Bestselling author and historian Tracy Borman took time to discuss her career, history obsession and her upcoming appearance at the Chalke Valley History Festival. Find out what dastardly deeds caught her attention while writing The Fallen Angel.
-How would you describe yourself in fifty words or less?
Author, historian and broadcaster whose obsession with the Tudors borders on the unhealthy. I’m also joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces and Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust.
-Why do you love history?
I’ve always loved it and I think that’s innate, rather than something learned. Apparently my paternal grandfather was a fellow history-lover so perhaps I get it from him, although sadly he died before I was born. Thanks to my work for Historic Royal Palaces, I spend a lot of time in beautiful historical buildings, but for me what sets my passion for history alight is the research. The thrill of getting my hands on original documents in The National Archives, the British Library and elsewhere is something that never diminishes, even after all these years of writing and researching.
-Can you think of one specific event that led to this?
I think the reason I’m a historian now is thanks to my ‘A’ level history teacher, who really encouraged my passion for the subject…and made me fall in love with the Tudors. She also opened my eyes to the fact that history isn’t just about ‘facts’, dates and events; it’s about real people – human beings with emotions just like us. That changed everything for me.
What drew you to Tudor and Stuart history?
See above. Mrs Jones has a lot to answer for! But I also became fascinated with the Stuarts when researching my non-fiction book, Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts. It was such a dark and turbulent period of our history, yet one that’s often overlooked. That research inspired my fiction trilogy, The King’s Witch, The Devil’s Slave and The Fallen Angel.
-Do you have any favourite characters or persons from these eras that appeal to you? Any that you dislike?
My all-time historical heroine is Elizabeth I. I admire her so much – her self-discipline, courage, shrewdness and the way she confounded expectations as a ‘weak and feeble woman’ ruling over a court and kingdom dominated by men. Mary, Queen of Scots, on the other hand, deepened the prejudice against female rulers by being reckless, self-indulgent and entirely led by the heart. The two women couldn’t have been more different – and I think you can tell who’s my favourite! For the Stuart era, I was really drawn to Anne of Denmark, queen consort of James I. I think there’s much more to her than meets the eye, particularly with regard to her clandestine links to the Catholic community and, possibly, even the Gunpowder Plotters – as I hint at in my novels.
-What led to your interest in the Duke of Buckingham & James I/VI?
It was the research I carried out for my non-fiction book, Witches. The transition from the Tudor to the Stuart dynasty led to great uncertainty in England, which soon darkened into hostility towards the new king – and, ultimately, an attempt to blow him and his entire government to the skies. James himself is an intriguing character – not easy to like, despite his intellectual gifts and wry sense of humour. As for his favourite, Buckingham, he was an out and out villain – both in my novel, The Fallen Angel, and in real life. But villains are so much more fun to write about than heroes so I’m grateful for all his dastardly deeds, even if his contemporaries didn’t quite feel the same.
-Tell us one thing you learned while writing The Fallen Angel that blew your mind.
I think it would have to be the fact that Buckingham may have had a hand in James I’s death. Evidence has been uncovered recently that shows Buckingham had access to poisons and physicians who dealt in them. He was certainly in close attendance on the king in his final weeks. It may just be circumstantial – there were often rumours of poison surrounding royal deaths – but let’s just say the dastardly duke had the means.
-What’s your involvement with Chalke Valley History Festival?
I’m proud to be a patron of the festival and have taken part in it every year since 2015, when I postponed my honeymoon in order to be there! It’s been wonderful to see it get bigger and better every year. Come rain or shine (and there’s been plenty of both!) it’s the highlight of my events calendar.
-When will you be appearing?
2pm on Thursday 24 June.
-How can we find you on social media?
Purchase your ticket here
About Tracy Borman…
Tracy Borman studied and taught history at the University of Hull and was awarded a PHD in 1997. She went on to a successful career in heritage including working for the Heritage Lottery Fund, The National Archives and English Heritage. She is now Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust and also joint Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces. She is a trustee of The Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust and The National Archives Foundation, as well as a Patron of Lavenham Library and a Honorary Patron of the Chalke Valley History Festival. She is the author of a number of highly acclaimed books, including Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant; Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England; Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen; and Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction. She is also a regular broadcaster and public speaker, giving talks on her books across the UK and abroad.
About Chalke Valley History Festival
The aim is to excite, enthral and entertain about the past. All proceeds from the festival have, since 2012, been directed to the Chalke Valley History Trust, which promotes the understanding of history to all ages, but especially children.
The Chalke Valley History Festival began in June 2011 on a small scale and as a fundraiser for the local cricket club. Club stalwart and historian James Holland had the idea for a festival but it was James Heneage, founder and former CEO of Ottakar’s bookshops and now historical novelist, who suggested a festival dedicated to history.
It began with the help of a number of local volunteers, among whom Peter Bell and Rachel Holland played a big part in that first year and continue to do so today. Jane Pleydell-Bouverie came on board in autumn 2011 and has been at the heart of the festival ever since. The Daily Mail became the festival’s principal sponsor in 2013, and it now consists of a week of talks, discussions, debates, as well as extensive and immersive living history and historic air displays.
Since 2013, the festival has also incorporated the History Festival for Schools. ‘An understanding of the past is essential,’ says Co-Founder James Heneage, ‘without that, it is impossible to make sense of the present or prepare for the future.’
2017 saw the festival move to a new site of over 70 acres in Broad Chalke, but still in the heart of the beautiful Wiltshire Chalke Valley.
Church Bottom, Bury Lane, Broad Chalke,
Near Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5DP