A hundred years ago, in the early hours of the 17th of July 1918, Russia’s last royal family were murdered in a bloodthirsty and bungled attack. Yacob Yurovsky, leader of the hit squad, and some of the other killers left testimonies describing what happened. According to them, the first shots ricocheted off jewels the four daughters had sewn into the seams of their clothing, wounding but not killing them. The air was thick with gunsmoke, the floor slippery with the blood of their mother, father and little brother, as well as three servants and the family doctor, who were unlucky enough to share their fate. Maria tried to escape through a locked back door, Olga cowered in a corner with Tatiana, while Anastasia froze rigid with shock, until the men came back to finish them off with bayonet thrusts.

When I read the killers’ testimonies, straight away I wanted to know what was going through the four young women’s minds. At what point did they realise they were going to die? Did they try to bargain or plead for their lives? What were the killers thinking? How could they bring themselves to slaughter innocents? I decided to write about them in a novel because that would allow me to sharpen the facts and imagine what it was like to be there, in their shoes. Fiction can intensify tragedy by making readers care about the protagonists as individuals we can relate to.

There is plenty of primary material to help us get an idea of the girls’ characters. Like the Instagram kids of today, they took hundreds of photographs of themselves as well as home movie footage we can watch on YouTube. There are memoirs left by their tutors and other family friends. And the girls left diaries in which they write about young men they were keen on, in a breathless, excited tone: “He is so affectionate… I love him so much.”

Olga fell for Dmitri Shakh-Bagov, known as Mitya, an officer she nursed at a military hospital that had been hastily set up in the Catherine Palace in 1914. Tatiana was keen on a cavalry officer called Dmitri Malama, a decorated war hero who gave her a gift of a French bulldog. Maria had a favourite officer, Kolya Demenkov, and also had a secret flirtation with one of the guards at the Ipatiev House, where they were held captive in Ekaterinburg. Anastasia had a childish crush on her friend Katya’s brother Viktor Zborovsky.

We know there were several plots to rescue the Romanovs, some devised by foreign secret agents and others by Russian officers loyal to the family. Surely it is not beyond the bounds of credibility that one of the girls’ sweethearts would be involved in some such plan? This was the idea at the core of my 2016 novel The Secret Wife, in which I imagined Dmitri Malama attempting to rescue Tatiana. And in The Lost Daughter (to be published in October 2018) I expand upon Maria’s relationship with the guards at the Ipatiev House – she seems to have had a form of Stockholm Syndrome – and speculate on what might have happened on the night of the murders.

Fiction allows us to imagine alternative outcomes and introduce a little bit of ‘What if?’ history, which seems appropriate in cases like this when an ending is so cruel and senseless. There was plenty of ‘What if?’ history around in the 1920s and 30s as dozens of imposters stepped forward claiming to be family members who had escaped from Ekaterinburg. The one who received the most attention was Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Anastasia (despite speaking no Russian). Some family friends believed her, although not Nicholas’s sister Olga or Alexandra’s sister Irene. The truth that she was a Polish factory worker did not emerge until DNA analysis was carried out in the 1990s.

A hundred years after the murders, scientists are virtually unanimous in believing the remains found in two graves near Ekaterinburg account for the whole family, but there are still a few historians who disagree and in 2016, the Russian Orthodox Church decided to retest the bones. Since the family have been canonised and are now figureheads for the massive resurgence of religion in Russia, they want to be doubly sure.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are expected to travel to Ekaterinburg for the centenary commemorations on the 17th July. Praying to the family, particularly Maria and little Alexei, is said to heal illnesses and afflictions. Yacob Yurovsky would surely be stunned to learn that his actions have caused the family to be venerated in death as they never were in life.

The Lost Daughter is available to pre-order

How does historical fact go into making fictional characters? Virginia Woolf writes that ‘if we think of truth as something of granite-like solidity and personality as something of rainbow-like intangibility and reflect that the aim … is to weld these two into one seamless whole, we shall admit that the problem is a stiff one’. Writing my debut novel, Testament – which is about the impact of the Holocaust on three generations of a family – I faced what Woolf calls the ‘queer amalgamation of dream and reality, that perpetual marriage of granite and rainbow’. I draw on concrete historical evidence and seek what Woolf calls ‘the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders’ in order to construct the subtleties of character.

What are these facts that engender, that gesture to some further truth, and how as writers do we identify them? For me, the act of sifting and shaping facts takes place in archives, and in site-based research. Hal Foster describes what he terms ‘the archival impulse’ as a recurrent, but evolving, trend in twentieth and twenty-first century art, in which artists turn to archives as source material, ‘seek[ing] to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present.’ Testament explores the power of the archive to make history present – the power of facts that engender to change identity, something my characters guard and maintain as matters of survival.

Michel Foucault writes:

The archive is not that which, despite its immediate escape, safeguards the event of the statement, and preserves, for future memories, its status as an escape; it is that which, at the very root of the statement-event, and in that which embodies it, defines at the outset the system of its enunciability.

In the archives on which I draw, the systems of enunciability are based on gaps and silences, collecting statements and remnants from a people being erased. Witness testimony in the archive is contingent on survival, existing always on the cusp. This precariousness and dynamism exists, in Renée Green’s words, in the ‘in-between spaces, which can appear as holes, aporias, absences’ in fiction after the Holocaust. These holes are tunnels into which as writer I disappear, and in which the facts that engender wait.

Split between 1944-1951 and the present day, Testament follows Silk, a Jewish survivor of the Hungarian forced labour service, who has gone on to become one of Britain’s foremost abstract artists, and his granddaughter, Eva, as she learns after his death about his suppressed past, revealed in witness testimony. Testament also follows Silk’s brother, László, and Zuzka, a Czech survivor, as they are liberated from Theresienstadt, and the battle for identity that follows between the three, as they seek to either foreground or forget their pasts.

How does the process of engendering character work in the archive? Let me illustrate this by describing a summer’s week in which I find my characters’ feelings as refugees arriving into London in 1945, drawing on the Weiner Library and the British Library newspaper room. I read advice pamphlets exhorting refugees to be less European. ‘Do not grumble because English household customs are different from Continental ones. Adapt yourself as quickly as possible to your new surroundings.’ ‘Do your best to improve your knowledge of English, and always speak English in the streets and public places. Read English books and newspapers and learn as much as you can about English history and literature, so that you may understand English ways of living and thinking.’ ‘DON’T talk German in the streets, in public places or any places where others may hear you. You will learn English more quickly by talking it constantly. And there is nothing to show the man in the street that you are a refugee and not a Nazi.’ As I read these through the eyes of Silk anger builds inside me, culminating in this realisation – that to those around me (those around him), I am indistinguishable from my persecutors. Point of view is not just a technique – it’s real, for a writer. I am overtaken in the archive, the fertile fact giving birth to something that feels so lifelike, characters takes over.

Over lunch that week, my grandmother – who is a historian and a Survivor – tells me: ‘We are all children of history. Children of our own histories, and therefore children of wider histories.’ I read The Jewish Chronicle for 1945, following children of history attempting to find new histories in order to belong amongst the Anglo-Jewish communities of London, while looking out at the ruins of their wider world. I come across a review of the Autumn Exhibition at Ben Uri gallery, in which the critic remarks, ‘Several of the Landscapes, particularly B. Feigi’s “Derwentwater” and Frida Salvandy’s “Beach at Penzance” suffer from what I can only call “mistranslation”. Their treatment is far too heated – they are just not England.’ Just not England – I see Silk try and find his own England: try to belong while also inhabiting his own vision, both symbolically and literally, a blow to the head having damaged his eyesight so that the world is drenched in blue. I see this through Silk’s eyes – see the Danube soaking London streets, stalking him for the rest of his life.

A different kind of engendering emerges from site-based research. What truth did going to Theresienstadt give me, the former concentration camp outside of Prague, that I couldn’t get from witness testimonials? The fortress town could be beautiful. That is true. The lines of the Austro-Hungarian barracks and villas are symmetrical and vain. But most are ruins now, the empty houses – whose attics at one time housed six thousand people, the ghetto overflowing, if only it were allowed to break its banks – being slowly bought, one by one, and turned into museums. The whole town was the camp, and until you walk its streets it is hard to comprehend what this really means.

Climbing the earthen walls of the fortification, I realise I have never stood anywhere like this. Monumental – abandoned. For a moment, all birdsong drops away. The walls around me are silent. There was no birdsong in Theresienstadt, no chirrup of insects. Life kept away from the smell of death, and the starving people inside ate what did approach. But there were the voices of one hundred and twenty thousand people squeezed into a town that now houses two thousand. I know, standing there, that the silence of liberation would have struck my character Zuzka most of all, as, slowly, people were moved on by the Soviets and the Red Cross. The square, empty of propaganda football games, empty of subterfuge music and art, empty of the Danes with their black-market packages, empty of the people who had been being emptied for so long, would have haunted.

This moment, and others like it, would find their way into Testament, not simply the descriptions, the colour of brick or the texture of cobbles, but the emotionally experiential. That is the truth of site-based research – not that I can experience, in my body, what the victims of Theresienstadt did, but that I can, standing in what has become a site, know my characters’ bodies. I can walk with them. I can find the truth of my fiction, beyond the facts that make it up – not surpassing them, but supplementing, an attempt at empathy, which is, after all, so much of what fiction has to offer: what it can engender.

In these processes, I am reminded that while the historical evidence of the Holocaust is as immovable and incontrovertible as granite, human experience is unfixed, and in the process of empathic imagination and construction, I find my characters.

Kim’s stunning debut novel TESTAMENT is out now: https://amzn.to/2N7Mo2M

Most people think of Anna of Cleves – or Anna of Kleve, as she should be known – as the luckiest of Henry VIII’s wives. Having re-researched her story in depth for Anna of Kleve: Queens of Secrets, the fourth novel in my Six Tudor Queens series, I am not so sure that is true.

Anna should have had it all: a crown, a great marriage to a powerful king, wealth, influence and popularity. But it was all snatched from her, for reasons that are still not fully clear.

When, within a month of Jane Seymour’s death, Henry VIII was ‘framing his mind’ to marry a fourth time, for the good of his realm, there was a long search for a suitable bride. At length Henry decided upon a German princess, Anna of Kleve, of whose beauty he was assured.  He sent his court painter, Hans Holbein, to paint her portrait. An ambassador vouched that it was a good likeness, but Anna did had no talent for any of the courtly accomplishments that Henry admired in women. Yet he was enchanted by her portrait and pressed ahead eagerly with the marriage negotiations. Her arrival in England was delayed by storms, fuelling the King’s impatience. Learning of her coming, the ardent suitor rode through the winter night to Rochester to meet his bride, to nourish love, as he told everyone.

All the world has heard how Henry, seeing Anna for the first time, felt a deep aversion to her. Few, however, have paused to wonder what Anna thought of Henry… It was the most disastrous of beginnings.

Preparations for the marriage went ahead.  The King showed Anna every courtesy, while doing his best to wriggle out of the marriage contract, but it was seemingly watertight, and he ‘needs must put his neck in the yoke’, as he gloweringly put it. The marriage took place in January 1540, but was not consummated. On the wedding night Henry pawed Anna’s breasts and belly, but ventured no further, for, by their looseness and other tokens, he was to declare many times, she was no virgin. Has anyone ever wondered what he might have meant?

Was Anna an innocent, outraged by the King’s treatment of her person? She told her ladies how the King came to bed, kissed her and bade her, ‘Good night, sweetheart’, and how in the morning he kissed her and said, ‘Farewell, darling.’ There had to be more than this, they told her, if there was to be a prince in due season. But Anna was perhaps less innocent than she liked to make out. My research revealed a thread of evidence which might suggest that this was a lady with secrets – one who had a past.

In the spring,  Anna was sent to Richmond Palace while Henry searched for a pretext to have their marriage annulled. It was dissolved after only six months, and his very generous divorce settlement came as a surprise and relief to her. She was now a woman of means with a generous income, great houses, and the honour of being able to call herself the King`s dearest sister.  She was happy to stay in England. Against all the odds, she became firm friends with the King, and even with Katherine Howard, the Queen who immediately supplanted her.  Soon, Anna was in such high favour that there were rumours that the King would take her back.

Surprisingly, it was Henry VIII, the husband who had repudiated Anna, who became her best friend in the years after their marriage was annulled. While he lived, her interests were protected, and she was treated with great esteem. When he died, things began to go badly wrong for her. Money, or the lack of it, was a problem that never went away. The houses she loved were taken from her. There were disturbing intrigues in her household, which caused her great grief. She came under the influence of a dangerous man, and her association with him laid her open to the suspicion of treason, and may well have cost her the favour of her former friend, Queen Mary I. Lucky? I don’t think so.

ANNA OF KLEVE: QUEENS OF SECRETS, the fourth in Alison Weir’s Six Tudor Queens series will publish in May 2019

Pre-order your copy now.

A Night Out in the Badlands, 1941

Throughout the 1930s Shanghai had been a legendary city – an international metropolis where no visas or passports were required; the most modern city in Asia drenched in neon and its sultry summer night air filled with jazz; the fourth largest city in the world and the most densely populated; home to over four million Shanghainese and the city’s foreign inhabitants (known as “Shanghailanders”). Shanghai was a city that had always had more than its fair share of style – taxi-dancers, numerous dancehalls, cabarets and casinos, cheongsams, a glamorous movie industry. It was also home to gangsters of a dozen or more nations. Shanghai was a city of incredible wealth for some and terrible poverty for many. But the city endured in relative peace and calm. At least Japan attacked Shanghai in the summer of 1937 and everything changed.

The International Settlement and the French Concession (Frenchtown to the locals) became “solitary islands” surrounded by a marauding Japanese army who never invaded the foreign concessions fearing that would spark war with Europe and America. Shanghai became lawless and, for those with money, a non-stop party. Let’s take a tour of the best joints of 1941 Shanghai….Take your time, there’s no curfew in the Shanghai Badlands, you can dance and gamble till dawn…

First stop The Argentina, a giant nightclub that attracted a mixed crowd, though some stayed away on principle – it was said to be the favourite nightclub of the Nazi elite ensconced in the German Consulate…and they turned up in full Gestapo uniform. Why did they like the place? The manager was supposedly a Russian fascist while the Japanese secret police liked to hang out there. The overall theme was Spanish and Latin American gaucho that suited the Franco-friendly crowd. The Argentina was famous for its Miss China 1941 contest that saw the place packed. While the crowd may not have been to everyone’s taste, the entertainment was top-notch.

Not far away is The Del Monte. If the Argentina was Nazi-filled and wild then the Del Monte was old school Shanghai class, Jewish and mostly about the gambling. Run for years by Californian Al Israel with his wife Bertha and 200-pound Great War-vet brother-in-law ‘Demon’ Hyde. Al and Bertha did the place out like the Palace of Versailles (but with roulette tables). Eventually, during the war, the place fell to wrack and ruin and a young English boy living in the area, called James Graham (J.G.) Ballard, used to play in the ruins.

For some local action let’s drop into the Chinese-style Pai-Loh – the Pai-Loh’s run by Macanese and Portuguese gambling interests with a little opium smoked on the top floor. It’s a series of balconied floors with the gambling down in the basement pit. Punters up in the high balconies place bets by lowering silver dollars in small baskets on strings to the pit bosses below, a veritable stream of baskets constantly moving up and down, an elaborate pulley system across the ceiling. To the side of each table a cashier makes the bet, biting each piece of silver to verify its authenticity. The place was a goldmine.

If you’ve got any cash left then a quick stop at the Ali-Baba is recommended. In the history of the Shanghai Badlands it was probably the place most raided by the police for illegal gambling and selling opium. The local Shanghailander wags used to say, Ali-Baba only had forty thieves, but our Shanghai Ali-Baba has four hundred a night playing roulette!

And so finally to Farren’s, the star of the Shanghai nightlife (and the central location of City of Devils) – Farren’s was the largest nightclub and casino in Shanghai run by Joe Farren, a Viennese born choreographer, who teamed up with an American escaped convict Jack Riley. Riley was the man who brought slot machines to China and he made millions. Farren’s was the most expensive nightclub to open in the Badlands – giant neon, air-con, steak dinners, Irish linen tablecloths and an aerialist swinging from the rafters all night. Farren’s could hold 600 at full capacity, seat 200 for dinner and the floorshow, with the gambling up on the floors above to catered to the rest – roulette, chemin-de-fer, craps, dice and, naturally, slots. It was by far the classiest club to ever open in the Badlands. WE can stay here till dawn and beyond…as long as we like…the band won’t stop playing until the last punter leaves and the last roulette wheel is spun.


To find out more about Shanghai’s notorious and lawless 1930s, read Paul French’s City of Devils – out now in Hardback, eBook and Audiobook!

Buy now: – https://amzn.to/2Mwb3O9

‘You’ll need more than a sword to protect you up there. Other side of that priory stands the most accursed hill on the whole moor. You can hear the dead whispering among those rocks. Hungry ghosts, they are. There’s many has heard them talking, and some even followed the voices into the caves up there. Followed them in, Brothers, but never came out …’

From A Gathering of Ghosts

Some images make such an impression on a child that they burrow deep into his or her imagination. And, if that child grows up to be an author, the image often re-emerges decades later, having metamorphosed into a novel. This is exactly what happened with my new medieval thriller, A Gathering of Ghosts. It’s a dark, gothic novel set in 1316, when Europe was in the grip of a terrible famine caused by months of wet weather, just like we experienced this last winter. Thousands of starving people were on the move searching for work and food, but the ruthless saw an opportunity to prey on the desperate for their own gain.

The story is set among the granite tors and sucking mires of Dartmoor. My fascination with this wild landscape began on a childhood holiday. My father had insisted on taking us camping on the moors to teach us survival skills, using a simple sheet of canvas for shelter. One night we pitched camp on the slope of a tor when it was already dark. Always a restless sleeper, I rolled out from beneath the canvas and slid down the slope in my sleeping bag. As a chill dawn broke, I discovered I was lying beside a long, narrow mound of lichen-covered stones, with a cracked wooden cross at its head. It was a grave. But who had been buried out on those desolate moors, miles from any village, and why? The ghost of the corpse I slept beside that night has haunted me ever since and my new novel is their story.

Dartmoor is shrouded in the mists of many dark legends which have inspired some of the elements in my book. Dewerstone, for example, is where a ghostly huntsman is said to entice his victims up on to the highest peak, from which they hurtle down on to the sharp rocks below to be savaged by his black wisht hounds. One character in A Gathering of Ghosts, Kendra, is a malicious old blood charmer, but even she is not quite so evil as the legendary Dartmoor witch, Vixiana, who once lived on Vixen Tor. It is said she would conjure up a mist and call out to travellers from the tor, pretending to guide them to safety, while actually luring them to their deaths in the bog beneath, chuckling with delight as she listened to their dying screams.

For centuries, copper, lead, silver and arsenic have all been mined on Dartmoor and throughout the Middle Ages, men, women and children tore the moor apart in their search for tin. Two of the characters in my novel are desperately trying to stay alive by tin streaming. But since ancient times, men have lowered themselves into Chaw Gully below Challacombe Ridge to search for something even more valuable than tin – gold. But if you are tempted, be warned: according to legend, as a thief descends, a raven croaks a warning and a spectral hand appears and cuts the rope. The thief plunges to their death in the gully where the ravens pick at their bones.

But if you visit Dartmoor this summer, one story you might dare to test out for yourself is the legend of Sheepstor. Hammering, whistling and human voices are still heard coming from that cave. Some intrepid souls have ventured in only to find it empty. But who knows what others may have discovered inside, for they were never seen again…

A GATHERING OF GHOSTS publishes in September 2018

Tracy Borman reveals the long process behind her move into historical fiction…

The publication of my debut novel, The King’s Witch, this June marks the realisation of a long-cherished ambition.  I read historical fiction all the time and have often dreamed of penning a novel myself, then a chance meeting at Harrogate History Festival a few years ago made that a reality.  Hodder’s Nick Sayers, one of the best fiction editors in the business, happened to be there with another author and we got chatting about the relative virtues of fiction and non-fiction.  Nick asked if I’d ever considered writing a novel, and that really got me thinking.

On the journey home, I began to jot down some ideas.  Although I was hard at work on another non fiction book at the time, I gradually developed a concept for a novel based on the fascinating – and at times disturbing – research that I had recently carried out for my book Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts.  It was batted to and fro between my agent Julian Alexander and I for a couple of years, until it was eventually in a fit state to show Nick.  I was overjoyed (and not a little apprehensive!) when, after a few more conversations and a lot of redrafting, he agreed to take it on.

It took another couple of years to craft the story into the finished novel that has just been published, and I learned a huge amount along the way.  Although it is still history, writing a novel is a very different discipline to non-fiction.  I had to learn to ‘show not tell’, to interweave period details into dialogue, rather than writing them verbatim as I would in a non-fiction account.  Given that so much of my heroine Frances Gorges’s history is unknown to us, I also had to employ a great deal of imagination – and straying from the facts is not something that comes naturally to a historian!

As well as my research into the witch hunts, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the places where the narrative unfolds.  When I’m not writing books, I work as Joint Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that looks after six iconic buildings.  The jewel in the crown is the Tower of London, which is where Frances finds herself holed up on suspicion of witchcraft.  Being able to gain access to one of the Tower’s most notorious cells, complete with centuries-old graffiti etched into the stones by despairing prisoners, was at once chilling and hugely inspiring.

The Tower also played an important role in the most dramatic event that I bring to life in the novel: the Gunpowder Plot.  It was here that the plotters were brought for interrogation – and torture.  Although the most famous of them is Guy Fawkes, it was Tom Wintour (my novel’s hero) who was more instrumental in this, the most audacious terror plot in history.  He was brought to the Lieutenant’s Lodgings, the large timber-framed building on Tower Green.  This is now the home of our resident Constable, and I was delighted to be given permission to explore it.  Standing on the same floorboards as Tom and his fellow plotters as they faced the scrutiny of King James I’s interrogators was a real shivers-down-the-spine moment.  I hope my readers will experience a similar thrill when they find out what happened next…


The Kings Witch by Tracy Borman is out now in hardback, ebook and audio.

Read an extract of the novel here.

Why am I calling my next novel in the Six Tudor Queens series Anna of Kleve? Why not Anne of Cleves, as its subject is usually known? Firstly, I had decided at the outset that she was to be Anna, to distinguish her from Anne Boleyn and avoid confusion. For the same reason, I am using different spellings of Katherine for the three queens with that name: Katherine of Aragon, Katheryn Howard and Katharine Parr (I did suggest Kateryne Parr, as she herself spelt it, but we all felt it was too archaic).

But Anne of Cleves was actually called Anna; even Henry VIII wrote her name that way. And, if you google Cleves, you will get Kleve (pronounced Klayva), which is the correct spelling. I wanted to set Anna in an authentic German context and, as the novel is written from her viewpoint, it seemed only right that she would think of her homeland as Kleve, rather than Cleves.

There are some surprises in the novel – and the first chapters may be startling, but I have built them on a new thread of research. It was something Henry VIII said that gave me my storyline – but I did not expect to find what could be construed as corroborating evidence!

ANNA OF KLEVE: QUEEN OF SECRETS by Alison Weir publishes 2nd May 2019

Already a great historian, Tracy Borman proves with this thrilling debut novel that she is also a born storyteller.

As she helps to nurse the dying Queen Elizabeth, Frances Gorges longs for the fields and ancient woods of her parents’ Hampshire estate, where she has learned to use the flowers and herbs to become a much-loved healer.

Frances is happy to stay in her beloved countryside when the new King arrives from Scotland, bringing change, fear and suspicion. His court may be shockingly decadent, but James’s religion is Puritan, intolerant of all the old ways; he has already put to death many men for treason and women for witchcraft.

So when her ambitious uncle forcibly brings Frances to court, she is trapped in a claustrophobic world of intrigue and betrayal – and a ready target for the twisted scheming of Lord Cecil, the King’s first minister.
Surrounded by mortal dangers, Frances finds happiness only with the precocious young Princess Elizabeth, and Tom Wintour, the one courtier she can trust.

Or can she?

Read the first two chapters of The King’s Witch here, two weeks ahead of publication on 14th June!

‘Watch out Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, I can see a new contender for the Queen of Historical Fiction!’ Netgalley reviewer

‘A fascinating read, felt very true to time period but with that personal touch . . . Five stars’ Jeannie Zelos book reviews

Just before dawn on 25 January 1533, a small group of people gathered in the King’s private chapel in Whitehall Palace for Henry VIII’s secret wedding to Anne. ‘It has been reported throughout a great part of the realm that I married her, which was plainly false,’ Cranmer protested, ‘for I myself knew not thereof a fortnight after it was done.’ The officiating priest was either Dr Rowland Lee, one of the royal chaplains, or George Brown, Prior of the Austin Friars in London. It is more likely to have been Lee, who was preferred to the bishopric of Coventry and Lichfield in 1534. Possibly the priest was informed that the Pope had sanctioned the marriage; a royal envoy had just returned from Rome, leading some to suspect that the Pope had given his tacit consent. As far as Henry was concerned, he had never been lawfully married at all, and was free to enter into wedlock at will.

The few witnesses were all sworn to silence. The marriage, and Anne’s pregnancy, remained strictly guarded secrets until Easter Sunday 1533, when, ‘loaded with diamonds and other precious stones’, she went ‘in royal state, openly as queen’ to her closet to hear Mass, with sixty maids of honour following her.  Having at long last won her King, she had adopted for her motto the legend ‘The Most Happy’.

Henry VIII was at Whitehall Palace when the Tower guns signalled that he was a free man. Immediately, he had himself rowed to Chelsea, where Jane Seymour was waiting. Their affair had been gathering momentum since the autumn. The Privy Council had already petitioned Henry to venture once more into holy wedlock, pleading the uncertainty surrounding the succession, for both the King’s daughters had been declared bastards. A speedy marriage was both desirable and necessary, and on the day Anne’s head fell, Henry’s imminent betrothal to Jane Seymour was announced to the Council. At nine o’clock the next morning, they were formally betrothed at Hampton Court in a ceremony lasting a few minutes.

Henry and Jane were married on 30 May at Whitehall Palace. The ceremony took place in the Queen’s closet, with Archbishop Cranmer officiating again. Afterwards, Jane sat enthroned under the canopy of estate in the presence chamber. Some thought it strange that, ‘within one and the same month that saw Queen Anne flourishing, accused, condemned and executed, another was assumed into her place, both of bed and honour’.

Jane died in October 1537, after presenting Henry with his longed-for son, Edward. He mourned her deeply, but ‘framed his mind’ to marry again for the good of his realm.


This is extracted, with thanks, from a longer piece, written by Alison, which appeared in BBC History.

Alison Weir’s JANE SEYMOUR: THE HAUNTED QUEEN is available now

Smoky the Brave

Smoky the Brave is the extraordinary, touching and true story of a heroic dog and her adoptive masters in the jungles of the Pacific War. It’s out in hardback on 31st May and available to pre-order now: https://amzn.to/2w6yD0r

Smoky the Brave


Here’s  a piece from Damien about what drew him to telling Smoky’s story…


Smoky’s story is a fascinating and gripping one, as much because the tiny little hero of a dog was such an enigma right until after the war had ended.

As Churchill famously once said, she was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Churchill used that phrase about the Soviet Union and the role it might play after the end of the war. Smoky was such a mystery because she was discovered by Allied troops on the remote Island of New Guinea, abandoned in a foxhole in the midst of the steaming jungle.

Those who founded her were at a loss to comprehend how such a tiny little dog could have ended up – and survived – in such a war-torn and hostile part of the world. They could only conclude she must have been some kind of a Japanese military mascot, as the territory had only recently been seized of the Japanese. But when they tried to see if Smoky would respond to commands issues in Japanese, their interpreter could get no response. Even more enigmatically, no one could identify what her breed might be. She was of a type of dog never seen by any of them before.

Of course, Smoky was a Yorkshire Terrier, a breed then little-known outside of the UK. It took many months for the soldiers – who adopted her as their squadron mascot – to discover this, but that did little to solve the wider mystery.

How had a dog originally bred in England to hunt vermin – a ratter – end up lost in the deep New Guinea jungle in WWII? In part it was the unravelling of that mystery – coupled with the tiny dog’s immense heroism – that compelled me to write her story. That, plus the peerless work carried out by the 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, the unit that adopted her. The photo recce pilots – who flew unarmed and unescorted deep behind enemy lines – remain in many ways the unsung heroes of WWII. It has been a privilege to tell their story, as well as that of their hero dog.