Q & A with Anne Clinard Barnhill

There have been numerous biographies, novels, documentaries, mini-series, and films written about the Tudor period. Why do you think viewers and readers are insatiable when it comes to the Tudors?

Reasons abound, I think.  This period is considered the Early Modern period and many of the problems and challenges we face now had their start back then.  For example, the question of religion–for a thousand years, the Roman Catholic church governed how the majority of Europeans worshipped.  Then, with the Reformation, different ideas became available through the printing press, which was really much like our internet.  Suddenly, many people had access to differing ideas.  This caused folks to take a look at the Church and either make changes from within or break away and begin a new approach.  We still bicker over religion–just watch an American election if you don’t believe it!– and there is little consensus among denominations when religion comes into play.

Also, there was the slow move from the country to the city and the rise of the merchant class that started back then.  This caused problems like overcrowding and the easy spread of disease.  Going from an agrarian culture to an industrial culture brings its own set of troubles, which we continue to struggle with today.  For example, what rights should workers have?  Are unions (think guilds from the 16th century) helpful?  Who reaps the rewards of industry?

Of course, the personal stories of the major players in the 16th century are fascinating–much the way we look at movie stars or even the Royals, today.  We want to know what goes on in the lives of the larger-than-life individuals.  The fact of Henry VIII’s many marriages, his growing tyranny, the change from charming, handsome, Renaissance prince to fat, murderous tyrant is something out of Shakespearian tragedy.  Novelists couldn’t make this stuff up!

At the Mercy of the Queen by Anne Barnhill

Your debut historical novel, At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, has just been released. What was the inspiration behind this novel?

My obsession with Anne Boleyn began when I was a teenager and my grandmother told me we were related to her.  That, along with my reading Norah Lofts’ The Concubine, created this enormous appetite for all things Tudor.  I was hooked, much the same way Henry VIII was hooked, by the alluring Anne Boleyn.  I wanted to be just like her–have her power over men and her confidence.  To a fifteen year old girl, she seemed to be everything I was not.  Then, once I really got into the era, I loved the sumptuous dresses, the jewels, the fancy foods, everything made of cloth of gold—it appeals to the senses, though not always in a good way–there were plenty of foul odors, too!

Why did you choose to write the novel through the eyes of Madge Shelton?

I had been thinking about Madge for years before I started writing about her.  The idea of a young girl going to Court, being out of her element and surrounded by people who would use her to their own advantage, seems a good way to see the Court with fresh, innocent eyes.  I think Madge had been waiting to come out of my head for quite some time.  I thought she deserved more than a one-sentence epitaph–mistress of Henry VIII.  So, I wanted to tell her story.

What do you think was and still is the lure of Anne Boleyn?

Anne Boleyn is all that is alluring, attractive and mysterious about Woman.  She was smart, full of spunk, courage and she had nerves of steel.  She kept Henry at bay for seven years–and kept him interested in her, desiring her, wanting to make her his queen.  She was graceful, stylish, musical, well-educated–just the epitome of Renaissance queen.  Of course, her swift downfall and execution seem odd, after all of Henry’s adoration.  It’s sort of the case of what can happen in marriage—during courtship, all is roses and wine.  Marriage is more laundry and diapers.  When you think about it, Henry is the man in the mid-life crisis who dumps his old wife for a younger woman.  It happens all the time, which is why the story still resonates today.

Anne Boleyn’s ghost has been seen and sensed in several locations around the UK over the years. Do you believe in the paranormal? Have you ever had anything happen to you that you find difficult to explain?

Yes!  I lived in a haunted house for about ten years!  One of my friends saw the figure of a woman bending over her (my friend’s) son.  The woman looked so real, my friend thought it was me and called my name.  The woman just vanished.  I often heard my name being called, sometimes out of a deep sleep.  And I felt people sitting on the bed.  But my sons and husband had even more things happen.  Once, my teenage sons were upstairs and I had gone to the grocery.  They heard the piano playing and thought I’d returned home.  They called me, but no answer.  They looked and saw the car was still gone.  Then, the music stopped.  They ran back to their room and didn’t come out until I actually did return and called them.  We found out later that one of the ladies who had lived in the house had taught piano lessons.

We had lots of doors slamming shut in the middle of the night, creaking stairs, other strange stuff.  I absolutely LOVED that house!

If I ever get to England, which I hope will be as soon as possible, I hope Anne’s ghost will appear to me—I’d love to know what she really looked like.

Apart from Anne and Madge, is there any other Tudor woman that captures your imagination?

Oh, my yes!  I’m writing a novel about Elizabeth, Anne’s daughter.  She is one amazing woman.  And, I’m writing about her relationship with another of my Shelton ancestors, this time, Lady Mary Shelton, who has the dubious claim to fame of suffering a broken finger, snapped by Elizabeth in a fit of rage when she discovered Lady Mary had married a Catholic without the royal permission.  I’m telling that story!

I’m also interested in Moll Cutpurse, Anne Aske, Lady Anne Shelton, and lots more–too many to name really.

Share with us a favourite part or quote from your book.

Oh, I love the parts with Arthur Brandon, Madge’s love interest.  When Madge first arrives in London, she meets Arthur:

“At that moment, the carriage jerked to a stop.  The driver swore at a passerby and before Madge could drop her curtain, a young man popped his head inside the carriage.

“Who might you be, missy, riding in the king’s own coach?” The young man smiled when he saw Madge and stared boldly into her eyes.”

Arthur is a character that just appeared on the page–I had not planned for him.  And he’s one of my favorites.

Do you have a favourite Holbein portrait?

I love The Ambassadors for all its symbolism and the one of Henry with his huge, ridiculous codpiece.

The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger

Writing has always been an important part of your life, what authors have been sources of inspiration for you?

Wow, there are so many.  I love Fred Chappell’s work, Robert Morgan, Marilyn Robinson, Elizabeth Berg, Lee Smith, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor–so many!  I also like Jean Plaidy.  I love poetry and drama so Shakespeare, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Keats, Yeats, Poe…Hardy of course.

If you could travel back in time and witness only one event during the Tudor period, what event would you choose?

Oh, great question!  I think I would choose the moment Henry VIII really fell for Anne Boleyn–the moment he realized he was in love with her and wanted to marry her.  I would like to have seen his face!

Thanks so much for a great interview–I’m thrilled to be On the Tudor Trail!

Read an entertaining guest post by Anne called ‘Playing Dress-Up

Learn more about Anne Clinard Barnhill at her official website.



  1. Loved the interview! I read a sample of this novel on my nook the first day it came out, and I can’t wait to read the rest! I would love to win this book because Anne Boleyn is my favorite historical figure, I read anything I can get my hands on about her, and its always fascinating to see how different authors portray her.


  2. Judy Wiese says:

    I love reading about Anne & what life was like during those times! I admire how Anne describes her character. What a woman of the day! If only I could go back & meet her or be a fly on the wall!

  3. Cindy Brehmer says:

    Wonderful interview!
    I have to say that this book will be a breath of fresh air with it being written from a different view, one of the Queens cousins and the King’s Mistress. Will Madge have sympathy for Queen Anne? Or feel more for herself and her own trials and fears?
    I have read the reviews about the book and the excerpt on Amazon and have been waiting ever since it came out on Amazon to pre order. I am hoping to get it for my birthday as a present. Plus I have read most everything else that has been written! LOL
    Thanks for the great interview

  4. Dear Anne, you must must must come to England. There is history around every corner and the Tudors and all their magnificence is everywhere. I truly hope your novel is a wonderful success and this enables you to realise your dream and see, touch and imagine in all the Tudor places you have so long thought about. Bliss!

  5. Yvonne Lidgett says:

    Would love to add this book to my collection. The question that always crossed my mind is… how the course of history might of changed if the people who were loyal servants, changed their minds.

  6. Great question, Yvonne – I’d love to hear the answer by both our hostess and her guest.

  7. Anne Barnhill says:

    Thanks for all the encouraging words–I wish you all the best on the competition! Regarding the question about what would happen if loyal servants weren’t so loyal, I think regardless of what Madge did, Henry would have tired of Anne Boleyn and would have found a way to rid himself of her. After all, he still pursued Jane Seymour, in spite of his fling (whatever it might have been) with Madge. In the end, Anne did not have very many loyal to her–her brother and the men arrested for adultery with her stood up for her innocence, except for Mark Smeaton, who was most likely tortured. Even her priest, Cranmer, though he wrote a letter in her defense, hedged his bets, saying if the king believe these rumors, they must be true. Circular logic, that. But at least he said something! I think true loyalty was rare then–the stakes were large and I guess most people lacked the courage. Even her own father did nothing that we know of to save his children.
    @Debbie–thanks for your good wishes–going to England is definitely on my ‘bucket list!’ Thanks again for your kind words and I’m so happy you are enjoying the book!

  8. I love that Madge is the central character. I am really interested in these figures who lurk around the edges of the events that we come to know so well!

  9. Wonderful interview! I would love to win the book as I have been following Anne on Facebook and I am always interested in her posts. At The Mercy of the Queen looks like an absorbing read from the perspective of Madge. I live near Raleigh, NC, but I am British and Tudor stories remind me of home. I have a great interest in the Tudors and love to read about them. Good luck Anne with your novel.

  10. Loreta Steffens says:

    Dear Anne,
    I absolutely loved “At the Mercy of the Queen”.In fact,I’ve just finished it yesterday.What a treat!So interesting to read about Margaret and her relationship with Anne Boleyn.I, actually, always wondered,what was the relationship between these cousins.Thank You for shedding some kind of light on it!I know,it took You long time to write it and You put a lot of heart in your work,so thank You for that-as a reader, I appreciate every detail and every emotion You described in Your book.I would absolutely love to have this wonderful book in my Tudor library next to A.Weir,C.W.Gortner,P.Gregory books.Can’t wait for Your next book!
    P.S I was laughing out loud reading about your experience with the Tudor Dress.People don’t realize,that women in that period had to deal not just with ignorant husbands and greedy parents,but also with the clothes,which were incredible uncomfortable to wear and could seriously injure you!LOL

  11. Bonnie Malmat says:

    It would have been a scary thing to have Henry VIII interested in you, I would think.

    I’m looking forward to reading this book.

  12. Superb interview!!!!! The book sounds very intriguing being seen through Madge’s eyes as Madge was almost a 180 to Queen Anne, being shy and timid. How did Madge view the Queen she served?? What did she know perhaps about Henry that she could not share with Queen Anne? You both are so lucky to have a gift to write a book. It definitely was at the very least an interesting era. You are so correct stating that really not much has changed really in the basic core of people. It makes me wonder what people will write about Princess Diana in 500 years. How exciting to find out you have a linkage to Queen Anne and to have your book completed!!!!! Congrats and good luck on your book!!!!!!

  13. I absolutely would love to win because getting different views and perspectives on Anne Boleyn is always helpful. I’m actually pretty new to the Tudors. I started studying Anne in May , and it’s January. Still, I feel absolutely enthralled by her. I seem to have an affinity for women with mesmerizing personalities.(i.e Cleopatra , Anne Boleyn ) Madge is also a character who seems used. Mary Howard was Anne’s protege, but Madge was the one she used when she needed someone to do the dirty work. You are SO LUCKY !!!! to be related to Anne !!!!!!!

  14. I would apsolutley love to be given the chance of winning this fantastic novel, as i am not just a avid reader and literature enthusiast of this particular genre but also i would love to find out more about Anne Barnhill and her work. xx
    I enjoy reading work by authors such as Susan Fraser-King and CJ Sansom and would love to have the privalige of adding this to my collection of priceless reads of historical-fiction relating to the Tudors. xx
    Thank you for such a wonderful book giveaway. x

  15. Wonderful interview! You must come to England, Anne! The history is rich even if the weather is a bit rubbish 🙂

    I would love to have a chance to win a copy of this book. I think it’s fantastic that someone has finally given Madge a voice! Considering what we know about Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, it’s a real shame that Henry’s other women don’t often get their stories told as well. I’m really looking forward to learning more about Madge. The new novel about Lady Mary Shelton sounds intriguing too. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for that one 🙂

  16. Loved the interview!! I enjoy reading anything about the Tudor`s and I`d Love to read this book!!!!

  17. Jessica C. says:

    I thought it must have bben a great experience for Anne Barnhill to write about Anne Boleyn, especially knowing you are related to her. I am a great French fan of Anne Boleyn, and always eager to know more about her, her life, her love etc and eager to read books, novels written by talented authors. It would be a great honour to have a book written by someone who is related to this great woman of Tudor history.

  18. Hi!!
    I would love the chance to win this book. This book is on by 2012 reading list.
    I enjoy reading everything about the Tudors. I like to read the different perspectives of authors because I get an even fuller vision of what it was like back then. I have always been fascinated by Anne Boleyn she is one of my favorite characters in history. I would also like to go back to England. I was there when I was 18 very briefly and did not get the chance visit the places of interest to me. I would like to do it again with new eyes. I know that one of my Crawford ancestors was killed in the Tower of London and supposedly haunts there. So learning more about my ancestors and the paths they walked, just fascinating.
    Thank you

  19. Dear Anne,
    I enjoyed the interview. I’m looking forward to read ‘At the Mercy of the Queen’ and I will review it on my website. I love the fact that you are connected to Madge Shelton and Anne Boleyn! It is so wonderful! I’m really looking forward to read your novel! 🙂
    Best wishes,

  20. Not only do I love reading all things Tudor, but it’s very fun to know a little bit about what makes the author “tick!” Thanks so much for another interesting interview and the introduction to another wonderful Tudor writer!

  21. Sandy Rosenberg says:

    What a fascinating family tree! Can’t wait to read this!

  22. SoftFuzzySweater says:

    There so much we know and yet still don’t know about Henry Tudor and his circle but the best we can do is read (or write) fiction after much research and conjecture. I can’t wait to read history as seen through the eyes of Madge, an historical enigma!


  23. I love Tudor history, and Anne Boleyn is my favorite of all the colorful individuals of the era! She was a feminist, WAY before her time! I would LOVE this book to add to my “books about Anne” collection!

  24. Phyllis Hunt says:

    I love the Tudor period!! Your interview is great. I saw a miniseries back in the 70’s about Henry VIII and his six wives. I loved it, and have had such an interest in this period. Anne Boleyn is so fascinating, I think, because of her allure, and how she and Henry were madly in love. Her end was so tragic. I would love to read this book, because it would be interesting to see Madge tell her side of the story. Thank you Phyllis Hunt

  25. This book has been on my to-read shelf since October and I want to read it so badly that makes me all wiggley and excited!!! I would love to read about Anne Boleyn from someone else’s point of view.

  26. Lois Bateson says:

    Hi Anne:

    I really enjoyed your interview and can’t wait to read At the Mercy of the Queen 🙂 I am so pleased for you and how everything is going. Enjoy 🙂

  27. Thank you ladies for entering our competition. A winner was randomly selected….congratulations Lucinda! Please email me your postal address 🙂

  28. Loved the interview. I have already obtained the book and downloaded it on my kindle. Now I’m really looking forward to reading it.
    Thanks for providing such a great website for Tudor enthusiasts.

  29. Such a great interview! I have already purchased the book on my kindle and I’m looking forward to reading it now.
    Thanks for the daily posts with all of the Tudor facts that you provide for us.

  30. Anne Barnhill says:

    Thank you all for your interest and thanks, especially, to you, Natalie!

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