Judith Arnopp writes historical fiction. Most of her novels are written from a woman’s perspective and set in the Tudor period.

Arnopp says she has always written; as a child she read her stories to her dolls and teddies. Later, as a teenager, she made up romances which she read to her best friend. When she had a young family, she wrote stories featuring her children as leading characters. Also, when her children were small, she and her husband sold up in south east England and purchased a smallholding just outside Lampeter. 

When her youngest daughter was ten, Arnopp enrolled at the University of Wales Lampeter as a mature student. She took a BA in English and Creative Writing, and then an MA in Medieval Studies. Arnopp says of her years as a student, ‘It was a fabulous time of my life.’ She credits much of her later success to the teaching she received, saying she would never have written her historical novels ‘had it not been for my time at Lampeter studying English under William Marx and History under Janet Burton.’ 

After Arnopp graduated in 2007, she decided to see if she could write professionally. She tried to use the two skills she had learned at university, creative writing and historical research. Her first three novels were set in the early medieval period. The heroine of Peaceweaver was Eadgyth, the wife of the last Saxon king of England, Harold Godwinson. The Forest Dwellers and the Killing of William Rufus featured the ordinary people living in what became the New Forest, describing how they suffered when William the Conqueror and his successor William Rufus took the land for the king’s own use.   

People enjoyed Arnopp’s fiction and started to ask her if she had ever written a ‘Tudor book.’ In response, she produced The Winchester Goose, set in the latter years of the reign of Henry VIII. The story is told from the different perspectives of Joanie Toogood, a Southwark prostitute, Evelyn and Isabella Bourne, members of the queen’s household, and Francis Wareham, a spy for Thomas Cromwell, the king’s secretary. Arnopp comments that the novel offers a new perspective on events in Henry VIII’s reign and looks at how the lower echelons might have viewed things. Such was the success of the book that she has been writing about the Tudor period ever since. 

Arnopp feels that as history was largely written by monks, a group to whom females were largely irrelevant, women were given inadequate space on the record. She writes from the perspective of individual women, often members of the royal family. A Song of Sixpence tells the story of Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV and wife of Henry VII, and of the pretender to the throne, Perkin Warbeck. Elizabeth is forced to consider whether Warbeck really is her brother, Richard of York, and therefore the rightful monarch. (Richard, one of the princes in the tower, was said to have been murdered by his uncle Richard III.) Arnopp portrays Warbeck as the real Prince Richard, meaning that Elizabeth’s loyalties are torn. Arnopp has commented, ‘A novelist needs to take a stance, it may not always be one I personally believe, but for the sake of the book I pretend to believe.’ 

Her trilogy The Beaufort Chronicles traces the life of Henry VII’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. The first book of the series, The Beaufort Bride starts with Margaret as a child bride. In The Beaufort Woman she navigates the dangerous courts of Edward IV and Richard III. The last book of the sequence is The King’s Mother; Margaret oversees the running of her son, Henry VII’s court. Yarde has said of the series, ‘Arnopp is one of those writers who can make history come alive and breathe life into characters that have long been dead … If you are a fan of the Tudor era, then The Beaufort Chronicle should definitely be on your to-read list.’ 

Arnopp has written two novels based on wives of Henry VIII. The Kiss of the Concubine is narrated by Anne Boleyn, whilst Intractable Heart tells the story of Henry’s last wife, Katheryn Parr. Katheryn’s story is told from four perspectives; as well as herself, the narrators are her fourth husband, Thomas Seymour, and two of her step-daughters, Margaret Neville and the future Elizabeth I. At the other end of the social scale, the heroine of Sisters of Arden is Margery, an orphan who has been raised in a priory. The nuns have been cast out and left to fend for themselves after the monasteries were dissolved and their land seized by the king. 

Arnopp says she writes the sort of books she wants to read. She has always been intrigued by the Tudor court and by the psyche of key members of the royal family. She is fascinated by perspective; the same individual can be different things to different people. Because of this she often writes with dual narratives. She comments ‘Since I write in the first person I have to become my characters, love who they love, hate who they hate, and pity who they pity.’ She reads as widely as she can, obtaining as many different takes on a subject as possible. She will study the historiography of her characters to discover how they have been perceived by the succeeding generations. Her favourite author is Hilary Mantel; Arnopp comments, ‘I love the sense of period she procures, the depth of character. I also admire the way she gets away with breaking so many literary rules.’ 

Arnopp’s research is endless, although her novels will only be able to include a tiny percentage of what she has learned. Much of the research overlaps, but each book needs fresh study. She visits the castles, towns and gardens that will be the settings for her fiction; she reads contemporary literature. If possible, she will find portraits of her characters, so she can study their expressions and their clothes. Arnopp has even taken up some hobbies, including medieval style embroidery, so she can see how her people would have passed their time. She has also made several Tudor gowns she sometimes wears, saying ‘It is not until you are laced into a Tudor gown that you realise how restricted the movements of Tudor noble women were.’ 

Arnopp says of her fiction, ‘I think my readers enjoy my approach to the different subjects I have chosen; the new perspective I present of a character has often made them change their preconceptions … It gives me great pleasure to learn that I have encouraged someone to read more widely on a subject. In my youth, historical fiction introduced me to history and made me want to study it when it was time for university … I write to make them think.’ 

Sources 

Tudor Writing Circle (2019). Interview with Judith Arnopp. Retrieved October 2 2020 from https://tudorwritingcircle.com/2019/10/22/interview-with-judith-arnopp/ 

Arnopp, J. (n.d.) Historical fiction author Judith Arnopp. Retrieved October 2 2020 from https://www.judithmarnopp.com/ 

Arnopp, J. (2012, November 23). The next big thing: authors tagging authors! [Blog post]. Retrieved October 2 2020 from http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.com/2012/ 

Rukia Publishing (n.d.) An in depth interview with historical fiction author Judith Arnopp. Retrieved October 2 2020 from https://www.rukiapublishing.com/an-in-depth-interview-judith-arnopp.html# 

Fischer, C. (2017, June 24). Historical Saturday: review: “The Winchester goose” by Judith Arnopp [Blog post]. Retrieved October 2 2020 from https://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/historical-saturday-review-the-winchester-goose-by-judith-arnopp/ 

Yarde, M.A. (2019, April 5). The King’s Mother: Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicles by Judith Arnopp [Blog post]. Retrieved October 2 2020 from https://maryanneyarde.blogspot.com/2019/04/bookreview-kings-mother-beaufort.html 

Wertman, J. (2015, February 27). Author interview: A Song of Sixpence, by Judith Arnopp [Blog post]. Retrieved October 2 2020 from https://janetwertman.com/2015/02/27/author-interview-a-song-of-sixpence-by-judith-arnopp/

NFReads.com(2020). Interview with author JudithArnopp. Retrieved October 2 2020 from https://www.nfreads.com/interview-with-author-judith-arnopp/