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 Elizabethan Mysteries




I have been fascinated by the Tudors ever since I watched Anne of the Thousand Days with my grandmother when I was about ten!  Though I have to admit the gorgeous clothes were a big part of the attraction (and I still love the history of fashion1), the big emotions and larger-than-life characters drew me in.  I wanted to know more about them, wanted to sort truth from fiction, so I ran to the library the day after I saw the movie and asked a very helpful librarian for anything they had about Tudor England.  She gave me a large stack of books—and I haven't stopped reading about this extraordinary time ever since.

The one image that has always stuck with me most from Anne is that at the very end, of the little red-haired girl in a satin gown, looking up startled at the sound of the cannon announcing her mother's death.  I was amazed to find out that little girl grew up to be Elizabeth I, a figure I had thought of up until then as being almost unreal and impossibly remote, wrapped in the dense symbolism of old, stiff portraits.  Queen Elizabeth, and her vibrant, colorful, bawdy, dangerous times, sometimes seem more real to me than my own everyday life of grocery shopping, dog feeding, and yoga classes—and hoping for the next time I get to travel to England!

In my new Kate Haywood series, I get to immerse myself in Tudor times like I never have before, and I'm so excited about it.  Kate, of course, is fictional, though she is somewhat based on the historical figure of Amelia (or Emilia) Lanier, who was a member of the famous musical Bassano family (and is one of the candidates to be Shakespeare's “Dark Lady”).  Kate is the daughter of a Court musician and loves music herself.  It's her whole life—until Princess Elizabeth asks for her help in solving mysteries!  Musicians, and performing artists of all sorts, were often in a perfect position to act as spies and mediators.  They were generally well-educated, mobile both physically and socially, and when they played at banquets and state occasions often overheard useful conversations.  An intelligent, talented, and pretty (but not too pretty!) young lady like Kate would have much more freedom than most women in her strata.

And while Kate and her father (as well as her friends the lawyer Anthony, the actor Ned, and the lady-in-waiting Penelope) are fictional, I had fun weaving real historical figures into my plot as well.  Among the true characters are Elizabeth's keeper/jailer, Sir Thomas Pope (who actually was not very restrictive).  The family of Nicholas Bacon at Gorhambury (who was later Elizabeth's Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal).  The Count (later duke) de Feria, Philip II of Spain's emissary (the dinner at Brocket Hall with Lady Clinton, Elizabeth's old friend “the fair Geraldine”--another true figure!--actually happened much the way I've written it, though I have had to fiddle with the timing a bit).  The count's English fiancee and Queen Mary's lady-in-waiting Jane Dormer, who lived a fascinating and very long life in her own right, though she makes only a quick appearance in this tale.  I loved getting to spend more time with all these people.

I've also loved spending time in their homes and spaces!  When I visited Hatfield many years ago, this story wasn't even in my mind, but since I always take lots of notes and photos at every historical site I visit (and am addicted to buying guidebooks!), I had lots of memories and materials to use for this book.  Most of the house Elizabeth knew is gone now (though the grand Jacobean mansion built later by the Cecils is definitely worth a visit).  Hatfield Old Palace, mostly a gallery now, was hers, and gives a taste of what life must have been like for the young princess and her household.  It was very vivid in my mind when I envisoned Kate moving through the corridors and chambers.

(Also, if you happen to visit Hatfield it's worth a look at the nearby churchyard, where Lady Caroline Lamb and her husband Lord Melbourne are buried!  Along with the Tudors, I also love the Regency...)

I also have to say that, though Queen Mary has to be a villain of sorts in this story, I've always felt sorry for her!  She is one of the saddest, most misunderstood figures in English history, and I apologize to her for giving her such a vile servant as Braceton.

I had so much fun visiting Elizabeth's world for Murder at Hatfield House, and can't wait to dip into it again for the next story (centered around the queen's glittering coronation—stalked by a serial killer!).  I hope you enjoy reading it.  And if anyone has any comments/suggestions for sources/questions, email me any time, or leave comments on the blog here, which will be updated with all kids of fun Tudor info in the future...

Some sources I used when working on Murder at Hatfield House (in no particular order):

  • Giulio Ongaro, Music of the Renaissance (2003)

  • David Lasocki, The Bassanos: Venetian Musicans and Instrument Makers in England, 1531-1665 (1995)

  • Walter L. Woodfill, Musicians in English Society from Elizabeth I to Charles I (1969)

  • Anna Whitelock, Mary Tudor: Princess Bastard Queen (2009)

  • Henry Clifford, The Life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria (1887)

  • David Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life (1989)

  • The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government, and Religion in England, 1553-1559 (1981)

  • Elizabeth I (2003)

  • J.L. McIntosh, From Heads of Household to Heads of State: The Preaccession Households of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, 1516-1558 (2008)

  • John Edwards, Mary I: England's Catholic Queen (2011)

  • Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd (1988)

  • Linda Porter, The First Queen of England: The Myth of Bloody Mary (2007)

  • David Starkey, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne (2001)

  • Alison Plowden, The Young Elizabeth (1971)

  • Eric Ives, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery (2011)

  • Alison Sim, Food and Feast in Tudor England (1997)

  • Leanda de Lisle, The Sisters Who Would be Queen: Mary, Katherine, and Lady Jane Gre (2008)

  • Tracy Borman, Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen (2009)

  • Mark Girouard, Elizabethan Architecture (2009)

  • Jeremy Musson, English Country House Interiors (2011)

  • Peter Brears, All the King's Cooks: The Tudor Kitchens of Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace (1999)



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January 2019

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