Here is Kathy’s report on the seminar with Alison Weir last week. BIG thanks for the write-up Kathy!
This was a very long and very interesting day. The venue at the Smithsonian, a very large auditorium, was completely sold out. I had gotten there early with a friend, so we had fairly good seats for the morning lecture on Elizabeth I. I have never seen anybody read a speech for two hours without pausing for at least a drink of water, but Alison Weir did that and made it interesting. She concentrated mainly on what she thought were the main forces that shaped Elizabeth’s character from her birth on up until she was declared queen. As there was an afternoon session and there was a programmed time for lunch, we had a brief question period after this. The main interest here I thought was that she expressed her opinion that Elizabeth was actually a virgin and died one, but this wasn’t brought about by the death of her mother (which she could scarcely have been aware of at the time) but because of the death of Katherine Howard and of Katherine Paar, love/childbirth coming to be equated with death. She also expressed the opinion on the death of Amy Robsart (Leceister’s wife) that if it wasn’t a natural death due to breast cancer that Cecil had a part in it because his actions at this time were very much out of character and that he could have had her killed to rein in Leicester’s power.
My friend and I decided to hike over to the National Gallery of Art for lunch, which was probably a mistake, as the lunches were nothing special and we got back to the auditorium too late to get the good seats we’d had that morning. But the lecture on Katherine Swynford, I thought, was riveting. I enjoyed it very much, though I have to say that in neither lecture did I learn anything that I hadn’t known before.
As there was more time, we had a longer question session in the afternoon and I asked bearded lady’s question which I phrased as, “As a writer of history aimed at popular audiences, have you ever had any criticism from academic historians?” She laughed and said she had had that problem intially back in the ’90’s when she was just starting out. But that had changed in recent years as academic historians were seeing the light and were beginning to publish more popular history. But she always expects at least one negative academic review of every book she published. It doesn’t seem to bother her. She also told a funny anecdote of a program she had been on back in the ’90’s with an academic historian who had criticized her work a great deal. They met in the “green room” beforehand with a very frosty handshake and he said, “I suppose you get a great deal of money for you books?” She protested that that wasn’t why she wrote and he never said another word to her!
A few questions later, somebody else brought up the topic again and asked if she thought David Starkey was getting criticisms from the academic community as well. She said yes, and that at one event she was at not too long ago, a university historian was on the program as well and somebody brought up Starkey’s name. “Oh, him,” the man said, “he used to be a historian!”
The other questions that I remember most was one on which portrayals of various Tudors she liked the best. She likes Glenda Jackson best as Elizabeth and Keith Michell as Henry VIII. She didn’t like The Other Boleyn Girl at all or the Cate Blanchette movies. She has seen The Tudors and thought it was good drama and had some excellent acting, but that was about all that commended it. And she has yet to see an actress in there that was wearing a period-appropriate costume. Also there is/was a series on television in England starring Ray Winstone as Henry. She was acting as an advisor to the show, but said they ignored everything she said, so she asked to have her name taken off the credits. (Has this been on in the US? I haven’t seen it.)
Also, somebody asked about whether she thought there was something wrong with Henry VIII, that his wives had so many stillborn children or miscarriages. She doesn’t think there is any evidence of it, that the Tudors were just not a very prolific race. She also pointed out that Katherine of Aragon’s mother, Isabella of Castile had lost something like ten out of fifteen children, so if there was a problem with Henry and Katherine, it was as likely to be her problem as his.
At the booksigning aftward, I kept to my plan of getting many books (I had to buy half a dozen for various friends of mine), being last in line and trying to convince her to write a book about Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor. It turns out she had already done a proposal for a novel on them, but it had been rejected by her publishers. That was some time ago and she does believe there is more interest in them since The Tudors, so she just might put a non-fiction proposal out there. She seems to have lots of ideas for things she would like to write, but it all depends on what her publishers want at the time, so I think I need to start lobbying with the publishers. She just turned over her latest book, one on Anne Boleyn (nonfiction I think, though she didn’t specifically say so) and has six other books in the works!
Overall, I found her to be a very interesting person who genuinely loves meeting her readers and loves to talk about all of English history.