever since my grandmother told me our family was connected to Anne Boleyn, perhaps Henry’s most notorious wife. I’d just read THE CONCUBINE, by Norah Lofts, and was smitten with the allure, the personality and the polish of Henry’s second queen. And, curious about our relatives, the Sheltons, I began collecting any book I could find that mentioned my ancestors. Sure enough, Sir John and Lady Anne were mentioned in THE SIX WIVES. With the purchase of that book, I became a life-long fan of Alison Weir.
I never dreamed I would write two historical novels about the Sheltons. The first, AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN, is about Lady Margaret Shelton, or ‘Pretty Madge’ as she was called at court. I depended greatly on Weir’s books during the writing of this novel, particularly, HENRY VIII: THE KING AND HIS COURT. In this book, under Weir’s deft hand, the vibrant, sensuous, tumultuous court came to life. I relished reading the details of Anne’s coronation, the foods, the entertainments, the clothing—all painted in loving detail by Weir.
My second novel, QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER, will be released in March, 2014. Once again, Weir’s work has been the bedrock of my novel. In THE LIFE OF ELIZABETH I and THE CHILDREN OF HENRY VIII, I found a plethora of information about all of Henry’s children, Elizabeth in particular. But any writer can pass along information; it takes a talented and skillful writer to take the facts and create a compelling narrative. I have yet to read one of Weir’s books that fail to do this.
In MARY BOLEYN, Weir tackles the “English mare” King Francis I of France claimed to have ridden. Facts are hard to find about this woman who appears in history as Anne’s sister and Henry’s lover. But Weir tracks down what few facts are known, and, through her vast knowledge of the period, is able to extrapolate convincingly. I’m looking forward reading her latest book, ELIZABETH OF YORK.
With her gift for narrative, it seems only natural that Weir would try her hand at fiction. THE LADY ELIZABETH is a wonderful exploration of Elizabeth Tudor’s early life. Fiction is a different way to get at the truth of the times. It’s one reason I enjoy writing novels.
I don’t know where my next books will take me; I expect to leave the Tudor world for a while to venture into other areas. However, I will continue to read about this time period. It is, for me, an obsession. This means I will continue to read and rely on Weir’s work to guide me back to a time when the king’s word was law, when extreme wealth was juxtaposed against extreme poverty, when courtiers and their ladies glittered at court in the finest silks and satins, and when England was on its way to becoming the British Empire.