The Freelance History Writer is pleased to welcome Junaid Ashraf with a guest article and tribute to Tudor history and the architechture of the era. Junaid has a new book out: The Tasks of the Departed and you can follow his blog: Junaid Ashraf here and on Facebook here.
As soon as I began planning out my debut fantasy novel, The Tasks of the Departed, I was determined that it should reflect my passion for history, especially the Tudor era. The novel is largely set in a spirit world – and this happened to be the perfect place to pay little tributes to various periods in British history: from Medieval all the way up to Victorian. However, it has always been that century or so beginning with the reign of Henry VII in 1485 and ending with the death of his granddaughter, Elizabeth I, in 1603 which has tickled my interest in particular; and I hope my love for this fascinating period comes across abundantly in my novel.
I employ Tudor architecture, emblems, attire and figures as literary tools to bring my characters and settings to life. Some of these are subtle, others not so very subtle, but I hope fellow history lovers will appreciate them all.
Tudor Architecture, Emblems and Attire
The main characters in my novel live in a large Tudor house in Gloucestershire: a county which is certainly not short of grand architecture. The black-and-white timber-framed house has a steeply pitched roof surmounted by ornate, red brick chimneys, and its features like this that make buildings exhibiting them stand out proudly, refusing adamantly to blend in. They are conspicuous time portals, inviting us to step inside and be transported half a millennium into the past. It is fitting, therefore, that the Tudor house in my novel contains an actual portal to a world where you can meet the spirits of those from sixteenth-century England. And this spirit world is not short of grand architecture either!
It was the Elizabethan town house in Stafford known as the Ancient High House which first ignited my appreciation of the architectural style it belongs to. Its fine timbers, imposing gables and sheer grandness are always a pleasure to behold whenever I am there. Some historical buildings are more important than others, though, and the Ancient High House is certainly one of them: it was the temporary headquarters of King Charles I at one point, shortly after the outbreak of the English Civil War. Some of the Tudor-inspired buildings in my novel do not remain untouched by the fictional civil war of my creation either.
The Tudor Rose is a symbol that is not difficult to find in the great historical buildings of England. In my home city of Birmingham, for example, the medieval St Edburgha’s Church has a doorway which has a Tudor Rose and pomegranate carved into the stonework above it. It commemorates the marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon in 1501. It’s always thrilling to see these symbols, and the Tudor Rose is a personal favourite of mine. I find its potency as a propaganda tool particularly fascinating in that it was used to cement the reign of Henry VII after the Wars of the Roses. Here was a symbol to say that the Houses of York and Lancaster have finally been united, and peace and prosperity will follow!
One of the major characters in my novel is a spirit called Ivar Havelock, Twelfth Viscount Havelock. He is a very eccentric and a very flamboyant eighteenth-century aristocrat, who lives in a glass tower resting on a bed of red-and-white roses! Inspired, of course, by the Tudor Rose, the red-and-white rose is his personal emblem, and he uses it to communicate with his fellow spirits (strange, I know!). I use the imagery of the Tudor Rose to symbolise his flamboyance and reflect his use of flowery language, but its bloody history is also referenced heavily at one point. In the world Ivar has left behind, his grand estate – a Tudor country house – comprises numerous ornate, redbrick chimneys, and the fact that it is more glass than wall is a little tribute to that Elizabethan masterpiece in Derbyshire: Hardwick Hall. Here, therefore, I use Tudor architecture as an extension of his grandness. Although, I doubt he is as grand as Bess of Hardwick was!
Another well-known Tudor symbol is the portcullis: the badge of the Beauforts and associated mainly with the mother of Henry VII, Lady Margaret Beaufort. We in Britain are particularly familiar with it as it appears on the one penny coin. In my novel, a semi-molten portcullis is used to defend the abode of the leader of the spirit world, Mistress Magistery. This connection with Margaret Beaufort is not a mere coincidence as the actions of both women are driven by motherly love.
There are two supporting characters in my novel whose attire pays a particularly noteworthy tribute to Tudor fashions, namely gowns with trumpet-shaped sleeves. These are Virginia Walsingham and Hexa Parr. Their names should give an indication of which historical figures I had in mind when creating them! Virginia wears a reddish-brown gown, rather like the one Lady Jane Grey wears in the 1590 portrait housed in the National Portrait Gallery, London. The colour of Virginia’s gown, which almost makes her blend in with the mahogany bench carved with peacocks she sits on, symbolises her role in the climax of the novel: that of a spy.
Virginia Walsingham is, of course, modelled on Elizabeth I and Francis Walsingham; and Hexa Parr on Catherine Parr.
Maintaining a hold on power in Tudor times and other tumultuous eras was no easy feat. For example, religion was a huge factor driving the plots to overthrow Elizabeth I, a staunch Protestant, and one of the more infamous of these was the Babington Plot of 1586. Led by Anthony Babington and involving coded messages hidden in beer barrels, its aim was to assassinate Elizabeth I and put the imprisoned (and staunchly Catholic) Mary, Queen of Scots upon the throne of England. Its discovery by Francis Walsingham led to Mary’s execution, and the young Anthony Babington, unsurprisingly, was hanged, drawn and quartered.
Walsingham, the spymaster, and his network of spies and double agents are an intriguing facet of Tudor England. You could never be sure whether your allies were, indeed, your allies in those times. And so in my novel, I not only pay tribute to such figures by incorporating them in my characters, I also employ them to highlight an important theme: never judge a book by its cover. The fate of some of my characters is foreshadowed by their names and who in Tudor history they pertain to. One of these has the grand surname, Poley-Babington. In this relatively minor character in my world, I fuse Anthony Babington with one of those who uncovered the plot named after him: Robert Poley. His fate in the novel may surprise some, but the clue is there in his name!
One of the historical figures I admire most is Catherine Parr – a true survivor. For one, she was a writer and also very astute. In a remarkable moment during her tenure as Queen Consort, she manged to dispel Henry VIII’s paranoia about where her loyalties lay and save herself from certain death. She managed to have her own arrest warrant revoked: an extraordinary feat in Tudor England. The character of Hexa Parr (who ornaments her gown with a jewelled French hood!) is an extremely intelligent Spirit-noble and though her role is not a large one, her intervention in the climax (getting another character pardoned as opposed to herself!) has very significant consequences in the end. Like some of the spirits in my novel, Catherine Parr has been in the limelight again and again in the centuries after her death. Her remains at Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire (another of Charles I’s headquarters during the Civil War, incidentally) have been disturbed numerous times in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. She now rests in a magnificent tomb designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott – in peace at last.
There are inevitably some historical figures I do not admire very much. One of these – Philip II of Spain – I have satirised in a short scene in the form of Philip Armada: a disdainful and haughty spirit who does not, quite rightly, get what he feels entitled to in the end. He is denied what he desires by the aforementioned leader of the spirit world, Mistress Magistery. Her decisions are the main driving force of the plot, and her tremendous ability as a leader during a time of war is not dissimilar to that exhibited by Gloriana herself when Philip’s armada was sailing towards England.
My novel is now available on Amazon. It was largely inspired by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and has taken over three years to write, but I have enjoyed every second. Although I am a pharmacist and very proud to be one, being a writer has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. In my novel, I have not only paid tribute to my love for all things history, but other aspects of my life too. I cannot wait to write the next one!