Philippa Gregory: I loved reading Wolf Hall but I didn’t like the TV series

The historical author is a big fan of Hilary Mantel's books but wasn't won over by Damian Lewis and Mark Rylance's television adaptation

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Philippa Gregory is a Tudor expert. She’s written extensively about all six of Henry VIII’s wives, as well as masterminding the tale of the dynasty’s predecessors in her Cousins’ War series – a trio of novels that included The White Queen, which was dramatised by BBC1 in 2013. 

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Today she was at the Radio Times Festival promoting her latest novel The Taming of the Queen, all about King Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr – the only one to outlive him. Its publication in August came in a year when the Tudors have been enjoying a renaissance, thanks to the BBC’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. 

But as a Tudor novelist, what did Gregory make of the adaptation that starred Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis, and was nominated for multiple Emmys earlier this month? “I watched a couple of episodes of Wolf Hall, I think. I didn’t like it very much,” she told the festival audience, “but I did love the book. I think the book is an extraordinary book – I was so excited when I read it.”

She added: “I liked Bring Up the Bodies a little bit less and I was really struck when Hilary Mantel said, I’m sure joking, that basically she had written two novels about middle-aged men squabbling about power and I have spent my life avoiding writing novels like that. So it was very interesting to see how a wonderful writer can make what I think of the worst subject in the world completely fascinating.”

Gregory was also quizzed on whether she would like to travel back to Tudor times, a question that prompted some pearls of wisdom from the author.

“I have some advice to anyone who is offered the opportunity to time travel: if you are a woman, do not go back before 1854 when the married woman’s property act comes in and you can leave your husband and you have a fighting chance of taking your children and certainly keeping your fortune.

“If you’re a young woman, do not go back much before 1920 – it’s really essential that you get political power because unless you get political power, you cannot change the laws which are absolutely stacked against you. And if you’re a fertile woman, don’t go back before 1960 because women die in childbirth.

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“If you’re offered the chance to go anywhere at any time in the world, anywhere, go as an immensely wealthy man because being a woman, almost everywhere, almost every time, is a massive disadvantage.”

The Radio Times Festival runs until Sunday 27th September. For tickets, see here