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Tony Riches has written a superb trilogy telling the stories of Owen (click here for an earlier post on Owen Tudor), Jasper, and Henry Tudor, King of England. He’s also been on the blog talking about writing a trilogy and the unique attributes of historical fiction. I’m delighted that he’s here today discussing his research process.
Exploring Actual Locations During Research for the Tudor Trilogy – by Tony Riches
When I set out to write the Tudor Trilogy I wanted to dig deeper and uncover new insights and details that would bring the early Tudors to life. For the first book, OWEN, I visited several locations including the beautiful island of Anglesey in North Wales, home of the first Tudors, as well as Pembroke Castle, where Owen spent his last years. (It helped that I was born in Pembroke, within sight of the castle, birthplace of Henry Tudor, and have now returned to live in West Wales.)
I had to piece together the details of Owen’s life by cross-checking different sources and ‘fill in the gaps’ from scarce records of the period. For the second book, JASPER, I continued his story in the third-person and was able to begin meaningful primary research, investigating events by visiting more actual locations.
There is only space here to provide a few examples, but one of the most interesting was when I investigated Jasper and the young Henry Tudor’s escape to exile. Pursued by the Yorkists, they had to flee for their lives through a secret tunnel to reach the harbour in the costal Welsh town of Tenby. Amazingly, the tunnel still exists, so I was able to gain access to see it for myself and walk in their footsteps deep under the streets.
I was interested to see an ancient fireplace, littered with primitive glass bottles, and had a real sense of what it must have been like for the Tudors. I’ve sailed from the small harbour in Tenby many times, including at night, so have a good understanding of how they might have felt as they slipped away on the perilous voyage to Brittany.
I’d read that little happened during those fourteen years in exile – but of course Brittany was where Henry would come of age and begin to plan his return. Starting at the impressive palace of Duke Francis of Brittany in Vannes, I followed the Tudors to the Château de Suscinio on the coast. Luckily the château has been restored to look much as it might have when Jasper and Henry were there, and the surrounding countryside and coastline is largely unchanged.
Duke Francis of Brittany, began to worry when Yorkist agents began plotting to capture the Tudors, so he moved them to different fortresses further inland. I stayed by the river within sight of the magnificent Château de Josselin, were Jasper was effectively held prisoner. Although the inside has been updated over the years, the tower where Jasper lived survives and I was even able to identify Tudor period houses in the medieval town which he would have seen from his window.
Henry’s château was harder to find but worth the effort. The Forteresse de Largoët is deep in the forest outside of the town of Elven. His custodian, Marshall of Brittany, Jean IV, Lord of Rieux and Rochefort, had two sons of similar age to Henry and it is thought they continued their education together.
Entering the Dungeon Tower through a dark corridor, I regretted not bringing a torch, as the high stairway is lit only by the small window openings. Interestingly, the lower level is octagonal, with the second hexagonal and the rest square. Cautiously feeling my way up the staircase I was aware that, yet again, I walked in the footsteps of the young Henry Tudor, who would also have steadied himself by placing his hand against the cold stone walls, more than five centuries before.
When I returned to Wales I made the journey to remote Mill Bay, where Henry and Jasper landed with their small invasion fleet. A bronze plaque records the event and it was easy to imagine how they might have felt as they began the long march to confront King Richard at Bosworth. On the anniversary of the battle I walked across Bosworth field and watched hundreds of re-enactors recreate the battle, complete with cavalry and cannon fire.
The challenge I faced for the final book of the trilogy, HENRY, was too much information. Henry left a wealth of detailed records, often initialling every line in his ledgers, which still survive. At the same time, I had to deal with the contradictions, myths and legends that cloud interpretation of the facts. I decided the only way was to immerse myself in Henry’s world and explore events as they might have appeared from his point of view.
As I reached the end of Henry’s story I decided to visit his Tomb in Westminster Abbey. There is something quite surreal about making your way through Westminster Abbey. I stood on the spot where Henry was crowned and married before reaching his magnificent tomb in the Lady Chapel. His effigy is raised too high to see, so I climbed a convenient step and peered through the holes in the grille. There lay Henry with his wife, Elizabeth of York, their gilded hands clasped in prayer.
I’d like to think all this work and so many miles of travelling will help readers begin to understand the early Tudors – and see beyond the shallow ‘caricature’ of Henry as a miserly and soulless king. I’m pleased to say that all three books of the trilogy have become international best sellers, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers around the world who have been on this journey with me.
As a wonderful postscript, on the 10th of June we are unveiling a life-sized bronze statue of Henry on the bridge outside Pembroke Castle, to ensure he is always remembered. Although this is the end of the Tudor trilogy, I am now researching the life of Henry’s daughter Mary and her adventurous husband Charles Brandon, so the story of the Tudors is far from over.
Many thanks for being on the blog, Tony, and for the support and encouragement you’ve given me. Wishing you great success with your latest novel.
Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and river kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and website www.tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches. The Tudor Trilogy is available on Amazon UK Amazon US and Amazon AU.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.