A Sunday Afternoon with British Royalty and History Enthusiast
by Gayle Hulme
Gayle Hulme is a blogger who is well-known and respected in “Facebook Tudor Circles”. A lover of English History, Gayle is in process of composing her first novel — about Queen Anne Boleyn, of course. Gayle, founder of the popular Facebook Group “British Sovereigns and Royals”, recently was published in the anthology Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare. Her article focusing on the life of Mary Queen of Scots is an outstanding peek at Scotland’s tragic Stuart queen. I had the privilege of catching up with Gayle recently. For all of you on the social media wondering about what makes Gayle tick, enjoy!
Gayle, please share with us how your love of history in general and love of the history of royalty in particular developed?
Way back in 1996 I visited the Tower of London for the very first time. I remember standing in front of the execution memorial and seeing Queen Anne Boleyn’s name and the date of her death. I was totally consumed with the thought that this woman who was Queen of England had her life cut short on the orders of her husband. Then a few years later I bought Alison Weir’s book Henry VIII King & Court just before a train journey. Once I got to the chapters about Anne Boleyn I knew the dye was cast, she really had me and the hours disappeared in a flash. The second daughter of one of Henry VIII’s diplomats had me transfixed and I began reading everything I could get my hands on. Reading Anne’s life story lead to interest in a lot of other royal women who had managed to make a difference in the very patriarchal world of the English court.
I understand that Queens Anne Boleyn and Mary, Queen of Scots are of special interest to you. Why are you drawn to them?
Yes as I mentioned above Queen Anne Boleyn and her life and times are fascinating to me. Although for me it is more than just the dates and the facts that draw me to her. It’s the stages and locations on which the story was played out. Although we can never know the secrets of Anne’s heart or mind I find it fascinating to look into her words and behaviour and try to work out what really made her tick? How did her strong faith influence her life? Did she really want to be Queen at all cost? When it came to Henry VIII was it really marriage or bust?
In my own life I suffered the loss of two pregnancies and so I have enormous sympathy for Anne. Not as a remote historical character, but as a flesh and blood woman who surely must have suffered heartbreak after losing her babies. She was after all quoted as saying ‘children…were a woman’s greatest consolation’. How tragic that amongst other destabilising factors her failure to bare Henry VIII a son potentially started the chain reaction that lead to her death.
I came to be interested in Mary Queen of Scots and the Stuarts while researching Mary’s marriages. Similar to Anne it is her humanity rather than her royalty that caught my interest. Up until her return to Scotland in the 1560s, she had been spoiled and feted everywhere she went. In her 18 years, she had never had to cultivate one single ounce of political acumen and so when she returned from France to take charge of her own Kingdom, she had to learn fast. In my opinion, she handled the difficult religious divides between her own Catholicism and the parliamentary endorsed Protestantism with common sense. However, it seems to me that her marriage to Lord Darnley was where her reign started to unravel. So why was she so intent on marrying this young man, who her maternal uncle described as a ‘polished trifler’? The simple answer is…he charmed her and she fell for it hook, line and sinker. What does it say about the human condition that queens and commoners have been falling in love with bad lads for as long as anyone can remember? Unfortunately for Mary, she picked a particularly immature, arrogant and completely unsuitable character.
Tell us a little about your article in the historical anthology Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bear. Is this your first traditionally published work? Do you have plans to write any additional non-fiction work?
Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare allowed me to really get into the nuts and bolts of Mary Queen of Scots and her marriages. Each of her three marriages was very different but were all made to exploit Mary’s direct descendants from Henry VII of England through her Grandmother Margaret Tudor. First, there was the hastily bartered betrothal to Henri II of France’s heir Francis. The Earl of Arran made the deal out of self-interest, but also in order to get France to assist in fighting off Henry VIII’ and later Edward IV’s ‘rough wooing’. Next Mary fell head over heels in love with Darnley (also a Grandchild of Margaret Tudor) ‘the finest long man she ever saw’. Then after Darnley’s murder, she married the belligerent Earl of Bothwell who could have caused a fight in an empty house from two miles away. Through all these marriages we see a very human woman, who wants to be loved and cherished for herself, but is instead being pushed from pillar to post because of her claim to the English throne. In writing the essay I came to the conclusion that no ruler, man or woman would have been able to handle Scotland and her nobles at that time. They were just hell-bent on mayhem.
Yes, yes I would love to write some more non-fiction. Mostly probably about the sad figure of Princess Charlotte of Wales who was caught between her selfish and warring parents. How tragic that just as she found her happily ever after with Prince Leopold she died in childbirth. Something about her life and her circumstances just calls to me.
After your short stories published here on Queenanneboleyn.com were so well received, a little birdie told me that you have dreams of composing a novel about the life of Anne Boleyn. Is there any truth to that? If so, tell us more.
Yes, there is truth in that little birdy’s chirping and thank you for your support of the short stories. I have a very rough draft of the manuscript and basically, it is Anne reflecting back on her life as she awaits her fate in the early hours of the 18th and 19th May 1536. I wanted to take the 10 or 12 most dramatic events in Anne’s life and really explore what might have been going through her mind. How did Anne the woman experience her coronation at Westminster Abbey on 1 June 1533? One of my favourite scenes, from my imagination, of course, is when King Henry comes to meet his newly born daughter Elizabeth. I wanted to strip it back to the way any new family might react on being alone together for the first time. Far from the disappointed Henry being angry with his wife I wanted to explore that moment when the world seems to stop and a proud father takes his perfect red-haired ‘fair lady’ in his arms. I can tell you there were a few tears that night.
Gayle, you are a VERY popular fixture of Facebook. Your group “British Sovereigns and Royals” has over 12,000 members and your Facebook videos highlighting your travels to British historical attractions are a huge success. Why do you suppose people are so enthralled by your phenomenal Facebook presence?
The Facebook group has grown very fast from its humble beginnings nearly two years ago. I created it because although there are lots of wonderful and engaging groups out there focusing on historical and current British royalty I couldn’t really find one that had it all together in one place. So I parked my insecurities, tied a knot in the rope and created a group that I hoped maybe at least someone out there might like. I think one of the primary reasons people are drawn to it is simply because the name is super easy to find through a quick search on Facebook. I also wanted to create a space for everyone. Whether folks had just read one book, watched one TV show or had a Ph.D. I wanted them to be able to ask a question and contribute without feeling they were asking ‘a stupid question’. It’s been pretty lively at times with differences of opinion, but as long as our subjects — be they alive or dead — are treated respectfully and people remain civil to each other we try to let it ride.
Shooting the videos from places of historic royal interest is one of my favourite aspects of the Facebook group. Very quickly I became aware that people would often say ‘oh I’d love to go there, but I just know I will never quite make it.’ So I wanted to give those people the real boots on the ground sense of what these places are actually like. I think sometimes hearing the story from the actual place where it happened really lights up the imagination in a way that just simply reading about it doesn’t.
Do you have a favorite historical era of British History? Why so?
Favourite historical era that is a tough one…I think I would have to say the Tudors. I admire Henry Tudor for bringing peace to England when the country was on its knees after years of civil war. I wonder what he would have thought of his youngest son’s reign? Closely followed by the Georgians just because of their dysfunctional family dynamics. Boy those guys knew how to hold a grudge. I couldn’t miss out the Victorians, for the simple fact that Prince Albert is my favourite British male royal. He managed to get things done, without getting drawn into the murky excesses of the British elite at the time. Plus he was a dish and I totally get why Queen Victoria adored him.
Tell me about your favorite historian.
As far as historians go I’m drawn to anyone who wants to discover the real ins and outs of their subject. So Lucy Worsley, Suzanna Lipscomb, David Starkey, Amy Licence. Also, the folks out there on Facebook such as yourself, Claire Ridgeway, Melanie Taylor and so many of the authors I’ve had the privilege to meet and chat with are up there too. I had one of the best afternoons with Ashlee Payne sitting with tea and cake outside Kensington Place chatting all things royal history. So, in essence, all you need is tea, cake, good company and history will come life.
Much of the content of the Facebook group “British Sovereigns and Royals” focus on our current royal family. Do you have a favorite royal family member? If so, why?
When it comes to current royals I think Her Majesty has to be at the top of my list. She has as she promised when she was 21 ‘devoted her whole life’ to the service of her country. Although I think the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex are doing an amazing job bringing to light causes such as mental health and conservation. Their mother Diana, Princess of Wales holds a special place in my heart and I’m sure she would be very proud of the men they have grown up to be.
I know your Facebook group is a huge amount of work to administer and manage. Here is your chance to “call out” and credit your administrators. Go for it!
I must give a big shout out to the administrators on the Facebook page. Penney Thorne for keeping folks in line with her very Texan wit, Robin Bucci for spotting potential members who might ‘set her hair on fire’. Marlene for her GIFs which have us rolling on the floor and of course my two Scottish gals Laura Brown and Gillian Hallard who put up with me arranging history jolly ups left, right and centre. Finally, and by no means least our lovely Karyn who has been with us through thick and thin. The page is what it is because of these ladies and I appreciate all they have done and continue to do.
Gayle, your life is so much richer than your online activities. Tell us about your career helping others to improve their health and personal well-being through fitness and your special interests not related to history.
I do have a proper job too…if you can call jigging around to music and teaching group fitness a real job. What I do is just a tiny ripple in the lives of my participants but for every woman who is a little fitter and healthier as a result of coming along to class you can bet that has a positive effect of everyone she comes into contact with. What am I doing when I’m not at work or noseying about in the annals of royal history? Well, when I was 13 my Dad took me to my first Rangers FC match at Ibrox Stadium and I’ve been hooked ever since. If I’m not doing that I’ve probably got my head in a book about anything to do with ancient traditions and practices or I’m out with my family and two dogs. Failing that as ‘my heart is in the highlands’ and I’ve disappeared somewhere in Scotland to climb a mountain.
Is there anything else you would like to share with Queenanneboleyn.com?
So excited my next stop with my British Sovereigns and Royals hat on is in December to the British Museum and a visit to the Tower of London with one of my best friends Claire (she strong-armed me, HONESTLY).