Scandalous Women is pleased to welcome Diane Haeger to the blog.
Welcome, Diane, to Scandalous Women. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started writing?
Sure. Well, I have been writing historical fiction for almost 20 years, beginning with Courtesan, a novel based on the true, epic love story of Henri II and Diane de Poitiers—who was the unofficial Renaissance queen of France. It was a story that changed my life since I was driven to tell it to an American audience to such an extent that I gave up the final portion of a doctoral degree in psychology in order to go to France and finish the story. That is probably a good thing since I have been blessed enough to say that The Queen’s Mistake is my 11th historical novel and I have never looked back. But I like to believe that my books perhaps encompass the two worlds of psychology and fiction, bringing to life characters, their troubles and their triumphs, in a human and believable way. At least that has always been my goal.
What led you to choose Catherine Howard as the heroine of The Queen's Mistake?
Because I began my writing career in the Renaissance, I think I have a special fondness for those stories. It is most definitely my favorite period in which to immerse myself and spend a year. Catherine Howard’s story was a challenge because it is not one that ends well, obviously, and also if one read only the most basic information about her, it would be easy to see her as simply an empty-headed girl who got what she deserved. So there was my challenge! When I began to research her, that was not my take at all and, as with so many of my other characters, I was driven to make Catherine human, and to bring her to life in a 21st Century manner, painted across a 16th Century backdrop, since many of her struggles (love, promiscuity, commitment, honor) are things young women struggle with even today.
Tell us about the research. Was there anything you learned about Catherine that you didn’t know before?
I always do my research both in the U.S. and, in this case, in England, but always whatever country in which the book is set; France, Italy, Scotland. I need to be able to see the places about which I write, see some of the actual clothing if possible, furniture, tapestries, just really get a sense of how my characters lived in order to be able, hopefully, to bring them to life for readers. That was an early lesson I learned directly from the late icon Irving Stone, author of The Agony and The Ecstasy.
I discovered a great many things about Catherine Howard in the process of writing the book, mainly about her true care and concern for her husband during their short marriage, in spite of his dissipated condition and his violent mood swings and fits of temper at the time.
The perception of Catherine Howard is usually that of a silly, flighty, not very bright young woman. David Starkey refers to her as the ‘sexy teenager.’ Do you think this reputation is justified?
Initially, probably yes in some ways. There is little doubt that she was promiscuous. But I think through the course of her life she changed and matured. She most certainly worried about Henry and his health and tried, in her way, to be a good wife to him.
Catherine Howard was remarkably promiscuous at an early age, having consensual relationships with a variety of partners. Was that unusual for the time? And how was she able to get away with it without getting caught?
Not unusual for one in her circumstance, raised with a certain amount of privilege then left in boredom often to her own devices. As The Queen’s Mistake shows, she was able to get away with the behavior because she was left largely unattended by her uninterested grandmother.
Catherine Howard is very young when she marries Henry VIII who was fifty years old and had already been married four times. Do you think that Catherine ever loved Henry?
As I researched the story and began to write, I came to believe that, yes, Catherine did love Henry, in a way. There is certainly evidence that she took tender care of him and worried after his health. The likelihood of that being a passionate love however is certainly diminished by his physical condition at the time, as well as his turbulent history with wives-- which would have frightened any young woman who felt the potential for being next in line. Add to that, that I believe her heart was given over to Thomas Culpeper before she married Henry, and I think a more loyal love mixed with friendship and conern is likely.
What do you think Catherine’s fatal mistake was? Do you think that her fate was inevitable or was there something that she could have done to change things?
Great question! I don’t know however if it was one fatal mistake that she made, or rather a series of them that led to her sad end. In some ways, I do think it was inevitable because Henry was bound to discover her love for Culpeper, thanks to the jockeying for position at court by so many ambitious rivals to her power, and that there was little she could do about that once she had been presented to him as a virgin and she chose to allow that ruse. Naturally, having no contact at all with Culpeper would likely have helped. But considering their daily proximity and love for one another, that likely sealed her fate.
Both Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk and the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk claim that their actions are for their families. How much does ambition play a part in the story of Catherine Howard? Do you think that in some ways she was just a pawn?
I think it had everything to do with it and Catherine was a complete pawn. Add to that the poor thing was incredibly naïve--- not about human nature or men of course, but about the mature workings of the world, having been raised out in the country for much of the time, away from the complexities of court, where she could have gained some perspective and gravitas, in the way that other young maids of honor had, and I think it is a tragedy in the making right there.
The Tudors are wildly popular, it seems like every month more and more books are published during this time period. Why do you think the Tudors continue to be popular?
Another good question, one which I have asked myself. I think in part it is the American audience’s familiarity with the subject, the common language, as well as the notion of anyone who had six wives and many mistresses, just the notion of that is fascinating to people I think. And he was such a different character during his lifetime. For example, the Henry VIII of The Queen’s Mistake is an entirely different character from the younger, fit and handsome Henry of The Secret Bride, or my upcoming The Queen’s Rival.
You’ve also written a novel about Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Boleyn called The Secret Bride. I have to ask, have you watched The Tudors? And if you have what did you think of what they did to Mary’s story?
I did watch the first season, yes. While I enjoyed some of the elements of such a stylized, “current” representation of the subject, obviously trying to bring it to a broader market, there were just way too many inconsistencies and alterations of actual history for me.
What are you working on next?
Up next is The Queen’s Rival, the story of Henry VIII’s first official mistress, Elizabeth Blount, known as Bess, during the time of his first queen, Catherine of Aragon. Bess’s son, Henry Duke of Richmond, was the only illegitimate child Henry ever publicly acknowledged, one he overly indulged and provided for, and who quite well might have become his successor, had he not died a sudden and mysterious death… It’s a remarkable story I hope everyone will look for.
For more information about Diane and her books check out her web-site.
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