My dear friend Janet, courageously invited me for an extended research visit to London. Which is why last Wednesday found us at the Tower and Thursday at Hampton Court Palace. How do you describe a perfect couple of days? The Tower clarified a few things for the Luke Ballard books and, quite out of nowhere, the first chapter of book 3, "Sweeter Than Flowing Honey" popped into my head over lunch. I also visited the real spot where Anne Boleyn was executed and paid my respects to her in St Peter ad Vincula.
Thursday was one of those golden days that live with you forever. I finally met Ian Franklin, the warder with whom I have been exchanging mails for almost a year. What a fantastic person he is. Knowledgable without being dogmatic, open to new ideas. He helped me enormously, trying to work out where Luke and Rob and the Tudor royals spent their days, especially since all of Henry VIII's privy apartments were destroyed. We solved a couple of problems with turret staircases and doors I didn't know about. Ian and I were busy sorting out the conduit that runs under the palace and deciding that it might well have gone as far as the Royal Mews, when he took me by the arm, turned me round and introduced me to a friend of his who had just come in. It was Alison Weir, the historian. She is a lovely lady, who is very interested in the premise of the Luke books and has asked me to keep her informed. We discussed Anne Boleyn, of course, and I confessed that I have problems reading about that lady's end. Alison's latest book deals with that subject. She was so supportive and enthusiastic, it was exhilarating - and surprising seeing that she deals with fact and the Luke books posit an alternate history where Anne is still alive and her son, Henry IX is now on the throne.
There were several people dressed in the period - December 1542 - and I had a real gossip with Mistress Penn, Prince Edward's dry nurse and Lady Frances Brandon, mother of Lady Jane Grey. The two friends who had come with me stood entranced as the ladies and I discussed various items of gossip at court. We also met King Henry VIII himself. Ever tried to curtsey with trousers on?? He confided in us that he planned to invade France next year and spend Christmas 1543 in Paris. I wished him Godspeed with his enterprise.
On the way out, we stopped off at the shop and I ended up buying a couple of Alison's books, only to hear the lady herself offer to sign them for me. A perfect, perfect day and one that I won't come down from in a hurry - if ever.