I’ve been going back and forth through time in my writing all this week, wrestling with an 11th century English king and an Archbishop of York, trying to imagine what their relationship might have been like.
To give myself some perspective on king vs archbishop, I slipped into the 12th century a few nights ago to watch Henry II go head to head with Archbishop Thomas Becket in the film, BECKET. It was a delightful lesson in the perils of learning history from the cinema – or from a historical novel for that matter. (Or, God forbid, from The Tudors.)The writer is trying to tell a good story, and in the interests of staging that story, time is compressed, historical characters are combined or sometimes distilled to the very essence of their personalities, some historical facts mushroomed into importance while others, which may be just as significant, are ignored.
Nevertheless, BECKET captures the emotional grinding that must have truly gone on between two powerful men who knew each other well, and who had strong, but opposing, opinions about how to wield their power. It had happened before, between my King Aethelred and his Archbishop Wulfstan in the 11th century. It would happen again in England, in every century right through the reigns of the Tudors. These were titans in conflict, larger than life because of their status, wealth and influence. Great characters for a novel and, oh boy, do I have some tough scenes to write.