The last time I was in England, a young man I encountered at a tram stop asked me why I had come to England. It seemed he couldn’t see the attraction. I had to explain to him that the culture I had grown up in, the language I spoke, the history I had learned, the books I had read, had all come from Britain. The British heritage was as much mine as his. And whatever snooty English literary agents might think, an Australian has as much business writing a novel about Shakespeare as any other English speaker. (Well, that’s off my chest at least!)
Not everyone in the field was as dismissive of an Australian writer with an Italian name, and after I published Not Wisely but Too Well, I was pleased to accept an invitation to contribute to the English Historical Fiction Authors blog where a team of authors posted the factual stories behind their historical fiction. As I was publishing my research into Shakespeare and his world on my own website, my contributions to the EHFA blog were more along the lines of interesting stories I had come across.
The earliest of these stories comes from the 15th century under the reign of Henry VII. As he won the crown through combat, Henry’s claim to it was never entirely secure and he was open to challenges from both members of the House of York from which he had wrested it, and from pretenders. In Perkin Warbeck: The Man Who Would be King I explore this pretender’s history and ask whether or not he was really Richard of York, one of the Princes in the Tower rescued from being murdered, or an imposter and if an imposter, who might he have really been.
The next story comes from the reign of Henry’s granddaughter, Elizabeth I. Despite all the biographies, novels, films and series I had seen about Elizabeth’s court, I had never before come across the story of Lord Leicester’s Love Child, Sir Robert Dudley, a son born to the Earl of Leicester through an affair which, though illicit, was no great secret. In Lord Leicester’s Love Child: Part Two, I relate Sir Robert’s diverse and dramatic life story.
Sir Robert Dudley holds a special place in my heart, as he finally brought me some international recognition! Because of this article, I was contacted by a small publisher in the UK with an offer of a commission to write Sir Robert’s biography. Unfortunately, it was at the height of the Covid pandemic, and, as much as I would love to, I saw little chance of my getting to England and Italy in the foreseeable future to undertake the required research. I had to turn it down, but the seed has been planted and may still bear fruit.
My next story, Butcher or Baronet: The Amazing Story of the Tichborne Claimant, has an Australian connection, as this unlikely would-be aristocrat was living in Australia and barely scratching a living as a butcher, when, in 1865, he laid claim to the name, title and fortune of Sir Roger Tichborne who was believed to have been lost at sea. His case became a cause célèbre and the court cases that ensued cost the Tichborne family most of the fortune they were trying to protect.
This calamity may well have been the result of a curse laid on the Tichbornes by an ancestress back in the 12th century, as I relate in The Curse of the Tichborne Dole: A Medieval Postscript to the Amazing Story of the Tichborne Claimant, a suitably ominous coda to an already sensational story.
The Duke of Windsor, once King Edward VIII, is best remembered for the scandal caused by his affair with and subsequent marriage to Wallis Simpson. However, that wasn’t his last brush with notoriety. In 1940, to keep him and his Nazi sympathies as far away from the war effort as possible, Sir Winston Churchill had him packed off as Governor of the Bahamas. However, as I relate in A Prince in Hot Water: The Duke of Windsor and the Murder of Sir Harry Oakes, while he was there, he found himself embroiled in another scandal which would reveal his true colours.
If you have any friends who are interested in British history, or just enjoy a good scandal, please share this roundup with them.