Q & A with Linda Porter

Readers are insatiable when it comes to Tudor history, what do you think is its lure?

I think it is because it is very much the dawn of the modern age – it’s accessible but still recognizably different from the world we live in now.  But despite human emotions, such as ambition, lust, greed, prejudice etc being constant throughout history, it’s equally important to remember that the society in which the Tudors and their subjects lived is profoundly alien in many ways, not least the absence of secularism.  God was everywhere in Tudor England.  And, despite their strong personalities and personal foibles, the Tudors were most emphatically not just like us, but in fancy dress.  Their world was much smaller and more credulous.

You have written books about Mary Tudor and Katherine Parr. What makes these women such fascinating subjects?

Mary Tudor was England’s first reigning queen and, as such, set a precedent that her half-sister, Elizabeth, was able to build on – not that Elizabeth ever acknowledged this.  Her life is one of great privilege and great pain and although she is best remembered, wrongly in my view, for her drive against Protestantism, she was a brave and in many ways endearing woman.

Katherine Parr lived a life of high drama and has the perhaps rather dubious distinction of being England’s most married queen.  I was attracted to her because she is one of the least well-known of Henry VIII’s wives and a very interesting woman in her own right: the first English queen to be published (even if we would find her religious writings very dry today, they certainly chimed with her contemporary readers, and were in print for almost a century), a sensual woman who loved fine clothes and jewellery but was also a shrewd manipulator of her doting husband (at least for the first two and a half years of their marriage) and a warm and affectionate stepmother to Henry’s three children.  Her rise from being a courtier’s daughter to a queen consort resembles that of Anne Boleyn’s in some ways but she did not have the advantage of a European education as Anne did, and she managed, of course, to keep her head!

Katherine Parr is often portrayed as nothing more than Henry VIII’s nurse or carer. Why do you think this is so?

It’s the product of the rather prudish view of the times that originates with Victorian historians, primarily Agnes Strickland. The idea that she might have been Henry’s nurse rather than a sexual partner was easier to depict. But it is completely wrong – queens didn’t get down on their hands and knees to change bandages, or administer medicines.  Henry married Katherine Parr because she was an attractive woman with a blameless reputation and still of childbearing age.  He hoped she would provide a Duke of York to back up his one male heir, but, of course, she never became pregnant (so far as we know) by Henry.  It is therefore all the more ironic that she should have died as the result of childbed fever, giving birth to her only child, a daughter, in her fourth and final marriage to Sir Thomas Seymour.

There has been much debate about what happened to Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour’s baby, Mary Seymour, after her parents died. What do you think happened to little Mary?

We can be certain that she died at a young age because there is an epitaph for her written by John Parkhurst, Katherine’s chaplain.  It’s in an obscure book of Latin verses published during Elizabeth’s reign.  I have only been alerted to it since my biography was published.  Lady Mary Seymour probably died aged around two, in the not-so-loving care of her guardian, the duchess of Suffolk.

What do you think is the worst public misconception about Mary Tudor?

That she was an utter failure and a cruel woman.

I’m sure that you’ve visited many places connected to the Tudors. Do you have a favourite Tudor location?

I live in Kent, near many fine Tudor country houses.  They were often the rural residences of the king and his leading nobles, who would come out of London for hunting and to escape the plague.  But I think my favourite is Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk, the home of one of Mary Tudor’s staunchest supporters, Sir Edmund Bedingfeld.  The family still live there, though it is owned by the National Trust now.  It’s perfect gateway, moat and redbrick buildings are entirely harmonious and it has a fascinating collection of artefacts, including embroidery by Mary Queen of Scots.

Are you presently working on any books?

I am working on a third book, Crown of Thistles: the fatal inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots.  It’s a book about the rivalry between the Tudors and Stuarts in the first half of the 16th century and how it helped shape Britain.  It will be published in 2013.

Do you have any rituals that you follow when writing?

I tend to work mostly in the mornings.

If you could ask any historical personality a question, what would it be and whom would you ask?

I think I would ask Richard III if he did arrange for the murder of the Princes in the Tower, but I wouldn’t necessarily believe his answer.

For more information on Linda Porter visit her official website here.

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Comments

  1. I can’t wait to read this book! Thank you for bringing an historians eye to the Tudor era!

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