The news over the past few weeks has been startling. Starting on October 5, when the New York Times broke the Harvey Weinstein story, a cascade of women and men have come forward, breaking years or even decades of silence, to speak about harassment and assault by powerful and influential men. Harvey Weinstein was just the beginning.
Then the Roy Moore story broke. I got chills when I read the details. A 14-year-old pursued by a 30-something man. And when the apologizers appeared, those who excused Roy Moore’s behavior, the internet started posting pictures of themselves 14-year-olds.
This story sounds very familiar. It’s the basic plot of my novel, The Princess’s Guide to Staying Alive.
When Elizabeth Tudor (the future Virgin Queen) was 13, Henry VIII died and she went to live with her last stepmother, Katherine Parr. Katherine Parr remarried quickly enough to turn heads. She married her old flame, Thomas Seymour. Seymour was the uncle to the king and an ambitious social climber. His motives may not be possible to nail down exactly, but he began making predatory sexual advances on his step-daughter Elizabeth. Katherine was having a difficult pregnancy and her marriage was fraying. Elizabeth was the sister of the king, but the bastard daughter of a beheaded queen. She was a young woman in a vulnerable position, and she became Seymour’s target.
In the summer of 1548, Elizabeth was sent away from her stepmother’s home to live with a family friend. Katherine Parr had finally realized the extent of Seymour’s actions. After being sent away, Elizabeth would never see her stepmother again. Katherine Parr died in childbirth in late summer 1548. In early 1549, Thomas Seymour was arrested and charged with treason. Thrown into his long list of charges was conspiring to marry Elizabeth after Katherine Parr died. That charge was treason for Elizabeth–royal women weren’t allowed to negotiate their own marriages. That was the sole purview of King and his council.
The rumors of Thomas’s behavior with Elizabeth were all over court by this point. There were certain factions who thought that if they could get Elizabeth to confess, she would be charged with treason and perhaps beheaded, thereby eliminating another heir to the throne. Sir Robert Tyrwhit, a local knight, was sent to Elizabeth’s house to interrogate her. It’s clear from his letters to the Lord Protector that he thought that Elizabeth would buckle and confess. After all, she was just a 15-year-old, orphaned bastard.
But here is what this story is really about. It’s about strength and survival. It’s about how a girl with an education defeats a grown man. Because that’s what she did. Robert Tyrwhit lived in her house, had her ladies spy on her, and used every tactic he could think of to get Elizabeth to slip up and implicate herself in treason. He belittled her. He berated her. He pretended to befriend her.
And Elizabeth outsmarted him. She only told him things he already knew, she played weak, she played sad. She was patient. She didn’t lose her cool. Her extensive education and training in oration and argumentation kept her always stay one step ahead of his tactics. She wore him down. She outlasted him.
What I want everyone to know is that Elizabeth’s story is one of triumph and survival. You need to look at those portraits, the Rainbow and the Pelican, and you need to know that you are looking at a woman who survived. She survived and she reigned. And for some, they might read her story and feel less alone.
I’m sort of biased because I wrote it, but I think that my book is important. It’s timely. And I hope that it makes it out into the world.