The Lady of Misrule interview with Suzannah Dunn

‘The Lady of Misrule’ by Suzannah Dunn was published in May.

Suzannah writes historical and contemporary fiction. Her historical fiction includes The May Bride, The Confessions of Katherine Howard, The Queen’s Sorrow, The Sixth Wife and The Queen of Subtleties.

To buy The Lady of Misrule:

(c) Charlie Hopkinson

(c) Charlie Hopkinson

Follow Suzannah Dunn on Social Media:

Suzannah’s website: Suzannah Dunn
Twitter: @SuzannahDunn
Facebook: Suzannah Dunn

Many thanks to Suzannah for answering my questions.

(c) Little Brown

(c) Little Brown

Why did you decide to write about the aftermath of Jane’s reign?

Sometimes a novel starts for me with a particular image, and that was the case here: I was reading about Jane (I can’t remember why, exactly, on that particular occasion) and was struck by her being ‘divested of her small change’ before she was led away from the throne room into custody. That haunted me.

Why did you choose Elizabeth Tilney as your narrator?

I like to come at a story from an angle, as it were. When I started writing historical fiction, my agent offered me a piece of advice: Don’t just re-tell history. Don’t tell us what we already know (or, at least, think we know!), he meant. One way to do that is to tell it through someone else’s eyes. Elizabeth Tilney is my own creation – the historians think that Jane had perhaps two or three ladies attending her when she was in the Tower, although possibly they attended on a rota (ie one at a time). I have read the suggestion that one of those girls/women was Elizabeth Tilney. (I have another Tilney girl crop up in another of my novels: Catherine, who tells the story in ‘The Confession of Katherine Howard'; the Tilney family lived in Suffolk). And in my novel, Elizabeth has her own reasons for having volunteered for this particular duty; she has her own story (of my invention, I mean), which has brought her to the Tower, and which is gradually revealed in the novel.

Your characters use modern language. Why did you decide to have them do this?

I could go on endlessly about this, but in brief…
…they have to speak somehow, and I have no idea – nor does anyone else – how Tudors spoke. We know how they wrote – or, more accurately, how some of them wrote some things – but writing is very different from speech. I’m not suggesting that they used modern language, because by definition they didn’t… but then what do I do? where does that leave me? Do I try to give an impression that these characters were speaking in a long-ago era? Well, I could do that, but I have a horror of slipping into ‘cod-Tudor’ (which is of course a modern invention, if you see what I mean). A lot of writers do it by giving the dialogue a rather formal edge, which often seems to mean avoiding contractions (so, eg, always using ‘do not’ instead of ‘don’t’)… but why? does anyone seriously think – if they think about it for a moment – that Tudors didn’t use contractions? (I know they probably would have used different ones, but, well, seeing as we can’t know what those were… etc etc)

I am perhaps – and always have been – a dialogue writer above and beyond anything else: I love writing dialogue and if I’m good at anything, writing-wise, then (I think, I hope) it’s that. So, it’s important to me and I’d hate to do it badly – which, for me, would mean doing it in a stilted fashion. (Of course, sometimes conversation is stilted, has to be stilted because of the particular characters and/or a particular situation that they’re in, but that’s a different matter.) It’s important to me to be able to give a sense of flow and naturalness: speech is idiomatic, and if I were to rob or deplete it of that quality, it wouldn’t be effective – wouldn’t ‘feel real’ – as speech.

And above all, I want my characters and the situations they’re in to feel real. I see it as my ‘job’ as a novelist to put my readers right there, with the characters; I don’t want my readers to be observing the characters from a distance (or, as I think of it, down the wrong end of a telescope).

That – all the above – is more about manner than actual vocab. But, thinking of vocab, do you know which of these words/expressions were (as far as we are aware from written sources!) in use in the sixteenth century, and which came later? – tetchy; brat; to wrongfoot; to scupper; to gad about; at sixes and sevens; roly-poly; topsy-turvy; scot-free; to clutch; mesmerised; hush. (They’ve all arisen for me in the past couple of weeks of writing.) Look ’em up! – I think there’ll be some surprises in store for you… What is historically accurate and what we moderns think/feel is accurate are often different. I’m often in the odd position of avoiding using an actual sixteenth century word/expression because I feel it ‘seems’ modern and would throw the reader (eg ‘brat’) (see?! – did that one surprise you?).

Was Jane or Guildford more difficult to characterise and why?

Jane was… and I think that’s because (all the evidence is that) she was very composed, self-contained: she gave very little of herself away. (Nightmare for a novelist!) As far as I’m aware, there’s just about no evidence in the historical record as to what Guildford was like… so I decided to make him the exact opposite! He doesn’t hold back, in my novel, when it comes to giving anything of himself away…

What historical sources did you use for information about Jane’s imprisonment in the Tower?

I relied heavily on Eric Ives’s Lady Jane Grey (I’m an Ives-fan in general). I was surprised how little (in terms of modern academic history books) there is, published, on Jane.

In your novel, Dr Feckenham only visits Lady Jane once. Why did you change this?

It often makes sense, in writing fiction, to kind of streamline: for me, that’s one of the types of alteration of the ‘truth’ (ie of what’s agreed is a matter of the historical record) that’s acceptable, and often desirable. This was a case in point: there would be nothing to be gained, for the reader, in having several visits depicted, when pretty much the same things were being discussed (because, as far as I’m/anyone is aware, Jane and Feckenham were rather going round in circles).

What purpose does Goose serve in the story?

Well, I hope she works on several levels. In a novel which largely features merely two characters in a room, an outsider/interloper can be a relief/refreshing; she alters the dynamic. Also, she can bring news of the outside world. It’s suggested at the end of the novel that perhaps she had another, practical role, too.

By the end of the novel, do you think that Elizabeth has come to understand Lady Jane?

I do, I think, yes! I hope so. They’ve kind of made their peace, I think, haven’t they? I hope so.

Who is the ‘Lady of Misrule’? Is it Jane or Elizabeth of both of them?

Aha! – good question!…

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19th July 1553…

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

Events by Place – Tower of London

Another look at…19th July 1553

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Books 2015 – on sale today – The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen

16th July – The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen

(c) Edbury Press

(c) Edbury Press

‘A choice to forever change the course of history.

While English soldiers prepare for the threat of invasion, William Tudor struggles with his own personal battles: he still longs for his childhood friend. But Minuette has married William’s trusted advisor, Dominic, in secret – an act of betrayal that puts both their lives in danger.

Meanwhile, with war on the horizon, Princess Elizabeth must decide where her duty really lies: with her brother or her country…’


Further details – Laura Andersen

Further details –

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10th July 1553…

Tower by boat

Lady Jane in her own words

Events by Place – Tower of London

Another look at…10th July 1553

Jane the Quene – Guest article at The Anne Boleyn Files

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9th July 1553…

'A depiction of the north (rear) side of the Tudor Manor house, showing the 17th-century addition (right)' From Landownership: Chelsea Manor, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12: Chelsea. (c) British History Online

‘A depiction of the north (rear) side of the Tudor Manor house, showing the 17th-century addition (right)’
From Landownership: Chelsea Manor, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12: Chelsea.
(c) British History Online

Events by Place – Chelsea Manor

Events by Place – Syon

Lady Jane in her own words

Syon Park

Syon Park

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Best Reads This Summer

Suitcase Essentials from the Sunday Times Culture

Non-Fiction History

 (c) Vintage

(c) Vintage

God’s Traitors by Jessie Childs – A vivid, highly original history that sheds light on the suffering of Catholics under Elizabeth I. p. 30.

(c) Faber & Faber

(c) Faber & Faber

The Hollow Crown by Dan Jones – A racy and vigorous narrative history of the Wars of the Roses. p.31

Event Magazine – The 100 Hottest Summer Books (Mail on Sunday)

Paperbacks – Non-fiction

 (c) Vintage

(c) Vintage

God’s Traitors by Jessie Childs – We all know Bloody Mary liked to burn Protestants. But Childs focuses on the fate of Catholics in the reign of her sister, Elizabeth I, in this gripping history. p.17

Saturday Review – Summer Books (The Times)


(c) W&N

(c) W&N

The Rival Queens: Catherine de Medici, her daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone

Historians often suspicious of feminine perfection, are apt to equate beauty with frivolity and foolishness. This, perhaps explains the tendency to denigrate Marguerite de Valois (Margot), especially in comparison to her unscrupulous mother, Catherine de Medici. Nancy Goldstone gives this familiar of two queens a new twist by allowing Margot to shine. She argues that her subtlety, dexterity and resilience brought a modicum of stability to turbulent times, thus dampening the ruinous impact of her cruel and exploitative family. Goldstone’s gift is her ability to make human the often cardboard characters of 16th-century France. p. 15

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My review of Exploring English Castles: Evocative, Romantic, and Mysterious True Tales of the Kings and Queens of the British Isles by Edd Morris

(c) Sky Pony Press 1st July 2015

(c) Sky Pony Press
1st July 2015

This fascinating book by Edd Morris starts off with a brief history of the castle: from the Norman invasion of 1066, the motte and bailey, the development of the medieval castle to their decline.

He then looks at nine castles in great detail (Bodiam, Corfe, Dover, Dunstanburgh, Framlingham, Goodrich, Kenilworth, Rochester and Tintagel). For each castle there is a floor plan, lots of amazing photos, a brief history of the castle and notes on any curious features, such as the chimney pots at Framlingham. But what really brings each castle to life is how Morris takes ‘a snapshot of one of the most notable moments in the past.’

For those interested in Tudor history, the notable events at Framlingham and Kenilworth involve the Tudor Queens, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Through the inclusion of Framlingham, this book also has links to Lady Jane Grey, as Framlingham Castle was where Mary Tudor raised her standard against Queen Jane in July 1553.

Read this book before visiting any of the castles included!

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Books 2015 – on sale today – Exploring English Castles by Edd Morris

1 July – Exploring English Castles: Evocative, Romantic, and Mysterious True Tales of the Kings and Queens of the British Isles by Edd Morris

(c) Sky Pony Press 1st July 2015

(c) Sky Pony Press
1st July 2015

‘A guide to some of the most historical and picturesque castles in England for romantics and Anglophiles alike. Castles have shaped England. For almost one thousand years, castles have been the settings of siege and battle, dens of plotting and intrigue, and refuges for troubled kings. Today, the romantic yet ruinous shapes of once grand fortresses stud the English countryside–a reminder of turbulent times past. Exploring English Castles provides readers with a breathtaking tour through the grandest castles of England. It brings ruins to life through true stories of royalty, chivalry, deception, and intrigue, played out within formerly majestic walls. Uncover the secret of Bodiam Castle, Sussex–a fortress seemingly from a fairy tale, built for a knight returning from the Hundred Years’ War. Discover how Mary Tudor, first queen of England, took refuge in Framlingham Castle, Suffolk, overturning a wily plot to deny her the throne. Unearth a delicate love story between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, which unfolds against the genteel backdrop of Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire. Filled with evocative photographs, awe-inspiring historical tales, and gentle humor, Exploring English Castles will delight any armchair historian, travel aficionado, or fan of historical fiction.’


Further details – Exploring Castles

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My review of ‘Watch The Lady’ by Elizabeth Fremantle

(c) Michael Joseph

(c) Michael Joseph

‘Watch The Lady’ plunges you back into life at the Tudor court, so magnificently depicted by Elizabeth Freemantle in ‘Queen’s Gambit’ and ‘Sisters of Treason.’ Mainly set in the last years of Elizabeth I’s reign, with all the tension of a dying dynasty, we meet Penelope Deveraux, who is forced to marry a man she does not love. Penelope must negotiate life at court, trying to avoid the fate of her mother (who dared to marry the Queen’s favourite), while supporting her brother, the Earl of Essex, as he plays his deadly game with his rival, Robert Cecil. ‘Watch The Lady’ is a fitting end to Fremantle’s fabulous Tudor trilogy.

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On sale now – The Story of the Tower of London by Tracy Borman

June – The Story of the Tower of London by Tracy Borman

 (c) Merrell Publishers

(c) Merrell Publishers

‘This book reveals the fascinating stories, dramatic events and colorful characters that make up the Tower of London’s remarkably long and varied history. Written from a social perspective, it presents a fresh appraisal of this world-famous site and sets it apart from any other available book. It offers a comprehensive history of the fortress, from its Roman origins right up to the present day. With over 200 color illustrations and a comprehensive and chronological narrative divided into thematic chapters, it conveys brilliantly the many and varied stories which make up the Tower’s history from the menagerie and royal mint to the roll call of its famous prisoners. The story of the Tower of London is, in many respects, the story of England. When building work began on the fortress, the capital was little more than a small town with no more than 10,000 inhabitants. Almost 1,000 years later, the fortress still stands as a symbol of royal power, pomp and ceremony, tradition, heritage, military might, treachery and torture. Its myriad roles are reflected in the complex series of buildings that make up this formidable, magnificent fortress an iconic site that still attracts millions of visitors from across the world each year.’


Further details – Tracy Borman

Further details –

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