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.
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.
“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.”