1- While John Dudley, the first Duke of Northumberland has a famous role in history, he is often eclipsed by his more charismatic son, Robert. Why did you choose to do a book about John?
In a sense, I always wanted to write about John Dudley ever since I read some of his letters, a very long time ago.
2- What were the challenges in writing this book and how did you overcome them?
John Dudley actually ruled the country and he was a military commander, both of which is challenging for a biographer. However, I had done lots of reading and writing on his administration some years previously, so this helped a lot. Some primary sources, including letters written by John himself, turned out to be a goldmine, not least for the campaigns in Scotland. I love to include quotes so that readers can get a feel for how these people expressed themselves. There were some of John's own words, in letters and speeches, that I wanted to include at all cost. As there is so much material it can be hard to choose and not to leave out anything beautiful.
3- Did you travel to any original sites to walk in his footsteps? If so, where did you go?
No. I had previously been to places in London like the Tower and Westminster, and also to Hampton Court and Windsor, but my personal circumstances didn't allow any travels more recently. I have nevertheless tried to give due attention to the many houses and castles John Dudley acquired during his lifetime.
4- What was the most surprising thing you learned about John Dudley?
That he (as a private person) basically went broke while in office.
5- What did you hope your audience to take away with the book?
I hope readers get some entertainment, apart from getting informed about the Dudley clan. I've included research about John's brothers and sisters, his nephews, and of course his brood of children. Generally, I'd be pleased if readers came away seeing John Dudley in the context of his time – alongside his friends and acquaintances, people like William Cecil, Thomas Gresham, or the Parrs and the Seymours, Bess of Hardwick, and even the Lady Elizabeth.
6- If you could pick another time to live in- which would it be and why?
I am quite happy with the times I live in. I don't really find earlier periods more attractive, I'm afraid.
7- What impact did John Dudley leave on history that people can relate to today?
John Dudley was a pragmatist. He avoided war and even made peace with foreign powers because he saw that England could no longer afford those wars. He also decided to give up the fight against Mary when he saw it was useless, before any blood had been shed. He has often been accused of abetting radical Protestant policies, but he also successfully derailed some planned excesses, like Cranmer's canon law reform, which would have introduced the death penalty for adultery and entailed the mass execution of “heretics”. Lastly, John has been accused of cowardice or religious indifference because of his return to the Catholic church at the end of his life. However people like to interpret his conversion, as genuine or opportunistic, it again shows he was not a fanatic, which should appeal to a secular age.
8- If you could interview one famous or infamous person, who would it be and why?
Well, I would certainly love to talk to Robert Dudley. I don't think he would give away a lot of information, but it would be fascinating to hear him speak.
9- What are you working on now?
I am writing about the life of Amy Robsart, Robert Dudley's first wife who fell down the stairs.
10- What advice would you give a new author?
It's very helpful to really put work into your chapter plan. It's like the scaffolding at a building site, when the building site is your book.
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