From my earliest years as a reader, the Tudor era always fascinated me. I still treasure the golden box set of books about The Wives of Henry VIII that my grandmother left to me. It sits on a shelf alongside Murder Most Royal by Jean Plaidy and Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes. I don’t think that as readers we ever forget those early influences. We may move on to read many other books in different historical periods, different genres, fiction and non-fiction, but we retain a strong affection for those first novels.
As a result of my marked preference for Anne Boleyn, my attitude towards Jane Seymour was always an equivocal one. She was the pale light to Anne’s bright star. However the Seymour family had another connection to Henry’s queens – the later marriage of Katherine Parr to the reckless, buccaneering Thomas, brother of the more famous Jane.
Telling the story of Mary Seymour, daughter of Thomas and Katherine, in The Phantom Tree gave me the opportunity to return to Wolf Hall a generation after the famous Seymours had all fallen victim to their own ambitions in one way or another. In my imagination I was able to walk through Savernake Forest and see the ancient medieval manor falling into decay. It is Wolf Hall but not as we know it from the glory years of the 1530s. Time moves on and stories change. Long ago and far away these characters first inspired me. It’s a wonderful pleasure and privilege to find them again now.