A Conversation with Diana Rubino, Author of THE JEWELS OF WARWICK

There's nothing more fun than finding a fellow Tudor buff! I had a great conversation with fellow author Diana Rubino about her novel, THE JEWELS OF WARWICK, which tells the story of Henry VIII's reign through the eyes of his mistress, a descendant of the Plantagenet line.

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Henry VIII had six wives and many more mistresses, but Amethyst of Warwick was the love of his life. So why didn’t he ever marry her? He was either married, or she was married—to a despicable old wretch he foisted upon her as a punishment.

The other Jewel of Warwick is Amethyst’s sister Topaz, a spitfire who makes his live a living hell, only because she’s trying to seize his throne. She has a credible reason—Henry’s father killed her father, a rightful heir to the throne, to get him out of the way. As the Jewels grew up without their father, Topaz mourned his wasted life. Now she wants what’s rightfully hers. 
Amethyst remains a faithful supporter, confidante, lover, and friend, through Henry's tragic marriages and England's break with Rome. 
Until the night Henry dies in her arms, she is torn between her love for him and for her sister. Amethyst’s devotion to Henry creates a painful rift between the sisters that remains unresolved until the story’s end. While Amethyst lives a comfortable but troublesome life at court as the king's mistress, Topaz raises an army and goes into battle with the king. Forced to defend his crown, he imprisons Topaz for treason. Amethyst begs the king to release her, but he dies while she's still imprisoned. 
Henry's heir, young King Edward, sets Topaz free, but banishes her to the New World. She embarks on a voyage with explorer Sebastian Cabot, hoping to colonize her own monarch‑free realm, in what will someday be New England.

We had a chat about our mutual passion for all things Tudor. Check it out!

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Lissa: What was your introduction to the world of the Tudors? For me, it was finding Margaret George’s Autobiography of Henry VIII in my high school library. That’s what made me fall in love with the Tudor period.

Diana: I’ve been interested in the Tudors since I’m a kid. My mother was a voracious reader and lover of history, and I don’t know which particular book it was, but I do remember reading A CROWN FOR ELIZABETH by Mary Luke when I was in high school or younger. That’s probably what got me started. When I was 12, I went to see Anne of the Thousand Days in the movies. After that I was seriously hooked.

Lissa: I adored Bujold’s Anne, probably the closest screen depiction – in my opinion – to what the real Anne Boleyn was like. I wish a scene like Anne’s passionate speech to Henry had actually happened. And I think the real Anne would have agreed with this film that her blood was “well spent” if meant the reign of Elizabeth.

Diana: I’d just read BLAZE WYNDHAM by Bertrice Small, a novel where Henry has a fictional mistress. I wanted to emulate that. But to give it some more depth, I had two heroines who are sisters. I made them Plantagenet heirs because the older sister Topaz believes she’s the rightful queen; her father, Edward Plantagenet, should have been next in line for the throne, but the Tudors kept him sequestered in Sheriff Hutton Castle, out of the way, all his life. The other sister, Amethyst, becomes Henry’s mistress. Two very different sisters. 

Lissa: From a modern viewpoint and knowing how the rebellions against Henry turned out, I was groaning when I saw the direction Topaz was heading for. Do you think her decision to rebel was ultimately selfish, knowing what happened to traitors’ families during Henry’s reign? (Look at what happened to poor Margaret Pole when he couldn’t reach her son!)

Diana: She looks selfish from our modern perspective, but back then, mindsets were much different. Many people risked their lives for what they believed was their birthright, or went into battle for the faction they supported. She was adamant that she was the rightful queen, as the daughter of Edward Plantagenet, who she believes also got cheated out of the crown. She was willing to risk her life for that, and went into battle with Henry for her cause.  

Lissa: In your novel, Amethyst spends years as Henry’s lover. Do you think he was actually capable of love? I tend to view him as a pure sociopath, incapable of ordinary human attachment.

Diana: You’re right about that; I don’t believe he was capable of true love. He only cared about himself; women were mere props to him. When he was finished with them, he discarded them—and you know the brutal ways he did that, with Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard! I believe he truly cared for Amethyst to the extent of his ability; he certainly was infatuated with her, and they had great chemistry. But he wasn’t in love with her, and I don’t believe he ever was in love with anyone in real life. With Anne Boleyn, it was obsession more than love or caring.

Lissa: Do you feel Henry VIII had any positives as a king or as a person?

Diana: As a king, he created an army to keep England safe, implemented peace treaties through Cardinal Wolsey, and brought England out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance, as a patron of the arts and music, his interest in astronomy, and in Greek mythology. He made the English language much more widespread, with the first Bible in English.

Lissa: You’re very kind in your assessment of his virtues. You’re right that he was intellectually curious and he encouraged the arts. His patronage of Holbein was something to be lauded, because he certainly elevated English portraiture art.

I tend to give more credit to Anne for the development of the English Bible. She was the religious reformer, the one with the fervent faith. Her idea was to use the money from the dissolved monasteries to fund free schools for the common people so that they’d be able to read the Bible, but we all know how well that idea worked out. Her insistence on it may have been one of the things that led to her death because it was the most bitter argument she had with Cromwell, right before the beginning of the “investigation” into her adultery.

Diana:  As a person—I can’t say I do, because he was way too self-centered, and oblivious to the consequences of his actions, such as breaking off with the Catholic Church and starting the Church of England just to obtain his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. How self-centered can a man get? He destroyed many of the magnificent monasteries and abbeys, and had dissenters brutally executed. I’d have to say his faults outweigh his qualities. 

Lissa: Your book doesn’t focus on the queens as much as other Tudor novels do. Do you have a favorite among them?

Diana: My favorite has always been Anne Boleyn, because I believe she truly loved him, and died such a horrible death for crimes she didn’t commit. She was the ultimate victim and human sacrifice. I also like her because she was feisty, intelligent, and challenged him on many subjects. It’s one of history’s great tragedies that she didn’t live to see her daughter Elizabeth become the great queen she was.  

Lissa: Anne Boleyn is my favorite, of course, but I also have a soft spot for little Katheryn Howard. She was such a sweet girl, and so badly used by the men in her life. She was slain just because she’d been sexually experienced before she married Henry. From a modern perspective, it’s horrific beyond words. Henry could have set her aside and sent her to a convent, because there was plenty of evidence she was legally married to Francis Dereham. He had an out. But he wanted her dead for breaking his heart.

Tell me about your research process. Did you find anything that surprised you?

Diana: I wrote THE JEWELS OF WARWICK in 1991, with no internet! I relied solely on books. This was even before I joined the Richard III Society, so I didn’t know any scholars to give the manuscript a thorough critique. 

Lissa: Me either.  I had a history buff friend read it once I’d finished, but I’ve never had anyone I could have vet the manuscript for me. But I think I’m my own worst critic when it comes to historical accuracy. I’m very hard on myself when it comes to verifying every detail I can. I’m sure I made some callow mistakes along the way, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.

When I first started writing, I was intensely private about my work. I didn’t have any editors or betas. The editing process was difficult for me at first. I had very warm and kind editors who presented it as “We’re just taking this and trying to make it the best it can possibly be!” But it was still difficult to “open up” to other people with it.

Diana: What surprised me was the chain of events leading to his divorce from Catherine of Aragon—his ‘great matter’ as he called it—his confrontations with the Pope, his many frustrations, his terrible treatment of Catherine, what he put her and his advisors through, and the great lengths he went to, just to divorce her and marry Anne, for his (as we see it now) selfish reasons, one of which was the need of a male heir. One of the books I read to research this was THE DIVORCE by Marvin Albert. It goes into great detail about each step Henry took, ending with breaking with Rome and starting the Church of England. 

Lissa: Henry was incredibly stubborn about getting what he wanted. He couldn’t bear to have anyone refuse him. I think of what Campeggio wrote when he arrived in England, that an angel descending from Heaven couldn’t tell Henry he was wrong about something.

Imagine what his parents would have thought if they could have seen him and how utterly horrified they would have been at what Henry did —the way he squandered his fortune, broke with the church, and abused his wives and daughters. 

Diana: His father would have been appalled, as Henry VII was known to be a miser! I’m sure his mother Elizabeth of York would have been extremely disappointed with the way Henry handled things. Her own two brothers Richard and Edward disappeared from the Tower of London, and no matter what the experts say, we’ll never know what happened to them. We don’t know if she knew, either, but she would have been horrified to see her son execute Anne and Catherine.

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