Interview with Adrienne Dillard
Adrienne Dillard is a passionate researcher of Tudor history. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in History from Montana State University-Northern. Her fictional novel on Catherine Carey, daughter of Henry VIII’s mistress Mary Boleyn, is a captivating read and based on countless hours of research. It has recently been translated into Spanish.
I am very honoured today to be able to interview Adrienne about her book ‘Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey’, to discover what inspired her to write about such a fascinating woman and what is next for Adrienne….
What inspired you to write about Catherine Carey?
You know…I will be honest, I wasn’t inspired by anything in particular. I fell in love with Anne Boleyn and the Tudor period about eight years ago and I kind of became a bit obsessed. It’s definitely a habit of mine…I get interested in a period and then I just devour everything I can find about it. I was reading ‘The Autobiography of Henry VIII’ by Margaret George and her book starts with a letter that the fool, Will Somers, writes to Catherine while she is in exile and I had a bit of an ‘Aha!’ moment…Oh yeah, what about Mary Boleyn’s children? What happened to them? From that point on Catherine just really stuck out in my mind. I didn’t intend to actually write a book, but my husband kind of coerced me into it after I told him I was annoyed that there were no books about her; I could only ever find bits and pieces in works about everyone else. Ironically, a YA novel about Catherine came out a month before mine so she must have been slowly seeping her way in our consciousness! Because of Catherine, I can say that I made a really good friend in Wendy J. Dunn. Her book is fabulous if you are interested in seeing Catherine as a young woman.
How did you go about researching her life?
Researching Catherine was both harder AND easier than I anticipated. It was easy in the fact that there are so many resources out there available at just the click of a mouse. I spent hours upon hours on websites and archives. British History Online and Archive.com are just brilliant. And, of course, God Bless Google Books! I found very old copies of Victorian compilations scanned in…one of which contained copies of Sir Francis’ heart wrenching letters to his wife while he was guarding the Queen of Scots. I also read every book I could find that had even a mention of Catherine. There weren’t many, but I did find snippets here and there. Researching became difficult when it came time to imagine the scenes. I can look at pictures of all the castles in England, but until I actually visited a few of them this last September, I never truly felt what it was like to be in them. I did have to use my imagination a lot!
What was one thing about Catherine’s life that you found inspiring?
I think Catherine was the type of person you wanted as a friend or relative. From what I found, it seems like she was very loyal and devoted. Even when Queen Elizabeth treated her unfairly, she was unwavering in her support of her…So much so that her husband remained loyal as well, even when he was mad at her for mistreating his wife! I think it’s a mark of excellent character when someone can find the good in people even when that person may have mistreated them and Catherine certainly found the good in Elizabeth. You can also tell by Francis’ letters that Catherine was very beloved by her family and I think that speaks volumes about her personality. Francis truly respected her opinions and treasured her companionship.
What was something that you found surprising about Catherine’s life?
I’m still actually quite surprised by the fact that, up until the last couple of years, no one had bothered to tell her story. She was really a big part of history and her children went on to birth the generations that would help establish the New World and go on to rule England. The current royal family are directly descended from her! Not only that, but she served at least four Tudor Queens and she followed her husband into exile during Queen Mary I’s reign. Her story was ripe for the telling, yet no one fully took it on until very recently. Almost no concrete information exists about her mother and yet, Mary Boleyn has had multiple biographies written about her in addition to starring in several novels!
Who do you believe was the biological father of Catherine Carey?
I go back and forth on this. I do think that if we add up all the circumstantial evidence, it seems clear to me that Henry was Catherine’s father…and yet…there are so many ways that we can explain those same reasons away. My gut instinct tells me that she was the product of Mary’s affair with the king, but I really do think that Mary didn’t truly know who Catherine’s father was. I guess in the end, not knowing probably saved her. I think if Henry had claimed her as his own, Catherine’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth would have been very different. Elizabeth probably would have always looked upon Catherine with suspicion. I know that we can say that she wouldn’t have because Catherine wouldn’t have been eligible to inherit due to her illegitimacy, but that didn’t always stop people from attempting to claim the throne. If Catherine had been acknowledged, Elizabeth could very well have viewed her as a threat. I think not being acknowledged was the best thing that could have happened in the situation.
How would you describe Catherine Carey’s religious beliefs?
Ooh, I wish I knew! It would be so easy to say that Catherine was a Protestant because her husband was but, as far as we know, Catherine’s mother maintained her Catholic faith so that could have had just as much influence on her. On the other hand, it’s never wise to assume that either of their beliefs impacted hers. We have nothing from Catherine herself regarding her religious leanings so it’s impossible to pin down. Based on the other things I knew about Catherine, I depicted her as very pragmatic on the religious front. She did follow her husband into exile, but that could have been more because of how close they were than a political statement on her part. I tend to think that the lack of direct evidence we have from her supports the idea that she was pragmatic about religious matters.
What was Catherine like as a mother?
I wish I knew that too! There is just so little evidence when it comes to the daily life of Catherine in her family. Based on the fact that five of the Knollys children accompanied her to Germany when she joined Francis in exile, I would imagine that she was quite close to her children. She did not take all of them with her so that leads me to believe that she didn’t necessarily feel that her family was in that grave of danger for their religious beliefs, so the fact that she took only a few of them means that she likely took them for companionship. Catherine appears to have been at Court very rarely after her marriage to Francis so she would have spent much of her time at home…Certainly a lot of it would have been spent secluded during her pregnancy, but some of it would have been spent with the children. She seems to have been at home far more often than many of her contemporaries who served in the queen’s household.
What do you believe Catherine’s relationship with her mother Mary Boleyn was like?
I’d like to think that they were close. We have no record of where Catherine was before 1539 so it’s very plausible that she was in her mother’s care after Mary’s banishment from Court. The enforced separation from her own siblings may have made Mary more protective of Catherine. She was probably quite lonely as well; Catherine’s presence would have softened the blow. If Catherine truly was born in 1523 or 1524, she would have been 12 or 13 by the time of Queen Anne’s death. While that is still quite young to be serving in her household, I do think that had she been under the care of the Boleyn family during that time, they would have brought her to Court to ‘learn the ropes.’ Since there is no record of her being in her aunt’s service, I would venture to guess that she was indeed with her mother. Her relationship with Mary may have influenced her own closeness with her children. When she was ‘banished’ (exiled in Germany), she took five of her own children with her. It could have been a case of history repeating itself.
What inspires you to write?
Little things sometimes slip their way into my mind and they lead to bigger stories. I love the facts that describe the personal details of life rather than the ‘official’ dispatches, if that makes sense. The Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, offers so many tantalizing tidbits that make my job so much easier! Those details make the women of the Tudor Court come to life for me. The goal of my writing is to show the human side of these woman. Certainly they have all done marvellous things, but I also want to show their foibles and flaws in a way that is compassionate and sympathetic. I want to bring their humanity out into the spotlight and, hopefully, touch the reader on an emotional level so that they can see we aren’t so different from one another.
What’s next for Adrienne Dillard?
Speaking of bringing out the humanity in my subjects… my most recent novel, The Raven’s Widow, focuses on one of the most maligned of the Tudor women…As the brilliant historian, Julia Fox calls her, the Infamous Lady Rochford. Jane Boleyn’s story will be making its debut in the next couple of months. I intended to delve into the life of Honor Plantagenet, Lady Lisle, next, but after writing about the fall of Anne and George Boleyn, I’ve had trouble getting another Jane out of my mind…Jane Seymour. I’ve decided that I am going to focus on her next and see if I can’t bring another side of her out. She may not have been the ‘boring’ consort she has been made out to be and I can’t wait to find out more about her!