By Bonny G Smith
This Mighty Realm – The Fourth Book of The Tudor Chronicles
The fourth book of The Tudor Chronicles, This Mighty Realm, was published on December 1, 2020. Two years in the writing, this brilliant novel tells the exciting story of the stormy relationship between Queen Elizabeth I of England and the young Earl of Essex, in the twilight years of Gloriana’s reign.
What is The Tudor Chronicles, and what inspired you to write it?
The Tudor Chronicles is a set of three complete Tudor novels in four volumes. It currently consists of The Nymph From Heaven, The Baker’s Daughter, and In High Places. These three novels span the years of the reigns of four Tudor monarchs; King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary Tudor, and Queen Elizabeth I.
I grew up reading historical fiction novels, and watching movies about past times. I soon discovered that the vast tapestry that is “history” was a disjointed jumble in my mind. As I got older, I sought to bring a semblance of order to the chaos; I developed an overwhelming desire to understand what happened, when, and most importantly, why, in the long march of human history. I studied Ancient and Medieval History. But out of all the sweeping saga of time, the one fragment that most captured my imagination was the Tudor Era.
I became fascinated by, one might say positively obsessed with, possibly the most famous love triangle that has ever been. I read, I watched, everything I could find about Henry VIII, Katharine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn.
When I delved deeper into Tudor history, and I discovered that King Henry VIII had two sisters, I was off and running like a hound on the scent. Margaret and Mary both had very interesting lives, but I found absolutely captivating the tale of Henry’s younger sister, Mary, and her romance with Charles Brandon. However, compared to the overwhelming abundance of information on Henry, Anne, and Katharine, I found very little source material about Mary and Brandon. I had a mission now; Mary’s story was too wonderful to leave it languishing on the edges of her brother’s more popular tale. I must remedy this lack.
Up to that point, I had never thought about writing my own book. My career as a telecommunications consultant involved many aspects of writing; I wrote project briefs, training manuals, sales proposals, and reports of all sorts. I could write. But write a book…? Why not?
The Nymph From Heaven:
The first book of The Tudor Chronicles
I started out as many aspiring writers do; I wrote a book about myself, Only the Heart Knows Why.Then I wrote two contemporary detective novels, The Heart of the Dragon and The Seven Diamonds. With that writing experience behind me, I was ready for the complicated task of writing history. I felt that Mary Tudor deserved the limelight after having been relegated to relative obscurity by her mega-famous brother and his Six Wives. I started Time Traveling back to the Tudor Era (read: daily research!). I finally gathered enough information about Mary and Brandon to weave a tale, and I embarked upon the labor of love that was writing The Nymph From Heaven, the first book of The Tudor Chronicles.
As I researched and wrote The Nymph, I quickly came to the conclusion that one could not tell Mary’s story without telling Henry’s, and so I took the approach of making Mary and Brandon’s tale the main plot, with Henry, Katharine and Anne’s story as the subplot. This methodology worked beautifully!
But as I wrote, I developed a fascination with Elizabeth Tudor. After all, how can one study the story of Henry Tudor and Anne Boleyn, and not be drawn to their famous daughter? But there was a problem… what about the veritable chasm of time between when Henry dies in 1547, and when Elizabeth finally takes the throne in 1558?
The Baker’s Daughter:
The second book of The Tudor Chronicles
It was at this point that I realized that what I was engaged in was not just the writing of one book, but a sweeping saga that had both an alpha and an omega. But did I really want to write a book about Bloody Mary? Who would read it, since Queen Mary Tudor is reviled by so many people? But I soon found that Elizabeth’s young life was very much bound up with Mary’s, who was seventeen years older; and I also discovered that Mary Tudor’s life was such that she inspired more pity than revulsion for her acts. I grew to understand Mary as I wrote her life story. I was, in the end, very glad that I had chosen to write Mary’s heart-rending tale. Ironically, The Baker’s Daughter, a book I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write, soon became my best-selling book.
After the eight years it took to write The Baker’s Daughter, I found that I simply was not ready to say goodbye, neither to novel writing, nor to the Tudors.
In High Places:
The third book of The Tudor Chronicles
When I began writing In High Places, I quickly discovered that in order to tell Elizabeth’s tale properly, one really must include the lifelong rivalry between her and her fellow queen and cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. I had read Mary’s Stuart’s story before, but it seemed that most books told either one queen’s story or the other. Intertwining the fascinating tale of these two rival queens was challenging, but very rewarding. I came to an in-depth understanding of both women and what drove them by researching the juxtaposition with each other in which they both lived their lives. That Elizabeth and Mary’s fates were inextricably linked is undeniable. But by the time I reached the heartbreaking end of Mary’s life on the executioner’s block in 1587, I realized that In High Places had reached its natural end. But what about the rest of Elizabeth’s life and reign?
This Mighty Realm:
The fourth book of The Tudor Chronicles
I definitely wanted to write the rest of Elizabeth’s story, but many of the biographies and other sources I had used to write the first three books of The Tudor Chronicles did not contain much information on the last fifteen years of her life. After further research, I found some books that focused on Elizabeth’s relationship with Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.
Essex was Robert Dudley’s stepson; he became the second of Elizabeth’s defining relationships. There is much speculation about the nature of their relationship; the aging queen was more than thirty years Essex’s senior. We simply do not know if they were romantically involved or not. Many novelists choose to speculate that they were, but I think their relationship was much more complicated than that.
As the writing of This Mighty Realm progressed to its conclusion, I began to realize that I was not just faced with the end of my journey in telling the story of the Tudors; I was facing having to write Elizabeth’s death. That was jarring; my books take years to write because I strive to make them as historically accurate as possible, and that means an extensive research effort. I had been writing about Elizabeth literally since before she was born! And I was still not ready to say goodbye to the Tudors.
To Thine Own Self:
The prequel to The Tudor Chronicles
I had long since had it in my mind that I was actually writing a chronicle. But what exactly is a chronicle? What does it mean? A chronicle is “a detailed factual written account of important or historical events in the order of their occurrence.” While I applaud the efforts of fan fiction and alternative history writers, my own great desire is writing true Historical Fiction. In The Tudor Chronicles, I have strived to ensure that my facts are research-based and as true to what really happened…what we know as “history”…as possible. It is where we have gaps in the facts that the writer of fiction comes into his or her own; we must use our talents and abilities to decide what might have happened as we fill in the blanks of history with plausible assumptions, based on our knowledge of our characters, who were, after all, real people.
So in order to complete my chronicle of the Tudor Dynasty, a fifth and final book is needed. To Thine Own Self is actually many stories; it is the story of The Wars of the Roses; it is the story of the end of the Plantagenet Dynasty and the dawning of the Tudor Dynasty; it is the story of many fascinating people, including Henry VI, and his queen, Margaret of Anjou; Margaret Beaufort, and her son, Henry Tudor; Cecily Neville and Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York; Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”; Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville, Jaquetta of Luxembourg, and many, many others.
My books take years to write because of the meticulous research involved in writing a true chronicle of accurate historical fiction; I have estimated that To Thine Own Self will take about three years to write, and will hopefully be published in 2023.
And with that, what started out as a desire to write Mary Tudor Brandon’s wonderful love story will end with five very long novels, written with love, and with great respect for my characters, over eighteen years of my life.
What’s next for you? Do you have any plans to write more novels?
Yes! I have for years been enthralled by the Borgias. Their story overlays the time period of the late Plantagenet Dynasty and early Tudor Dynasty, so should I write their story, I will not have to leave the time period in which I have Time Traveled for almost twenty years.
I am also fascinated by the many stories of the Plantagenets; in particular, King John has always been a favorite of mine. King John, as with his distant relative, Queen Mary Tudor, has an evil reputation. After the Borgias, it is likely that I will turn my attention to him.
What is the meaning of the intriguing titles of your books? Do they have special significance?
I often get this question about my book titles! In the publishing world, book titles are very important. Just as with the cover of the book, people will often be drawn to a book because of its title. Here is the genesis of my titles:
The Nymph From Heaven comes from the words of Lorenzo Pasqualigo, court jeweler to Henry VIII. Lorenzo, an Italian, was standing next to the Venetian ambassador at Mary’s proxy wedding to Charles of Castile when he saw Mary Tudor for the first time. He was so astounded by her legendary beauty that he said, “She is a paradise! A nymph from Heaven!” Lorenzo’s words found their way into the ambassador’s dispatch to the Doge of Venice, and hence onto the cover of my book!
The Baker’s Daughter comes from a broadsheet (newspapers had not been invented yet) that was circulating London at the time of Queen Mary’s proposed match with Philip of Spain. The marriage was extremely unpopular in England; the rhyme from which the title is derived is a cruel taunt, and an apt metaphor for Mary’s unfortunate life: “The baker’s daughter in her russet gown; better than Queen Mary without her crown.”
In High Places has significance only for myself. It was a phrase I seemed to encounter constantly as I read histories and biographies about royalty; those who lived their lives “in high places”. And who among us is higher than a monarch?
Finding This Mighty Realm as a title was serendipitous; it comes from the speech in Parliament given by Nicholas Heath, the Lord Chancellor of England, as he proclaimed Elizabeth “queen of this mighty realm of England…” upon the death of her sister, Queen Mary.
To Thine Own Self is a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and seemed to me to describe perfectly Henry VII’s character, and his struggle to gain the throne of England. This excellent advice is spoken from a father to his son, as he departs over the sea: “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
I have remained true to my purpose of lovingly crafting my Tudor Chronicles, through the many vicissitudes and distractions of my own life; and I am glad I did, because my readers seem to enjoy reading my books as much as I enjoy writing them!
Bonny G Smith is the author of eight novels in five literary genre. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia, in the United States of America. All books are available on Amazon, and other reading venues.