Read the latest blog entries about In the Shadow of the King by Deborah O'Toole.

Blog entries on the progress of "In the Shadow of the King" by Deborah O'Toole.

King Unleashed (07/03/2023)

"In the Shadow of the King" released by Club Lighthouse Publishing. (07/02/2023)

King on the Way (03/26/2023)

"In the Shadow of the King" signed with Club Lighthouse Publishing. (03/25/2023)

Royal Finish (03/04/2023) *Updated 03/22/2023*

New Royal Web (02/16/2023)

Smoky Inspiration (02/04/2023)

Kingly Mish-Mash (01/24/2023)

Fictional Courtier Satire (01/14/2023)

Halfway In (01/04/2023)

Timely Itineraries (12/10/2022)

Timeline Altering (12/10/2022)

Endurance of Scrolls (11/20/2022)

Literary Norms? (11/18/2022)

Chapters & Parts (09/24/2022)

Counting Characters (09/17/2022)

Shadow Fonts (09/09/2022)

72,000 Words & Counting (09/03/2022)

Reaching into the Past (08/28/2022)

Feline Kudos (08/21/2022)

New Kingly Covers (08/11/2022)

Another Bit of Research (08/11/2022)

Missives of Bryan (07/16/2022)

Back & Forth (07/09/2022)

Kingly Graphics (07/04/2022)

Kingly Research (03/12/2022)

Royal Web (03/11/2022)

Weekend Knick-Knacks (03/06/2022)

Summer Be Gone (08/14/2021)

Soul & Shadow (11/21/2020)

Design Miscellany (08/30/2020)

Brief Detour (08/22/2020)

Shadow Work (07/01/2012)

More >




First, I would like to reiterate one point:

"In the Shadow of the King" is a semi-fictional account of the life of Sir Francis Bryan, in particular his relationship with King Henry VIII. Embellishment or omissions of certain historical events, people (real or fictionalized), dialogues and location descriptions were created or employed solely by the author for storyline purposes during the writing process.

That being said, it was always my intent to write the book from a semi-fictional angle, fully aware that fans of the historical period might take issue with omissions or fabricated additions. Second, I make no apologies for it. The book does include many noted historical events, as well as several fabricated ones. It is to be perused for entertainment purposes at the behest of the reader.


Delving into Tudor history came easily for me. I've been obsessed with the era since I was nine years old, when I first saw the original PBS/Masterpiece Theatre series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which starred the late actor Keith Michell as King Henry. Subsequently, I became a huge fan of Elizabeth R (also debuting on PBS decades ago), featuring the late Glenda Jackson as Queen Elizabeth I. For the longest time, Michell and Jackson were synonymous in my mind as the father-daughter characters they portrayed, and still are to some extent.

"The Six Wives of Henry VIII" & "Elizabeth R"

Since then, I've avidly pursued the study of Tudor history at my own behest. I have countless (but probably numbering more than one hundred) tomes on the subject, beginning with A Crown for Elizabeth by Mary M. Luke, which was the first book I ever read about the Tudor era. While none of the basic history is new to me now, little bits of information continue to trickle in, thus intensifying my interest in the topic. Fairly recent discoveries include a collection of Tudor coins unearthed by a family weeding their garden in New Forest, Southern England; a 16th-century warrant book detailing  instructions from Henry VIII on how he ordered the execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, to be carried out ("we command that the head of the same Anne shall be cut off" at the Green "within our Tower of London"), researchers offering theories about Henry VIII's bouts of anger and memory issues, and a discovery of the Mary Rose shipwreck, which sank near the Isle of Wight in 1545 and provided insight into Tudor-era cod fishing.

Combining a real person from history with fictional elements is a difficult task at times. It was made more so by the scant information available about Sir Francis Bryan. Although quite famous in his day, many avenues of Bryan's life are shrouded in mystery with no hints or plentiful historical documents to light the way. However, I was able to find several references to Bryan and his family tree, as well as mention of him in official papers from the reign of Henry VIII. There are plenty of resources out there, you just have to find them.

Nonetheless, my first instinct was to tell the story of Francis Bryan through the eyes of one of his fictional descendants. Creating a fictional storyline was the best option, considering little information about Bryan's life is available. Plus, I'm not an author of historical non-fiction. My focus has always been fiction, regardless of the subject matter. However, I'm also inclined to mix fiction with non-fiction for storyline purposes, such as putting in place real locations and people amongst my fictional characters and mind-created structures.

I also took liberties with various locations in the storyline as most of the actual places no longer exist, or are in ruins. I modeled Marsworth Manor, Sir Francis Bryan's childhood home, on Castle Ashby in rural Northamptonshire, England, while his final residence, Butler Castle in Clonmel, Ireland was entirely fictional but built around Malahide Castle in County Dublin, Ireland. Interior descriptions of the places came from online resources and my own imagination, but hopefully illustrative of the times in which they are based in the book. In additional, descriptions of Francis Bryan's fictional house on The Strand in London were based on a structure known as the "Double Cottage," which is actually located in Blaise Hamlet, Bristol, England.

Notations of diaries, letters, poems and songs are presented in modern English rather than the language of the times, with few exceptions.


Whether Sir Francis Bryan had children, legitimate or otherwise, is debatable, depending on the resource chosen. I devoured the information to be had on several websites, in print books, electronic books and essays. Some sources refer to Sir Francis Bryan as having "children unknown," while others suggest he had an illegitimate son by Abigail Elwell in 1518, another son named Edmund by his first wife Phillipa Spice in 1522, and a third son dubbed Francis by his second wife, Joan Butler, in 1549.

One genealogy website reports that Francis and Philippa also had another son, Robert Bryan, date of birth unknown. Mention of the second son is found in Footprints in Time: Thirty-Two Generations of Bryans by Linda Bryan Johnston. The author noted that data concerning ancestry of Sir Francis Bryan is based partly on research done by the Society of Genealogists in London, The Dictionary of National Biography, and the Complete Peerage. The same websites report that Francis and Joan also had a daughter, Margaret Elizabeth Bryan, born in 1548.

For storyline purposes, I went with the existence of four children: John Bryan Elwell (illegitimate son by Abigail Elwell), Edmund Bryan (by his first wife Phillipa Spice) and Francis Bryan II (by his second wife, Joan Butler), although circumstances and dialog are highly embellished and of my own making. Again, for storyline purposes, I gave the name "John" to Sir Francis Bryan's illegitimate issue by Abigail Elwell. Physical descriptions and characteristics off all alleged three sons are purely fictional, although I tried to be mindful as actual events in history played out.

Fictional fourth child: The existence of the character, Angela Perrette Quillon, as Sir Francis Bryan's French mistress resulted in the birth of an illegitimate daughter, Charlotte Bryan Quillon, in September 1536. Both characters are purely fictional.

There are several scenes and multiple dialogs in the book that are of my own making, although more often than not they are crafted on the peripherals of real historical events or milestones in Tudor times.

In addition, mention of the Primero card game in scenes from 1509 pre-date it's actual first reference in 1526. The inclusion of the game in the storyline was deliberate as I wanted to give Henry VIII and Francis Bryan something to focus on as they became acquainted in the early days of their relationship. It also gave me the opportunity to introduce Charles Brandon, Henry VIII's best friend, into the mix.

The historical timeline included near the end of In the Shadow of the King is mostly factual. However, where little or no information is available on the dates for specific events, certain notations were established for the flow of the storyline. The "Chapter Notes & Citations" section of In the Shadow of the King details events and locales that occurred in history. References are included, as well as clarification of certain events or locales that may have been altered for storyline purposes. Use of the term "for storyline purposes" is meant to explain alteration or embellishment of certain events, dialogues and timelines so they go hand-in-hand with the fictional aspect of the story.

I glossed over or omitted some events from real history not for their lack of importance, but because building a fictional setting and dialog around every event - whether small or large - would have propelled In the Shadow of the King to a likely 1,000+ pages. Certain Tudorphiles might find fault with the omission, alteration or addition of known or fictional events in history, but I embellished as I saw fit as the story progressed in my head. Any faults, non-intended or otherwise, are purely the responsibility of yours truly. It was not my intent to short shrift readers, but leaving out certain events was essential for the smooth flow of the semi-fictional storyline.

"In the Shadow of the King" by Deborah O'Toole (Francis Bryan). Click on image to view larger size in a new window.

While there are no known likenesses of Sir Francis Bryan - allegedly because he was self-conscious about his eye patch and refused to have his picture painted - I decided to include an existing fictional portrait, which was located at Butler Castle in the storyline. Because I'm a visually inspired author when it comes to descriptions of people and locations, I based his looks on two sources. The first was a sketch of a 16th-century man wearing an eye patch, credited to John Wilhite at the website Find-A-Grave (pictured above).

Then my publisher also came up with a rendering of the man (pictured below), which hits the nail on the head, in my opinion. Tall and swaggering, Bryan simply had to be handsome in order to earn his reputation as a rake in the court of Henry VIII.

"In the Shadow of the King" by Deborah O'Toole (Francis Bryan). Click on image to view larger size in a new window.

In the Shadow of the King is an ode to my nearly lifelong fascination with all things Tudor. Hopefully, I was able to do it justice, along with the physical description of Sir Francis Bryan, however he may appear in the reader's mind.

"In the Shadow of the King" Cast of Characters (PDF, 370KB)

"In the Shadow of the King" Background & Credits (PDF, 1.03MB)

"In the Shadow of the King" Timelines (PDF, 3.26MB)

Books by Deborah O'Toole (PDF, 6.31MB)