Nathen Amin – the Rise of the Beaufort’s and Tudor England

Nathen Amin - House of Beaufort

Nathen Amin is an author and researcher from Carmarthenshire, West Wales, who focuses on the 15th Century and the reign of Henry VII. He wrote ‘Tudor Wales’ in 2014 and ‘York Pubs’ in 2016, followed by the first full-length biography of the Beaufort family, ‘The House of Beaufort’ in 2017, an Amazon #1 Bestseller in three historical categories. He is currently working on his fourth book, ‘Henry VII and Pretenders to the Tudor Crown’, due for release in 2020.

Find out more about The House of Beaufort: The Bastard line that captured the crown here.

What makes the writing about the Tudors interesting to you?

Is there any more exciting period than the Tudors? I think there’s a valid reason why the dynasty has remained so popular for 500 years and that’s because they cover every conceivable aspect of human emotion across their century upon the throne. The victory against all odds of Henry VII, the grief he felt at the death of two sons and a wife within 3 years, the optimism of the early reign of Henry VIII before the dramatic decline into tyranny, the religious extremism of Edward VI and Mary I, and the tragic surrender to fortune of Elizabeth I. Whatever stirs excitement in the writer, whether it be battles, political intrigue, culture, romance, or religion, the Tudors have it all, and more importantly, it is the first period of history where we have such considerable sources to work with. Through their own words we can read, the life-like portraits we can see, and the court music we can hear, we can almost step into the Tudor world in a manner we couldn’t with previous dynasties.

In particular, it is Henry VII that I focus my writing and research on. Why? If any Tudor monarch deserved a Hollywood movie or, even better, an extensive television series, about his life, then it is Henry. Born into relatively obscure beginnings as far away from London as you could almost get, he represents the ultimate rags-to-royal-riches story. Hunted by Yorkists throughout his youth and forced to flee into exile for fourteen years, to return, kill the king, marry the princess and father a line that still sits on the throne 500 years later is astonishing.

Tudor History is a period for which many readers will have preconceived ideas. Are you conscious of this when planning your books?

Definitely I am conscious. Henry VII is a king who traditionally has only merited a chapter or so at the start of books about the Tudor dynasty. He has long been written off as a boring miser, an accountant king who is skipped over to get to the gripping force-of-nature that was his son, Henry VIII. I attempt to pull back this caricature and reveal the real man using the sources to portray someone not unlike us today – a man who on any given day could be fun, charismatic, angry, depressed. Whatever criticism can be levelled at Henry VII, I like to respond with sourced evidence that can offer an alternative view that the reader may not have considered before – history is not an exact science, and certainly not black and white.

If someone has committed a terrible act, it often isn’t because they were simply ‘evil’. What was the reasoning behind this act? Was it fear? Self-preservation? Greed? Was this act even understandable when you put yourself in their shoes without the benefit of hindsight? Many of us today have committed acts we are ashamed of, perhaps not on the level of the Tudors of course, but it wasn’t because we are simply evil – it would have been motivated by something that galvanised us to lash out at a friend, or act improperly in a social situation, or whatever the case may be. Our Tudor ancestors were no different – they were still people with hopes and fears trying to do the best they could every day they woke up. We shouldn’t be so harsh to judge them so quickly. And that, of course, extends to many other historical figures such as Richard III.

Much of your work is based on the Beauforts and the origins of the Tudor claim. Its an area that many will know very little about. What is alluring about this aspect of Tudor/ Beaufort history?

Most interested in the subject will know the basic details of the Tudor rise to the crown. The Tudors were a Welsh noble family (though often erroneously described as the sons of servants rather than of Welsh royal descent) though Henry VII’s claim famously came from his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who is simply described as descended from bastards who had no claim to the throne. What often happens is we see Henry VII’s ancestry derided as though he was a nobody.

Yet, upon closer inspection, the Beauforts were one of the most powerful and high-ranking families of the 15th Century. Arguably it is their personal feud with the House of York (with later generations like Richard III ironically also Beaufort-descended) that was the driving force behind the Wars of the Roses. We can’t hope to understand Henry VII or the Tudors without knowing where they came from. How can one understand the

, fought between two men if not Beaufort by name then certainly by blood, without knowing the family background? Nothing occurs in isolation, and everything requires context. We are all a product of things that happened before us, whether we realise it or not, and it does form our outlook on life.

At every significant event of the 15th century, the Beauforts were there, if not leading characters, then certainly supporting actors. They were there for the usurpation of Richard II, Henry V’s wars in France, the minority of Henry VI, the fall of English-held France, throughout the Wars of the Roses when they led the Lancastrian effort, and finally at Bosworth. Without the Beauforts, quite simply we don’t have the Tudors. That alone is motivation for further investigation.

There is a wealth of Primary Sources from the early Tudor regime that was quite biased in its interpretation of events. How do you select what does and does not get used in your books?

I think this idea of ‘Tudor Propaganda’ has gone too far, to be honest, resulting in many completing disregarding every source without any critical analysis. It’s a very cynical stance to assume. It’s like ‘Fake News’ today – if you don’t agree with something, it’s become easy to just dismiss it with two words. I think the old maxim ‘Where there’s smoke there’s fire’ holds true for this period in most cases; the sources, whether chronicles, letters or ambassador reports, are like modern newspapers – they report on events, though may have exaggerated certain aspects or could only offer an interpretation that may or may not be wholly accurate. When we watch the news today, the event happened, but what we are watching is one person’s understanding of it. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are correct, of course, but we do not wholly dismiss it as ‘fake’ or ‘lies’, which is often the criticism levelled at the early Tudor regime. Polydore Vergil is often mentioned as an example of a Tudor propagandist, but he was at times severely critical of Henry VII and admiring of Richard III.

The Tudors did nothing different to watch the Yorkists did before them but there is one glaring difference, and that is the increased output that occurred across the sixteenth century that has survived. Yorkist propaganda absolutely is a thing, as seen in particular with the official government source which records Henry VI’s death as occurring from ‘melancholy’.

In my work, I make sure I do not just stick with one source; it would be easy to use just the work of Vergil, for example, and in some poor quality books, you can spot where they’ve relied on just one or two chroniclers and yes, in that instance you will be getting a skewed version of history. You don’t want to exist in an echo chamber, and that is as much a problem today where people surround themselves on Social Media with those they agree with, and do not get a more rounded view of matters. So regarding Henry VI’s death, I would mention the Yorkist source saying he died from melancholy, whilst then adding the reports of others who believed he had been murdered. I wasn’t there, so I can introduce the sources into my work, note what was being said, and make an educated guess. The great historian GM Trevelyan did say, after all, “History, in fact, is a matter of rough guessing from all the available facts”

With that in mind, I find it is not a case of selecting what does and doesn’t get in, but rather trying to assemble as many sources as possible and build up a picture, and that can include using ambassador reports from several countries which are politically biased, the mundane financial reports which provide simply facts devoid of commentary but which may provide clues as to what is going on, and the interpretations of many chroniclers to see what people of the day understood of matters around them.

What is your planning process?

I think it’s still developing as I am very much learning-on-the-job, but as time goes on I think it is becoming more consistent which only helps the writing process progress. At present, each chapter I have an idea of what I want to say and where I want to go. I know the main events that need to be covered in that chapter, so I will read heavily on that topic from all the credible secondary source material I can accumulate – so say all those critically acclaimed books by previous historians, plus the more difficult-to-track down academic journals. I made copious notes and then write a brief first draft. This is my spine.

I then hit all the primary source material I have accumulated to that point (there is always more you pick up as you go on) and read about the event from the eyes of those who experienced it first-hand, or as close to first-hand as we can gleam. I then revisit my original spine and slowly rework it with the original sources. It is often at this point I start to see plot-holes or errors in the work of those who have come before me, as well as clarification and confirmation of where some of those statements have come from. It is always fascinating to read the original source and see how over time some of those words have become twisted somewhat.

Then comes the editing to turn this hotchpot of words into something legible, ensuring I am holding together a core thread of narrative that takes me from the previous chapter building towards the next. Sometimes this process can be a doddle, other times difficult to weave together. I will print off and edit at least 5 times, crafting the piece until it finally, hopefully, will make sense to the reader.

Who are your favourite authors (or historians)? How have they influenced your own work?

The person I strive to emulate (though we are worlds apart I have no problem in admitting!) is Dr Helen Castor; I have often said that she has perfected the art of taking astonishing academic knowledge, decades of experience, and being able to present it in an enjoyable and evocative style that makes her work accessible to all, expert and beginner. That is the golden ticket, and really difficult to accomplish. I want my work to stand up to scrutiny, whilst also being readable. Too often have I seen works go heavily one way or the other, and I think they’re poorer for it.

I respect the work of Dr Sean Cunningham also, as I know his academic background of working with the Archives every day for twenty-plus years give his writing considerable credibility and understanding of the subject perhaps lacking elsewhere. Matthew Lewis is another historian that springs to mind, as we have almost ‘come through’ together, albeit on different sides of the debate. His continued success is a spur, as it’s inspiring to know others coming from a similar position can achieve promising things.

What plans have you for your writing? Will it continue to be set in this period or do you see yourself writing in different genres, or historical periods?

I am unsure at the moment. I can’t see myself exploring other periods just yet as this one is fascinating and I feel I am just getting started in learning. I still consider myself a beginner when you consider the astounding knowledge others possess. We can always learn more. The issue is that in recent years the 15th Century has become very popular and most topics have been covered, so we’ll have to see if there is a topic that hasn’t been explored yet that I can do justice to.

How did you become an author?

I always enjoyed writing, and recall making football programmes as a child which was probably the start of the creative process. I went to University to do Journalism but did not follow that route through, before finally setting up a blog in my mid-20s. One day I decided to do a blog about Tudor Wales, and it just grew, and grew. I found myself writing tens of thousands of words with no real purpose. Finally, my publisher saw one of my blogs online and pitched the idea of doing a small guide book, which became my first book, Tudor Wales. From there it’s been a natural progression, although only 4 years ago when I found employment in my day-job as a Technical Author would I dare to introduce myself to people as an Author – if feels official, now, albeit far different from history writing! It does mean I am writing on a daily basis however, during the day and in the evenings, which can only help my craft.

What tips do you have for an aspiring writers (or historians), of any age?

I will leave the constructive advice for those who work in an academic setting, but one key phrase I’d like to pass on to anyone reading this may seem simplistic at first, but it is nevertheless crucial to remember, and that is “you can do it”.

Even the best of writers will have moments of crippling self-doubt, comparing themselves unfavourably with others around them – it is human nature. But it is important to remember at all times that you can do it; becoming an author or historian is no different to getting that gym body or learning to drive – it can take hard work, but is completely achievable to everybody. Never forget that.

This is advice I pass to you which my wife in turn gave to me. It doesn’t quite have the same complexity as a Maya Angelou quote or harmonious intensity of Nelson Mandela, but it nevertheless is just as powerful in its simplicity, and the best writing tip I have received. This is important for us all to remember no matter what stage we are at in our writing; we could be anxious beginners starting out, or multi-published professionals struggling to maintain former standards. We all have moments of desperation during the life cycle of a project-in-progress where we lose our way, our minds no longer forming award-winning words but instead feeding rapaciously on our self-doubt.

You can do it. We can all do it. No-one is infallible from the insecurities which plague us all as humans trying to make our way, not least writers who exist pursuing a craft that often requires isolation from the outside world to get our words down on paper, alone with our cruel minds. I am proof it can be done, and if I can do it, so can you.

Teachers and A-Level students often find it hard to find Primary Sources or reliable detailed studies of the periods you write about. Are there any research resources that you would recommend they use?

One of the key things that I have found helpful is “following the source” using the footnotes in academic texts. It is always important to try and read the original source yourself where possible, as you may have a different interpretation to the historian you are reading. Many of us have in-built confirmation bias that we can’t control, and so two different people reading the same source may come away with two divergent ideas.

Now, some sources will naturally be out of our remit to obtain, though I find university libraries may be a great starting point. My local university at York has an online search-facility which allows you to enter the source you want to view, and if it is there, all guests are permitted free access to view the source like a standard library. Not all universities will have the same documents or access as York, but it is worth checking your local institution.

Another valuable source is a website called Archive.org. The website has a wealth of texts that are out of copyright available to read. If you come across a source in a bibliography that is written before the 1920s, type it into google along with archive.org and the chances are it will have been uploaded free of charge to read. This means that all of those impossible to obtain printed Victorian works that are vital for historical research can be read from the comfort of your bed. Check it out – it’s invaluable.

Author Biography

Nathen Amin is an author and researcher from Carmarthenshire, West Wales, who focuses on the 15th Century and the reign of Henry VII. He wrote ‘Tudor Wales’ in 2014 and ‘York Pubs’ in 2016, followed by the first full-length biography of the Beaufort family, ‘The House of Beaufort’ in 2017, an Amazon #1 Bestseller in three historical categories. He is currently working on his fourth book, ‘Henry VII and Pretenders to the Tudor Crown’, due for release in 2020.

Causes of the Wars of the Roses – Battles of the Wars of the Roses – Personalities of the Wars of the Roses – Women in the Wars of the Roses – Timeline of the Wars of the Roses – Infographic: Key Facts on the Wars of the Roses – Primary and Secondary Sources on the Wars of the Roses – Nathen Amin – the Rise of the Beaufort’s and Tudor England

 

 

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