After years immersed in Tudor-Stuart England, I’m embarrassed to admit trouble keeping track of Queen Elizabeth I’s court. Sage counselor William Cecil, dashing courtier Robert Dudley, dour spymaster Francis Walsingham: Though I can match their names and portraits, they only came to life for me lately through Fiona Buckley’s mystery novels. Memorable, vivid detail is a gift of well-researched imaginative portrayals, whether in fiction, film, or the presentation of Elizabeth’s nobles at the Bristol Renaissance Faire last weekend.
The risk, for me, is to mistake the character brought to life for the character who lived. What novelists and screenwriters can’t know, they are free to make up. Unlike historians, they don’t have to break the flow with terms like “probably” or “perhaps.” Did Elizabeth and Dudley, her favorite, consummate their relationship? My opinion: She was too savvy and self-controlled to risk outright scandal or a child out of wedlock, even for her “sweet Robin.” But no one can know for sure. In the case of fictionalized accounts, readers and viewers who care will have to insert “probably” or “perhaps” for themselves.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.