Our Q&A with author Alison Weir

Liz Nicholls

Alison Weir

Bestselling author & historian Alison Weir, one of the stars of Guildford Book Festival in October, shares a few thoughts with us…

Q. Hello Alison. Henry VIII occupies a large place in the nation’s heart? What is the most surprising aspect of him that is maybe lesser-known?

“That he was a thinking man, who cared deeply about the laws passed by his Parliaments, an intellectual who read the classics for pleasure, and a talented musician and composer.”

Q. Do the experiences of this Harry perhaps shine a light on the newsworthy experiences of our modern-day Prince Harry, do you think?

“I’m not sure how they would do so, as I believe that the experiences of both were shaped by their vastly different upbringings and those who were in a position to influence them. What they have in common is the loss of their mothers when they were just boys – but then they had very different mothers, so that loss would have impacted in different ways.”

Q. Would you like to live in Tudor times (even for a day), and if so why?

“Probably not! Unless I could be a noble lady in a beautiful country house, but even then I shudder to think of living without access to painkillers if I needed them, and of the poor hygiene of the age. I’d like to go back to discover the truth behind some of the most dramatic events of the age, such as the fall of Anne Boleyn, but to do that I’d have to be close to events, which would be way too dangerous!

Q. You are an oracle on our history… Having done so much research, which queen do you have most admiration for?

“My favourite queen of all would have to be Elizabeth I. What a survivor! She inherited a bankrupt kingdom at the age of 25 and was regarded by Catholic Europe as a bastard, a heretic and a usurper – and she was a woman in man’s world. But she was still there, revered as Gloriana, 44 years later!”

Q. Did you enjoy school? And where did your love of history begin?

“I did, but they didn’t teach the history about which I wanted to learn. When I was 14, and had graduated from books to pop magazines, my mother marched me into an adult library and told me to get a book! I wandered around, bored, until I saw the lurid jacket of a novel called Henry’s Golden Queen by Lozania Prole. I devoured it in two days and raced off the school library to find out the truth behind the fiction – and I’m still searching for it today!”

Q. Which royal palace in the UK is worth a visit, or perhaps underappreciated?

“To get some idea of the magnificence of the Tudor Court, the best palace to visit is Hampton Court – it’s stunning, even if most of the Tudor private royal apartments don’t survive. To see a complete set of them, in the wing built for the visit of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1535, I recommend visiting beautiful Acton Court in Gloucestershire, a remarkable survival.”

Q. Who was your favourite author growing up? And now?

“My favourite was Norah Lofts, the novelist – and she still is. I have all 63 of her books. She was one of the great unsung writers of the 20th century.”

“My favourite was Norah Lofts, the novelist – and she still is.”

Q. Do you think our monarchy will continue, and continue to win public support, in King Charles’ reign and beyond?

“I’m a great monarchist, so I very much hope so. I think the King sets a fine example and it’s clear that there is a lot of good will and public support for him.”

Q. What’s your favourite piece of music?

“There are so many that it’s hard to choose! It’s a toss between the Pavanne la Bataille (1551) performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London of You Don’t See Me by the Sisters of Mercy.”

Q. What do you do to unwind, when you’re not writing and researching?

“I exercise, get together with my husband and/or friends over a meal, or watch TV. When I get time, I update i-Tunes or my extensive collection/catalogue of royal portraits. I’ve been collecting images since the 1960s, and have well over 100,000 on my computer, not counting those in hard copy.”

Q. If you could make one wish for the world, what would it be?

“Universal peace and harmony.”