“Leanda de Lisle has the gift of reminding us that history is the story of real people; real men, real women, full of rage and ambition and lust and hope and love. The Tudors are already our most vivid dynasty, by quite a long chalk, but these pages render them more vivid still. Wonderful, passionate, dangerous, fascinating stuff.”
Hidden in the closed archives of Belvoir castle is a lost Tudor codex. This book bears no title. You open in to find sixty double pages of names and titles linked with inky black lines. They are genealogies that stretch back in time to the mythological last King of the Britons. Odd details stand out: a traitor highlighted, a monarch ignored, like a puzzle waiting to be solved.
Why is Elizabeth Tudor’s father, King Henry VIII, not named? Her mother is, Anne Boleyn, and under this is written in Latin, ‘Queen of England, wife of Henry VIII, decapitated’. Everyone of the period knew Anne’s execution was followed with a parliamentary statue declaring Elizabeth illegitimate in law. Is that why she is not listed in the Tudor line, but merely in that of her maternal grandmother? Surely no one would have dared place her outside the royal family after she became Queen? Yet under Elizabeth it states she is ‘regina angliae presens’: ‘The present Queen of England’.
The author may have copied information from earlier heralds scrolls, updating details as he did so. But what was the purpose of this codex? It seems the lines connecting families is a political map, navigating the blood lines of those with power and the precious royal blood of the family chosen by God to rule. Whoever commissioned it wanted to see where they fitted into the families that mattered. Here was the basis of their self-esteem. Seeing themselves as part of a great line with a past and a future.
But all earthly things come to an end. The Tudors are dead and buried, ‘entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality’. It is their story I have recorded in these three books – from the narrow focus of one year, 1603, in After Elizabeth, to a triple biography of Lady Jane Grey and her siblings in the Sisters who Would be Queen, to the full dynastic drama of 1437-1603 in Tudor: The Family Story. Here, amongst the secrets and behind the riddles, truth is more extraordinary than fiction.