Bringing book IV (title still TBC, by the way; perhaps I'll run a poll on here to see what you all think!) to a close is challenging. Why? Because, for someone like me who consistently writes with a very vague idea of what is going to happen next, the fact that the various endings (the siege of Exeter, the battle of Dussindale, the eventual fall of Somerset (which will probably be separated off into book V)) are fixed, secure, historical, means that I can't play quite so fast-and-loose as I sometimes might. I can't just slap Longshawe into a fight and have him single-handedly win it, not when history records his side losing. I can't sneak Edward Strelley behind the enemy line and have him frighten the life out of the enemy commander so they pack up and go home, because that's not how it happened.
I'm not in the business of writing alternative history. I follow what the books tell me, and that has two meanings worth looking at as far as history itself is concerned. The first is that there are some recorded events which are, in some sense, fixed. There's a great episode of Quantum Leap where he goes back to Dallas in 1963, thinking his job is to save the life of President Kennedy. He can't, though, because we all know he didn't. But the rather brilliant twist - and I appreciate that if you ever see this episode it's going to have lost some of its charm through you reading this - is that it wasn't President Kennedy that he was supposed to save. It was his wife (Jackie Kennedy) that he was supposed to save, and the sneaky trick of the episode was that he should have remembered she originally died, but his brain had been a bit Swiss-cheesed (that is the phrase they used, honestly) and he had forgotten that key fact. The point is that Sam can't save John F Kennedy, because we all know he died. So I can't fly in the face of history, not where there is a good train of evidence. I might push against a record here and there, especially where detailed conclusions are drawn from minimal actual documentation, or where one record is followed by all the subsequent historians. Look out for a good old plot twist in a future book about that (I won't be the first to have thought of this twist, but it'll be the best version of it I've read, on the simple grounds of being the only one I've read).
The second way of looking at the history books as a source of inspiration is in terms of the real historical characters. I wrote a review of Christine Hartweg's book about John Dudley recently, in which I agreed with her basic point that he wasn't the darkly scheming, black-hearted Bad Duke of some historians' interpretations, but I did maintain that the overwhelming majority of writers on the subject see in the marriage of Guildford to Jane, and the alteration of the succession in her favour, a plan to try to win royal power for himself. And her line of argument is persuasive in the sense that it recasts John as a weary old man, rather than one who has always sought supreme power, but it does not save him - in my judgement - from the charge of usurpation and the almost worse charge of involving the largely innocent Jane in his plan.
Edward Seymour, Cranmer, the king himself, and many others that feature in book IV are directly products of something or other I have read or seen in 'serious' history. Yes, they are my interpretation, but they are anchored in the opinions of others better qualified to give them. Why don't I mention Elizabeth? Because in her story with Strelley, I have perhaps wandered that bit further from the established truth than with any of the others. Having said that, her slipperiness both during her long wait to become queen and during her reign, and her love of flattery by courtiers, and her refusal to marry even the one man she was supposed to have truly loved in Robert Dudley all point to something extra, over and above what the history books record. Some think it was her experience with Thomas Seymour, and I can see that. An older man who, apparently at least, was charismatic, charming and successful with intelligent and independent women, focusing all his attention on her. But I still think the interpretation which says she was a relative innocent is the right one. Fourteen-year-old girls seducing grown men is a rarity, and we aren't talking about a worldly girl. I don't think she was frustrated as Thomas Seymour's lover, in that I don't see him as the one life love event that made her who she became, and I do have this inkling that her adult personality was at least in part informed by a frustrated love. Although it would be accurate to say that I did not know Edward Strelley was that love until quite far into writing the books! So my Elizabeth is, despite the vast amount written, said, shown on the TV and in film and in whatever other media about her, more of an imagined character than some of the other peripheral characters. It has been a strange sort of privilege to get to know her over the time I have been writing about her: privilege because she is a great character, and strange because I feel I have a sense of her, a reading of her, that is entirely mine, despite her fame. In my mind's eye, she is not a creature of my imagination, rather she is real, her movements and her words and her face are all absolutely there independent of any effort of mine to conjure them. She does not really look like her portrait, not the youthful one attributed to Scrotus (really) or the older, more famous ones. But that doesn't matter. She may be long gone, but what she did, what she means, echoes on. So it is for her in my mind. So it is for her in Edward Strelley's mind, and I think him in her mind, divided as they are by fate, accidents of their birth rather than choices they made or make.
“It's subjunctive history. You know, the subjunctive? The mood used when something may or may not have happened. When it is imagined.”
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought