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Author's Note (In the Shadow of the King)

The following "Author's Note" will be included at the end of the In the Shadow of the King by Deborah O'Toole, which details the research required to write the story, with credits. The book was released by Club Lighthouse Publishing in July 2023.


"In the Shadow of the King" Background

Delving into Tudor history came easily for me. I've been obsessed with the era since I was around 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" starring Keith Michell. Click on image to view larger size in a new window.    "Elizabeth R" starring Glenda Jackson. Click on image to view larger size in a new window.


Since then, I've avidly pursued the study of Tudor history at my own behest. I have countless (but probably numbering over 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. 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 Although quite famous in his day, many avenues of Bryan's life are shrouded in mystery with no hints or plentiful historical documents to light the way.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.

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

Proposed front and back covers for "In the Shadow of the King" by Deborah O'Toole. 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 one source: a sketch of a 16th-century man wearing an eye patch, credited to John Wilhite at the website Find-A-Grave (pictured below left).

Then my publisher also came up with a rendering of the man (pictured below right), 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" by Deborah O'Toole (Francis Bryan). Click on image to view larger size in a new window.

Hopefully, I was able to do justice to Sir Francis Bryan, however he may appear in the reader's mind.


"In the Shadow of the King" Resources

Perusing the vast amount of research material I ultimately collected for In the Shadow of the King was daunting at first, but I soon found myself engrossed in all of it. The resources included more than two hundred websites, print and e-books, articles, essays and dissertations. Connecting the dots, so to speak, and building the semi-fictional story of Sir Francis Bryan was perhaps one of the most satisfying projects I've ever undertaken. (It's saying a lot, actually, as prior to In the Shadow of the King, I was the published author of fifteen fiction novels). Needless to say, the rather elusive life of Sir Francis Bryan will likely keep me hooked to the end.

That being said, I would like to shine a light on some of my resources.

Grateful thanks goes to the Historical Journal's 1996 dissertation The Shadow That You Know: Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Francis Bryan at Court and in Embassy by Susan Brigden, which gave me insight on developing the friendship between Sir Francis Bryan and Sir Thomas Wyatt. I was especially interested in the timeline and event guide during their ambassadorial years, and during Wyatt's stints in the Tower of London. The dissertation suggests that Wyatt, in his often poetic missives to Bryan, was sending subliminal warning messages of secrets that needed to be kept. The timeline that followed in the same dissertation also provided me with credible settings in which to create scenes and dialogs, especially those taking place at Villa Franca near Nice, France, where both men reportedly drank, gambled and womanized to excess. The dissertation also gave brief mention to Elizabeth Darrell, Wyatt's mistress, who supposedly warned Reginald Pole to flee France because Wyatt and Bryan were allegedly sent to assassinate him. Because Darrell is mentioned after this "near-miss" incident, I wrote her character with the assumption that her relationship with Wyatt continued (which it did, until his death in 1542). Her affair with Wyatt, which began in 1537, produced three sons. She was also a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife.

The men and women who surrounded Henry VIII and became part of his life were often as well-known as he was.

Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII's Most Notorious Ambassador by Sarah-Beth Watkins proved to be a good tool in attempting to trace Bryan's career in the court of Henry VIII. While the book shed little light on Bryan's personal life, it did impart information about the political tightrope he walked as a close confidante of the King and as a courtier in the royal court.


Food in the Tudor court was another topic I researched, mainly to look for exacting details on food and dish names, preparation and ingredients. I'm grateful to the information provided in A Tudor Christmas by Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke, All the King's Cooks: The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace by Peter Brears, Food & Feast in Tudor England by Alison Sim, The Tudor Cookbook and The Tudor Kitchen by Terry Breverton, and The Shakespeare Cookbook by Andrew and Maureen Dalby.


Other resources ranged from topics such as disease in Tudor times (Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction & Succession by Sylvia Barbara Soberton), relationships (Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him by Tracy Borman, Among the Wolves at Court: The Untold Story of Thomas and George Boleyn and Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and His Six Wives Through the Eyes of the Spanish Ambassador by Lauren Mackay, Debrett's Peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland; Revised, Corrected and Continued by G.W. Collen), peripherals (Household Servants in Early Modern England by R. Richardson), royal specific (Henry VIII: The King and His Court by Alison Weir, The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of Britain's Greatest Dynasty by Tracy Borman, The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir, The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty by G.J. Meyer, Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England's Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle), and many more.


My life is often guided by sticky notes while I'm researching. Orange pinpoints direct mention of Sir Francis Bryan, while pink-purple sticky notes refer to pertinent events, structure descriptions, kitchen routines (massive in Henry VIII's court), tidbits about hygiene, and a host of other related content that hopefully brought authenticity to the storyline.


Part of the research also included developing a spreadsheet of characters and locations (ongoing and constant), which allowed me to verify consistency in descriptions, life events and general history. The research and writing of In the Shadow of the King was a long haul indeed, but I enjoyed every second of it - even when doubts surfaced.


Character spreadsheet for "In the Shadow of the King." Click on image to view larger size in a new window.

(Above): Character spreadsheet for In the Shadow of the King. Click on image to view larger size in a new window.

In the early stages of every book I've ever written (16 published novels so far), I always ask myself: "Can I do this? Or is it all just crap?" When the storyline is rough at the start, or becomes complicated as it progresses, I find myself questioning my ability to pull it off. However, I recognize the doubts are merely part of a phase, and I eventually get past them. As what happened with In the Shadow of the King.


I'll let the reader be the judge.


"In the Shadow of the King" Fictional Avenues

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 just three children: John (illegitimate son by Abigail Elwell), Edmund (by his first wife Phillipa Spice) and Francis (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.


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 will details events and locales that occurred in history. References are included, as well as clarification of certain events or locales that may have been embellished for storyline purposes.


With Much Appreciation

I'm grateful to Club Lighthouse Publishing, in particular Terrie Lynn Balmer, Palvi Sharma and James Wason. Their welcome input and assistance has helped me through more than one book. A special nod also goes to video-master extraordinaire, Barbara Cerda.

Heartfelt appreciation is given to my friends and family, who remained supportive even while I was basically incommunicado during much of the past year as I worked on In the Shadow of the King: Sulaiman Av, Barry & Bobbi Barber, Karen Bittleston, Kami Corry, Ken Davies, Krista Davis, Terri O'Toole Denham, Sheila Domon, Jeff Dorsey, Shaun "Retribuse" Ferguson, Phil Foster, Brendan Gallagher, Jen "Talia" O'Toole, Kathy O'Toole Holley, JoAnn Huber, JoAnn Kaiser, Debbie Lanier, Bernadette McGirk, Mike & Kim Miner, Mike Mortimer, Anne O'Halloran, Rheata O'Hare, Ben & Sharon Opfermann, Cainneach Ciaran O'Siofra, Karen O'Toole, Nancy O'Toole, P.J. Peterman, Dawn Ashley Phillips, David Policansky, Tracy John Powell, Marie Spencer Russo, CoCo Saltzgiver, Patricia Schneck and John Whiting.

I also have a close-knit community of online friends who have remained supportive throughout, including Nathan Baxter, Diane Best, James Bieurke (along with the comedic antics of his Ginger & Bella), Francine Tyson Boness, Kerry Ross Boren, Kandace Bryan, Greg Campbell, Pam Diane, Keri Elkington, Pauline Jamias, Jon Leythorne, Karen Lindquist, Maria Martinez, Eleanor Wood Mason, Francesco Mele, Denis McCloskey, Steeven Prabakar (along with his adult children, Sushma and Sun Deep), David Michael Ryan, Rick Simonson, Daniel Timothy and Wilson Rodriguez Vacca. I see and read all of your comments and emojis, which frequently offer me inspiration.

I definitely want to give a shout-out to all of my readers, many of whom contact me on a regular basis. Your input is much appreciated, even when it is critical.

And last, but not least, much love and thanks to my significant other, Jerry Dalton. His sense of humor and calming influence kept me from going over the edge several times as I wrote In the Shadow of the King. In addition, his observations and offhand remarks sometimes found their way into the storyline, but it's up the reader to guess where.


Thank you.


Deborah O'Toole

July 2023


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

"In the Shadow of the King" Flyer (PDF, 616 KB).


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