Interview with Sandra Worth

Yesterday, I reviewed Sandra Worth’s newest novel, Lady of The Roses. Today, she’s gracious enough to answer a few questions:

DE: What is it that you find particularly fascinating about this time in history? You’ve written Lady of the Roses and the Rose of York Series (which I now can’t wait to read). Why this period of history rather than any other? Was the portrait of Richard III in the National Portrait Gallery the start of it all?

SW: He really was the start of it all! Like Josephine Tey’s detective in Daughter of Time, I was fascinated by the portrait of the handsome young man with the troubled, sorrowful eyes. He didn’t look like a killer to me, and sure enough, he was maligned by the Tudors. The more I read, the angrier I got at the enormity of the injustice that had been done. There was only one very lengthy fictional treatment of the real Richard III available at the time, but it was too wordy and I couldn’t get into it. Eventually, I wrote my own book. One thing led to another, and Lady of the Roses was born. This novel is a sort of prequel to my first book, The Rose of York: Love & War about Richard of Gloucester, and gives the Neville perspective. It’s something that has never been done before, either in fiction or non-fiction. Novelists left this period alone because it was so murky and chaotic.

You ask what is so fascinating about this period of history—why this rather than another, and what’s so special about England’s 15th century Wars of the Roses? The answer is that it’s simply extraordinary –a time of great danger and tumult, reversals of fortune and violent death when the passions of a few determined the course of history. And it’s filled with surprises! The Wars of the Roses so fascinated Shakespeare that he set most of his plays in this era. Living in this period seems to have brought out the best, and the worst in people. Some became larger than life; others exhibited an evil unmatched in the civilized world.

DE: I’m more familiar with the Percies than the Nevilles, albeit earlier than this period. One of the things I especially enjoyed in Lady of the Roses was Isobel’s affection for Alnwick and, especially, Warkworth. I’ve spent time wandering around both and love them. Did you go back and spend time in those locations during the writing of the book? Or had you previously spent enough time there to do it all from memory and research? Do you take lots of notes and photographs when you research? What is your process?

SW: I live in Texas, so unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of taking a weekend trip to places I’m writing about while I’m writing. Everything has to be planned beforehand. I visited both these exquisite castles, as well as Bamborough, another of my favorites, before I began the book. As you suggested, I took copious notes and photographs while I was there. Then of course, my mind “photographed” so much that the camera couldn’t – the evocative landscape, the emotion and feel of the place. Bamborough and Warkworth are the two that “spoke” to me most vividly, even though only the armory at Bamborough dates from John Neville’s time. Yet, standing at the window there looking out at the windswept North Sea, I knew John had done exactly the same himself, many times, long ago, and I found it somehow touching.

DE: One of the interesting episodes in the book is when Isobel states to Queen Marguerite that she would “have as husband a man of my choice” and Marguerite agrees that the law is on her side. One of the assumptions most people make is that women were only moved about as chattel to gain money and power at that time. Would you talk a bit about this law, when it came into effect, how it was honored or ignored?

SW: Since the eleventh century women have had this right. It was given them by the Church which believed that for a marriage to be legal, both parties had to be willing. That was the theory, but of course, there were a thousand ways to get around that. Women were virtually powerless, dependent on men for their survival – first their fathers, then their husbands, and a young girl could be turned out into the street if she disobeyed.

DE: Somerset’s complexity and growth is also interesting. At the beginning, one wants to hate him; yet by his death, he’s far too interesting to hate, and we understand Isobel’s mixed feelings for him. Is most of that complexity (not in relation to Isobel, but in his general dealings) based on historical documentation or were you able to take more liberties in his creation than in some of the other figures?

SW: That was my creative invention. Somerset is known to history as a rash and reckless trouble-maker but as I pondered his many angry and violent confrontations with John Neville, and the fact that he had never married, I began to get a sense of what these arguments were about. John and Isobel came from enemy sides in a civil war, and Isobel was an orphan, a ward of the Lancastrian Queen Margaret of Anjou who hated the Nevilles. John, a Yorkist, was made to pay a jaw-dropping bride-price for Isobel’s hand when he fell madly in love with her. That suggested to me that Isobel was a great beauty, and an admirable young woman, and here she was at court with Queen Margaret, and with Somerset. He was around the same age as John Neville, and evidently good-looking. Was Somerset in love with Isobel? Was that the source of his conflict with John? Margaret of Anjou was said to have been in love with Somerset herself, so she might have looked favorably on getting Isobel out of the way. A marriage to Somerset’s rival would have been a good punishment on her wayward lover, too. After all, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…”

DE: What’s next on your writing agenda (if you’re at a stage where you can discuss it)? Do you plan to stay in this era, move backwards, move forwards?

SW: I’ve got another novel with Penguin coming December 2008 on Elizabeth of York, entitled The King’s Daughter: A Novel of the First Tudor Queen. Elizabeth of York was a remarkable woman who lived an incredibly dramatic life. Some of the things that happened to her are so unbelievable, you couldn’t make it up! Penguin’s book description is posted on my website, and I think it conveys a good idea of the story. As for a book past Elizabeth, I haven’t decided yet. I’m taking a hiatus right now, just resting and pondering what direction I’m going to go in the future. History is full of the most fascinating and inspiring stories. It’ll be hard to decide.

DE: Thank you, Sandra!

Sandra Worth holds an honours B.A. in Political Science and Economics from the University of Toronto. She is a frequent lecturer on the Wars of the Roses and has been published by The Ricardian Register, the quarterly publication of the U.S. Richard III Society and by Blanc Sanglier, the publication of the Yorkshire, England, branch of the Richard III Society.

She has won ten awards her Rose of York trilogy, including the First Place Prize in the 2003 Francis Ford Coppola-sponsored New Century Writers Award. Her work has been translated for publication in Spain and is forthcoming in Russia Visit her website,


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