WENDY J. DUNN and SANDRA WORTH
Wendy: Congratulations, Sandra, on your continued success as an award-winning author. Can you please tell us about your fourth novel, The Lady of Roses, which is reviewed on my site?
Sandra: Thank you, Wendy. This is a sort of prequel to my debut novel, The Rose of York: Love & War. It opens in 1456, five years before the setting of Love & War, with young Isobel Ingoldesthorpe, a ward of the Lancastrian queen, Margaret of Anou leaving an abbey in the north to go to court, where she hopes to make a marriage based on love.
Along the way, she meets and falls in love with John Neville, Lord Montagu, brother of the Yorkist leader, Warwick the Kingmaker, who leads the rebellion against her guardian, the Lancastrian queen. It’s an impossible match, but somehow these two young lovers from enemy camps manage to wed. The book covers the history of the period through the prism of Isobel’s life with John Neville. And thank goodness they did marry, because both FDR and Churchill wouldn’t have been here to save us from Hitler otherwise!
Wendy: Your award winning novels (Love and War, Crown of Destiny, Fall From Grace) recounted the story of Richard III. You are obviously a passionate advocate for this King of England. What was the pivotal moment that first drew you to him?
Sandra: When I saw his portrait at the National Portrait Gallery. I couldn’t believe this handsome young man was Shakepeare’s hump-backed villain! According to the entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica that I read on my return, Richard III was a justician and his brief reign held great promise for the future. That sent me researching, I had to know the truth, and the more read, the more difficult it was to reconcile the man with the myth, the actions of Richard’s life with his reputation in history. Modern historians agree that the origin of Richard villainy lies in Tudor propaganda. The problem is that by the end of the sixteenth century, Tudor propaganda had become historical fact.
Wendy: Why do you think Richard continues to arouse so much passion for readers and writers?
Sandra: It’s the injustice, I think. The cry for justice is eternal, and that’s what drew me to him. Henry Tudor, a lucky adventurer with a flimsy claim to the throne, won the crown and justified his usurpation by maligning the last monarch of the valiant line of kings that had ruled England for four hundred years. Richard III was an honorable man, a devoted husband, and a king who cared for his people. He sacrificed his base of political support to bring justice to the common man. But the victor writes history, and the Tudors are a prime example of that. If Hitler had won World War II, what would FDR and Churchill’s reputation be today?
Wendy: Richard is known by many as the king who murdered his two young nephews. What would you say to someone who is convinced of Richard’s guilt?
Sandra: Let’s look at the facts. There is no evidence a murder was ever committed, and all that is known for sure is that the princes disappeared. What people forget is that Richard III had three young little princes standing between him and the throne, not just two. This would be the orphaned son of his older brother Clarence, Edward, Earl of Warwick. Why murder two little princes, and not the third? If Richard III were the villain the Tudors claimed, he wouldn’t have hesitated to murder this child. But Richard welcomed his little nephew into his household and cared for him lovingly. It was Henry Tudor who executed him. He imprisoned the eleven year old Edward, Earl of Warwick in the Tower of London as soon as he won Bosworth. The boy lived in captivity there for thirteen years, until Henry VII finally brought him out to be beheaded on the block.
Back to the two little princes: A case can be made that Richard III sent them abroad for safety’s sake before Bosworth, and one survived. There is some evidence that the Pretender who fought Henry VII for the crown may have indeed been who he claimed– the younger prince, Richard of York. In that case, Henry Tudor put to death the true King of England at Tyburn. This is a subject covered in my forthcoming novel, THE KING’S DAUGHTER: A NOVEL OF THE FIRST TUDOR QUEEN, due out in December.
Wendy: You do intensive research for your work. What kind of research is important to you?
Sandra: For me, reading is the most vital element. Talking with scholars also illuminates this murky period, and handwriting analysis has provided me with insights I might never have had into the character and personality of those I write about. I find that examining their personal items — things that were important to them, like their books — and visiting the battlefields, castles and churches associated with them helps to give me a real sense of who they were, and what was important to them.
Wendy: Do you continue to research as you write the story?
Sandra: Absolutely. As long as the manuscript is in my hands, I’m open to revising as information makes itself available.
Wendy: William Styron once said “While it may be satisfying and advantageous for historians to feast on rich archival material, the writer of historical fiction is better off when past events have left him with short rations.” What do you think? Does this boil down to an author’s own preference, that intensive research and “short rations” can equally provide the soil for the growth of a successful novel?
Sandra: The “short rations” came in handy when I was writing LADY OF THE ROSES! Very little is known about Isobel and this dark period in which she lived, so I was able to bring my own motivations and interpretation to the story. The long blanks allowed me to be more creative with her story than with any other I have written to date, which was a lovely experience for me. What makes writing historicals difficult is flushing out the story around a great deal of known material. Not everyone feels the facts are as sacrosanct as I do. I’ve chosen not to stray from the known historical record, and only to emphasize the passions of those whose actions ruled the destiny of a nation, and changed the course of history.
Wendy: You live in America. Do you find that frustrating when it comes to writing books drawn from English history?
Sandra: Not really because I spent ten years researching the era and made a dozen Ricardian trips to England and Bruges examining the surviving data. That was enormously helpful. Of course, living in the U.S., you can’t just pack up and make a trip to a castle you’re writing about. Instead, you have to collect all the question marks, put them in one sack, and plan a trip that will hopefully give you the answers you seek once you’re there. The only way it could be helpful to live on this side of the pond and write about the other, is that it you’re not constrained. You owe fealty to none but yourself, and what you see as the truth.
Wendy: Can you please tell us why you decided to write about Elizabeth of York?
Sandra: It was a natural progression. She ended my Rose of York trilogy in an epilogue and I received emails inquiring about her. Evidently readers wanted to know more. When I researched the fiction, I found that she was a forgotten queen, and nothing had been written on her for nearly fifty years. Yet she was a remarkable woman and had a dramatic life. She needed her story told.