Author August: Livi Michael – Not Another Trilogy

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

The triumvirate, or rule of three, has made its mark on historical fiction. Trilogies by Philippa Gregory, Robert Harris and Hilary Mantel (whose third Cromwell novel is eagerly awaited) have attracted an immense following. Yet there is a definite feeling that it has ‘had its day’, and certainly, publishers are reluctant to encourage the less well-known author to write a series of three.

Accession dagger sage copy (2)

So why would I, relatively unknown in this field, embark upon such a project.

Nine years ago I had just finished some research at Manchester Cathedral. In the roof of the cathedral there are 14 stone angels, each playing a different medieval instrument.  They were said to have been donated by Margaret Beaufort.

I had never heard of Margaret Beaufort at that time. I didn’t even know she was the mother of Henry VII!

I began to look into her, just out of curiosity, and the more I found out the more fascinated I became.  The details of her life are extraordinary.  She was married three times before she was 15 and gave birth to her only son at the age of 13, (who, on an unlikely chance, became King of England).  By the end of her life she was the most powerful woman in the country, a patron of education and the arts who was herself a writer.  But her life only makes sense when considered in the context of the historical period she lived through –  the political upheavals and disasters that affected her personally.  Her story is inextricably linked to the story of England.

When I began to research her properly I was rapidly overwhelmed by the amount of material.  Margaret Beaufort lived through the reigns of six kings, and the period of bloody civil war now known as the Wars of the Roses.

The Wars of the Roses fall naturally into three parts, which end with the battles of Towton, Tewkesbury and Bosworth respectively. At the Battle of Towton, Henry VI, who had been king for 40 years, was decisively defeated. Edward of York, still only eighteen years old, became Edward IV.

The Lancastrians fought back. This culminated, ten years later, in the Battle of Tewkesbury, which is often said to have been the end of the House of Lancaster. King Henry’s son, Prince Edward, was killed in this battle; King Henry was murdered in the Tower immediately afterwards, and his wife Margaret of Anjou was imprisoned.

The last remaining survivor of the House of Lancaster was Henry Tudor, but he was in exile in Brittany.

So the story of the Succession trilogy actually became a story of mothers and sons – Margaret of Anjou and her son, Prince Edward, and more importantly, Margaret Beaufort and her son, Henry Tudor.

Livi MichaelMargaret Beaufort was married four times. Her second marriage was to Edmund Tudor, who was Henry VI’s half-brother. She was married to him by the age of twelve, and when she was still twelve, conceived Henry. Edmund, who was King Henry’s representative in Wales, died of plague in Carmarthen Castle. He had been imprisoned there by the Duke of York’s forces, led by William Herbert.

Margaret was six months pregnant at this time. Edmund’s brother, Jasper, took her into his protection, and she gave birth on January 28 1457, to Henry Tudor. Bishop Fisher mentions that the birth was long and difficult; both mother and son nearly died.

After the Battle of Towton, however, the new king, Edward IV, awarded William Herbert custody of Henry Tudor. Henry grew up in the household of the man responsible for the death of his father.

For Margaret, this marked the beginning of a twenty-four-year battle to get him back. During the fourteen years of his exile in Brittany, after the Battle of Tewkesbury, she tried repeatedly to negotiate his return. After Richard III came to the throne, she began actively to conspire against the crown. Her efforts culminated ultimately in Henry’s invasion with an army of mercenaries, and the Battle of Bosworth.

At each stage of the wars of the Roses, Margaret lost people who were important to her, so her story seemed also to fall into three parts. Right from the early planning stages I knew I was writing a trilogy. However, my agent told me that a publisher would not be interested in a trilogy, and when I found a publisher – Penguin – my editor said she would definitely not publish a trilogy. There had been too many trilogies, she said, and experience indicated that unless the first book did very well, the second and third were likely to disappear without trace. She was prepared to consider two books.

Well, I tried. I drew on the medieval chronicles to enable me to cut through large swathes of complex history. Each novel in the trilogy contains chronicle extracts. Lively personal, partisan, sometimes scurrilous, they vividly convey the spirit of the time. However, the chronicles seem to have been written by and about men – women feature peripherally if at all. I was still left with the task of portraying the key women of that time, and this involved exploring a range of interconnected events.

So despite all the warnings, I carried on. Because the urge to do justice to the material, and to Margaret’s life, outweighed all other considerations in the end. I was so relieved when my editor decided she would publish the third novel, Accession, after all.

I am very happy with the result. I like to think that I have done justice to this remarkable woman, whose influence survives today, in the colleges she founded at Cambridge and Oxford, the professorships she endowed, and in her patronage of the arts.   Both she and her son were famous for their acumen and for changing the economy of England.  Henry Tudor and his mother inaugurated the shift from medieval feudalism to early capitalism in this society. In many ways Margaret Beaufort is responsible for the England we know today.

My personal thanks to Livi for taking part in Author August!

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

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