What Makes Tudors Sexy? by Laura Andersen
Romance readers like you were huge supporters of Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn King. Now, Andersen returns to the page with the second book in her captivating and sumptuous series with The Boleyn Deceit. Read further to see what Laura has to say about the never-ending popularity of The Tudors!
What makes tutors sexy?
Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Obviously.
Whoops. You meant what makes the Tudors (as in the family and/or era) a sexy topic for writers, rather than referencing The Tudors series on Showtime. (My answer stands for the latter. Jonathan Rhys Meyers may look nothing like Henry VIII, but he has that indefinable air of power and charm and . . . well, he’s sexy as hell. Let’s leave it at that.) And return to the actual question: What makes the Tudors enduringly sexy as a topic for historical fiction?
When writing historical fiction, a writer not only has to create compelling characters and fabulous dialogue and thrilling plot lines, but must also weave in a lot of information about setting and background that is unfamiliar to the reader. Historical fiction is not our own world. We can’t use shorthand. But also, we can’t overwhelm the story with long paragraphs on the history of the Reformation or the course of the Wars of the Roses or why Catholic priests were considered enemy agents in Elizabethan England. Not to mention the clothing and food and daily habits of a life two hundred or five hundred or a thousand years removed from our own.
I believe the Tudor era is one of the most popular settings for historical fiction because the audience generally has at least a minimum grasp of the essentials: Henry VIII, needed a son, married queen after queen to get one (killing a couple along the way) and, oh yes, broke off from the Catholic Church. In terms of general knowledge, that’s more than a lot of eras have going for it and makes it easier to construct a new story around.
What a gift to writers the Tudor family is! Brilliant, bold, angry, ambitious, devious, fanatical, charismatic . . . the list of adjectives goes on. From Henry VII plucking the crown from the dead Richard III on Bosworth Field and then marrying his enemy’s niece, to Henry VIII bursting onto the European scene as a young, energetic, good-looking king, to the drama of his divorce proceedings twenty years later . . . and that’s before we get to the children and grandchildren of Henry VIII and his siblings!
Chronologically, we have Henry’s son, Edward VI, and his early death—which led to Jane Grey being ruthlessly used by the Duke of Northumberland to try and keep the Catholic Mary off the throne. Then Mary Tudor’s reign and her sometimes violent attempts to restore England to Catholicism, leaving her with the sobriquet ‘Bloody Mary’. And then came Elizabeth: twenty-five years old at the time of her accession; clever, cautious, attractive, and tempered by firsthand knowledge of how capricious a monarch’s affections can be. And I haven’t even brought up Mary Queen of Scots yet!
So much of the drama of 16th-century England was a family drama. Personal disasters (miscarriages, stillbirths, divorces, will-she-or-won’t-she get married debates) became continental catastrophes. The Tudors were a monumentally dysfunctional family with enormous power in their hands. But it’s the personal that always intrigues (me, at least.) Religious conflict? Sure, all right. One sister imprisoning another sister for fear the younger one is plotting to kill her and lead England straight to hell? Now that’s an awesome story.
After all that drama, what do I mean by restraint? There was most certainly a great deal of sex going on (and drinking and murder and warfare and illegitimate children being given public acknowledgment and titles.) Not so different from today. Except, perhaps, in this: there were consequences that had to be taken seriously. Want to go to bed with someone? Birth, class, future marital intentions, jealous husbands and/or protective fathers—all these things had to be taken into consideration.
I like that necessity for thought, because it lends more weight to every physical encounter. The sexiest moment in The Boleyn King (in my opinion) is the simple kiss of a wrist. There is delicious tension in a world where sex isn’t on everyone’s TV screen and smartphone. And where a decision to go to bed involves a certain amount of time to change your mind simply because so many layers of complicated clothing must be dealt with. Restraint provides the perfect balance to the tension of desire.
Are the Tudors overdone? That’s like asking if one can have too much chocolate. As long as readers want drama and sex, the Tudors will endure.