A Tudor Saga: The Chronicles of Tomas Dubh Butler are four novels set in Tudor England and Ireland:
I love the simple beauty of good historical films, TV series and novels. To compellingly re-tell events with a sense of the haphazard impulsiveness of the here and now is the historical writers’ ultimate challenge. These novels are merely my offering to this epic genre.
These novels follow the adventures and successes, the missteps and failures of a single group of characters whose lives thread through the second half of the sixteenth century and intertwine directly and indirectly with those of the last three Tudor monarchs. Bookbinders and bakers, country wives and city husbands, herbalists and courtiers, soldiers and adventurers, priests and prostitutes – they all live through and partake in the great events of these last Tudor years.
Travelling with a stellar cast, many of of them familiar historical figures, on this epic journey of their lives, the reader shares the times of their life: their loves; their hopes; their fears, their joys; their sorrows; their beginnings and their ends…..
This history is vividly retold by a perfect insider – an Irish nobleman who was there…Tomas Dubh Butler, Earl of Ormond. Born in1532, Tomas Ormond was reputed to have been Elizabeth’s lover; he later built his house near Carrick to entice the queen to Ireland.
At the beginning of the first novel, ‘Family Matters’, we meet Tomas Butler and his new groom Sean Fitztomas. Over time, Tomas shares his family history with Sean – at first not knowing Sean’s his son. Tomas tells Sean of his adventures with Barnaby Fitzpatrick and Robin Dudley from the time when they were all gentlemen of King Edward’s privy chamber. They’d already been educated with the king in Ludlow when he was Prince of Wales.
Sean‘s Tomas Butler’s illegitimate son by Meg Somers, a girl from Montacute, who’s brought into Tomas’s mother’s household. Meg and Tomas meet in 1547. Meg’s a talented herbalist. Her talents are destined take her all the way from poverty in Montacute to the households of Queen Catherine Parr; Lady Anne of Cleves and finally during the last stormy months of his life, that of King Edward VI himself.
It’s shortly after Edward’s accession when Tomas Butler meets and falls in love with Elizabeth. Their bitter-sweet romance slowly unwraps in the context of the religious, political and family upheavals of Edward’s short reign. The young lovers almost run away together; they survive scandal and court intrigue; they witness rebellion, murder and the king’s death. Their love story will spin out through all four novels.
Meanwhile, Meg Somers’s infatuation with Barnaby, whom she’s nursed back to health after an accident, carries her to London. Once there her talent attracts the attention of leading courtiers. After losing her innocence with Sir John Gates her romance with Captain O’Brien of the Margaret Rose brings her into contact with the other group of principles who live in Pudding Lane in the City of London and later with others living in the wild west of Ireland…Youghal….a place where money is easily made and murder as easily thrives…
The second novel, ‘Governing Passions’ picks up these characters lives at the start of Mary Tudor’s reign. The narrative, a poignant retrospective of events, is viewed through the prism of the dying embers of Elizabeth I’s reign. Most of the same principles are still living in the 1590s. Their lives once again are caught up in a maelstrom of events beyond their control – Irish rebellion and the ambitious plans of the earl of Essex. Tomas’ meeting with the old Elizabeth reignites the rapture of their youthful love. The meaning of love and marriage, life and death and success and failure are reviewed from the perspectives of Queen Mary’s gambles and Elizabeth’s safer play.
The novel opens with the old Elizabeth alone in bed; with Tomas and Sean on a ship to London; with Shakespeare with the earls of Southampton and Essex and with the Cecil father and son plotting. These lives illuminate the forgotten pasts of Meg, Barnaby, Tomas, Elizabeth as their continuing story unfolds: from Queen Mary’s unexpected accession, the Wyatt Rebellion and the Queen Mary’s Spanish marriage to her tragic childless pregnancy and the fateful war that ends in the loss of Calais.
The third novel, ‘Friends in Deed’, picks up the story in the first decade of Elizabeth’s reign whilst once again simultaneously following the events of Elizabeth’s closing years.
Friends in Deed finds Tomas and Barnaby; Sean and Meg back in Ireland. Religion divides friends and rebellion divides nations. Barnaby’s conversion to Catholicism and the raising of Youghal to the ground sets the two friends on a collision course. Tomas chooses order and his love for Elizabeth over his friends and country. Meg pays a terrible price for their rivalry losing her husband and children. Later, as Sean discovers a lost family and his mother Meg, he loses his innocence, discovering the hidden cruelties of his father’s actions during these fraught times. These conflicts between family and religion are re-examined in the context of Essex’s treachery and rebellion. How the protagonists live with the consequence of their difficult choices is reflected in the difficult choices made by Mary Stewart. Her return to Scotland, Rizzio’s murder, the murder of her second husband and her flight from Scotland, the casket letters and the Norfolk rebellion provide the context for the choices made by Tomas, Elizabeth, Sean and Meg.
The fourth and final novel, ‘Friends in Need’, winds the story through to its end in Jacobean England and Ireland from the Battle of Kinsale to the Flight of the Earls – ending with our hero’s death and his son’s emigration to England….
It sees Tomas and Sean, old men in a hurry, sharing a final adventure together, during the flight of the northern earls from Ireland to France. Tomas recalls his time in a different France and a different world. He ponders the changes in the world that’s come about in his lifetime.
By this time Sean’s learned all about Tomas Butler’s part – and that of his own mother – in the maelstrom of the reigns of Edward VI; Mary I; Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. Their personalities and loves; the politics and the treason; the endless rebellions, each with its own bloody aftermath; the violent extremes of a religious fervour that carries each of the characters to different destiny …all these become real to Sean and part of who he’s become. Finally, Tomas Butler dies in 1616.
This novel’s narrative is written partly from the perspective of a young Irish historian who, in the 1980s, reassembles from a jumble of papers and manuscripts, the story of Tomas Dubh Butler, Barnaby Fitzpatrick, Sean and Meg…and many others… As he gradually assembles their story into a single coherent whole from bits and pieces of manuscripts the history illuminates not only the enigma of the last three Tudor monarchs but helps him to make sense of his own life and his loves and his own losses….and in doing so he also becomes part of their Epic adventure… in his own way.