Tudor Historian Leanda de Lisle talks to Royal Central

Leanda de Lisle is a very in demand author at the moment – not only does she write for BBC History Magazine, History Today, The Literary Review and the Spectator, as well as national newspapers, her latest book Tudor: The Family Story has just been released and by all accounts is doing fantastically well. So after my review on Leanda’s latest book I had a thought, maybe just maybe, Leanda might agree to answer a few questions for Royal Central. I was doubtful she would be able to fit me into her busy schedule, so when the answer was yes, it’s fair to say I was very happy!  I decided to find out more from Leanda on the people who feature in her latest book and what she thinks of them, I hope you enjoy.image

What is it about the Tudor dynasty that fascinates you so much?

For me there are five things that fascinate me about the Tudor dynasty and they are the characters, the colour, the constant drama, the fierce battles and finally the momentous changes the Tudor dynasty brought about.

Do you have a favourite and a least favourite Tudor? If so, who and why?

I have to say that the answer to both of these questions is the same, King Henry VIII. I must point out that Henry VIII was not a nice man, he was self-absorbed, self-righteous and cruel, but yet he still proved to be a great King and a fascinating character at that.

Before reading your latest book, I didn’t know much about Lady Margaret Beaufort and I am now really impressed by her. As we know Margaret also had a claim to the throne, do you think she would have been better suited to the throne than her son King Henry VII?

Great question- I believe at the time England wasn’t quite ready for a Queen Regnant but Margaret certainly had the intelligence and toughness of character to succeed at the role. Better than Henry VII? I am not so sure of that. Henry was not a loved King but he was a very successful one. He won his battles, he had sons and he made the Crown rich, powerful and stable. It has been suggested that King Henry VII is the greatest of all the Tudors- even if we don’t remember him that way, but that, I suppose, is why he wasn’t.

The most common perception of King Henry VIII is as a philandering, womanising, brutal King. Do you wholly agree with this opinion of the King?

I do have to disagree with part of this opinion on King Henry VIII, by the standards of Kings, Henry VIII was in no way a philanderer or a womaniser, even after six wives. I do agree with the latter though, King Henry VIII was in no doubt a very brutal King.

I personally feel a lot of sympathy towards Lady Jane Grey, it seems to me that she was carried away by events totally out of her control. Do you agree with this view or do you think Jane Grey really wanted the Crown?

I pity Jane, aged sixteen she was left the Crown by King Edward VI and had every reason to believe this was God’s will for her. She did what she thought was her duty as fiercely and passionately as an English Joan of Arc. In that sense I believe that the nine day Queen was much, much more than a mere victim of circumstance.

I have always known Queen Mary I as ‘bloody Mary’. Do you think this is a fair account for a Queen who reigned for over five years or can this name just be assigned to a certain part of her reign?

Queen Mary actually gained a reputation for mercy in 1553 when she forgave many of those involved in Jane Grey’s reign. This reputation changed for the worse though, when the following year following a Protestant uprising against her, Mary became more ruthless. She earned her later sobriquet of ‘bloody’ by burning around 300 Protestants. A horrifying and scary part of English history.

Queen Elizabeth I is often described as this country’s greatest Monarch. Do you agree with this view of The Virgin Queen and can you say anything negative about her reign?

There is no doubt that Queen Elizabeth I was a great Monarch. To the astonishment of some there are also negative things to say too. Take this quote from my book; it is 1562 and Elizabeth has fallen ill with smallpox:

‘Elizabeth had been on the throne almost four years: only a year short of her sister’s reign. If she died, as many feared she would, how would her reign have been remembered? Elizabeth’s religious settlement was not viewed as settled by anyone save the Queen. One of her own bishops called it ‘a leaden mediocrity’. In military matters, while Mary I’s loss of Calais is still remembered, Elizabeth’s failed efforts to recover Calais by taking Le Havre and using it as a bargaining tool, are completely forgotten. The campaign had ended that August 1562, with the huge loss of 2000 men. Most troubling at the time, though, was what was likely to happen next.  Mary I had named Elizabeth as her heir, despite her personal feelings towards her sister, and so allowed the crown to be inherited peacefully. Elizabeth continued to refuse to name anyone.

If Elizabeth had of died, then quite simply she wouldn’t be remembered as a great Monarch at all, had she have been remembered at all.

Finally, do you think the Tudors changed the shape of the British Monarchy forever and just what is their legacy?

They certainly changed the shape of Britain. The reformation and Protestantism was their lasting legacy- even if that would have appalled King Henry VIII, Queen Mary I and possibly King Henry VII, who began it all. Not only did they change the shape of Britain and leave a lasting legacy, the Tudors even today embody a sense of English national pride to a greater degree than any other Royal dynasty.

Leanda de Lisle’s Tudor: The Family Story was published on 29th August 2013 and is already a top ten best seller. With thanks to Leanda de Lisle for taking the time to contribute.

Thank you to Leanda de Lisle for supplying the photograph.