“At the Mercy of the Queen”
Two months ago at Chapel Hill my husband and I awaited the ultrasound tech to finally reveal the results we’d had been dying to hear—whether baby number one was a boy or girl. After what seemed like an eternity (only seven minutes or so), we knew the nursery would be filled with NY Yankees gear battling Boston Red Sox regalia before the boy could even utter the word “baseball.”
I cheered and cried and did all the new mommy emotional stuff while watching the smile on Eric’s face grow wider by the instant. Then, I blurted out something that seemingly stemmed from left field. “If this was Tudor Court and I was queen, I would have just clenched the dynasty!”
Flash forward to now. I find myself closer to Anne Boleyn and Tudor England than ever possible thanks to author Anne Barnhill. Barnhill’s debut novel, published by St. Martin’s Press, “At the Mercy of the Queen,” is an historical fiction tale due out early this year. Set against the Tudor backdrop of King Henry the VIII, Barnhill tells the forgotten and all-too-often over-shadowed story (in her own liking) of Anne Boleyn’s first cousin, Lady Margaret Shelton—a lady-in-waiting at Tudor Court who caroused the king’s devotion and dedication for a brief six-month period. However, many questions remain about the affair. Was their love simply a flirtation? Or did it come to fruition via consummation? Barnhill explores such within the framework of “Mercy.”
This much is known to be fact, according to the website, theanneboleynfiles.com: Lady Margaret truly is listed within the family history book with only a single footnote by her name: “Madge was attendant at the Court of her cousin Queen Anne Boleyn and was instructed by her to distract the attention of King Henry VIII when he was making love to Jane Seymour.”
One of 10 children, and one of three named mistresses of King Henry VIII, Lady Margaret Shelton—or “Pretty Madge” as she was also known—was born to Sir John and Lady Anne (Boleyn) Shelton. Though her official birth date is unknown and seemingly clouded in mystery, what we do know is while her first cousin, Anne Boleyn, was crowned queen of England—and thereafter made infamous today by Hollywood films, such as “The Other Boleyn Girl” and the HBO series, “The Tudors”—not much is mentioned about Lady Margaret. Therein is Barnhill’s drive to reveal more of the Shelton family saga.
“I became interested in Lady Anne when my grandmother told me as a teenager that we were descendants of the family,” Barnhill shared. “After my grandmother said we were related to Anne Boleyn, I began reading about all of them and it started my 30-year obsession,” she admits. “When I started this book, I surrounded myself with [information] about the Tudor England and Tudor court. Lady Margaret really is only a footnote in history. That’s all there is about her. It isn’t fair. I want to give her a deeper, more meaningful story.”
Writing professionally since 1991 and with countless feature articles, theater and book reviews, and interviews for a variety of newspapers and magazines, Barnhill arrived in the publishing world with her first memoir, “At Home in the Land of Oz,” (Jessica Kingsley, 2007). Today, with an MFA in Creative Writing from UNCW, Barnhill will be bringing her obsession full circle to home, as she gives readings across the state.
“Reading is always about that human connection—good vs. evil,” Barnhill says. “How does one conduct oneself and make good choices? No matter what genre you’re into, historical fiction or science fiction, human qualities expressed through relationships among each character, real emotions, conflicts and anxieties are the real appeal of reading. This is what I aim to deliver in my work.”
Available for purchase at Pomegranate Books, “At The Mercy of the Queen” has solidified itself an original read, which, lucky for Barnhill, comes with a two-book deal. The second installment to Pretty Madge’s tale is just on the horizon.
“[It will] tell the tale of Lady Mary Shelton (Lady Mary’s cousin) in the next generation court,” Barnhill explained. “In my novel(s), I hope to bring to life people who are often perceived one-dimensional and bring humanity to them that one might miss otherwise.”
Barnhill is currently giving readings across NC, including stops in Winston Salem and Raleigh this week. To follow more of the author’s events, visit www.anneclinardbarnhill.com. Books can be ordered and purchased from local stores.