Susan’s Site of Shame

One of the pitfalls of writing historical fiction is that there are dates, genealogical relationships, titles, places, and all manner of sundry details lurking in the halls of history, all waiting to trip up the hapless novelist. Here are some blunders I’ve made in my published novels. (Can you find more?)

The Traitor’s Wife

When I wrote The Traitor’s Wife, I lacked the excellent resources of Kathryn Warner’s blog on Edward II as well as Seymour Phillips’ biography of the ill-fated king. Thus, there are a couple of things I would change if I were writing my novel today:

Wedding Bell Blues: Edward II is portrayed as giving his and Isabella’s wedding presents to Piers Gaveston. It is more likely that Edward simply gave these valuables to Gaveston for safe keeping.

Where’s Eleanor? In 1322, Isabella is portrayed as being menaced by the Scots at Tynemouth Abbey while Eleanor stays safely at home. In fact, Eleanor was with Isabella, and shared her danger.

Red-Hot! The story of Edward II being murdered via a red-hot poker is most likely a myth, as I knew when I wrote the novel. But given the choice between murdering a character with a poker and a more conventional method, what novelist can resist the poker?

Hugh and Bess

I’m sure there are errors lurking in there; I just can’t remember any offhand.

The Stolen Crown

All My Sons: Kate’s lady informs her that her future husband is a descendant of John of Gaunt, Edward III’s “second oldest son.”  Kate’s lady has the genealogy wrong; John of Gaunt was the fourth son. (Maybe he simply acted more mature.)

Dukes First: Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, reports that the Lancastrians executed after Tewkesbury were beheaded in reverse rank. In fact, the opposite would been true: the highest-ranking captive (here, Henry’s uncle, Edmund Beaufort, titular Duke of Somerset) would die first.

The Queen of Last Hopes

Climbing the Career Ladder: John Morton is referred to on one occasion as “Bishop Morton” years before he actually became bishop.

Her Highness, the Traitor

A Mother’s Tears: Lady Page, the mother of Anne, Duchess of Somerset, is shown as mourning the death of her son Michael Stanhope. In fact, Michael Stanhope was Lady Page’s stepson.

Sisterhood is Powerful: Frances refers to Mary I as “King Henry’s sister.” She means, of course, King Edward’s sister. Frances was probably tired from traveling.

First They Kill Your Father, Then They Get Your Age Wrong: Anne Seymour, the future Countess of Warwick, is described as being only twelve when she marries the younger John Dudley. This statement, based on the 1538 birthdate usually given for Anne, is supported by a number of secondary sources. My recent research, however, has convinced me that Anne was most likely born around 1536, probably early enough to be named for Anne Boleyn, and that the baby born in 1538 to the Seymours was a son.

Daughter or Daughter-in-Law? In June 1552, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, experienced a sudden death in the family, which historians writing in the past few years have identified as being that of his daughter-in-law, Anne Whorwood. In fact, as Christine Hartweg points out, it is possible that that the loss was one of his own young daughters. I depicted the death as being that of Anne Whorwood, but whatever the identity of the female who died, Northumberland’s stoic letter recounting the death has been too often distorted by popular historians determined to view the duke as cold and unfeeling.

Close Calls:

Readers of the advance review copies of Her Highness, the Traitor will find that the Duchess of Somerset is described in the list of characters as “Wife to Edward Seymour, later married to Catherine Parr.” It’s safe to say that this marital arrangement would have distressed everyone involved.

The Lord Projector: Edward Seymour, Lord Protector of Edward VI, is referred to once in the review copy as “the Projector.” I was actually rather sorry to correct this one.

 

22 Responses to Susan’s Site of Shame

  1. Kathryn says:

    Haha, great post! I’m sure the errors of Kate’s lady and Frances are their own, rather than yours. :) (Who can keep all those sons of Edward III straight?) :)

  2. I did catch some of those errors while reading your books, but my feeling is that if the story is well written or about historical people who are rarely written about then you can easily over look the errors. Sometimes liberties have to be taken when writing historical fiction.

  3. Marie Burton says:

    Hilarious. I did catch that last one for Her Highness, I re-read it several times over. I just knew that I wouldn’t be the only one seeing that one so I let it go after it twisted my brain for a minute 😉

    • boswellbaxter says:

      Thanks, Marie! The annoying thing about that one is that I think the typo was made in the final editing process!

  4. Thanks, Susan! (I am pretty sure he wrote about his little daughter). Sir Michael Stanhope, I also believed he was the Duchess of Somerset’s full brother until several times looking at Alford’s family trees in the King and Kingship book, and I’m still confused!

  5. boswellbaxter says:

    Yes, the more I read the letter, the more it does sound like he was writing about his daughter. Poor thing.

  6. Mary R says:

    Susan, I wouldn’t worry about any minor errors your characters may have made. I once read a novel in which Mary and Elizabeth had no better sense than to stand by their brother Edward’s deathbed weeping :)

  7. You cannot know how relieved I am to see this page, Susan. Since re-reading my forthcoming YA Tudor novel Witchstruck, now irrevocably in print, I have been weeping silently to myself over the mistaken belief that Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting Blanche Parry was married. She did not, at any stage of her life, enjoy that happy state. Yet there it is, in black and white, when she refers blithely to her ‘husband’. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I have no idea how that was missed.

    On the plus side, it’s a paranormal story, so clearly there are things in there which did NOT happen. But the historical aspect of the story is *supposed* to be as accurate as any writer can get it (without putting on one’s silly hat to consult the Akashic Records). It’s good to know an excruciating sense of one’s own foolishness has struck other historical writers from time to time. Many thanks for sharing! Vx

  8. boswellbaxter says:

    Thanks, Victoria! Maybe Blanche was engaging in some wistful thinking? Looking forward to reading your YA novel!

  9. Karen says:

    Despite the “boo-boos” The book is entirely engrossing and I can barely put it down.

    I bought this book on the faith of Claire. I subscribe to her websites and have bought her books. I bought your book due to Claire’s recommendation.
    My sis has recently been enamoured with Ancestry.com. I havre very, very recently found out that my 12th gggrandfather, Edmund Moody was the person who saved Henry the 8th’s life by pulling him out of a pond…….
    Thank you!!

  10. Karen says:

    I completely love your honesty about the “booboos” in your writing!!! Write On, Woman!!!

  11. Philippa says:

    It’s all a question of degrees; most important for me Susan is that I can respect your honesty in acknowledging there are some errors in the text of your novels (but not counting the Lord Projector ). The fact that John of Gaunt was E3’s fourth son and not his second doesn’t fundamentally change the story nor his part in it. That’s my period of history but I bought Her Highness the Traitor purely because I have enjoyed reading all your earlier works and I have not been disappointed. Like Karen I am totally absorbed by this story and it has led me to find out more about John and Jane Dudley. Can anyone now say with any measure of certainity who in the Dudley family died in June 1552 but you have used your characters to question the traditional perceptions of John that many academics have simply absorbed without even thinking about it and that cannot be an error.

  12. Gaye Mack says:

    I just discovered this link, Susan…it’s great to see such honesty…as I write in the 12th century, I find myself obsessing, tearing out my hair with the erratic date/fact checking thing(i.e., did Glastonbury’s Abbot Robert die in 1178 or 1176…or was it 1179?)…in the end I find myself choosing best guess among the options…drives me crazy. You’ve alleviated much anxiety here.

  13. As a teacher of British Lit and Comp for American high school students, my stumbling onto your website has been a breath of fresh air this morning. I plan to show this page of your blog to my students soon, illustrating the true meaning of the term historical fiction. I love the fact that you have not only been haunted by a few small inaccuracies, but that they haunted you enough that your actually printed an itemized list! However, the “fiction” aspect of the literary term is as important to the meaning as the “historical” aspect. Your work is not diminished by the inclusion of a few minor elements. I’m just impressed if I can actually get students to read that I’m not at all bothered by whether their text is to-the-letter factual. Thank you, not only for your novels, but also for keeping your writing current by blogging — talking to your readers as if we were really sitting down to share a cup of tea with you. It makes your work seem all the more real.

  14. CeeJay says:

    I just wanted to say I admire your grace and good humor in acknowledging your “boo-boos!” Nobody is perfect, but I have never seen another author publicly publish a detailed confession of their imperfections like this. It is very refreshing.

    I have only read one of your books so far (“The Traitor’s Wife”) –the others are all on my ever-increasing TBR list–and I have to confess that at the time I didn’t know any better about the wedding jewels or the red hot poker. I have since–like you–become better educated thanks to Kathryn Warner’s stellar work; however, should I happen to have the chance to read it again, I am sure I can overlook your few errors in the name of literary license! (Though I will say I hope I never again encounter the red-hot poker in a novel.)

    Thanks again for admitting you are human! I got a good chuckle out of Close Call #1–thanks for that, too. I always appreciate a good laugh. I look forward to reading the rest of your books one of these days–and will endeavor to overlook any errors I notice with as much grace as you confessed them.

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